The most anticipated version of the phenomenally successful Sling series is the Sling High Wing. The High Wing – or just Sling HW – was first proposed as a high wing version of the Sling 2 at the same time as founder Mike Blyth started work on the original Sling 2 back in 2005. The final product has come a long way from the early Sling 2s.
WITH MORE THAN 90% of the Sling Aircraft factory’s production now sold outside South Africa, the Sling 2 and 4 range have been a phenomenal success. The demand for three new aircraft each week kept the factory too busy to be readily distracted into designing and building the long-awaited High Wing. But it was always bubbling away in the background and for a number of years the Airplane Factory (as it was then called) employed former Boeing aeronautical engineer Mel Verrity to work on the fuselage modelling.
I reckon the Sling TSi is unique in that it is the only aircraft that comes in almost identical low wing and high wing versions. (Write to guy@ saflyermag.co.za if you know any others!) For this reason the comparison with the low wing Sling TSI is particularly interesting.
The rationale for developing both a low wing and a high wing are many. Mike Blyth provides the following reasons: “The engine–airframe combination of the Sling TSi is so perfect that to fail to exploit it in a high wing model would feel like a crime. Also, there’s a real gap in the market as there is no other aircraft in that space. And you can see really well out of a high wing when flying straight, and it can be a great camera and/ or surveillance platform.”
Mike reckons that “We’ve learned so much in developing the Sling LSA, 2, 4 and TSi, that we can get it even more right in the next model. We can make the most beautiful light high wing aircraft ever seen! Also, high wings, especially taildraggers, are great for camping trips and we can guarantee that it fits bicycles, dogs, braaivleis, tents etc!”
James Pitman, the base jumping, skydiver, cyclist, and all-round adventurer says, “High wings are good for skydiving out of! Also – the rich buy aircraft. And the rich are often fat or old, so high wings are easy to get into and out of! And high wings are better for people in wheelchairs!” This last is significant because James is partnering with Matt Cohen, who has no use of his legs, to fly the High Wing all the way to Oshkosh.
Finally, Sling Aircraft CEO Andrew Pitman says, “The market is looking for a light, robust, economical four seat, high wing aircraft and Sling is perfectly positioned to supply it. We’ve got a developmental capacity in place and it must earn its keep! And perhaps most tellingly; “Our American distributors want it.”
What was known as ‘The Airplane Factory’ has morphed into just ‘Sling Aircraft’ and after the 2009 flight around the world in the Sling 2 LSA they committed to the Sling High Wing. However, following the success of the Sling 4, it was clear that the HW would also be a four-place aircraft and not the originally planned high wing version of the Sling 2. Then in 2018, the arrival of the Rotax 915 iS engine with its turbocharged 141 hp available up to 15,000 feet was the final impetus the Sling Aircraft factory needed to push the high wing project all the way to completion, now based on the top of the range Sling TSI.
The Sling HW made its first flight as promised before the end of 2020. That development and construction had continued through the Covid lockdown is testimony to the dedication and commitment the Sling team brought to the project.
It has taken six months before the Sling Aircraft factory decided that the High Wing was developed enough for us to review, and Sling Aircraft Director James Pitman insists it is still a prototype.
HIGH WING DEVELOPMENT
Nothing in aviation is ever as easy as it first appears. Reflecting the complexities of converting a low wing to a high wing, the Sling HW has had an unusually long gestation. In the past The Airplane Factory has shown itself able to create an all-new plane and then just roll it out the hangar and fly it around the world. They accomplished this with the high wing’s progenitor, the Sling 4, which launched on its round-the-world flight a mere 20 days after first flying.
The big step change was the advent of the Rotax 915iS in 2018. Unlike Rotax’s first attempt at fuel injection – the underwhelming 912iS, the 915 really was a big step forward. The first time I flew the 915iS engine was as a guest of Rotax in Austria. I was able to sample the engine in a number of different airframes and it was clear that it was a game changer. But it was a bit confusing with a mix of metric and US parameters and some prototype cockpit displays (see SA Flyer June 2018). Now three years later, it has been thoroughly integrated into the Slings.
To match the new engine, Sling Aircraft took another huge leap for the development of the Sling TSi – they gave it an all new wing – replacing the NACA 4415 aerofoil with the slimmer, shorter (9.54m) and thus faster NACA 2414. This wing is used unchanged on the High Wing, albeit with a lower dihedral due to the high wing configuration’s natural roll stability.
ON THE GROUND
I met the HW in the flesh for the first time at Sling’s Tedderfield factory. It was a typical cool highveld winter morning with smoke haze, but still a great day to fly a prototype, state-of-the-art, aeroplane.
