Heading for Paris, my (very good) self-launching glider rolls out of the yard and the buyer will surely be just as happy and satisfied with the glider as I was. For anyone hoping that I have something bad to report, I can only say that it would be whining at the very highest level and also an outright lie. To put it briefly, I would have bought the model again without any hesitation if I hadn’t come across the Antares.
But I had no real cause for concern, because last summer, during an extensive test flight from Zweibrücken in an Antares 20E, I could only conclude that Axel Lange and his team had actually succeeded in putting something into the air that came very close to my optimum. The Antares is not the “egg-laying wool-milk sow” that combines the agility of the 15m gliders with the glide ratio of the eta / concordia – that would be too bold a sales polar. But it is a perfect compromise between handling on the ground and flight performance in the air.
I don’t want to dwell on the facts already described in detail in other reports. I have nothing to add to these, but would like to make a few subjective points which, in my opinion, justify the progress for me. What does progress mean in this context? There are in many respects nuances – even if technically there is a revolution behind it (which I cannot really judge), which can only be discovered after some time.
There is the ergonomics of the cockpit: at first I have the feeling that I can’t find a suitable sitting position, despite the really wide range of adjustment options. Somehow the stick is too close, I’m sitting strangely(?), the nose of the plane is so endlessly far away. The result is stunning, I adjusted the seat position just as Axel Lange had planned for my height and suddenly everything fits perfectly when I am flying. I don’t have to lean forward to adjust the flight computer or instruments or stretch my arm out too far, the stick literally falls into my hand and all the controls are within easy reach.
The feel-good factor is further enhanced by the very quiet flight noise, the excellent view to the outside, the very low control forces – heavy handed pilots be warned, but they can grip the stick at the bottom – as well as the feeling of space in the cockpit, although there is actually no ballroom available to the left and right of the elbows. What I find most impressive is that, although at first the control stick seemed far too close to me, it really is in the right place and the aircraft can be controlled “from the wrist”. There is one fly in the ointment: what to do with the extremely comfortable Sennheiser headphones supplied? It is too delicate for me to simply throw it into the corner of this tidy cockpit, and the width of the headrest makes it impossible to cram it over the headrest. Now I place it over my left knee.
It’s all quite nice to be comfortably bedded down, but the Antares is a sailplane. To do this, it must firstly glide perfectly and secondly climb perfectly – otherwise it would not deserve 100%. Now I’m not a competition pilot, so the speed range well above 200 kph tends not to be important to me, or perhaps I have no idea how important these speeds are. The only thing I wouldn’t have dreamed of is everything that happens in the range below this, down to 110 km/h. The glide performance is phenomenal, I’m even prepared to believe the stated glide ratio of 56 (at least that’s how I set my computer polar and it fits very well on final glide).
What works particularly well is what I would call “sailing along”. No strong thermals – around 1m/s -, the beginnings of cloud streets, many kilometers without clouds and yet I can cruise along at 120, 130, 140 kph without any problems. I can’t describe it any other way. It’s easy and effortless to fly even in these conditions.
Another example: Coming from the north, I turn – some luck is involved – around the corner at Ansbach in the direction of Kelheim and fly straight on for 120 km without a circle. Others may have already experienced this – I was once again impressed by the balance between glide performance, which decreases surprisingly little at higher speeds of up to 170 kph (92 kts), and climb performance. In any case, my average cruising speed has increased significantly since I started flying with the Antares. One must clearly change one’s flying style away from circling and speeding towards moderate gliding (in the case of the Antares, this means around 130 – 140 kph / 70-75 kts) and take the climb with you in straight flight (at 100 – 110 kph / 54-59 kts).
Long gliding distances would be nothing unusual in themselves, the “real” open class airplanes can do that too, if it weren’t for that bit about climbing. I would not make the claim that an Antares 20E dances in the air as light-footed as a modern standard class model. But I would definitely agree that it is at least as agile as the current 18m gliders, despite two meters more wingspan and the batteries in the wings, whose masses have to be moved.
