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Colin Chapman's Lotus Microlight


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#1 Peter Ross

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Posted 26 June 2005 - 12:52 PM

I first met Colin Chapman in 1948, and helped him from 1953-59 with the design of his cars. Since his death I have become interested in his attempts to build a microlight aircraft using a Lotus engine, but have been unable to find out much about it. In 1983 a Scaled Composites Model No 91 was registered in the UK with the letters G-MMLC. It was a canard. It made its first flight from the Lotus factory airfield at Hethel in Norfolk in the East Coast of England. It was designed by Bert Rutan for Group Lotus at the request of Colin Chapman, and was to use a Lotus designed engine, the Magnum 4.5 of 50 hp. It was de-registered in 1988 and returned to the USA. Most of the information I have managed to obtain came from the 1985 edition of Berger-Burr's Ultralight & Microlight Aircraft of the World. It appears that it was planned to manufacture it in the UK by Aviation Composites of Thatcham, Berks., and for the US company Eipper to market it. They of course are no longer trading, having been taken over by Quicksilver. Can any of you add to this story, or know of any article that has appeared about it?

#2 Jon Matcho

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Posted 28 June 2005 - 07:00 PM

Can any of you add to this story, or know of any article that has appeared about it?

I can't be of much help, and only found this after googling the registration number: http://elisetalk.com...read.php?t=6245

#3 Jac Mac

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Posted 27 August 2006 - 08:41 PM

" Colin Chapman Lotus Engineering" the book by Hugh Haskell has chapter on this a/c. There are also a couple of paragraphs in the 'Bert Rutan'- reinventing the airplane- pg 139 & 255. Jac Mac

#4 Ron Pearson

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 03:36 PM

I've just discovered this site although have been a Longeze builder for some time. With respect to the Lotus microlight - Ivan Shaw(Europa kitplane designer) built a pre production prototype some years after Chapmans death and had investors to produce the aircraft as a kit. He took the aircraft to Mojave to test it and they found that unfortunately it got into a stable spin. Burt considered this was due to it being heavier than the original, unfortunately when the prototype was taken out and tested under similar conditions it behaved similarly. A redesign was called for and after difficulty in deciding whose responsibility this was, it ended up in a Californian court. RAF won and the costs were already such that Ivan had to call it a day on that one. It was a pity as the friendship between two very ingenious and capable individuals foundered at the same time. The one good thing is that there probably would not have been a Europa or Liberty if the Chapman microlight had flown well.

#5 peter@historiclotusr

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 08:15 PM

To Ron Pearson, After writing to this group I had not heard that anyone had replied, and was surprised to see (when I chanced on the site) a long message from you dated nearly a year ago! I have spent a long time in a totally fruitless search for the name of the court where the case was heard against Burt Rutan's company for breach of contract. I know that it was somewhere in California, but if I could get the date and place I might be able to get court records to show what evidence was brought by each side. This would give a fascinating insight into the story, and I think I could then take it further. Is there any way you could help? I tried to send you a private e-mail message but was beaten by the system. With best wishes, Yours sincerely, Peter Ross UK peter(at)histriclotusregister.co.uk

#6 Ron Pearson

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 04:08 PM

Hi Peter, You should look at the Canard Pusher, Issue 59 (April '89) and 66 (Jan '91). This gives Burt's point of view and indicates that the ruling was published Jan 28 '91 by the Federal Court in Fresno California, a unanimous verdict in favour of Rutan Aircraft Factory and directed Aviation Composites (Ivan Shaw and investors) to pay the balance of their bill to RAF of $60,000 dollars. The person you should speak to regarding the other side would be Ivan and I am sure you can get in touch with him through the Europa factory or the Europa builders groups - he is still around and doing a fair amount of flight testing, Yours, Ron Pearson

#7 peter@historiclotusr

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 08:50 PM

Thank you very much Ron. I am in touch with Ivan, but wanted to get the other side of the story as well. I have contacted EZ Squadron for reprints of the Canard Pusher pages.

#8 Cozy Girrrl

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 11:38 PM

First. I'd like to say I think Colin Chapman was a brilliant designer. It seems everything he touched was a fresh look. The stand out thing of this design was that instead of driving the prop with the crankshaft, he drove it with the camshaft since it rotates at half the speed of the crankshaft. Regards, Chrissi

#9 Lynn Erickson

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 02:32 AM

First. I'd like to say I think Colin Chapman was a brilliant designer. It seems everything he touched was a fresh look.
The stand out thing of this design was that instead of driving the prop with the crankshaft, he drove it with the camshaft since it rotates at half the speed of the crankshaft.
Regards, Chrissi

Continental tried that with the Tiera engines but had alot of problems with prop vibrations breaking the gears that drive the cam.

#10 peter@historiclotusr

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 11:45 AM

The stand out thing of this design was that instead of driving the prop with the crankshaft, he drove it with the camshaft since it rotates at half the speed of the crankshaft.


Sadly it was just this feature which proved to be the engine's downfall. The torsional vibrations in the camshaft were too much for the gear wheels.

If I have understood him correctly, according to Mike Costin (the "Cos" of Cosworth - major producers of Grand Prix motor racing engines), it would have needed a slipping clutch between camshaft and propeller to avoid the peak stresses which were the problem.

The project failed due to the failure of the engine, and the failure of the airframe to meet the UK spinning requirements.

It didn't help that Chapman died on the same day that it flew for the first time on 16th December 1982.

#11 wallyb70

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Posted 28 January 2008 - 03:39 PM

For Ron Pearson. hi ron, are you the person i know who came to illinois and bought my plane? wally

#12 David Mullins

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Posted 27 July 2008 - 08:19 PM

Did you manage to find out more of the Rutan Model 91ML vis Chapmans's Lotus ELSA's? Later code named Mercury by Aviation composites Ltd. I was the Chief Design Engineer at Aviation Composites Ltd. and helped build a Production model, based on the original moulds and Scaled Composites Rutan 91ML protototype. My good friend, Ivan Shaw was our Production Manager at the time. I resigned from the Company in 1986 after some disagreement with Managing Director and the Certified Aircraft engineer hired by AC. Basically, I wanted to build an aircraft not a racing car, so enough said as to why I was not happy with the result. The number 2 (I've no idea of the reg number) was test flown in Florida and later displayed in Oshkosh '86 I believe. There was work to modify it and fit a nortan Rotary engine.

#13 David Mullins

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Posted 27 July 2008 - 08:29 PM

Is there any other information available about this Project? I was working for Aviation Composites Limited upto mid 1986 and may be able to add some new insights.




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