"For $40,000, four-seat kit hard to beat"

by Dan Johnson

Reprinted with permission from
General Aviation News & Flyer
February 2, 1996

Some years ago, while doing a report on an airplane located nearby, I visited a man named Ron Lueck on Central Florida's Atlantic Coast. Lueck was involved in making the Air Shark, which holds the speed record for a single-engine amphibious hulled aircraft: an FAI-recognized 204.11 mph. The sleek four-seat aircraft looked right off the set of Star Trek, so daring and rakish were its lines.

Air Shark performed brilliantly, looked terrific and offered great versatility, yet Lueck and associates voluntarily removed it from the market. It suffered no smears to its name, yet they decided it was --imagine this-- too much plane for the money. In truth, the plane was so speedy in the air that its water characteristics were compromised. Any seaplane pilot knows the pounding an aircraft takes while accelerating for takeoff from choppy water. Airplanes that go fast generally land faster, too, making the Air Shark vulnerable to water mishaps at the hands of less-experienced pilots.

Mechanical marvel

The Air Shark "was also very complicated to build," Lueck admitted. "We wanted to make a simpler plane, one that anyone could build in a reasonable number of hours, and the Air Shark simply wasn't it."

For several years since, Lueck and a different partner, Steve Young, have operated under the name Aerocomp. Not many aviators know the name unless they're floatplane enthusiasts of the homebuilding persuasion. Aerocomp makes the SuperFloats line of nine floats sizes for aircraft from 500 to 2,300 pounds. Ron Lueck is a principal in the business. Steve Young became associated with Lueck through his interest in buying an Air Shark.

Young had also owned factory built aircraft, most recently a Cessna 337, but "the cost of ownership was eating me up." He was drawn to the Air Shark for its spectacular performance and ended up entering into a partnership for the float-making business.

Lueck and Young have been successful in the float venture. You'd also have to call them restless, driven tinkerers who had a better idea brewing. Lueck never abandoned his interest in the Air Shark, but wanted to make that just-right aircraft. Young still wanted to satisfy his airplane-owning instincts, and so the Comp Monster was conceived.

The effort began in earnest just a couple of years ago. With their many years of experience in aerospace composite manufacturing, the plane came together quickly. The two Aerocomp partners built the plane in the photos accompanying this story in only six weeks. Sure, they're talented and motivated, but still ... six weeks!

Since it took to the air on "straight" (non-amphibious) floats, the two have continued their restlessness, completing amphib floats, as well as taildragger and tri-gear land models.

As if that were not enough, they've also experimented with several different engines and props.

And by the way, they also have the better part of the work done for a six-seat model, the Comp Air 6. They'll fit it with a new 220-horse Franklin engine and will have, arguably, the hardest working, commercially available kitplane buildable by a person of average skills. You can buy this six-seat "Monster" for less than $50,000, complete with factory-new engine, prop, instruments, and straight floats or conventional gear.

You probably think a six-seat homebuilt is pretty ambitious. I felt the same way until I flew the Comp Monster. Its friendly capability made me think Lueck and Young will achieve their goals.

A variety of engine choices are offered, from 110 to 250 horsepower. The factory demo is powered with a 180-horse Lycoming. On conventional gear she exhibits sprightly performance in every parameter.

Maxed out speed wasn't a goal. The Comp Monster isn't intended to be a competitor to the Lancair or Glasair. Lueck's Air Shark may have been competitive, but by choice the Comp Monster fits a different need. Instead, designers sought more forgiving manners and workhorse abilities.

Thus the decision to use a high-lift wing is logical. Comp Monster's airfoil is a 15% Clark Y high shape with which Boeing once experimented. A deep chord is the heart of the shape and 212 square feet of area makes for broad shoulders. Seeing the big fat wing, you don't question its ability to carry a load. What's genuinely surprising is that this thick yet shapely wing can still scoot along at respectable speeds. I wouldn't have guessed the large area; it doesn't look particularly chubby or blocky.

Comp Monster is a fully composite design. Looking into the bathtub-shaped lower mold of the six-seat Comp Air 6 in development, I could see how structural portions of the mold serve the duty of, let's say, a welded steel inner structure like that used on Martin Hollman's Stallion. The fiberglass shell has thick, tubing-like reinforcements strategically placed. It felt highly rigid against my aggressive pushes.