A major design departure from the low wing series is that Sling Aircraft have used
composite structure to handle the loads and compound curves required for a smoothly shaped high wing cabin. James says, “We decided to make the centre fuselage out of composites for two reasons: The first is technical – the composites allow us to make a stronger (strength vs weight) and fatigue resistant structure particularly because the High Wing is strutless with a cantilever wing. The second reason is so that we could easily get the aerodynamic and aesthetic shape that we wanted.”
Parked on the apron, it looks bigger and somehow more substantial than the Low Wing TSi – and it is. As a six-footer I can walk beneath the wing. The wing has zero dihedral along the top – but it tapers in width and thickness, so technically it has a little. The absence of dihedral – as will be explored in the flight test – contributes to the much-admired Sling balance between lateral stability and control responsiveness. Mike Blyth points out that stability in roll is naturally there because of the high wing pendulum effect, so the dihedral is less than on the Low Wing, for the same outcome. However, this led to unexpected challenges in designing the fuel system for the standard 99 litre fuel tanks in each wing. For its Oshkosh journey, ZU-SHW has two additional outboard 25 litre wing tanks. (Co-incidentally Jim Davis deals with the high wing fuel tank challenges in this month’s accident report.)
Each of the outboard tanks requires a pump to transfer fuel to the standard, inboard tank. And then there’s a third “feeder” pump to feed fuel from the standard tanks to the six-litre header tank, which is mounted to the inside of the firewall.
Unfortunately, as things stand the ‘head’ of fuel from the standard tanks is insufficient to gravity feed fuel from the standard tanks to the header, but there is a hope that with improved angling of the breather outlet, this will pressurise the tanks to a greater degree and serve this purpose. James explains that, together with the two high-pressure Rotax fuel pumps which feed the injectors, the ‘long range’ Sling High Wing accordingly has a total of five fuel pumps (though in standard format there are only three). Fully equipped with the ‘rear of cabin’ third additional ferry tank, a minimum of five fuel pumps is required, but for full redundancy over the long ocean legs, the aircraft will be fitted with no less than eight. It is also hoped that the inclusion of a further one degree of dihedral in all future Sling High Wings will improve the reliability of fuel flow from the wing to the header tank and perhaps further reduce reliance upon electrically operated feeder pumps.
A readily noticeable difference between the Low Wing and High is that the high has a vertical fin and rudder a full 20 cm longer than the Low Wing. Given the High Wing ‘nosedraggers’ high stance, this may make getting the tail under a low hangar door opening something to watch.
The Sling HW and TSi are immediately distinguishable by the large NACA duct on the right side of the cowl which feeds air into the engine’s high-volume intercooler. Sling Aircraft has done a great job integrating this duct into the Sling’s distinctive shark nose cowling – far better than many of the bodge jobs I have seen with cowl scoops on other 915 installations.
‘it is the only aircraft that comes in almost identical low wing and high wing versions’
Unlike the Low Wing with its gullwing doors, the HW has doors that are conventionally hinged at the front. Unlike far too many light aircraft, Sling gives both the pilot and the front pax their own doors.
I’m always surprised by how much room there is within the compact dimensions of the Sling 2 and 4 and in particular, what a great sense of space there is in a Sling cockpit. The HW is even bigger – thanks to its composite cabin shell. During the test flight, although James is a skinny fellow, there was no shoulder rubbing between us.
The rear seaters should now have more headroom, however the prototype’s rear seats were thickly padded and I was surprised to find the headroom not as good as I had hoped. This is however easily fixed by lowering the seat squab and perhaps reclining it more – like a Cessna C182 where the back-seaters are essentially sitting on the floor. The view out from the back is excellent thanks to the large windows. Being an NTCA, James assured me I could have opening rear windows – which would make this a great camera ship!
The composite doors close can be slammed with reassuring firmness but there is a need for further development to stop the top of the door bulging out at cruise speeds. To avoid the complexity of dual latches (like a Cherokee) they ingeniously tried magnets on the prototype, but what that will do to the compass is anyone’s guess!
It had been hoped that building the High Wing would involve just a new centre fuselage section but things are not that simple. At higher angles of attack the high wing blanks the empennage so the horizontal tail, and in particular the vertical fin, have been made significantly larger.
The bowed composite main undercarriage legs are standard Sling – and attached to the bottom of the monocoque fuselage with minimal change. The nosewheel is also unchanged, allowing the same firewall forward installation as the low wing TSi.
