UK-based ProAirsport has developed a hybrid microlight/glider with electrically powered wheels used for taxiing and takeoff, and a jet turbine for climbing and cruising. During flight, the engine can be turned on and off with the flip of a switch, allowing the aircraft to be flown as either a microlight or glider. Unlike typical microlights and self-launching gliders, ProAirsport's GloW is propeller-free.
For the weekend enthusiast – a big segment of the microlight and glider flying crowd – a clear advantage of GloW is its ease of use: simple to rig and ready to fly in 15 minutes. Another advantage claimed by company owner, veteran glider pilot Roger Hurley, will be the GloW’s revolutionary price, though exactly what that price is has yet to be determined.
"GloW is a recreational aircraft designed as a crossover between the microlight or ultralight, and self-launching sailplane [glider] traditions," says Hurley. "It’s also a hybrid that takes advantage of developments in small powerful electric motors and the light weight and small size of micro-jet turbines. The key drivers are independence in operation and lower cost, which together make it possible for owner pilots to 'fly more, fly for less.'"
Hurley’s aircraft design comes on the heels of deregulation (for airworthiness purposes) of a particular class of microlights by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority. Specifically, any single-seat aircraft with a max takeoff mass of less than 300 kg (660 lbs) and a stalling speed of 35 knots or less. Since GloW falls below both levels, no initial airworthiness certification or mandatory annual inspection is required. Basically, any pilot holding a Self Launching Motor Glider (SLMG) license can fly the machine. The company has set its sights on the US market with similar aircraft designations.
The legal changes allow a company such as ProAirsport greater flexibility and leeway in production. "Markets that are lightly regulated for this kind of aircraft mean that the concept can be innovative, development can be quick, and the high costs associated with mandatory technical certification by an authority avoided," says Hurley. "We see markets world-wide amongst pilots seeking simpler, innovative and less hassle-some products."
Instead of more expensive carbon fiber material, the GloW airframe is made of a glass/epoxy composite – basic materials that contribute to its light weight and low production cost.
While speed is generally not a feature prized by glider pilots, range and duration are. As a glider/microlight combo, the GloW will be able to soar with engine off, potentially greatly extending both time in the air and distance traveled. Typical gliders can soar hundreds of miles for as long as eight to ten hours with the right conditions, which should only be enhanced with the addition of GloW’s engine.
Another potential use for the GloW may come as a remotely piloted aircraft, especially with no noise footprint during soar mode. And by removing the pilot and an estimated 120 kg (265 lbs) of payload weight, there’s extra space for additional fuel or instrument packs. "The key parts, including the electric drive and turbine, are relatively inexpensive and tried and tested components with reliable track records," says Hurley.
ProAirsport is currently building two demonstration aircraft (one each for the UK and US markets) with inaugural flights expected in September/October of 2015. The company has plans to ramp up production by the end of the year.