Behind the Scenes: Foxbat
When it comes to Aussie success stories in the aviation industry, no names fly higher than Foxbat. Under the astute leadership of Peter Harlow, the Victorian-based company have been distributing Aeroprakt aircraft since the dawn of the millennium, and things are only getting bigger and better.
Before diving into the history of Foxbat, we first have to learn about the company behind the wonderful aircraft they sell. Aeroprakt was formed in the early 1990s in the Ukraine by two ex-Antonov employees. The first aircraft they designed and built was the A20 – a tandem two-seat tail-dragger aircraft with a ‘pusher’ configuration engine and propeller. A critical and commercial success, this aircraft set the scene for the future of Aeroprakt – flying in an A20, the company’s CEO and chief designer Yuriy Yakovlyev won awards at a number of ultralight competitions around the world. The A20 was welcomed by ultralight pilots all over Europe but was predominantly sold in the USA and Eastern Bloc countries.
Despite the success of the A20, customers demanded a more traditional aircraft, with tricycle landing gear, side-by-side seating and a ‘tractor/puller’ propeller configuration – and so the A22 was born. Constructed almost entirely from metal, it was exactly what many pilots were after, and it was an immediate hit. The Aeroprakt name and reputation were growing, and the public hunger for more aircraft saw the company expand dramatically.
More recently, and again based on customer demand, Aeroprakt designed and built the A32 aircraft. Three years of intense development led to a plane that can easily adapt to even the most difficult conditions and has been praised by pilots. Although using basically the same wing profile of the A22, the new A32 has a completely different fuselage, cabin and tailplane, leading to a greatly enhanced flying experience.
Since Aeroprakt began manufacturing aircraft in the early 1990s they have built more than 1000 planes, which have been sold in over 40 countries. They’re the quiet achievers of aviation, but the applause surrounding them is becoming impossible to ignore.
It should come as no surprise that there is massive demand for such great aircraft on these shores, and that’s where Foxbat Australia come in. Originally known as SilverWing Aviation, the company was set up in 2001 by Peter Harlow, with the first A22L aircraft delivered in 2004.
Harlow is a true aviation visionary, and has the wealth of experience needed to keep up with Australia’s growing demand for Aeroprakt planes. He learned to fly with the UK Royal Navy and, after a brief affair with powered paragliders, flew hot air balloons in southern England for several years. Returning to fixed wing flying, and after enjoying membership to a number of different aircraft ownership groups, he eventually decided to acquire an aircraft of his own. After much searching, he fell in love with the Aeroprakt A22 Foxbat.
Harlow migrated to Australia in 2001, bringing his beloved Foxbat with him. On learning of his change of residence, the Aeroprakt factory suggested that he may like to become their agent in Australia, and he leapt at the opportunity. Thus started a long process to gain acceptance for the A22 in Australia, with the business truly kicking off in July of 2004.
Originally operating in south east Queensland, Foxbat Australia has, since 2008, been based at Tyabb Airport, south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula. They also make use of a facility at Moorabbin Airport – CAE Aircraft Maintenance – for the re-assembly and sign-off of aircraft after shipping from the factory.
Since the first customer delivery in 2004, Foxbat has sold over 165 A22 aircraft of various types, plus 17 of the latest A32 (Vixxen) aircraft. The massive success of the newer aircraft has led to expansion of the company, with additional staff hired to meet the growing demand.
Recently, Peter has been joined at Foxbat by Ido Segev, a commercial pilot and instructor, with both GA and RA-Aus licenses. He’s also a qualified commercial drone pilot. Last but certainly not least, he’s a world champion model aircraft aerobatics pilot with his own range of RC models. Ido is becoming involved in every aspect of Foxbat’s operations.
Early A22 aircraft conformed to the European and UK maximum gross weight limit of 450 kilos but, since the introduction of the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category in Australia eight years ago, all A22 and A32 aircraft have been engineered to a 600 kilo gross weight limit.
