UK kit-maker Europa Aircraft is revolutionising personal aircraft



In little over a decade, Europa has evolved from an airline pilot's ambitious dream and has become arguably the most successful kit aircraft manufacturer in the world. In its short history, the internationally acclaimed aerospace company has chalked up more than 650 sales of its growing line of piston-powered kits in 30 countries.

"I started [in 1988 ]with a wish list of my ideal aircraft," says Europa's founder and managing director Ivan Shaw. "I wanted to design something comfortable, fast and affordable, yet able to outperform commercially built designs as well as other kit aircraft. Designs then were polarised from the 200mph [175kt]-class high-tech, to the classic 1930s' aircraft. There wasn't a great deal in between." Shaw hoped to marry the two concepts, producing an aircraft which would give the utility and field performance of the 1930s' classic aircraft, with the speed of modern aircraft, and incorporating advances in structures and aerodynamics.

From his drawing board in Barnsley, Yorkshire, the two-seat composite Europa was born. It is an aircraft which can be built easily, transported to the nearest airport or farmer's field, filled with leaded or unleaded car fuel along the way and assembled in under 5min. "The aircraft is designed for anyone from off-duty fighter pilots to students," says Shaw.

Shaw recruited British Aerospace chief aerodynamicist Don Dykins to design the aerofoil section for the original aircraft, now dubbed the Classic, to give the wing good lift at slow speeds, gentle stall characteristics and low drag. The Classic wing, Shaw says, is fitted with slotted flaps, giving good low-speed stability and permitting take-off and landing speeds of 45kt (85km/h) and a short ground roll of less than 600ft (185m). To cope with rough surfaces, the main undercarriage is a retractable monowheel, fitted with a large, soft, tundra tyre, while two outriggers in the wings provide balance. Ground steering comes from a tailwheel directly connected to the rudder. The aircraft is powered by the 60kW (80hp) Rotax 912 four-cylinder engine. Build time for the aircraft ranges between 1,000h and 1,400h.

G-EURO, the first prototype Europa, was put through 250h of flight tests and modifications. G-ELSA was the first kit-built monowheel model and was seen as the benchmark for the first few hundred aircraft sold.

In 1997, from its new purpose-built premises in Kirkbymoorside, Europa added a fixed tricycle-gear version, and the following year the improved XS was introduced. "Our customers told us that they wanted a faster and roomier aircraft, with improved ground handling and we came up with the XS," says Shaw.

XS improvements


The Europa XS offers significant improvements over its Classic predecessor. It features a new higher aspect-ratio composite wing, with pre-moulded skins and larger ailerons. The wing is pre-moulded and largely pre-assembled, cutting up to 350h off the building and finishing time, "which was a key aim with this model," says Shaw. The entire fuselage and wing are coated in a new epoxy gel that requires little finishing work. The fin is moulded as part of the top fuselage shell and many other parts come pre-moulded.

The Europa XS is powered by either the Rotax 912/S or the more powerful 85kW turbocharged 914T, which offers cruise speeds of up to 175kt. Optional speed kits raise the cruise speed by up to 10kt. The XS also offers a range of up to 1,355km (730nm), or over 2,000km with auxiliary fuel tanks.

To improve ground handling characteristics, a steerable tailwheel was developed, allowing full rudder deflection during take-off and landings. The instrument panel has also been enhanced, accommodating a wide variety of modern avionics and instruments, almost up to full "glass cockpit" level, while baggage space has also been doubled to 0.62m³ (22ft³).

Kits come in four parts: stage one - tailplane, rudder, flaps and aileron; stage two - wing; stage three - fuselage; and stage four - engine and accessories. "It's rather like putting together a toy model, just a little larger," says Europa.

The XS airframe costs £16,380 ($26,200) for the monowheel variant and £16,820 for the tri-gear stablemate. "Once you have added the engines and avionics, don't expect much change from £35,000," says Europa.

Shaw, backed by private shareholders, is cultivating the Europa product line. Within the next six months, a Motor Glider model will be introduced. The aircraft offers a glider wing, spanning 12.8m and with a new laminar flow aerofoil section that can be interchanged with the standard wing in less than 5min. "This is the only modern kit-built motor glider available and offers Europa customers a second aircraft for the price of a new set of wings," says Keith Wilson, Europa's general manager.

Creating and sustaining Europa's success has been an uphill struggle for Shaw. He says: "At times it has been like climbing Mount Everest and has been very risky - on two test flights alone I looked death in the face. However, if you eliminate risk, you eliminate progress."

Shaw believes the key to sustaining Europa's success is securing solid customer after-sales support. He says: "Designing and testing the aircraft is the easy part. Delivering and supporting the product is when the hard work starts as you are committed to the customer throughout the life of the aircraft."

Since the outset, Shaw has adopted a "belt and braces" approach to his business. "I don't like wasting money. You can produce high-quality product without having to spend vast sums of cash," he says, pointing out the total bill for design, tooling and first flight of the G-EURO kit amounted to less than £100,000. "Even now I am careful with the shareholders' money, and keep my overheads to a minimum."

With a substantial portion of the finance in place, Shaw is developing a single-engined production aircraft to compete with the growing line of manufacturer models. Little has been revealed about the aircraft, although Europa claims the two-seater will revolutionise the single-engined aircraft market. Based on a part metal, part composite structure, it will have tailor-made advanced avionics and offer low operating and maintenance costs.

"We have a long-term ambition to create a successful production aircraft, but with a different design approach," says Wilson. Europa plans to emulate the production process of the automotive industry, where cars are designed to be built from the ground upwards.

Reduced production time

This, he claims, eases the final assembly process and production time is reduced considerably. Wilson adds: "A Japanese saloon car, for example, will take around 18h to produce [by machine], compared with 1,800h for a hand-built Cessna 172 single. By adopting the automotive approach, we aim to produce the aircraft in less than 250h, and our success will be reflected in the aircraft's price tag of around £50,000 [about half the price of the four-seat 172]. The aircraft is set for certification in around 2001.

Europa has transformed the kit aircraft industry with its innovative designs and comfortable, low-cost machines and hopes to make larger strides with the new production aircraft. For Shaw, the journey has been tough. "If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn't have bothered."

Source: Flight International