Rotax 65-100 HP
Although I suspect that the
majority of private pilots spend most of their time flying alone, a
two-seater is a more practical proposition, if only to check out
Furthermore, if the passenger area could be converted for load
carrying, this would increase the aircraft's potential market.
Another major requirement was that to save on hangarage and
maintenance charges, it must be possible to quickly dismantle and
transport for storage at home. I came to the conclusion that
anything that took longer than five minutes, single handed from
trailer to pre-flight inspection would preclude flying for the odd
half hour when I felt like it. That magic period just before sunset
when the wind invariably falls calm and the air becomes as smooth as
silk creates an irresistible urge to aviate.' And so, Russ created
the Sherwood Ranger.
with a very long microlight memory may recall the Tiger Cub, a
miniature biplane sold to budding microlighters in the days before
Section S. It acquired something of a reputation for sensitive
handling, but did achieve approval once regulation was upon us. Russ
was involved with the Tiger Cub, and so it's no surprise that the
basic biplane layout was chosen when Russ wanted to produce an
updated microlight. It also produces such a practical microlight,
I'm amazed no-one else has tried it.
Russ decided that going places wasn't his first priority. His
experience in light aircraft told him that even with the high
speeds and sophisticated instrument panels of a conventional light
aircraft, we in the UK are still to a large extent at the mercy of
the weather, so it was more important to have something that would
be cheap to operate and maintain, quick to get in the air, fun to
fly, and good to look at - and for this, the traditional
folding-wing biplane, as developed in the 1920's, was the perfect
vehicle. Remove the four pins from the leading edges, and the wings
fold to make the aircraft towable within five minutes, thus saving
hangarage charges. The taildragger biplane layout is phenomenally
strong, and will stand rough treatment both on the ground and in the
air, and the classic looks will appeal to everyone and not be
subject to the whims of fashion. A kit-built aircraft will keep the
initial cost down.
He took this idea and fitted it around a bolted tube structure for
ease of manufacture, and produced an airframe of immediate appeal to
all aviators. I flew the prototype in 1995 and was instantly taken
with its light handling, ease of stowage, and attractive looks.
Although the idea was sound, Russ had problems producing the kit,
and only a trickle of kit-built aircraft have made it into the air
so far - four to date from about a dozen kits sold.
So I was very privileged to be able to fly in the only kit-built
582-powered two-seater, G-PUSY, with its owner/builder, Ben
is nearest to the concept envisaged by Russ, although the wing fold
has been abandoned, since it's kept in its purpose-built hangar. The
other flying examples are Jabiru-powered or single-seat versions,
allowing a larger fuel load.
Ben keeps G-PUSY in the grounds of Moccas Court, Hereford, a stately
home that belonged to his parents and in whose farmhouse he now
lives. Having passed through the gates, one processes through
spacious parkland, between the Norman Church and cricket ground to
the farmhouse, where Ben, in marked contrast to his imposing
surroundings, immediately puts you completely at ease with a cup of
tea and boundless enthusiasm for aviation.
It quickly becomes clear that building the Ranger has been an
unusually tough challenge, not because of the design, which is
straightforward, but because of the erratic flow of kit parts from
Russ Light's manufacturing operation. In spite of this, Ben's
enthusiasm for the aircraft is undimmed, and he loses no opportunity
to tell you about its many wonderful qualities. I've come across
enthusiasts before, and closer acquaintance with the object of their
love doesn't always generate a mirror of that enthusiasm in others,
so I was prepared to be sceptical.
First acquaintance was good - G-PUSY has been painted in a cream /
red colour scheme that catches an echo of the 1920's from which the
design concept springs. The build standard is excellent - the finish
of homebuilt aircraft usually reflects the fact that their builder
was a novice, but this would bring credit to a professional outfit.
The Ranger has a traditional look, reminiscent of many inter-war
biplanes like the Tiger Moth, the main difference being the lack of
stagger on the wings (to facilitate the wing fold), single I-strut
between the wings and the very narrow engine cowling (because of the
much smaller engine).
G-PUSY's chin radiator is larger than the prototype, in anticipation
of cooling problems, but this has been managed without compromising
the smooth flow of the cowling lines. The cockpits are reassuringly
traditional, too; exposed fuselage stringers each side, minimal
flooring and a wooden instrument panel. Ben's even gone to the
trouble of fitting padded leather cockpit coamings.
