Updated: May 13
In 2016, I was lucky enough to visit Jihlavan Airplanes, in Jihlava, Czech Republic, to test fly some of their aircraft and view their manufacturing facilities. Jihlavan Airplanes is a subsidiary of Skyleader, a company which builds a number of ultralights and exports them world wide.
I was especially keen to fly the Skyleader GP ONE, as it was competitively priced and designed to compete with high-end aircraft such as the Pipistrel and the Flight Design.
After visiting the factory, our guide Martin took us to Jihlava aerodrome (LKJI). It was one of those beautiful summer days in Europe with light winds and fair weather cumulus slowly moving across the sky. I was genuinely excited to fly a new aircraft. Martin took us to the clubhouse, fed us sausages and tea and then took us to the hangar. It was an unusual hangar as it was circular with a rotating floor. Martin opened the door and pressed a button. The floor started to rotate and he held it until the GP ONE was in line with the door. I'd never seen a hangar like this and although it was extremely cool, I could only imagine that it was expensive.
I wandered around the airfield whilst Skyleader's test pilot checked out the aircraft. Jihlava is home to a gliding club and a skydiving club. The skydiving club uses the Antonov AN-2 and I counted three of them on-site. Unfortunately I didn't get to test fly one of those!
As I approached the GP-ONE, my initial thoughts were that it was an attractive aircraft that looked better in the flesh than it did in pictures. It is a carbon-composite, two seat, high-wing, monoplane with a fixed landing gear. It is powered by the ubiquitous Rotax 912, has a maximum take-off weight of 600kg and a stall speed below 30kts, so it meets the basic requirements for a microlight or light sport aircraft in most markets. On the 80hp Rotax 912, the aircraft cruises at 94kts with 75% power and the relatively large fuel tanks of 105 litres ensure that it has a range of over 640nm.
The gull-wing doors made it easy to enter the aircraft, but the seats looked a bit thin. However, I didn't find them uncomfortable as I expected. I am not sure how comfortable they would be on long trips. The cockpit is deceptively wide at 47 inches and I wasn't shoulder to shoulder with the test pilot.
The start-up was unremarkable with the typical Rotax 912 procedures. The aircraft was quieter than my Flight Design CT and the engine vibrations were dampened. The leaf-spring undercarriage provided a smooth taxi on the grass taxiway which was significantly undulated.
I was an unknown variable, so the test pilot allowed me to take the controls but he covered the stick on his side. I found the take-off uneventful. The elevator was powerful enough to lift the nose wheel off the ground early and the large 33ft wing-span ensured that we weren't on the ground for long. Climb performance was around 900fpm. After levelling-off, my workload decreased enough to settle at the controls and develop a feel for the aircraft.
The GP-ONE is a pleasure to fly. The handling was light and well balanced. The rudder pedals were light and smooth and I found it easy to coordinate turns. After a few medium level turns, climbs and descents, I had the urge to perform steep turns. Typically, when flying a new aircraft, steep turns of 50° bank angle require a bit of practice, but with the GP-ONE, I managed to coordinate them on my first try and hold a steady altitude. I was confident enough to try a stall which was very benign and unremarkable.
There was persistent light to moderate thermal activity throughout the flight, but the aircraft was quite stable through them and the 90kt cruise did not feel strained. I also noticed that the wind-noise around the cabin was lower than I am used to, especially through the thermals. As a flying instructor, I tend to look at aircraft through that lens. My opinion was that this would be an easy place to spend four to five hours each day without causing too much fatigue.
On the way back to the airfield, I tried some glide descents to get an idea what the approach angle would be like. The aircraft has a high lift:drag ratio so the descents were shallow. It was relatively easy to judge where to descend in the circuit and the flaps were deployed using a simple Cessna-like switch. I elected to fly a powered approach as I find it easier in unfamiliar aircraft. The approach was rather simple with hardly any power adjustment required and the landing was not particularly taxing. I held the nose off as long as possible and we gently rolled along the grass without having to use any brake. I passed control to the test pilot as we returned to the apron and sent a text message to my colleague who was due to fly next. "You're going to love this."
He certainly did enjoy the flight. As he taxied in he was smiling as much as I was and said that he found the aircraft to be a joy to fly. We still talk about the aircraft to this day as one of the best ultralights we have ever flown.
The price was €59,000 plus VAT in 2016 which gave it a very competitive position on the market. The current price is €70,000 + VAT which makes it cheaper than all of the direct competitors in the UK right now.
The empty weight of the aircraft was too heavy to meet UK microlight requirements at the time, but as we hopefully move to 600kg I will be keeping an eye on this aircraft in particular. Looking at the Skyleader website today, I found it interesting that they were advertising for a UK agent and wonder if somebody will pick it up. Skyleader have a range of ultralights and a diversified fleet in the UK would be a good thing.
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