The BRM Bristell LSA isn’t just a good looker but a sleek performer too. Aviator takes the plane for a spin and comes away impressed by the experience.
We at Aviator Magazine get to hear about all manner of interesting aircraft, with some grabbing more attention than others. The increasing range of options in the Light Sport Aviation category, in particular, bears attention, but with so many brands and models out there we tend to look for standouts.
We recently heard of one worthy of further examination – one that is the first of its kind in the world – a Czech Republic-built BRM Bristell powered by an Australian-built Jabiru 3300 120hp engine. An interesting marriage as our flight test was to demonstrate.
This particular aircraft recently went on line at Central West Flying School (CWF) in Bathurst, NSW. On paper it looks a bit too ‘fast and furious’ for ab-initio training, which is why CFI and school owner Chris Stott took the decision from the outset to make it available exclusively to licensed pilots for private hire. His school operates in both Recreational and General Aviation categories and, as such, has many graduates looking to hire aircraft for short local flights or cross country trips around Australia. The CWF fleet comprises three Jabirus (J160, J170, J230), a Cessna 152 and the Bristell.
Central West Flying School worked with Brett Anderson of Anderson Aviation (BRM’s agent for Australia and New Zealand) to put BRM and Jabiru Australia in contact to establish the logistics of having the Jabiru engine shipped to the Czech Republic and to share notes on installation and certification issues. The build time understandably ran to some six months, with revised weight and balance considerations, custom ducting and cowlings, custom oil cooling system, custom fuel delivery and so on. The next phase of the project wa an extensive flight testing program in the Czech Republic and then several more hours of testing after the aircraft arrived in Australia. This latter work in Australia had additional modifications being made to better balance air flow and air pressure in the engine bay.
First impressions do count and the first impression on sighting the Bristell is one of form and substance. It sits relatively high off the ground for a low wing, is a great looking machine and quite large by LSA standards.
The renowned BRM DNA comes through strongly and is reflective of the great eye that several European and American aircraft designers have in finding the right combination of aesthetics and efficiency. Comparisons with other design classics like Cirrus and Cessna 350/400 are hard to avoid. This should come as no surprise as Milan Bristela, BRM Bristell’s designer, was a principle influence on the Evektor, Sport Cruiser and several other recent models produced in the Czech Republic.
The Bristell moves the game on from these earlier designs In terms of refinement and development, resulting in a very polished product, both in manufacturing terms and, as we were soon to see, general performance.
The metalwork fit and finish are class-leading, a testament to European aircraft fabricators and assemblers.
Climbing onto the trailing edge step of the wing and lifting the enormous canopy, provides the first view of the cockpit, which is one of space and quality of fit and finish. Shoulder to shoulder is a significant 52 inches and the generous leather clad seats (BMW Yellow Nappa no less) are positioned well apart giving excellent separation between the two occupants. Central West’s example is fitted with BRMs largest instrument panel, needed to house the Dynon Skyview and Garmin’s latest 796 GPS, together with back-up analogues and engine / fuel flow monitoring gauges. It also boasts auto pilot and a ballistic recovery system. The full harnesses give reassuring restraint but are comfortable, with ample adjustment for all body shapes and sizes.
The ignition key assembly is GA-like, with a single turn clicking through both mags to the start position. With this the centre-piece of this particular aircraft jumps to life. The Jabiru six cylinder engine develops 120hp, providing a 20 per cent horsepower improvement over the standard Rotax 912 fitted to regular examples.
The engine fires instantly with Jabiru’s cold-start ignition option (Bristell 24-8555 operates from Bathurst, NSW where winter mornings can see temperatures regularly drop to below zero). The next noticeable feature is the low rolling resistance of the Michelin Aviation tyres and light-weight alloy rims. Steering is by a combination of rudder and toe brakes (French manufactured Beringer wheels and brakes here) and is light and responsive. The turning circle is particularly tight with the aid of the independent brakes.
Lining up on the runway centreline, the excellent vision from the mostly unobstructed canopy is easily appreciated by pilot and co-pilot (or passenger) alike. Power is applied through an airline style T handle in the centre console and with the Jabiru 6 humming under the hood, this Bristell jumps out of the blocks with power. With no flap the aircraft departs terra firma, two up, in well under 200 metres; while 10 per cent flap enables it to get off the ground within 150 metres.
It quickly settles into an 80 knot climb, producing 900 feet a minute and the 500 foot mark comes up very quickly. Rolling onto cross-wind shows the responsiveness of roll and rudder inputs, synonymous with the relatively high pitch sensitivity. For those coming out of some other, slower, LSAs, this sensitivity takes a little adjustment, but with an hour on type it all feels very natural, with small control inputs making this bird respond to the pilot’s commands quickly and accurately.