Despite ZU-SHW (Sling High Wing… geddit?!) being a protype, the rest of aircraft retains the smooth finish and flush rivets on the wing leading edge, which give the Sling TSi an almost composite-smooth look. There is a large tear-out panel on the rear turtle deck with slotted rivet holes for the ballistic parachute.
FLYING THE SLING HIGH WING
Getting into the cockpit is easy. I placed my foot on the far side of the control stick and then hoisted myself up and onto the seat. However it may have been more elegant to have used the little step on the undercarriage leg. I had been expecting a 4-point harness, but the seat belts are conventional 3-point car type, with a single inertial reel.
Starting the 915iS is simple. Flip on the two ignition lane switches and the two fuel pumps and turn the ignition key. The Rotax 915 springs readily into life, and with less clatter from the prop gearbox, thanks to its larger impulse damper.
Despite the weight of the complex engine, turbo and intercooler in the nose, and the forward CofG as we were two-up with lots of fuel and no baggage, the Sling HW is still light and easy to taxi with its tricycle gear and nose wheel steering. I far prefer a steerable nosewheel to a castoring one that relies on differential braking. I was pleased to see that both seats have toe brakes.
At the holding point, testing for full and free movement of the controls revealed a potential problem – with full back stick the full left and right movement of the stick was limited by the V of my legs. James says that they are working on the bend in the stick and reducing the amount of stick throw movement required for full aileron deflection.
The electrical unslotted flaps have a rotary knob with pre-marked positions being: Up, 1, 2, 3 and Down. With the flaps set 1 down we launched down Tedderfield’s Runway 29.
I held it against the brakes which were powerful enough to hold the straining 141 horses with ease. At high power settings the 915 goes to auto rich and has a huge thirst for such a small engine, sucking 48 litres per hour. On brake release acceleration was good, without excessive right rudder, and at the recommended 55 knots rotation speed she felt ready to fly. And this is where there was a significant difference with the Low Wing as the High Wing does not produce the same amount of ground effect as the low wing. So there was no gradual float into the air, rather it required a light back pressure on the stick and then we were airborne with a bit of a lurch, thanks to my rough hands, and the stall warning bleeped briefly in disapproval.
We were almost instantly at Vy (best rate) climb speed of 75 knots, indicating a healthy 1200 fpm over the runway end. It was natural to lower the nose to 95 KIAS and still be climbing skywards at over 750 fpm. It was a turbulent midday, so it was hard to get clear vertical speed numbers.
The graphics on the large Garmin G3X EFIS make situational awareness a treat. The large 10.6 inch screen dominates the instrument panel. It easily has enough space to display all the instrument and navigation requirements. There is even an option for TCAS and a satellite phone has been bluetoothed in as a spare radio. I am always amazed at how much capability there is in the new glass panels. A huge benefit for the pending epic journey to Oshkosh, or just for its standard 7-hour endurance, is the intelligent and smooth Garmin integrated auto-pilot that can be programmed to maintain altitude, direction and attitude, and even fly a coupled approach. A particularly useful trick James had was to simply push the blue ‘level’ button when he wanted to explain something.
One of the big challenges the design team faced with the high wing was how to preserve the Low Wing’s crisp control response with the low breakout forces what comes from having almost frictionless pushrods to the ailerons and elevator. Having to route the aileron controls through the floor and up the door pillar necessitated control cables that drive pushrods once in the wing. Yet it was immediately apparent that the breakout forces are still commendably low and the response is still crisp yet without twitchiness.
Even though we were 7000 feet, which is far below the aircraft’s best operating altitude, I explored the Sling HWs speed capability. The EFIS displays power as a percentage of total rated power and at around 82% it changes the engine management from producing best power to best efficiency. Thus, at 83% power the fuel burn is 35lph while at 82 % the fuel burn drops to 28lph, even with the propeller set to climb.
Thanks to the large intercooler, a typical cruise with the HW is 38 inches of manifold pressure at 5400 rpm which gives the desired 82% power. James says he works on 145 KTAS at 30 lph at FL095. And this seems to be very realistic. It’s also about 3 knots slower than the Low Wing TSi.
As we flew over smokey Soweto my spirits lifted with the responsiveness of the aircraft, the smooth and plentiful power and great view out. You really do feel at one with the plane in a Sling. And the cabin is tall enough so that you do not have to wind your neck in to see out the side window, beneath the wing. Naturally though, the visibility in a turn is not as great as from the low wing with its side windows that curve over the front seats.