Peering inside the fuselage, you can see the bolted aluminium tube
frame with wooden stringers - nothing complicated about assembling
this then. The wings have single aluminium tube spars with wooden
ribs fibreglassed and pop rivetted to them. There's a Frise aileron
for each wing, and conventional tail feathers - well rounded, and
blended into the rear fuselage. The undercarriage is also
traditional, with bungee suspension on both main and tailwheels. The
tailwheel is free-castoring, so steering on the ground requires
plenty of rudder, combined with use of the differential toe brakes.
The engine is mounted right way up, with a chin radiator, and is
tightly cowled. The top cowling comes off to give very good access
for maintenance, although the number of Dzus fasteners is a little
daunting! A three-blade Arplast propeller is slightly out of place
with the 1920's look of the rest of the aircraft, but does convert
torque into thrust with admirable efficiency.
Fuel supply comes from a single 23l tank mounted in the port upper
wing root. Fuel contents are easily visible, and the gravity feed
are all good points, but Ben feels a bit sensitive about the
aesthetics. Personally I'd forgo most aesthetic requirements for
ease of fuel management.
G-PUSY has her own purpose-built hangar, so Ben didn't bother with
the wing fold mechanism, but for most people this would be a major
selling point. Take out the four pins in the wing leading edges,
insert a jury strut between upper and lower wings and they fold back
along the fuselage sides, ready to be trailed home, or stored in a
garage. Five minutes from trailer to rigged. There's only one other
microlight gives you that, and that's the Balerit. To me that's a
priceless benefit, enabling an aircraft to be kept at home and flown
from a local strip in summer evenings after you get home from work.
You try doing that with a modern flexwing!
First job was to do the air-to-air photographs, and even Eddie
Clapham (photo ship pilot, and G-PUSY's test pilot) admitted that
the conditions were tricky - a strong, gusty crosswind curling over
a hill and trees upwind of the strip - but Ben and the Ranger took
off without fuss, and keeping up with Eddie in his 912-powered Rans
S6 proved no problem.
One of the disadvantages of a biplane is the restricted field of
vision, but the Ranger's cockpit is far enough aft to allow as good
vision as you're going to get, and Ben flew the sortie with
admirable polish, particularly since he'd never done close proximity
Photos done, we headed back to terra firma, and it was time to do
the flight test proper.
was all set for Ben to tell me that the conditions were too
difficult to manage two-up, but he said it would be okay, so I
lowered myself into the front seat. This takes a certain amount of
agility to achieve, but is probably no more difficult than, say,
getting into the AX3. Once installed and strapped in with the four
point harness, the view ahead is unusually good for a taildragger
biplane. Although one can't quite see directly ahead, the arc of
obstructed runway is tiny, enabling taxying with no more than the
View directly up and down in the front seat is limited by the wings,
but the relatively narrow chord makes this less of a problem than
some. You can also enjoy the wind in your hair (or skin, in my
case!) secure in the knowledge that if the thing goes base over
apex, the cabane structure should enable you to extricate yourself
without more than superficial injury. Although I didn't fly it from
the back seat, I was able to sit in it, and was again impressed with
the unusually good view ahead - and of course, the view up and down
is more or less unobstructed, since you're sitting so far behind the
The cockpits are snug, but with plenty of legroom even for giraffes.
If you are long in the body, your head is well clear of the coaming,
but a windscreen diverts most of the propwash over your head. There
isn't much storage space for sandwiches, cameras or other
paraphernalia, but if you wanted (for example) to go for a week
touring solo, it should be possible to devise a practical stowage
compartment in the front cockpit to take everything you might need.
have to admit to a degree of nerves prior to takeoff. Pretty much
everything was against us - a short
grass strip with a slight uphill slope, a hot day, a heavy load, and
a gusty 15kt wind curling over the trees. Taildraggers aren't at
their best on crosswind takeoffs, and the free-castoring tailwheel
meant that the only directional control was by means of the rudder.
That we got off so sprightly and straightforwardly is no doubt due
in part to Ben's flying skills, but a good workman can only work
with good tools, and it was clear that the aircraft had very good
short field performance coupled with excellent low-speed handling
characteristics. I relaxed, and we climbed out past the awesome
sight of Moccas Court, set in a wide sweep of the river, with
stepped lawns running down almost to the bank.