Young claims you can run up and down the wing if you wanted. "You can stand anywhere you want on this plane," he said. The entire structure is composite, with Kevlar and carbon fiber adding stiffness and strength were required. Folks who make lots of floats from the same materials probably have the right experience for the job.

Climb aboard mates

A floatplane enthusiast, I wish I'd caught the factory airplane equipped for amphib flying. You would expect the plane to work well in the water given the company's background in both amphib-hulled aircraft and an entire line of floats. Perhaps another time.

I got aboard the land version of the four-seat Comp Monster as we prepared to fly.

Front-seat entry was a little awkward due to the close joystick, which nearly touches the seat cushion. It doesn't need much aft movement, as you see in-flight, but getting in around it takes some practice. Fortunately, the Comp Monster was designed as a floatplane -- after all, Aerocomp's main business is float manufacture -- so it has some internal steel bracing to handle the asymmetric loads imposed when one float strikes a wave ahead of the other. This same bracing structure can be used as a handhold, making entry easy. Nonetheless, if I was the builder I'd add a step. Owner customization remains one of the compelling aspects of homebuilt planes; you can make them just like you want them (within reason).

In exchange for a little more wriggling to get seated, you get a joystick that is right in your lap. About perfect for me. It didn't get in my way a bit, but offered the most relaxed grip of any center-stick design I can recall. I believe control proximity can aid smoothness, a piloting skill I value highly.

Some builders will put more effort into the seats to improve their comfort, though the structure limits builder freedom somewhat. The factory has a line on a product called "Wonder Foam," about which they are very excited. Aerocomp believes it makes for very supportive seats.

Builders have other choices, such as brake controls on both front seats. Aerocomp had fitted toe brakes only on the left side. I'd put them on both, although cost will rise.

Helping to keep the lid on costs is an interesting company-installed radio, the ICS, which is sold by Wag Aero for about $1,400. Despite an unorthodox readout, it has excellent features such as storage for 10-each comm or nav frequencies. It also offers a full navigation side with VOR, including glide slope, and it has battery backup. This strikes me as a value-and feature-laden device worth further investigation.

"Launching" is more like it

That big, fat, friendly wing likes to get up and going, no question about it. On the first takeoff and on a subsequent check with four adult men aboard, the Comp Monster shows genuine enthusiasm about getting into the blue yonder.

On initial departure from the airport, two of us were showing about 700 feet per minute at 70 mph, but adjusting the power back while pushing the nose forward still resulted in 700 feet per minute at much higher speeds.

"You'll see the same numbers even with four on board," Lueck said,"although she'll climb about 1,000 feet per minute solo."

My subsequent check showed about 600 to 650 feet per minute with four on board. However, we were able to speed up to 100 mph while still maintaining 600 feet per minute.

Quite impressive.

We also broke ground much quicker than a Cessna 172, which departed just ahead of us with two persons on board. The experiment was done at 2,400 pounds -- 350 pounds under full gross -- taking less than 400 feet to break ground on a warm day at sea level.

A good cruise climb is about 100 mph. The speed is similar to may factory-built planes of its class, but the Comp Monster is still climbing briskly at that forward speed.

Approaching at 70 mph, Lueck said to plan touchdown at about 50 mph. He uses a technique of descending at higher speed to get the high-lifting plane down more easily. The method proved effective on my trials. Otherwise, she shows a substantial floating tendency.

The Comp Monster's taildragger landing qualities are most acceptable. However, even with quite of bit of taildragging experience, I could feel the potential for ground loops. Imagining the difference when six persons are on board, I'd strongly encourage either the tri-gear configuration or the float equipped version (available in "straight" or amphibious styles).

When climbing, the aircraft almost seems to levitate. Sight out the bottom of the wing during an aggressive climb and you will see that the angle to the horizon is slight.

You can speed the design up by nosing over gently and subtly, not unlike the technique of getting on step in a floatplane. A fat wing perhaps, but one which passes the air smoothly enough to allow a gradual build up of speed.

