AKOYA - a picture perfect amphibious all terrain aircraft
TEN years ago, most Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) taking to the skies were based on designs that were 40 to 50 years old, and none could boast of multi-surface access. Erick Herzberger, a Frenchman and passionate glider pilot with roughly 1,500 flying hours to his credit, wanted something more. In 2004, he teamed up with a friend, Luc Bernole, to launch LISA Airplanes with a single intention - to drastically change the way people travelled.
The duo was preoccupied with the idea of designing an all-terrain airplane - one that could not only land and take off from a tarmac or pristine blue waters, but perform with equal efficiency on slippery snow-covered surfaces, without any modification. Their idea edged towards reality in the form of AKOYA, an amphibious ski-plane whose first prototype was successfully tested in 2007. The France based company is now preparing to start deliveries in early 2013.
“In the aircraft [sector], there was a huge place for innovation. It was time to create something that had never been seen. Today, we can say that we took the right decision,” says Herzberger. The sleek and nifty AKOYA gets its name from a lustrous Japanese cultured pearl.
“We chose this name as it reflects femininity and sophistication. It also refers to a rare object and a jewel,” he says.
Indeed, like a lovely pearl, the aircraft’s composite exterior cuts a stunning image. Inspiration for the design, according to the company, was drawn from several creative fields, including architecture, automotive and yacht design, and even furniture design. “We took care [of the interiors] because we wanted the passengers to be as comfortable as possible,” explains Herzberger.
“The seats [hand-finished in premium materials such as Nubuck leather] are fully adjustable to every pilot’s morphology.” The trained pilot was also aware that there was nothing more unpleasant than spending hours in a cramped cockpit. AKOYA features a 1.7m-long, well-appointed cockpit with enough elbow room to comfortably accommodate pilots as tall as 6 feet 5 inches. Dual controls and a tinted 180- degree electric glass canopy offer the pilot panoramic views, thus adding to a pleasurable flying experience.
Herzberger and Bernole fused aesthetic appeal with ground-breaking patented Multi-Access technology. Apart from folding wings, this technology consists of a unique combination of two landing gear — Seafoils and Skis- in. “The former, which are two hydrofoils that act as underwater ‘fins’, allow this sleek airplane to quickly lift its fuselage out of the water and provide stability and comfort during take-off acceleration and when landing on water surfaces,” explains Herzberger.
Skis- in — retractable landing gear equipped with skis — allow the AKOYA to land expertly on snow.
Incorporating the skis along with other landing gear into the space constrained fuselage was no piece of cake, but once the feat was accomplished, the scope of where one could venture out in the aircraft immediately widened.
Herzberger says, “We’ve an important market in Russia, Canada and Scandinavia, so we had to think of all climate situations our clients will be confronted with.” The 400- kg AKOYA boasts of take- off and landing distances ranging from about 270m for water, 182m for land and, depending on the quality of the powder, 182m and 396m, respectively, for take- off and landing in snow. Powered by a four-cylinder 100hp Bombardier engine, the single- propeller aircraft is capable of achieving a top speed of 250kmph and a range of more than 1,900km, with a fuel consumption of 12.5 litres per hour.
A veritable Bentley in the sky, this roughly $ 400,000 (Rs.2.2 crore) LSA merits attention on land, too — its convenient power- assisted folding wings trim the aircraft’s width by 7m when parked, making it an easy toy to load onto a trailer, stow in a garage, or even park aboard a boat as a tender.
“We believe that light aviation is a creative space that goes beyond a means of transport,” asserts Herzberger, who’s already working on an eco-friendly variant called Hy-Bird. It’s a claim that more than 100 clients who have already placed an order or reserved Herzberger and Bernole’s innovation would readily agree with, especially the 50-year-old Frenchman who will take the first delivery of the AKOYA next year — he dreams about landing this maverick explorer right at the doorstep of his lakefront home.