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Sherwood Ranger experimental aircraft, experimental lightsport aircraft, amateur built aircraft.

Manufacturer/Light Aircraft Company Ltd

Written by David Bremner and first published in Microlight Flying, September October 2000.

This Flight Test sheds some light on a vastly under-rated design - the only current microlight true biplane.


What do you want from your microlight? Do you want the thrill of seat -of-the-pants flying? Do you want to travel long distances in comfort?

Do you want to get airborne as cheaply as possible? Do you want to get into short, rough strips? Let me read to you from Russ Light's dream. 'Having flown a variety of single and multi-engined aeroplanes the only thing that has ever marred the sheer thrill of this rewarding pastime has been the drain on my pocket.

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Top Speed,


Cruise, 85 mph
Range 210 S.M.
Stall 38 mph
Rate of Climb 1500 fmp
Take Off Distance 100 ft
Landing Distance 200 ft
Engine Rotax 65-100 HP
Fuel Capacity 12 gal
Empty Weight 500 lbs
Gross Weight 1000 lbs
Wing Span 23 ft
Wing Area 140 sq.ft
Seats 2
Building Time 600Hours

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 prospective pilots.

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.


Those 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 cruise 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 Chester-Master.

This 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.

Sherwood Ranger - Nose View

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 flying before.

Photos done, we headed back to terra firma, and it was time to do the flight test proper.

I 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 occasional weave.

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 wings.

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.


I have to admit to a degree of nerves prior to takeoff. Pretty much everything was against us - a shortThe Sherwood Ranger 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?

But 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, controlsSherwood Ranger 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 Vickers?

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 short strip.

Back to Earth

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.


I want one.

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 wonderful design.

So What Now?

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.

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