Test Flight: Blackshape Prime

It’s finally here in North America…and I was able to take it out for a test flight!  Here’s a quick flight report on the new Blackshape Prime.

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The Italian-designed and produced “Prime” has been around for close to a decade, but for a variety of reasons (perhaps mainly certification trivialities), it’s blip on the radar screen has been relatively small here on this side of the pond.  You can search the web and see a number of photos and spec sheets, but there is nothing like meeting an airplane on the ramp.

This bird is a seriously good-looking plane.  The first thing that surprised me about that plane was its height (nearly 8 feet).  It looks tall, especially since the wings are cut very short (less than 24′).  Tandem seating configurations are a relatively rare sight, and they often seem to slope in such a way to place the engine as the focal point.  The first thing you’ll find yourself staring at on the Prime is the height of the bubble canopy and the rear seat.  As you walk around, you’ll notice that nearly everything is made of carbon fiber (even the wheels!).  This definitely reflects a new generation of airplane construction, which in turn reflects the incredible performance (more on that later).  Lastly, the entire airframe is totally streamlined.  Notice the roundness of the engine cowling and the incredible taper of the tail.

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Cockpit entry might pose a challenge for some.  From the front of the plane, grab near the canopy attach point and pull yourself right up on the wing (a small ladder would be a good investment for the youngster and oldster crowds).  I sat in both the front andback seats, and both were a tight fit.  I’m a tall pilot (6’4″), and while in the backseat, I found that I had to really slouch to keep my headset from hitting the canopy.  This proved to be a bit difficult, as leg room is really limited (I can’t image how a 6’5″ person would manage).  The head room in the front seat was much better; leg room was about the same.  Side to side room felt pretty snug like a sports car (and I have a pretty narrow frame).  Closing the canopy is simple enough; the model we flew had front and back latches as well as a small safety latch in the middle.

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Both seats were equipped with Dynon displays.  With the synthetic vision, PFD, MFD, and maps all built right in, it’s an impressive device.  Just below the display are knobs for the flaps and landing gear.  As a safety precaution, only one seat can operate the gear (and it requires a key to set the selector.  One of the questions that I was eager to ask was if the plane would be certified for IFR flight.  The rep shared that the model we flew (with the 100hp Rotax engine), would only be certified for day and night VFR.  However, the good news is that an amped up Lycoming-powered version of airplane is soon to be announced (with a few other modifications), and in addition to boosting speeds near the 200 knot mark, will also be certified for IMC!  As you can image, these features will come at a cost.  Regardless, the airplane was more than well-equipped for VFR cross-country trips (range is around 650 miles), and even boasted a two-axis autopilot.

Time to fly!  I’ll just note things that might differ or standout compared to flying brand C,P,D, M, or G.  First off, on the ground this airplane is not controlled with differential braking (like brand D); in fact, it’s not even an option!  The brakes are controlled by a hand lever mounted next to the throttle (no toe brakes).  Steering is done with a mechanically linked nosewheel, and at higher speeds, the decently-sized rudder.  The wheels on the “Prime” are tiny, so you should expect to feel the bumps.  I’m told that the airplane can (of course) be operated on grass strips, and while I wouldn’t second guess the strength of the gear, I would fully expect it to be a rough experience.

Looking left to right, it’s hard to imagine how the tiny wings will pull us skyward.  I expected a substantial take-off roll, but due to the efficiency of the flaps, we were skyward in less 1000 feet.  When the gear heads upward, so to does the ship.  We had excellent climb performance (even at gross max weight) north of 1000 fpm.  Visibility from the backseat was superb.  Around maneuvering speed (about 130 knots), the airplane is very responsive and totally stable.  My experience with brand G prepared me well for the Prime; both types have very light pitch control and quick roll rates.  Rolling 60 degrees right to 60 degrees left seemed to take just about 1 second.  I was really curious to explore the backside of the power curve, so we dropped the flaps and did some airwork at around 60 knots.  The controls were definitely slack (as would be expected), but still had plenty of authority; no surprises.

High speed cruise is where the Prime really shines.  At speeds of about 142 knots, the airplane felt rock solid.  Level flight at this speed had a bit of a “nose-down” attitude, and I imagine this perception is slightly more exaggerated in the front seat.  Before landing, we made a high-speed pass over the runway at about 160 knots; totally exhilarating in such a small bird.  The return approach (about 70knots) and landing was conventional in every single way.  I asked the rep about the gear emergency procedure, and was informed that there are three mechanical levers under the front dash that can be used to manually extend (but not retract) the gear.

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Low and not slow…

After parking the plane back on the ramp, we talked more about the company’s plans for North America.  Nicholas, our rep, had all the answers that we were looking for, and I would happily recommend interested parties give him a ring for a quick chat (en françias or anglais).  Nicholas had just finished up a short tour of Eastern Canada with the test plane, and plans are in the work for future hops south of the border.  For me, the most important news to come will be the details on U.S & Canadian certifications, as well as the modifications to the airplane that will stem from adding a bigger powerplant.  Personally, I wish that the current 100hp model would remain as-is but with added IFR certification.  It’s hard to image an airplane that more or less garners 37 mpg  at 130 knots! However, I don’t think that the ‘prime’ mission of the “Prime” is to be a solid IFR platform (even though it seems quite capable); it’s a fast and sporty airplane for catching looks and having fun.  In all respects, this is an impressive next-generation personal airplane.  You can find out more via the links below, or by contacting the North American rep (super nice guy).

Blackshape Aircraft Official Site

Blackshape Eastern Canada & USA (Facebook)

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