One might expect the noise level to be high, sitting right behind
the Rotax, but the exhaust has been routed well aft, and the
windrush drowns most of the rest. Conversation without headsets
would be of the hand-waving variety, but the overall impression is
much more pleasant than the insistent two-stroke drone of an
enclosed cockpit type.
Ben let me have the controls, and I instantly knew my memory hadn't
played tricks with me. The controls are as light, balanced, and
well-harmonised as I remembered, the ailerons being finger-light,
with pitch and yaw being rather heavier. I managed to get from 60?
one way to 60? the other in only four seconds. Russ always intended
the same airframe to be capable of aerobatics, and I'm sure that one
suitably certified would be utterly flingable. I mentioned this to
Eddie (who, as I say conducted all the initial flight tests), and he
couldn't conceal the faintest trace of a smile?
back to business.
Rate of climb at 55mph settled down to about 750fpm. Here the view
over the nose is slightly obscured, and the occasional clearing turn
to check for traffic ahead wouldn't go amiss. Eddie achieved 650fpm
two up during test flying. He also obtained 900fpm flying solo. A
comfortable cruise is at 60mph, with the Rotax 582 turning at about
5200rpm, and consuming (by Ben's account) 15l/hr - comparable, in
other words, with other aircraft of its generation.
Ah, but here the similarity ends. In the Ranger you're tucked snugly
into the cockpit, controls
comfortably to hand, with the propwash rushing past your leather
helmet and goggles. It takes but a small effort of imagination to
conjure up a silk scarf, Sutton harness, and the Red Baron in your
sights? in other words, flying straight and level isn't what the
Ranger's all about. If you have to get from A to B, the Ranger will
do it for you, but all the time you will be tempted to do a bit of
ducking and weaving, checking to see who's coming out of the sun?
For front seat passengers, the experience is different from that in,
say, a Thruster or AX3. You're more isolated; you can't share the
experience as you would in a side-by-side cockpit. On the other
hand, you lose that oneness with the air and the aircraft sat inside
an enclosed cockpit.
The controls are light, as I've said, but positively stable about
all axes. Reasonably well-balanced turns can be achieved with stick
or rudder alone, so long cross-country flights should be reasonably
relaxing, allowing you to fly hands-off for considerable periods of
time while you re-fold the map or change the ammunition drum on the
We tried the stall next, and this came, power off, at an indicated
42mph (38mph recorded during test flying at max. weight), with
enough warning through the controls, and consisted of a gentle mush,
with no tendency to drop a wing if the controls are kept straight.
No nasty surprises here, then.
Eddie's test flying revealed a sink rate at 45mph of 750fpm one up,
which is on the high side, but makes it so much easier to get into a
Landing in these conditions was going to be taxing, and I gratefully
handed over to Ben for this stage. It proved to be extremely tricky
in the event, and an incredibly powerful rotoring updraft at the
last minute lifted us a good 200ft, requiring a go-round and another
attempt. Second time was still difficult, but was managed without
further alarums or excursions.
The Ranger is clearly ideally suited to short-field operation.
Accurate measurement of take-off and landing performance was
impossible in these conditions, but Ben's 400m strip (single
direction, trees down one side) was more than enough, and the
undercarriage looks sturdy enough to manage pretty much anything you
can chuck at it. Taxying back was straightforward in spite of the
strong crosswind, the fully-castoring tailwheel enabling it to be
turned in its own length. It was with real reluctance that I
extracted myself from that cosy cockpit. I felt secure and
comfortable in the most demanding of flying environments, and I felt
a bond with G-PUSY which was unusual on such short acquaintance.
Designed to the old 390kg BCAR Section S, the Sherwood Ranger is a
gem of a microlight. Using the freedoms granted under the new
Section S to trade pilot weight and fuel, it could be upgraded to
give a more practical fuel capacity. It's met Russ's design
philosophy admirably and for those who want to experience flying to
the full, rather than go comfortably from A to B, this is a
If you've decided, like me, that you want one, what do you do now?
You may have read in the May-June issue of MF of Russ Light's
untimely death. As well as the personal tragedy for Pam, (Russ's
widow) and his family and friends, it's put the future of this
wonderful design at risk. This would be a great loss to the sport,
as it gets to the heart of what many people want from microlighting.
It will require someone with sufficient engineering expertise to
handle the technical issues, but even if it were just the plans that
were made available, that would be better than losing the design
altogether. Just at the moment Pam Light has more important things
to think about, but MF undertakes to pass enquiries on to those who
have the Sherwood Ranger's best interests at heart.