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Thruster T-500 Flight Review


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The Thruster series of aircraft are pretty well known to most old school “Ultralight” pilots but may not be so well known to those newer to the Recreational Flying scene.


The Thruster was the first Australian built two seat trainer to show up on the Ultralighting scene. Built almost out of necessity the first two seat Thruster was the Two Place Trainer (TPT) also known as the Glasshouse (because of it having no pod and a lexan covering over the nose) built in 1984 at the time these aircraft were actually illegal as only single seat Ultralights were permitted. The TPT lead to the Gemini’s and then further onto the T-300 and the T-500. For further information on the development of Thrusters see the Thruster support web site produced by TOSG - Tony Hayes an excellent site http://thrustersupport.org/history.htm


The T-500 was the last developed Thruster to come out of the original Thruster factory the engine of choice was the Rotax 582 with its higher power output giving the aircraft a much better climb rate fully loaded and safety margin in the unlikely event of an engine failure on take off. The other common engines out front are the Rotax 503’s and 532’s.


Thrusters are a real rag and tube aircraft. Not much is hidden although the T-500 with the rear sock does cover itself up a little more than the T-300 and its predecessors. The Dacron covered wings are have a thick chord line and the full span ailerons give good roll control even in turbulent conditions. The pilot and passenger is tucked up inside the pod seated in what can only be described as school chairs without the legs! Some aircraft have now been fitted with clear Lexan doors but the originals have nothing but a large entry/exit hole. The entire enclosure basically forms a roll cage around the occupants adding an extra margin of safety.


Entry into the seated position requires a little bit of practice but after a few attempts this is mastered, care must be taken not to put your weight on the fibreglass pod as your feet will go straight through it and the Flintstone look - although amusing will not make the owner happy! Once inside the “cockpit” you will find everything pretty much at your finger tips. The standard layout for the T-500’s is immediately above the pilots knee’s the flight instruments are displayed varying from aircraft to aircraft these will almost always include an ASI, Altimeter and Compass. Above the windscreen is housed the “eye brow” panel which contain the typical electrical switches plus engine instruments.


Start up is normal for a Rotax 582 with the battery on, fuel pump on, ignition on – clear prop and hit the starter and away she goes. Factory original Thrusters where not fitted with brakes although most have now been fitted with some type of system to help slow you down. On the ground taxiing is pretty typical for a tailwheel aircraft there is slight lag between rudder application and the tailwheel responding adding some power and getting the big rudder to help you around the corner does tighten the turning circle and it is even easier if you have differential brakes fitted on the aircraft.


The take off – Time to see what all the fuss is about. Stick full back and gently applying full power over about 5 seconds there is a tendency for the aircraft to swing to the left but the tailwheel and rudder authority easily cope after a few seconds ease the stick forward until the tail comes up again she tries to swing but after a couple of take offs you get used to it and ease in some rudder to keep her tracking straight. Once airborne keeping the nose down until hitting that magic number of 55 kts and then easing back on the stick and climb away. On a good day you can see figures of 500 to 800 feet a minute on a bad day down towards 200 feet a minute again depending on engine type, weight and temperature.


Up to 3000’ for some airwork – Some turns first of all medium level turns are nothing out of the ordinary with the full span ailerons giving a nice firm grip. Steep turns require a little more power and a fair amount of back stick it would be easy to get slow and go close to a stall if attention wasn’t paid to keeping the airspeed up.


Next up the stall – Well I would love to say it was exciting but it simply isn’t! Power off the speed drops back very quickly as you would expect in this high drag low inertia aircraft, once back into the low 30 knot bracket the nose just mushes and if your lucky you might get a slight wing drop which is easily stopped with some rudder I actually tried my hardest to provoke the aircraft by holding full back stick and rolling the aircraft with the ailerons but the aircraft simply rolled with the stick input and continued downwards with no tendency to try and bite.


The Cruise – Well this is a Rag and Tube – High Drag – Low Inertia aircraft so you are not going to be going anywhere to quickly! With a Rotax 582 up front and 5400 RPM set depending on the aircraft you will get anywhere from 55kts to 65kts using between 15 an 17 litres and hour, higher power settings can be used but generally you will get a few more knots but a much higher fuel burn.


Into the dreaded circuit – Downwind checks complete, we set up for a glide approach, the glide angle is pretty steep so a nice close circuit is advised flying all the way down holding 55 kts, if the conditions are smooth slowing down to 50 and 45 over the fence. Holding 55 kts right down to the flare won’t eat up much more runway and gives an added safety margin in the event of windsheer or a go-around becoming necessary.


Now this is where it gets controversial! Wheel or Three Point? As long as the Thruster has been around there has been the fight about how it aircraft should be landed it simply comes down to your preference but from talking with people who have a few thousand hours on type the Wheeler is easier to master and nicer on the tailwheel of the aircraft. Once down to a few feet above the runway just let the speed bleed off and when the main wheels touch just edge the stick forward and hold her on… easy right…. Well it sounds that way! After some practice with an experience instructor it is that easy. Three pointers require and little more thought holding the aircraft off until the last little bit of energy has left the wings and then a quick jab of full back on the stick and the aircraft should settle onto all three wheels… again easier said than done but certainly do-able.


So what do I think of the aircraft? Well I’m a little biased I loved rag and tube flying and after converting to Thrusters I actually went and bought one of the original two seat TPT Glasshouse.


If you all you want to do is get up in the air and go for a bumble around I couldn’t think of a better aircraft. Starting from around $10,000 ranging up to about $18,000 for a top of the range Thruster with all the gadgets already fitted you won’t find many - if any other two seaters in that price range! Cheap to run with an hourly cost of about $30 and hour everything included you can actually afford to go flying every weekend.


These are the ideal first aircraft cheap to buy cheap to fly and a bundle of fun. Sure they can get you working on the ground if there is a bit of wind around but they say if you can fly a Thruster you will be able to fly just about any tail wheel aircraft out there.


So if you have never flown a rag and tube let alone a tail wheel aircraft get out there and have a go! They are becoming rare in training schools but they are still out there!


Note: These notes have been compiled over several years of flying Thrusters I am sure some people will disagree with some of my points made but hey that’s life!


Note 2: Edited for poor spelling and grammer! I'm sure there is more in there and I'll get to it eventually.













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Guest TOSGcentral

An excellent and fair appraisal of the '500 by Adam.


A few other minor points Adam may like to edit in to round it off a bit more:


You always need full choke on a R582 when starting unless the engine has been running within the last few minutes.


The electric boost pump should be turned off after starting (to demonstrate that the mechanical lift pump is in fact working) and switched back on for take-off as part of pre-take off checks. The pump should be active for all operations below 500' agl and inactive for any operations on the ground other than starting, take-off and landing.


Va is 70 knots and Vne is 80 kts (standard for all two seat Thrusters and most of the single seaters).


The Thruster is a bit Jeckel & Hyde in that it is virtually hands off flying in smooth air with very light control forces - but in convective or mechanical turbulence aileron control forces increase considerably due to air interaction with the high lift wings.





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Thank you both Thruster Bob and Tony for your input. I've basically aimed at a basic overview that doesn't encompass all the procesdures (Thats what instuctors are for!). This was written on a Sunday afternoon when I had a little spare time so it is in no way a complete guide but should be a teaser for those who have always wanted to smell the fumes of a two stroke in the morning!



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