On February 16, 2005, the time had finally come. My ANTARES could be picked up. Actually, everything should have happened much earlier, but which glider manufacturer has managed to start series production on time? And this is also a very complex, new system, which is unparalleled. A bit excited, full of anticipation, my dear wife Anne and I got into the car and hummed off to arrive in Zweibrücken-Flugplatz after about 460 km at about 11 am.
It was to be the first flight with my own ANTARES, the test flight I had already made in 2003 with the factory machine to my complete satisfaction. My new airplane D-KKPB was already ready to fly on the apron. I could hardly wait to make the takeover flight. Ola Thorsen from Fa. Lange did another thorough briefing with me and off we went.
The cloud base was only 500 m, but the visibility was good and so it was enough for a short test flight: Before boarding, make the cockpit “fit”: Adjust the seat pan (height and length adjustable), bring the backrest, which can also be adjusted in flight with the help of a gas pressure spring, into the correct position, adjust the rudders for length. The rudder pedals slide apart when you pull them in, so short pilots with shorter legs don’t have to wrap them around the mushroom – just everything perfect. I personally don’t need this one, but it’s a testament to the many good ideas the designer has had here, among other things.
Then everything was normal, on the taxiway to the runway, clearance at cab stop D and off I taxied. The powerful electric motor catapulted me quickly into the air with a 10 km/h headwind, which was directly on the track. Climbing at a good 4 m/sec, at about 500 m altitude the power lever back to the zero position, the propeller automatically ran to the vertical position, the hydraulic pump was heard and after 15 sec. the engine had disappeared into the fuselage. A glance in the mirror and the distinct sound of the engine cover closing confirmed that the retraction was correct. I had already retracted the landing gear at an altitude of 100 m by means of the small mini-shift lever, also electro-hydraulically. In addition, everything is shown on a clear display or a friendly announcement points out important things.
Now it was completely different from the previous 2600 gliding hours: I pushed the flaps from the takeoff position to the minus 1 position and the airspeed indicator moved evenly to 140 hm/h, without any movement around the lateral axis or any change in the horizon picture. The plane simply shot away silently without noticeably losing altitude. All rudders were extremely smooth, everything went with two fingers. The maneuverability of the aircraft was immediately convincing; it is a real racehorse. It only took me a few minutes to feel really comfortable, the rudder tuning was a first class fit, the visibility excellent, the seating position optimal because of the seat adjustment that can be adjusted to any pilot size. It quickly became clear that the ANTARES was tailor-made for me!
A glance at the altimeter reminded me of the landing pattern, the circuit at Zweibrücken was to be followed exactly. After counter and cross approach the final part. Not at all exciting, the double-decker airbrakes and flap setting +2 let the plane sink at 115 km/h with up to 8 m/sec! Thus, a precisely calculable descent is possible, soft interception with max. 2/3 extended airbrakes and the plane sits exactly on the runway. Even rolling over D worked perfectly with the last swing, the motor power lever to the first position, the motor extends quickly, the lever further forward within the good baffle guide, the motor starts smoothly, can be regulated sensitively and thus the rolling speed can be controlled precisely.
Back on the hall apron, I was probably the happiest person in the world. I had a hard time hiding my tears of joy over my ANTARES. A snow shower threatened and we quickly disarmed and put the plane in the COBRA trailer. Here Ola helped again, explained to me in practice the ingenious one-man Auf+Abrüsthilfe, which is part of the standard accessories. My wife Anne was disappointed, as now she only needs to lend a hand to secure the wings in strong winds. She always enjoyed upgrading my previous planes with me! But the slightly higher wing weight, due to the batteries, requires the upgrade aid, which is height-adjustable via a gas strut.
Five long weeks of bad weather passed before I could finally fly my ANTARES at home in Aue-Hattorf. In the meantime, I have flown over 85 hours, made several major cross-country flights in the Austrian Alps with it and am more than satisfied. The extreme maneuverability in thermals and the very good glide at high speeds are an optimal combination. I think that the glide ratio of 56 at 117 km/h according to the manufacturer’s specification applies. Several long final approaches from up to 96 km away have confirmed this. “The airplane is as maneuverable as my LS-4,” Michael Royer told me after his first 6.5-hour ANTARES flight of over 600 km. He, too, was more than thrilled and still raves about his flight today. The entire system is just brilliantly easy to use. The electric drive very reliable, quiet and clean. At night, the plane is charged either in the trailer or also upgraded via a text message command from my cell phone. The answer comes within 30 seconds with an SMS feedback that the charging process has started. The capacity of the batteries is fully sufficient with over 3000 meters of altitude, even in the Alps. I have never used more than 30% of my battery capacity when starting at 1000 m altitude in the Alps. This means that there is always sufficient remaining capacity with a good 2000 meters of climb available to either reconnect to the thermals or to make a safe landing at a foreign airfield. A short adapter cable is always on board to connect to a 220 V outlet and charge the batteries overnight (charging time max. 8 hours).
Conclusion: The long wait for the ANTARES was hard to bear, but after currently 85 flying hours I am absolutely satisfied with the aircraft and the engine. The electric drive is certainly more reliable than any combustion engine which runs as a folding engine. The designer Axel Lange and his staff deserve thanks and respect for having brought this project to series production readiness despite all the problems.