|Leading edge slats and large Fowler flaps allow Just Aircraft's new prototype short takeoff and landing airplane to fly at a remarkable angle of attack. (photo by Mariano Rosales)
By Randy Dufault
There are situations, particularly in remote regions where traditional airports are rare, when the ability to land an airplane in a very small space is critical.
Then there are other situations where such landings are just fun.
Just Aircraft's Highlander typically arrives, or departs, while consuming 300 feet of ground or less.
So it certainly qualifies for such STOL situations.
But for Troy Woodland, an airplane designer and partner in Just Aircraft, the current performance of the Highlander, even though it is very good, could be even better.
"Flying slow and landing slow is in right now," Woodland said. "It's been in for a lot of us for years. You know how it is, the Highlander has been great for years, but you get to a point where you just want to get slower."
Taking some inspiration from the famous Helio Courier short takeoff and landing bushplane, Woodland has created an all-new airplane based on the Highlander. The as yet unnamed craft includes a new wing, long travel landing gear, and a new horizontal tail.
Automatically deploying leading edge slats are a key feature of the wing, along with large Fowler flaps.
"The slats allow you to fly an airplane in a whole different way, with the angle of attack that [the airplane] can achieve," Woodland said. "We've reduced our landing roll by half from the Highlander. That's huge.
"And I could typically stop the Highlander in 100 feet, depending on the density altitude."
A pair of long-throw shock absorbers connects the plane's balloon tires to the airframe.
"There are scenarios where you can hang the mains 4 or 5 feet off the ground, just drag her in, chop the power, just let her plop down with the brakes on, and just turn off," Woodland said. "You can get the last 4 or 5 miles per hour out of it by hanging the tail and then just drop it in. You're not hurting it.
"With this landing gear, a bad landing is a thing of the past."
Woodland tested the new landing gear to 4.5g, at an aircraft weight of 1,450 pounds. His goal is to have a configuration where the airplane can descend from 500 feet in a high angle of attack configuration, without power, and land successfully. An air/oil shock absorber on the tail wheel is being added to help meet that goal.
Low-speed performance was not the only goal for the project.
"We were trying to make it faster, and we achieved that," Woodland said. "Then when I put the gear on, it took us back a little bit."
With some modifications to the tail, and an aerodynamic clean-up to the gear, Woodland is confident the final configuration will meet the targeted 105 to 110 mph cruise speed.
Woodland has yet to stall the airplane. Pulling the stick back with the power off results in a 17- or 18-degree angle of attack, and the airplane just slowly descends. Adding power increases the angle of attack to as much as 25 degrees.
"If you really start running in a lot of power and you get it hanging there, she will start getting kind of aggravated," Woodland said. "I haven't got her to a point where she's breaking or doing anything funky yet.
"When we get back home from Oshkosh we will get a test pilot in there, and we will start doing all the flight testing for the light sport ASTM standards."
Woodland expects improvements in takeoff performance as well. His prototype airplane is 150 pounds lighter than a standard Highlander, and that fact, along with the new flaps, should result in a takeoff roll that, depending on load and density altitude, could be less than 100 feet.
"Basically what I was looking for was a bigger flight envelope all the way around," Woodland said. "And we achieved it.
"It is really unique, but unique in a good way. It's fun."