Unlike some aviation companies, Foxbat Australia focuses on representing a single manufacturer in the LSA category. This enables them to build a strong relationship with the manufacturer, leading to excellent spare parts support and a high degree of responsiveness to suggestions for improvements to aircraft – and even the development of Australian market-specific aircraft like the A22 ‘Kelpie’, which has been designed to meet the unique demands of this rugged country.
STRAIGHT FROM THE BOSS’S MOUTH
Nobody knows more about Foxbat Australia than the company’s founder and CEO, Peter Harlow. This man lives and breathes Aeroprakt aircraft, and has an all-encompassing passion for flying, so we asked him for his opinions of the aircraft. He turned out to be unexpectedly candid.
“What attracted me to these aircraft in the first place? The honest answer is that there’s no single major reason. For me, it was and remains a combination of factors – the big cabins; the magic view out the windows; the legendary and incredibly reliable Rotax engine; the extremely rugged construction; the very short take-off and landing; and last but certainly not least, the sweet slow speed flight handling.
“First of all, I’d say that we are not trying to be all things to all people. The Foxbat and Vixxen will appeal to some people and definitely not to others. We’re not in the business of trying to persuade a customer to buy one of our aircraft if it isn’t really what they need. We don’t want a sale at all costs – in my experience you’re likely to end up with an unhappy owner if you do the high-pressure sales bit.
“For example, the Foxbat and Kelpie are primarily utility aircraft. Although they will cruise at 95 knots or even a bit faster, they are realistically most comfortable in the 40-80 knots range. There are certainly faster aircraft in the same market category. So if speed is your thing, go for an aircraft that will achieve what you want. But beware: it’s worth recalling a well-known American aviator who said that unless you’re going at least 50% faster than the others, you won’t notice the speed.
“Likewise, there are other aircraft – mainly gyros – which will land in smaller spaces than the Foxbat. Various gyros and fixed wing aircraft will take off and land very short but will suffer a bit on the cruise speed.
“The A32 Vixxen is much faster in the cruise and takes off and climbs more quickly than the Foxbat and stalls slightly slower. It definitely handles differently to the Foxbat and by comparison you need a bit more finesse to get the best out of the aircraft. Some people have called the A32 ‘a Foxbat on steroids’ which it definitely is not – it’s quite a different plane! In short, it’s horses for courses. I could almost write a book about the questions to ask yourself before buying an aeroplane, but that’s another story!
“Overall, I find the A22 and A32 very user-friendly, comfortable and supremely easy to fly. In fact, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I love both aircraft for their respective qualities. Having flown a couple of thousand hours in them I can think of no better way to summarise them than by quoting an A32 customer: ‘Finding a peer aircraft for comparison as a cross-country cruiser is not easy. With full fuel the A32 can still carry a useful load of about 210 kgs over 400 nautical miles with statutory (60 minute) reserves and consume 3.5 hours and less than 70 litres of MOGAS doing it. There are no doubt other aircraft with such capability on the market but few, I venture to guess, which will land safely in a short paddock at the end of the trip.’”
THE PLANES! THE PLANES!
The A22LS Foxbat is currently the mainstay of the fleet, with over 150 flying in Australia. A metal airframe tricycle landing gear high-wing aircraft with two side-by-side seats, it’s well known and popular with owners and pilots for a number of reasons.
It has amazing Short Take Off and Landing ((STOL) capabilities; an experienced pilot can take-off, fully loaded, in as little as 75 metres and land in about the same distance. Its stall characteristics are very benign, making it an ideal training aircraft, or plane for someone who wants an easy and fun ride.
The slow speed flight handling characteristics are safe and positive right down to speeds around 35 knots, making it the perfect aircraft for stock spotting and mustering.
It has a massive cabin that ensures a comfortable and roomy flight every time, and is also capable of carrying a an impressive load – typically 200-210kgs of people and baggage, even after adding a full 114 litres of fuel. On top of all that, the view out is almost as good as that of a helicopter or gyro, leading to a beautiful flight every single time.
Whilst not the most sleek looking aircraft in its category, the A22LS is nevertheless fit for purpose – after all, it was designed to be a safe and easy to fly utility aircraft, and its record over 12 years of operation in Australian conditions bears this out.
