KIS Cruiser - Flight Report
A Little Personal Background
(Skip to Flight Review if not interested)
A little over two years ago, after ten plus years of dreaming and reading just about everything I could find about homebuilt airplanes, I finally decided to get serious about selecting the plane that I wanted to build. Now I have wanted to fly as far back as I can remember and actually started taking lessons when I was 19 and in the Air Force. An early out and lack of money terminated my first attempt after about 12 hours. My second attempt was about eight years later and ended after about 10 hours due to meeting my lovely wife, getting married, moving and changing jobs. (All at the same time mind you!) That put my flying on hold for many years while I concentrated on family, business, and home. About 10 years ago I decided that it was time to try once more. After about 15 hours I got totally pissed with the FBO and said to heck with it. That lasted about nine months when my wife gave me 4 hours of dual time for Christmas and another 4 hours of dual for my birthday. She also threatened my life if I wasted all that money.
I finished my private about eight years ago and joined a local flying club. Now the flying club is great and we have three airplanes which are kept in excellent shape. The monthly dues and hourly charges are a bargain in anybodys book. The availability of the airplanes has always been good and only a fool or somebody who needs to fly very frequently would even consider getting out of the club and incur the expenses of their own airplane. I must be such a fool since I cannot justify my desire for my own plane on the basis of need. I also must admit that building an airplane seems to my very logical mind as a very illogical decision. The only justification that I can make is that I love to build things, I have always wanted to build an airplane and owning an airplane of my own is just simply something that I want. I also must say it makes it much easier that my wife feels the same way and would rather take flying trips than drive anytime.
I am still a newbie low time pilot with just under 200 hours of PIC. I have NOT flown thousands of airplanes and would not consider myself very qualified to give an educated review on any airplane. I have flown both high and low wing airplanes with about an equal number of hours between them. The high wing planes included AeroComander 180?, Cessna 150, 172, 182 and 182RG. The low wings were the Grumman Tiger and the Piper Cherokee 180. I have also had the opportunity to get a few minutes in an RV-4 and a couple of other homebuilts. Having flown both high and low wing, I found I really preferred the low wing planes in just about every way. The RV-4 was an excellent airplane and great fun to fly but going down the list I probably enjoyed flying the Grumman Tiger the most with the Piper a close second.
( The RV-4 was just too much for me to handle at this time.)
As I mentioned above, my wife loves to fly and would prefer to fly rather than drive on any kind of trip. My daughter also loves to fly and her long time boyfriend who already has his commercial multi-engine rating is well on his way to becoming a commercial pilot. I knew that what I needed and wanted in the way of an airplane was a 4-seater with good performance but not so quick on control response that I would tend to get behind the airplane. I also wanted a low wing design that would be a great IFR platform for lots of cross country flying and a little sex appeal wouldnt hurt either. Time to build was also a consideration since I could only dedicate about half of my weekends to building.
As you can see, I had a good definition of the mission profile for my aircraft selection. The problem was that there were so few aircraft (kits or plans) which really met my requirements. I wont go into all the planes I considered but the short list came down to the Lancair, Express, KIS Cruiser, and a plans only called the Finch Bird. Now what I had decided I really wanted was the Lancair IVP, but being realistic, I knew that was totally out of my price and build time range. The KIS Cruiser really came out far ahead of the others in every category except maybe Sex Appeal. Now here is where I screwed up badly. In my decision process, the money consideration ranked rather high. The Finch Bird promised to be the least expensive and also promised to be able to build in less than 2000 hours. So, after several discussions with the designer of the Finch Bird I ordered the plans and the steel, welding equipment, and etc. After about three months of working on the Finch Bird, I came to realize that I had made a big mistake on several fronts. First, I found that the plans were not even complete yet and that the design work had been going on for much longer than I had been led to believe. (The plans are still not complete and a prototype has yet to fly.) I also found that I didnt really care for the welding and felt like I could not do a good enough job to ever feel comfortable flying my work.
After finding out about the problems with the plans and a long talk with my wife I decided that I had made a mistake and to cut my loses before we went any further. I then went back to what I had always thought was the best choice for me, which was the KIS Cruiser. (Turns out my wife never liked the idea of the Finch Bird and had wanted me to go with the KIS all along.) I then made contact with TRI-R to get more detailed information and started the process toward ordering the KIS Cruiser. I had not been able to get to any of the shows where the KIS Cruiser was present and had not seen the plane in person. About the time I was ready to make my trip to California to see and fly the plane, the prototype blew an engine and crashed in a plowed field. It had broke the nose wheel and flipped during the landing and would be out of service for some time. I was forced to make my decision on the KIS without ever having seen or flown the airplane. I did so in January of 1997 and received the tail kit and began construction shortly thereafter. I am now well into the construction process on the fuselage kit and making good progress but still had not personally seen or flown the Cruiser.
KIS Cruiser Flight Review
(Now for the good stuff)
This last weekend I attended the Copperstate Flyin and for the first time was able to see the KIS Cruiser in person. I also walked the entire flight line looking at just about every other plane that I had considered during the selection process including the Express, Velocity, Stallion, Lancair, Cozy and several others. Once I had seen the KIS Cruiser and all the other planes, I really felt much better about my decision. There are still a couple of the airplanes which might have a bit more sex appeal but overall the KIS is definitely the best choice I could have made. This plane is small enough physically for one person to handle getting it in and out of the hangar yet has as much interior space and load capacity as a Cessna 182. It is a great looking airplane and attracted quite a bit of attention considering that TRI-R did not have a tent and was only present on the flight line. I took a lot of photos of the plane including some of the details which were not real clear from the instructions in the builders manual. I also met and had a great talk with Bill Grote, Vance Jaqua, and Rich Trickle. I would like to thank them again for the time they spent with me and for giving me a great test flight.