Climb to cruise altitude and level off with the Jab 6 pulled back to 2900 RPM and an impressive TAS of 130 knots is quickly reached.
Entering a Rate 1 or steeper turn sees the stick and rudder balance appear to almost be coupled, such is the ease of getting that balance ball centred. And once there it will hold the bank and balance with hands off the stick. Very stable indeed. And that helicopter view adds to an already rewarding ride.
Back to the field and setting up for the landing takes a bit of planning. This ship is so slippery that coming down from 125 knots or so, to 70 knots for base and final takes some time. With 30 per cent of flap on final it sits just a little nose-down and the electric trim toggle on the front of the stick (for elevator and aileron) allows the approach speed to be locked in. In the round-out the typical ground effect of low wing aircraft is immediately apparent, but this makes it very easy to judge the flare and touch-down. Chris Stott advises that his flying school can typically convert a high wing-trained pilot onto the Bristell in one hour.
Chris is already seeing that this Ferrari of the skies is capable of turning some of the more staunch supporters of the GA category into Recreational Aviation aircraft believers. When they consider at its looks, performance, specification and pricing, some find it difficult to believe the value delivered in this package.
Chris advises that, with Central West Flying School operating in both RA and GA segments, the Bristell is an excellent stepping stone from RA to GA, as well as in reverse for those experienced pilots who want or need (for medical or cost reasons) to come over to RA but still have access to top quality and performing aircraft.
LAMEs doing the final assembly of BRM aircraft based in Westernport, Victoria have made the observation that the aircraft is GA-built quality and performance, on an RA / LSA budget.
Pilots are reporting regular cross country legs of four plus hours in comfort, with the plane and crew coping easily. Usually it’s the pilot who has to get to ground for the ‘call of nature’ that determines the distance travelled. We have even heard of one hardy soul who has taken personal comfort measures to fly to the limit of the plane’s range, so comfort seems top of the class.
Our test pilot recently did a non-stop flight from the Mornington Peninsular (South of Melbourne) to Cowra, NSW, and experienced no discomfort at all in the form-fitting seats.
At the time of writing, during a period of eight weeks, more than 20 GA and RA pilots had experienced the delights of this particular Bristell. The comments generally acknowledged its performance and handling characteristics, but specifically, its roll and pitch responsiveness and ease of landing the aircraft.
The aircraft is capable of carrying 55 kg of luggage in two wing lockers rated to 20 kg each and a cargo space directly behind the seats rated at 15 kg plus the new front locker option, forward of the canopy, which is good for another 20 kg. You can even get a sleeping compartment the almost runs the length of the fuselage holding one adult, or two very, very cosy adults for the serious cross country adventurers!
One private pilot who is interested in purchasing a BRM Bristell recently told Aviator that while he was impressed with the aesthetics of the aircraft, it wasn’t until he’d actually flown the plane at Central West Flying Club that he realised just how impressive it really was. “The aeroplane’s flying characteristics exceeded my expectations,” he said. “I found the Bristell to be a modern, streamlined aircraft with a spacious, well-designed cockpit, a high standard of construction, and a robust design with good performance and excellent handling qualities in conditions. The machine is first class.”
The private pilot was also impressed with the aircraft’s performance in turbulent conditions. “What struck me was the aircraft’s handling in turbulent conditions,” he says. “It didn’t “feel” like an LSA category aircraft. No, it felt like a heavier aircraft but with the responsiveness of an LSA. The gust response was excellent, with the aircraft well damped in pitch, roll and yaw. And despite this level of stability, the aircraft is very responsive and easy to fly.
“For a pilot who wants a low wing monoplane with good performance, excellent handling qualities and some innovative features, I would recommend they take a close look at the BRM Bristell. I am impressed by this aircraft. I plan to visit the factory in the Czech Republic to meet the designer and to view the factory. Based on that visit I will make my final decision … I suspect the BRM Bristell will be the aircraft for me.”
Anyone wanting to risk becoming a believer can book time with Chris Stott and his team at Central West Flying (three RA instructors and one GA) to test this Bristell in the typically clear skies of Bathurst. Drive or fly-in. Courtesy car and accommodation are available. Visit www.centralwestflying.com
And Brett at Anderson Aviation in Victoria, who is very knowledgeable on all things Bristell and an early convert to the virtues of the aircraft, is happy to assist anyone wanting further information on the BRM range – including the latest Bristell retractable undercarriage. http://www.andersonaviation.com.au/