Safety Designs of a Foxbat
Is the Foxbat a safe plane to fly?
Difficult though I find it, this is meant to be a reasonably objective description of the Foxbat’s safety characteristics – of which there are two main aspects: primary and secondary safety. ‘Primary’ safety is the way the aircraft is designed to reduce the likelihood of an incident or accident happening in the first place. ‘Secondary’ safety is all the aspects of the aircraft that reduce the negative effects of a potential incident or accident.
If I was to summarise the four main primary safety aspects of the Foxbat, I’d say ‘control, control, control and control’, much of which is based on the huge control surfaces, which make slow flight so easy and cruise speed so relaxing.
Control while you are on the ground – the Foxbat steers directly through rudder pedal couplings to the nose leg rather than via differential braking with a castering nose wheel. This has the big advantage of excellent directional control when the wheel is on the ground, particularly when it is windy. Some pilots prefer a castering nose wheel but on balance, Aeroprakt currently believes that direct steering through the pedals makes life a lot easier and safer.
Control when you are taking off – all aircraft have a tendency to pull to the side when full power is applied for take-off, due to the combined gyro forces of the prop/engine and propwash over the tail. In the Foxbat, like all Rotax engined aircraft, there is a pull to the left on take-off. If the wind is also blowing from the left, these two will conspire to turn you off the runway – something which can happen very quickly in the early stages of a take-off. Thankfully, the Foxbat has a huge rudder (and nose wheel steering!) to keep things in check right from the start of the take-off run.
Control when you are flying – the big control surfaces give excellent control right down to stall speeds, while firming up at speed to make cruising more relaxed. Most modern aircraft, including the Foxbat, stall very benignly. The nose drops gently and rarely does a wing drop. The Foxbat is particularly gentle in the stall, even when the ball is a bit off-centre for two main reasons – the wing aero foil design and the slight forward sweep of the wings, which affects the centre of lift along the wing. However, be aware that not all aircraft are quite so forgiving!
Control when you are landing – approach speeds vary a lot, with some light aircraft needing at least 65-70 knots down final to be safe. The faster the landing speed, the faster things happen if they go wrong and the more general wear and tear on the aircraft. Foxbat speeds with full flap should be around 50 knots down late finals and no more than 45 knots over the keys – maybe a few knots slower for one person and half fuel; maybe a few knots faster without flap. At these speeds, you’ll have plenty of time to correct minor irregularities and the effects of the controls are not so sensitive, meaning there’s less chance of over-controlling at this critical phase of flight.
There are a couple of other control safety items. One: elevator authority in the landing flare. Some aircraft run out of elevator at landing speeds. But the massive elevator on the Foxbat gives great control right down to and even below landing speeds. Two: there’s a big difference between flap limiting speed and stall speed without flap – in fact, well over 40 knots difference on the Foxbat. This is important because it gives the pilot plenty of time to lower the flap for landing and not worry about stalling.
Secondary safety ranges from the simple: how many bits stick out in the cabin to injure you? to the complex: how the airframe will protect you (or not) if you hit the ground too hard or end up inverted in a field.
The Foxbat’s primary airframe is made of metal – which is well known to have excellent impact absorbing qualities; initially it bends rather than breaks and the Foxbat’s structure has been designed to reduce the G-forces acting during turbulence or a crash. Contrast that with many composite aircraft, which can shatter on impact into small, often sharp pieces, and wood, which also tends to break rather than bend on impact.
The Foxbat cabin has a protective frame around it to minimise the chance of injury to the occupants. Unfortunately, over the years several Foxbats have been written off, but in Australia thankfully no-one has been seriously injured. A common reaction from people who’ve experienced an accident in the Foxbat is: ‘it all seemed so gentle, I just couldn’t believe the aircraft was a write off when I got out and looked at it’. That’s because the airframe did its job. It’s also important to note that in the rare instances where the aircraft has ended up inverted, the doors could still be easily opened to enable the occupants to exit quickly.
Cabin ergonomics are an often overlooked aspect of design – not in the Foxbat! Specifically, whatever the control system choice, the Foxbat has been designed to be easy to enter and exit, particularly if you need to get out in a hurry – there’s no stick to contort yourself around and the doors open wide. The cabin is wide and tall, so you’re not jammed in with your co-pilot – the controls can be moved to their full extent without clashing elbows (or knees). The seats are set at the correct height, so you don’t have to duck your head every time you need to look out (which should be a lot). Because, if reaching a control, adjusting an instrument or just looking outside the aircraft are a chore, these activities will soon be minimised and put in the ‘can’t be bothered’ basket and as a result, your safety will be compromised.
Here are a few other safety thoughts on the Foxbat: a park brake facilitates engine warm-up and ignition checks; there’s a battery isolator switch to cut off all power in the event you have to make an emergency landing; the side windows behind the pilot are positioned to give a good view around; the headset jacks are up and behind the occupants’ heads and so do not present impact points for knees; the luggage container is zippered to stop stowed items flying around the cabin in turbulence (or worse); the controls do not sprout out of the fronts of the seats, leaving the floor clear and no danger of objects becoming trapped under the controls.
These are just some of the safety aspects I looked at when deciding to become Australian Agent for the Foxbat. Over the years, I have become very critical of some of the shortcomings of other aircraft. But, while the Foxbat isn’t perfect, I think the combination of easy ground handling, forgiving flight characteristics, cabin safety cage and room for pilots and passengers to operate the controls fully and unimpeded, is what, in my opinion, makes the Foxbat a safe aircraft to fly.