Nice workhorse, not a speedster

At 1,500 feet of altitude and at 850F, airspeed showed 115 mph indicated before we tweaked the trim. When we completed our fiddling, we had added about 10 mph. At altitude, the factory's stated 132-mph cruise speed sounded achievable. The Comp Monster is a hair better than a 172 while hauling substantially more load.

Steady at altitude and experimenting with control qualities, I found it is almost hard to disturb the coordination ball out of the center. I asked Lueck if he'd glued the ball in place. Seriously, the plane seemed to coordinate virtually on its own. This is a superb quality that exceeds most planes in my broad experience.

That assessment considers control results, not control feel. Aerocomp has a little more work to do in that area.

Roll rate was on the stiff side. Lueck blamed the stiffness on cable linkages that he felt could be improved. Especially on movements asking a lateral pulling motion of your arm (rather than a pushing motion), the effort became noticeable.

In normal handling, the stiffness isn't a problem and, in fact, keeps you from excessive stick wiggling. Some pilots will prefer the linkage. I'm more inclined to light-touch controls.

The rudder pedals were also on the stiff side. On one landing, I was less than fluid on the pedals, leading to a touch of directional instability (pilot induced, of course). Nothing came of it, but pedals that respond to a lighter touch would be helpful.

My experience with stalls was very assuring. The Comp Monster is highly resistant to any nasty behavior, even with a steep deck angle and full power. She bucks and shakes but fights against stalling. The design does tend to drop a wing and Lueck had told me to expect it. I found the wing drop to be rather minimal and not at all disturbing.

When I watch Lueck demonstrate the stalls, he held the stick full aft and still could maneuver the Comp Monster adequately. In part, that may be due to the use of full-span ailerons.

Although common in the world of ultralight aircraft, full-span ailerons are uncommon among kitplane designs. They work extremely well on slow-flying machines such as ultralights and may benefit the Comp Monster the same way.

As expected on a large-aileron aircraft, adverse yaw is present, but it is more noticeable through hesitation than by throwing its nose the wrong direction at first. Many factory designs have more annoying adverse yaw characteristics.

True "value pricing"

You get a lot for your money. The Comp Monster delivers the useful load of planes that are generally much larger. Lueck and Young compared specs at last fall's AOPA Expo in Atlantic City. Their survey showed Piper's Malibu and Saratoga SP -- large and complicated aircraft with prices many times the Comp Monster's -- carry the same useful load.

Aerocomp claims you can get into a Comp Monster for $30,000 with a used engine, which implied terrific value. The price includes choice of taildragger gear or straight floats. Amphib gear adds $2,500, a modest extra cost for the added utility. The Comp Monster's land versions are supplied as either tri-gear or taildraggers, and they can be converted quickly back and forth.

Many accessories are available through Aerocomp. Here's a partial list: three-blade in-flight adjustable composite prop, $600; deluxe interior, $750; passenger-side hydraulic braking, $300; Lexan skylights, $195; a collection of eight instruments and gauges that will leave you well informed, $1,000; third-door hardware and necessary reinforcements, $600; and quick-build wing kit, $1,499.

Lueck says fuel can be doubled to more than 100 gallons if you're willing to give up 300 pounds of payload. You get impressive range, though: more than 10 hours worth.

No "monster" at all

Lueck and Young's philosophy is that a lower-performance aircraft is a better choice than a peaked-out high-performance aircraft. Not everyone has the skills and currency for high-performance; besides, most pilots take just a couple of long trips a year. As many pilots might agree, the airlines are hard to beat for cross-county travel, but a Comp Monster in your hangar will give you loads of service for regional transportation.

I like the way these gentlemen have approached the problem of aircraft usage. I think they may be right, in which case they might sell a lot of airplanes. The partners have also set an objective of delivering complete and on time. If they fail to ship a kit within three days of a promised date, they say, "We will refund $1,000 of the purchase price."

For my money, I can't wait for the six seater. As far as pure carrying ability -- and still easy to fly and slow to land -- the Comp Air 6 ought to be amazing. Considering the price of less than $50,000 for everything, including factory-new engine, this is a genuine steal. Sign up before they change their mind!

Pilots whose needs are met with four seats can have a great little floatplane for $40,000 or even less. The Comp Monster works hard and flies beautifully; she's worth a close look.

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