Also, in very weak conditions, e.g. on late fall days when it is just about possible, a modern and significantly lighter standard class glider will have an advantage in staying aloft due to its more agile handling. This “advantage” is not a real one, however, as cross-country flying is not on the agenda on these days. And the comparison is very misleading. In such conditions, the 18m class is not really happy either and the open class not at all – with the exception of some specialists whose skills are probably way above mine. When the updraft exceeds aproximately 1 m/s and it is possible to accommodate both wings of the Antares halfway inside the thermal bubble (even very steeply), then the world of the Antares begins. And it does so in two ways.
I am quite sure that a modern standard class glider without water does not climb any better – despite my wing loading of 44 kg/m^2 with the Antares. This is where the last 20 years of aerodynamics knowledge are demonstrated in a most pleasant way. And I’m not a slow thermaller; in fact, it’s always 100 kph (54 kts). Even more impressive is the sensitivity to thermals: no matter how much the vario may jubilate, if the Antares doesn’t shake, then there are no thermals. And on top of everything else, you are literally told which side to turn to. In any case, I’m making fewer and fewer mistakes when choosing the direction – but that may also be due to my growing flying experience. And so the flying summary is: absolutely easy to fly, extremely sensitive display of thermals and excellent gliding and climbing ability (straight ahead and turning).
It is precisely this combination that makes it possible to fly considerable distances and enjoy relaxed flights – I almost don’t dare say it – in a playfully simple way. I don’t even want to imagine what a glide ratio of 100 would mean: a gliding Maybach without any contact to the real world, perhaps even boring? Today the Antares can already give you an idea of what this could mean in terms of performance.
The Antares is a self-launching glider and it masters this part with aplomb. The propulsion system is extremely powerful and operation is no problem even for pilots with ten thumbs and only left hands. The fact that the drivetrain runs extremely quietly – which is clearly stated by outsiders in particular, as they can no longer hear anything after just a few meters – and with little vibration – is a highly welcome quantum leap. Not to mention the reliability!
And what is the price of these advantages? The electric motor and power control are definitely not a disadvantage. The engine, a core element of the drive, appears completely inconspicuous from the outside, and yet it alone contains so much innovation that the development team won the Swiss Innovation Award with it. The operation of the propulsion system (from extension to power control to retraction) is reduced to a single control lever – it couldn’t be simpler or less complicated.
This does not necessarily apply to the energy storage battery and especially its use in aircraft design. I don’t want to discuss all the pros and cons of this, after all, the selected battery type is “state of the art”. Anyone opting for such a powertrain today must be aware that more than what is offered in the Antares is not possible here and now. Full stop. If you consider the Antares to be a glider with auxiliary propulsion, then you will have a perfectly adequate climb altitude per battery charge. Of course, a climb of 5,000 meters would be better, but I had analyzed my flights of the last few years before making the purchase decision and was able to determine that in 95% of cases, a climb of around 2,500 meters (including self-launch) was sufficient to get home safely. I provoked the remaining 5% by trying to make the clearly impossible possible in spite of bad weather conditions – far from my home airfield. Another thing I can’t do is to use my motor to fly half an hour or more into the Alps in the morning and then do the same back in the evening – this doesn’t bother me.
And that the batteries require attention other than careful, particle-free refueling with fuel mixed in the correct ratio? Yes, that is so. But it is only too much for those who in the past have already trampled underfoot the simplest rules of care for their lead-acid batteries. That the batteries are subject to aging and thus a loss of capacity? This point is undeniable.. It’s just that high-capacity and high-current batteries are a heart’s desire of the military (unfortunately, it’s a fact that cutting-edge technology is developed for this very reason) and these are served by entire industries, which I can’t see happening, at least not for 2-stroke glider engines.
The bottom line for the power train is that the Antares is a sailplane, not a motorglider with a large cross-country tank. The built-in technology offers everything necessary for this, as well as benefits in terms of handling and for the environment. As far as overall performance is concerned, the batteries alone are the limiting factor and anyone who can’t get to grips with this will, for now, have to resort to the combustion engine. Everything else is – at least today – a rather ideological discussion of the type that is often found at the beginning of a conceptual change.
Was it wise to sell my “old” self-launcher? Deep down, I’m sure my wife is convinced that I must be mad to spend so much money on a toy – and she’s right. It is just that the gliders in this category are now all so expensive that one should rather buy the right one… And at the end of the day, the pilot remains (unfortunately?) the limiting factor in terms of kilometers or flying pleasure achieved with the Antares.
Gregor Kunsemüller – Antares 20E serial no. 12