I have owned my LS-6 for 21 years and love it like an old friend. Now that I have no further aspirations regarding World Championships I would not buy another 15 metre sailplane, as the performance of even the latest designs are so little better than the LS-6 that the cost and bother of change would not be worth the benefits. However, an 18 metre glider clearly offers significantly better performance, and the option of a turbo. I do not need a self launching glider and I wish to avoid the cost, complexity, weight, and bureaucracy involved. Other 18 metre gliders available are adaptations of earlier 15 metre designs with which I am familiar. After 21 years with my LS-6 I want something different, and really new. Therefore, when I heard about the Antares 18 I arranged to visit the factory in June 2006.
I had heard good reports of the Antares 20E, but I was still very impressed by the factory and the staff of 40. I sensed an atmosphere of dedication and idealism that reminded me of Glasflugel in Haenle’s time. This was reinforced by the quality of the engineering and construction methods, and the attention to detail. Axel Lange seemed to be a perfectionist, and this pervades the whole operation. Because of its comparatively small size and output the factory aims to provide a bespoke service to all its customers with whom it maintains direct contact (they speak excellent English) and thus can obtain maximum feedback.
Construction is almost entirely of carbon fibre which should make repairs simpler than more complex composite structures. Thanks to the way the spar is incorporated into the wing, the weight of the inner panels (which total slightly more than 15 metres) is lighter than my LS-6 despite being a thinner profile. Rigging was easy with the same two main pin system as the LS-6. The outer panels with the winglets are very light and fit easily. The wing tip wheels are nicely designed and look very robust. The tailplane is also very thin, and attaches extremely easily without the need for any tools. The fuselage is unusually long, and the cockpit provides space midway between the LS-4 and the LS-6. The safety aspect of the design is very impressive, and includes the undercarriage which is designed to collapse progressively under load, which can be varied according to the pilot’s weight. It also incorporates a specially made hydraulic brake which provides maximum retardation without locking the wheel and tipping the glider on to its nose. I had some doubts about the electro-hydraulic undercarriage retraction system, but it seemed logical when I realised that most aircraft will be sold with a turbo, and will use the same system to raise and retract the engine. It also removes the need for an undercarriage lever in the cockpit and leaves it uncluttered.
On the day of our visit it rained until 2 pm. Thereafter the overcast began to break up and very weak cumulus appeared at 600 metres agl with some sunshine. Lift was never more than 1m/sec. Knowing this was the first Antares 18 I was struck by the high standard of finish of the cockpit. The view out of the large canopy was outstanding and, very unusually for me, I was immediately comfortable without having done anything special to the seating. The controls were laid out exactly as I like them, with the one exception of the cable release which was in the usual Schempp-Hirth position at the base of the panel. I prefer it in the LS position on the side of the fuselage in front of the flap lever. With a 10kt crosswind on take-off the steerable tailwheel, which is part of the rudder, made itself useful, although it takes a moment to get used to it. But the most obvious characteristic which became immediately apparent was the very light controls. I like a responsive, sensitive glider as I depend on airframe feedback for the way I fly. The rate of roll was both quicker and lighter than my LS-6, the rudder was more than sufficient (in circling I seemed to need almost no rudder), and the elevator was similarly effective and light. Despite this aircraft having no elevator/flap linkage at present, the forces were so low that the glider appeared to adopt the appropriate speed at the different flap settings without any need to alter the trimmer. The undercarriage retracted extremely quickly, and thereafter the cockpit became almost silent, irrespective of the position of the adequate ventilator. The glider seemed to climb well in the very weak lift, indicating 80 kph or slightly less. It was very reluctant to stall unless deliberately provoked, and then recovered quickly without any wing drop. I really enjoyed flying it for two hours and reflected how nice it would be to fly in the mountains. It was easy to land, and using the steerable tailwheel and wingtip wheels I could confidently steer off the runway on to the taxiway.
Such a flight can give one absolutely no impression of comparative actual performance. I have always thought that gliders designed to similar specifications perform virtually the same, and it is the pilot and his/her interaction with the aircraft that makes the difference. However, when buying a new glider one certainly hopes that its performance will be at least as good as its competitors, and it seems to me that this is a reasonable expectation for the Antares 18 because:
- it can fly at a very wide range of wing loadings: with an empty weight of only 275 kg, and a maximum weight of 600 kg, the glider should excel in both very weak and strong conditions;
- by all reports the performance of the Antares 20E is outstanding. Thus the fuselage drag, wing root design, tailplane and rudder, which the Antares 18 shares with the 20E, should perform well;
- similarly the wing, with its constant curved leading edge, and its nine Boermann’s designed profiles, should work well (it certainly looks nice).
Whether the factory’s calculated performance curves, which suggest the Antares to have a performance advantage especially at higher speeds, will be proved correct, only time will tell.
At first sight the Antares 18 seems rather expensive. But this is not really the case: the price includes everything except instruments, parachute and trailer. Included are tail dolly, TE probe, and all aircraft come with engine bays and doors for turbo installation.. Even fitting instruments (1) may be included. On this basis the price is very similar to its competitors. I really admire Axel Lange and his team for their courage and determination in developing the Antares sailplanes. They pursue their dreams, but it is no way to become rich.
For me, buying a new glider is an emotive decision. When I landed the Antares 18 I asked myself: Do you really, really want to own this glider? The answer is yes.
1): Fitting of standard instrumentation with e-vario, when ordered at Lange.