A flight review by Paul Southwick

Italians do things in style and the Blackshape Prime (BK100) launch was to be no exception. Selected mainstream and aviation media – both television and print were offered a return turbine helicopter flight from the Melbourne CBD to Tyabb airport (YTYA) to test fly one of the sexiest looking aircraft to grace Australian skies since the Spitfire.

With tandem seating; a bubble canopy; an Australian Air Force PC-9 / NZ Air Force T-6C Texan-like fighter-trainer look; composite construction; an airframe parachute; a top speed of 162 knots (or a much higher sounding 300 kph); with a “slow-as” 35 knot landing configuration stall speed; powered by a mere 100hp Rotax, driving a 2-bladed constant speed propeller; this is an aircraft that will attract, intrigue, entice and perhaps addict pilots.

I wanted to know if this dual control, retractable speedster, with such beautiful form, but a strange name, was safe and easy to fly. Would it be the perfect toy for the well to do or perhaps a great syndicate aircraft? Could it really be as fast as they say?

History

The Blackshape Prime started life as the Millennium Master, – which also gave rise to the similar looking Pelegrin Tarragon. It was built to comply with Fédération Aéronautique Internationale microlight rules with the first flight in 2007. In Australia it is “Type Certified” but there is an intention to have it included on the VH register too – so PPLs can fly it. The aircraft cannot come under LSA as it has retractable gear.

Blackshape is owned and controlled by Angelo Investments, an international financial holding group involved in several hi-tech sectors including the space, aerospace, railway, electronic, and biomedical fields.

The exclusive distributor of the Blackshape Prime for Australia and New Zealand is PLA Aviation Services. Owner and pilot is Nic Waugh.
The cost of the Blackshape Prime ranges between A$252k and A$300k depending upon the options selected – of which there are many good ones.

Founders of Blackshape

The two Italian founders are very well qualified: Luciano Belviso, acts as Chief Executive Officer and Angelo Petrosillo is the Managing Director Sales and Marketing.

Belviso holds a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, a master’s of science in mechanical engineering, and a master’s of law. He is a member of the Space Generation Advisory Council in support of the United Nations Space Program, and a member of the International Institute of Space Law. Petrosillo holds a bachelor’s degree in Law.

Technical details

The Blackshape Prime is not a kit aircraft but is supplied ready to fly. The wing span is 7.94 m (26.0 ft) with an area of 9.96 m2 (107.2 sq ft) and there are double slotted flaps.

The two seater is 7.18 m long, 2.41 m high, and the empty weight is 296.5 kg or 654 lb. in basic configuration. The aircraft as tested weighed 395 kg. Fuel capacity is 100 litres (in two 50 litre tanks). Useable fuel is 92 litres. There is allowance for 20kg (44 lbs) of baggage.

Cruise speed is quoted as 148 knots in the Rotax 91s version, and 151 knots with the 115 hp turbo 914 engine in the BK100T. The never exceed speed is 165 knots, and the maximum range is 540 nm, or 1,000 km.

The wing loading is 47.44 kg/m2, or 9.72 lb/sq ft and maximum load factors are +4/-2 g. Maximum demonstrated crosswind speed during take-off and landing is 16 KIAS.

In addition to the parachute, the safety features include four point certified safety belts and anti-blast fuel tanks – which contain fuel in the event of an accident.

Standard electronics include a Dynon Skyview SV-D1000 EFIS, Radio COM, Intercom (PM1000II) and Mode S Transponder. Options include a 2-Axis (Dynon) Autopilot, ELT, backseat EFIS (Dynon Skyview SV-D700), and backseat control panel for flaps, brakes and propeller control – which our test aircraft was equipped with.

In the composite

After its Italian fashion model good looks, the first thing pilots will notice is just how much taller the Blackshape Prime is in real life. The photos of it flying against a blue featureless sky, with no frame of reference, and the gear up, make it look not just sleek but also smallish. In the “flesh,” especially with the quite tall gear extended, this is a good sized machine – not tiny at all. The engine compartment has quite a space before the “out front” Rotax engine – facilitating good weight and balance.

Very obvious on walk around are the Blackshape Prime’s slim tandem-seat-lines, and smooth surfaces that come only with a composite structure – that plus the small wings are where the speed comes from. There is no hint of the airframe parachute hidden forward of the canopy, and the shark fin like tail reveals powerful LED lights. Even in brilliant white this not an aircraft that will be missed in aerial shots or pilot scans in the air. In fact its amazing turn of speed, accentuated by its slim design, will turn heads for sure.