On Sunday morning the weather over the Phoenix area was absolutely incredible. We are talking about 80 degrees with very light breeze and totally clear skies. You couldnt order a more perfect day to go flying. About 9:30, Bill and I pull the Cruiser out to the startup area and climbed on board. Now boarding takes a bit of getting used to in order to not bump your head at the same time you bust your butt but after a couple of times it becomes much easier. Once inside and seated it is quite comfortable with the possible exception of the control stick being a bit too far up into the crouch. (* The control stick placement will give you a real good reason to keep the seat belts real tight!) I understand that the placement of the control stick is a bit better on the production kits than the prototype. Mine will be even better since it will go out the front of the bulkhead and loop back instead of coming up through the seat.
Ventilation on the ground was about like all other planes, not real good. Holding the door partly open helped a lot but I would be concerned about the wind catching it if your hand slipped or if the passenger didnt understand that they had to hold it. Closing the fully open doors also was not easy if fully seated. Taxi visibility was outstanding and ground handling seemed very good. (Prototype has nose wheel linked to rudder cables, new kits use free castering nose wheel with differential braking to steer. Handling remains to be seen.) The take off roll was straight down the center line and lift off was fairly quick. Bill maintained control of the airplane during both takeoff and landing for this test flight which was fine with me since I have spent much more time building than flying and am out of currency. (Medical OK but havent had my biannual.) Our climb out was at about 90 mph with around 1500 fpm climb rate. At that rate, I would bust my local TCA floor in less than a minute and a half. I will have to be real careful with that.
Now comes the part that turned this 52 year old back into an excited kid with a new toy. After we cleared the local airspace Bill turned the controls over to me. Now I have maybe 5 minutes of stick time vs control yoke and was a bit concerned about adjustment time. NOT to worry, within just a few minutes I felt more comfortable with the control stick than I have ever felt with the control yoke. It seemed like I only had to think about what I wanted and the action came in a normal fashion. I LIKE IT! Now I am very used to the spam cans where I have to jack up the seat and pull forward to get a decent view over the instrument panel and cowling. I am also used to the horizon being just above the cowling line when flying straight and level. In the KIS it seem like I was in a nose down attitude and needed to pull back on the stick because the visibility over the panel and forward was so good. Straight and level had the horizon line about mid windshield and I could actually see the ground in front of the airplane. Overall, visibility was the best I have seen including the Grumman Tiger which has a full glass canopy. In fact, my 5 ft 2 in wife would for the first time be able to easily see out the front and sides without having to have an extra cushion.
I had heard that the KIS was somewhat pitch sensitive but that roll control was a bit stiff. I would give a qualified agreement to that statement in that roll control did require more force than pitch but neither were at all excessive. In fact, if I were going to change one or the other, I might make pitch a bit less sensitive. Entry into a steep turn required only a very moderate side force on the stick. I found the controls to be very tight with absolutely no slop like you find in spam cans. The only problem I seem to have was not gaining altitude during turns and even this only took a couple of attempts before it was very natural. I made a couple of steep turns about a point and have never been able to hold the point that well before. Again, visibility during the turns was great.
I found that straight and level flight was easy to obtain and we leveled out at about 65% power and around 165+ mph. During straight and level flight the plane trimmed out and flew hands free without any trouble at all. Climbing performance was incredible and the plane just seemed to want to do just that. A slight back pressure on the stick and you were climbing at 500 to a 1000 ft per minute without seeming to loose a lot of air speed. During descending the air speed would gain on you quite rapidly since this plane is so clean. In all, everything that I wanted the plane to do it did almost by reading my mind. During slow speed maneuvers, the plane seemed to respond just as well as at maneuvering speed. The plane responded to control input both quickly and predictably with absolutely no bad qualities that I could tell.
Bill took the controls for a short period and showed me both slow flaps down and power on climbing stalls. That proved to be an interesting experience. During both stall conditions, we had to go extremely nose high and the airspeed went below the 50 mph reading and basically useless before we finally felt a slight buffed and the nose and right wing dropped off slightly. Control response seemed to be regained quickly with less than 100 ft drop. During the entry to both stalls, the plane was gaining altitude until just before the stall and seemed to want to continue forever.
During the return to the field we descended from 4000 to about 2000 ft and I found that it was very easy to exceed Vne if you didnt keep your eye on the airspeed. This plane is real slick and gains speed very rapidly in descent attitude. Bill took the controls for the return to the airport and the landing. He made a short field type approach and put it down on the last half of the runway. The touch down was normal but, as I had heard, the nose wheel seemed to come down rather quickly and solidly. This has been changed some in the production kits by a slight change in the wing and gear placement. Rollout was straight and the flight ended all too soon for me. I could have stayed up their all day!
My final impression is that this plane is absolutely everything I had hoped it would be and then some. Its a great looking airplane on the ground and an absolute pleasure to fly. I was quite comfortable the whole flight and feel like I could take long cross country flights without feeling beat to death at the end. I also feel like those Saturday $100 hamburger runs and local buzz around the patch are going to be more fun than I have ever had. This is not an aerobatics type fun plane but then I am not an aerobatics pilot either. I also feel that it will make an excellent IFR aircraft when properly equipped. In short, it was the right decision for me.
Thank You Rich and company for a most enjoyable flight and for your time. Now where are those stir sticks, I have some epoxy to mix and a plane to finish. This flight came at the right time to help renew my energy to finish.
KIS Cruiser #4044 in progress...