I tested the control harmony and roll response by cranking it over into about a 70 degree bank. It effortlessly maintained height, even though the stall warning beeped occasionally. With a full throw of the stick, a 140 degree roll reversal was smooth with little tail wag, although my feet needed practice on how little lead with the rudder it needed. A few practice rolls around a point would make a smoother transition.
I pulled the power back, thankful that liquid cooling vastly reduces the chance of shock cooling the engine. With the flaps up and the nose surprisingly high, the stall break came at 57 knots – 2 knots faster than I had seen in the TSi – but then it was a bumpy day. I held the wing in a deep stall and tried to keep it straight with aileron until it would take no more abuse and gently dropped the nose. The recovery just required relaxing the back-pressure on the stick.
With full flap and power off, the nose stubbornly clawed for the sky and the airframe shook until the stall break came at 47 knots – with a still gentle nose and wing drop. It should be impossible to get it into an unintentional spin. I could easily hold the stick almost all the way back and just wallow down at about 600 fpm at about 46 knots – a survivable escape from IMC. Nonetheless, a factory parachute is an optional extra. We recovered with barely 500 ft height loss.
Even deep in the stall, the elevator authority is excellent at full forward C of G. Unique to the High Wing, Sling have fitted an anti-balance tab to the right hand elevator to lighten the stick force when full up elevator is needed, such as on landings.
Returning to the Tedderfield circuit we joined a Right Downwind for 11. Trim changes with flap were so small I hardly noticed them and rolling out Flap 3 caused a slight nose up pitch which could easily be compensated for by reducing the power for the glideslope.
We tracked down final at an easy 75-80 knots – a bit fast but a speed I and the plane felt comfortable with. Pulling the remains of the power as I crossed the fence I rounded out too high and the stiff crosswind tried to blow us off the narrow runway – making for a messy arrival. But the Sling’s excellent manners made light of my rusty pilot ham-handedness.
FOUR SEATS, BAGS AND FULL TANKS?
There is ample space for four occupants, and a generous sized baggage compartment – large enough to take a Sling bicycle.. Empty weight of the plane we tested, ZU- SHW, is 570 kg with a 1050 MAUW so there is a 470 kg useful load. Full standard fuel of 198 litres weighs 142 kg, so with the large fuel tanks filled you can put 340 kg of people and stuff in the cabin. It’s a genuine fill the tanks, fill the seats, add bags and go plane – a rarity indeed.
‘Nothing in aviation is ever as easy as it first appears’
With the additional structure of the composite centre fuselage and larger empennage and other changes, the Sling HW weighs about 60 kg more than the low wing. However this is more than compensated by the Maximum All Up Weight having been increased from the TSis 950 kg to 1050 kg. Mike Blyth says that due to the uninterrupted high wing area, there is more lift than on the low wing, which has allowed the 100kg increase in MUAW.
The Sling HW put a smile on my face for the entire day. This is a fantastic aircraft that delivers a simple and rugged design paired with Rotax’s very impressive 915iS engine.
The Slings have come a long way since the early D6 prototype of the Sling 2. One of the most impressive aspects is the quality of finish, even for a prototype. The panels fit well, the paint job has a deep lustre and the standard of the interior finishes, such as seats, are worthy of a supercar. And it is the performance numbers that really blow you away. It is a true four-seater with a cruise speed of 145 knots at just 30 litres per hour. In comparison, a Cessna C182 will struggle to do 135 knots burning 45 litres per hour.
The Sling HW is a fantastic all-rounder – rewarding to fly, with astounding flight instruments and responsive yet delightfully light controls that make you feel at one with the machine. And best of all – at about R3 million ready to fly with a high specification, it’s a worthy competitor to type-certified four seaters that are three times as expensive to buy and run.
(Pics – Bruce Perkins)
Engine – Rotax 915iS
Horsepower – 141hp/105kW (Turbo)
Wingspan – 9.56m
Length – 7.202m
Height – 2.689m
Cabin Width – 46in | 1.17m
Typical Empty Weight – 570kg
Useful Load – 480kg
Max Takeoff Weight – 1 050kg
Maximum Speed (Vne) – 155 KIAS
Cruise Speed – 9500ft – 145 KTAS
Stall Speed – Clean – 57 KIAS
Stall Speed – Full Flaps – 48 KIAS
Max Demonstrated Crosswind – 15 KTS
Takeoff Ground Roll – Concrete – 720ft/220m
Landing Distance – Braked – 492ft/150m
Rate of Climb – Sea Level MAUW – 1 000ft/min
Maximum Operating Altitude – 18,000ft
Endurance – 8 Hours
Range: 75% Power, 45 min Res. – 880nm/1 630km