The latest addition to the Foxbat fleet is the A22LS Kelpie, an aircraft designed in response to the demands of station and farm owners and those who regularly use their aircraft for stock spotting, mustering and farm maintenance.
The Kelpie is at heart a Foxbat, retaining all the inherent qualities of that aircraft and adding a few important extras to make it as attractive as possible for its intended owners. Firstly, it has a larger diameter take-off and climb propeller. The Foxbat boasts a breathtaking take off rate, and the Kelpie is even better, particularly at slow speeds.
It comes with a set of tundra tyres fitted with rubber, low-resonance mudflaps; in combination, these add a capability for landing on rougher paddocks while keeping stones and cow pats off the airframe.
It has a metal luggage bin with an external access door and a 30kg placard (which is 10kgs more than the Foxbat) suitable for stowing tools and other items which might damage the Foxbat’s standard canvas luggage container. The Kelpie also features a UHF radio and a twin tone 100W Australian Warning Systems siren as standard. The UHF radio is properly wired through the headsets, enabling continued use of the intercom during UHF use, with ‘transmit’ working from both pilot and co-pilot PTT buttons.
Finally, there are protective transparent plastic strips along the tail leading edge and landing gear legs, as well as a tinted sun screen at the top of the windscreen. These features, large and small, go a long way towards making the Kelpie the most desirable and rugged aircraft in its class.
Since the Kelpie was formally announced at Ozkosh in early October, four Kelpies have been ordered and the signs are there that this aircraft will be a major feature of Foxbat Australia’s line up in future.
As popular as the A22 Foxbat is, some owners and pilots began asking for a higher cruise speed. Although speed is a bit of a double-edged sword (after all, most of us in the light sport category enjoy our flying, so why shorten our time aloft by getting there faster?), in countries like Australia, with vast distances between destinations, speed becomes more important.
As a result of customer and dealer feedback, the Aeroprakt designers decided to look at ways of increasing the cruise speed of the A22. It quickly became clear that some substantial changes were needed, so rather than tinker with an already capable and successful design, they decided to develop a new aircraft – the A32.
Although it has a similar wing profile to the A22, the A32 is, in almost every other respect, a completely new design. Over a development period of almost four years, the factory managed to produce an aircraft which, while retaining an unmistakable family resemblance to the A22, is able to stall slower, cruise faster (at least 20 knots faster), and do so in a more comfortable and quieter cabin.
When the A32 performance figures were first announced, there was widespread scepticism in the light sport and recreational aircraft marketplace. Now, after many positive press reviews and new owner experiences, the sales have exceeded the wildest of expectations.
There is much to be said about how the slightly slower stall and much faster cruise speeds have been achieved, but it should come as no surprise that Aeroprakt CEO Yuriy Yakovlyev’s qualifications and experience are primarily in aerodynamics.
What makes the A32 Vixxen an even more exceptional achievement is that fuel economy has improved by around 20-25%, removing the need for the larger (and draggier) ‘long range’ fuel tanks found on the A22. Brilliantly, the legendary weight carrying capability of the A22LS remains almost intact – still around 210 kilos of people and baggage after adding full fuel.
MOMENTS AND MILESTONES
2001 – SilverWing Aviation formed to market and support Aeroprakt A22 aircraft in Australia
2004 – first customer factory-built A22 aircraft delivered
2006 – company name changed to ‘Foxbat Australia’
2008 – first customer delivery of the new LSA 600 kgs MTOW A22LS Foxbat
2014 – delivery of the 100th A22 Foxbat in Australia. Celebration party for the new owners included a visit to Australia by Yuriy Yakovlyev, CEO and designer of the A22
2015 – introduction and first deliveries of new A32 ‘Vixxen’ aircraft in Australia
2016 – delivery of the 150th Aeroprakt aircraft in Australia
2016 – Ido Segev joins Foxbat Australia
2016 – introduction of the new landowner focused A22LS ‘Kelpie’