In real life, there’s no such thing as a perfect aircraft. Every design element must balance benefits and disadvantages with regard to the nature of the intended mission. But never mind all that. We decided to build the ultimate fantasy plane by choosing our favourite parts from different aircraft and blending to create a Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) that can operate year-round. We call this hot little number the PopMech AeroDream. – Jeff Wise
Flying the AeroDream
Not content to simply illustrate the PopMech AeroDream, we solicited X-Plane flight simulator creator Austin Meyer for advice on the design – and a chance to see the aircraft soar onscreen.
Our first design had problems with the tail. Meyer recommended enlarging both the horizontal and vertical stabilisers. “It would fly a little better if you could lower the prop and engine and lower the base of the tail down an equal amount to allow the prop clearance,” he advised.
That accomplished, we sent the new configuration to Meyer so that he could model the notional aircraft in flight. He does this by breaking the plane into about 100 sections and analysing the aerodynamics of each part. These figures form the basis of the simulation.
The Flyer is airworthy, but has its drawbacks. “Stability and control are good, but the prop is well above the centre of gravity,” Meyer says. “You must add power gently, pulling the stick aft, to avoid nosing over.”
He also notes that the aircraft’s twin vertical stabilisers are not in the wash of the propeller. “As a result, the vertical stabilisers are of very limited effectiveness at low speeds,” Meyer says. “This means that the nose will pull to the side during take-off.”
So it’s not perfect – but it’s fun! Try flying it yourself at popularmechanics.com/xplane. – Joe Pappalardo
How does it fly?
1: Landing gear
We, ahem, borrowed the landing gear from the Akoya luxury LSA, which has skis for backcountry snow. With the flick of a switch, the craft also converts to a seaplane with hydrofoil blades.
In 1933, a young designer named Kelly Johnson solved instability problems in the Lockheed Electra by swapping its conventional tail for a striking H-shaped one. The AeroDream enjoys the same benefit at high speeds.
Long, thin wings generate lift and save fuel. Pilots can shut off the engine and ride up-draughting thermals as if in a glider. On the downside, moving the nose of an aircraft with long wings up or down too much can cause a stall.
A bubble canopy offers all-round visibility and great situational awareness. Today, the Evektor SportStar LSA is among the many recreational planes with a similar design.
When landing on seas, glaciers or sand dunes, it’s necessary for the propeller to be out of the way. We mounted ours atop the fuselage. The three short propeller blades generate the same power as two longer ones.
Glass panels display synthetic vision maps that mesh satellite location with terrain databases. Collision avoidance is as easy as looking at the flight path overlaid on the moving map on the screen and taking appropriate action.
590 – TAKE-OFF WEIGHT (kilograms)
106 – FUEL (litres)
290 – TAKE-OFF DISTANCE (metres)
380 – MAX CLIMB (metres per minute)
135 – MAX SPEED (knots)
125 – CRUISE SPEED (knots, 70% power)
1 000 – RANGE (kilomotres, at cruise speed)