Enthusiasts who have seen the Blackshape Prime in European videos will notice that the Australian version has no wing fences. Waugh says test pilots in Australia said they were an unnecessary addition by over conservative European authorities, and if properly flown are simply not required.
Also noticeable on the wings are the silver caps which tell the refuellers that either MOGAS or AVGAS can be used. Based on local LAME advice Waugh says they are using AVGAS, but it really does not make much of a difference.

Let’s go flying

As the only pilot amongst the early morning group of journalists it was nice to be offered both the first flight and the front seat. After a quick briefing from pilot Ian Loveridge, recreational aviation CFI at Tooradin, the author taxied out at non-controlled and landing fee free Tyabb. Taxi was easy and the hand break on the left was used to slow the aircraft as required.

Speaking of the left hand side that is where all the key controls are – like throttle and pitch as well as the flaps (which can be set to automatic) and gear lever with the traditional three green lights. Pilots fly with their right hand using the control stick between their legs – very fighter like, in a superbly comfortable seat.

There is one key item on the right and that’s the red handle to deploy the ballistic parachute in an emergency. It certainly is reassuring to have that option fitted. It might help get the purchase across the line with nervous partners too.

It’s a long skinny sealed runway at Tyabb but we needed very little of it as the Blackshape Prime accelerated quickly and flew itself off at about 60 KIAS. It was then gear and flaps up as we climbed out at 80 KIAS with a rate of climb close to 1,000 fpm. It is a good aircraft for pilots to get into as it reminds them of the need for coordinated rudder input – in this case mild right foot on ascent.

Visibility over the nose in the climb is good but not brilliant however out the side is another story with wonderful views in all directions unobstructed by short narrow wings.

We climbed to 3,000 feet; trimming as we went, using the up and down buttons conveniently located on the control stick, and practiced a basic stall and some steep turns. The basic stall was so well telegraphed, and in every way, such that it is hard to imagine anyone stalling the aircraft, and was reminiscent of a Cessna 152 with a nose and wing drop at 58 KIAS (clean) – in this case the to the left. The stall was quickly broken by lowering the nose and applying power.

The most amazing thing about the Blackshape Prime is the incredible speed it generates with just 100 hp. 140 KIAS is easily achieved in the cruise at modest power settings and in descent it’s very slippery. As we were in a picture perfect, wind free Melbourne day, we flew safely “into the yellow” and had to reduce power to stay below the red line. This plane can cover long distances quickly.

Noise levels are modest in the cockpit and oh so quiet from the ground. This is not an aircraft that will annoy neighbours when they are overflown.

Back to base

We could have stayed over French Island all day but there were others who needed a (backseat) ride, so we pointed the nose down and headed back for a downwind join of Tyabb’s runway 35.

Speed was easily and progressively bled off with reductions in power and the use of gear and flaps (manually in this case). Both gear and flaps have a 80 KIAS maximum operating speed.

Turning finals Tyabb’s narrow runway can fool pilots into thinking that they are too high but on this windless day it was easy to adjust the flight path for a perfect approach. Although the aircraft can approach much slower, the Aussie experts recommend a 70 KIAS approach speed, back to 65 KIAS on short final, and this worked well.

A simple slight reduction of power (but not all of it, remembering that small wing), once the numbers were made, and a little back pressure, yielded a gentle touchdown. Just a slight use of the brakes had us stopping in a minuscule portion of the runway.

The brochures do not say STOL but they could. This is a fast little aeroplane that can easily get in and out of short fields, be they grass or hard surface.

Target market

The target market was reflected by the swath of journalists from “fancy” publications that pitch to the well to do – perhaps including some entrepreneurs new to aviation.

This is a fantastic and not overly expensive toy. More than that, it is a great fun toy for every pilot and their lucky friends or family.
No doubt the Blackshape Prime will find its way into syndicates and also be a popular aircraft on line for hire with its relatively low costs per hour for such high performance.

A secondary market will be airline pilots wanting to keep in touch with and savour general aviation. The Blackshape Prime will be the perfect aircraft for those days off.

Keeping pilots safe and current in the Blackshape Prime will be important. That high speed wing requires competency and currency. Ideally the distributors will follow the GA industry leader and have well planned formal induction, conversion and recurrence training programs. It might be just 100 hp but it is still a high performer.

Summary

The Blackshape Prime is a fast, fantastic, good looking, delight-to-fly, value for money Italian. It will turn a lot of heads and may just end up sharing hangers with the luxury cars of it owners.

About the author

Paul M Southwick is a journalist, pilot, and communications consultant based in Melbourne, Australia.

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