In the Experimental aviation world, when we think of replica airplanes, what usually comes to mind is a classic fighter from WW-I or WW-II. The replica covered in this article also has military origins, but is something entirely different.
The Embraer EMB 312 Tucano is a low-wing, tandem, turboprop trainer that was originally developed for the Brazilian Air Force in 1979. Since then, the aircraft has been used by numerous air forces around the world, and a light-attack version, the EMB 314 Super Tucano, is still in production.
The Tucano replica looks amazingly similar to the original. You won’t find ejection seats, but a ballistic parachute is available as an option.
Flying Legend, an Italian company, has developed an all-metal Tucano replica that is 70% actual size and looks almost identical to the original. But don’t let the turboprop-like exhaust stacks fool you. The replica is actually powered by a Rotax engine. It can also be built with fixed or retractable landing gear.
With fixed gear and a 100-horsepower Rotax 912 ULS, the Tucano meets LSA requirements, provided that gross weight is limited to 1320 pounds. When licensed as Experimental/Amateur-Built, gross weight can be increased to 1433 pounds with aerobatic load limits of +6/-3 G at this weight.
Performance is significantly enhanced with retractable gear and more power. The “official” engine choice for the E/A-B version is a turbocharged 115-hp Rotax 914 UL. But there’s also another option—a Rotax 912 ULS fitted with Flygas Engineering’s supercharger kit (see sidebar), which boosts power to 130-140 horsepower. You can probably guess which version I wanted to fly for this report!
Typical drawing from the construction manual that you can download from the company web site.
Italy is a long country going from north to south. I live in the far north, and Flying Legend is based in Caltagirone, on the island of Sicily, far to the south. The main Italian light aircraft show, Cielo e Volo, is held at Ozzano Airfield near Bologna, more toward the center of Italy. I contacted Flying Legend CEO Franco Rummolino, and we agreed to meet for a demo flight the day before the show opened.
My plan was to fly to Ozzano in my Van’s RV-8. Unfortunately, thunderstorm forecasts put me in my car for 2.5 hours of driving. As it turned out, that was a good decision. When I returned home that evening, I spent the last 100 miles driving through the worst weather and rain of last summer.
I arrived at Ozzano 30 minutes before the Tucano replica touched down with company test pilot, Italian Air Force retired colonel Francesco “Ciccio” Moraci, at the controls. Franco was in the back seat as copilot. They had departed at 8 a.m. from Caltagirone, did a lunch stop in Rome, and arrived at Ozzano after a flight of 520 nautical miles at 3:30 p.m.
Looking at the Tucano replica for the first time, I immediately noticed that the aircraft is sleek and well proportioned. Painted military gray, it has nicely tapered wings and a generous right-side tilt canopy. The front cowl section definitely gave me the idea that the word “replica” is important to Flying Legend—two faux turbine exhausts let you dream that the aircraft is powered by the Embraer EMB 312 Tucano’s turboprop engine.
Since this was the first time the three of us had met in person, after walking around the airplane, we decided to sit at the airfield restaurant to get to know each other and discuss Flying Legend and the Tucano replica.
Flying Legend was established in 2010 and is part of Barum Group, a financial company owned by Franco Rummolino and Giacomo Bandiera. With expertise in steel laser cutting and industrial design, and a great passion for aviation, they decided to enter the LSA and Experimental markets. But what type of aircraft would they build?
With the company’s expertise in high-tech metal-cutting machines, it was a given that the airframe would be made from aluminum. But the spark for building a Tucano replica came from the famous Brazilian Air Force formation team, Esquadro de Demonstrao Area (the Smoke Squadron), and their blue, yellow, and green Embraer Tucanos. The team’s popularity, especially with Latin American and Brazilian aviation enthusiasts, combined with the unique look and impressive performance of their aircraft, made the idea of a downsized Tucano look promising.
The Tucano replica uses traditional metal construction techniques. Pre-punched parts are fastened together by the builder using pulled rivets, while most of the structural parts are assembled at the factory with solid rivets.
The kit is divided into several sub-kits: empennage, wings, fuselage, flight controls, landing gear, fuel system, resins (cowling, wingtips, fairings, etc.), canopy, and engine mount. The kits can be ordered together or individually.
All hardware is AN/MS and measurements are in inches. The fuel tanks hold 13 U.S. gallons in each wing, and are made by M.E.RIN, an Italian company that specializes in anti-explosion bladder fuel cells. The electro-hydraulic retractable landing gear was designed to look as close as possible to the original. The mainwheels are 6 inches in diameter with a differential brake system, and the nosewheel is 4 inches in diameter.
Quickbuild Tucano kits are built on jigs at the factory. In the background is a replica Hawker Hurricane, built from a Flying Legend kit.
Like all of the steel components, the engine mount is powder coated. The aluminum parts are treated with Alodine at the factory. The engine cowling, spinner, wingtips, and other fiberglass components are made with vinyl ester resin. Flying Legend worked extremely hard to make the replica cowling look as close to the original Embraer front section as possible. Besides the faux exhaust stacks, the shape of the front intake scoop really does make the replica look like it’s powered by a turboprop engine.
Crating a kit is an art. Notice the framework securing the wings and horizontal stabilizer in the crate. Other parts are also carefully packed.
The canopy is ready to be riveted or glued to the frame. Like the original Tucano, the rear seat is raised to provide better forward visibility for the guy or gal in back. The rear seat also has stick, rudder, and throttle controls. And speaking of controls, the ailerons and elevator are connected to pushrods, and the rudder is controlled with cables.
The first thing I did was read the flight manual to become familiar with the plane. I also received a thorough briefing from Francesco, the company test pilot, to be sure I understood the limits and configurations necessary for each phase of flight.
The author receives a preflight briefing from Flying Legend CEO Franco Rummolino (left) and test pilot Francesco Moraci (center).
It was 87F as we walked on the ramp to the plane. Ozzano Airfield’s elevation is 105 feet MSL. Humidity was 60%, winds were 8 knots, and the sky was clear. Together, Francesco and I weighed 356 pounds. With the Tucano’s empty weight of 873 pounds and 20 gallons of fuel, we were at 1349 pounds, well below the maximum takeoff weight of 1433 pounds.
We preflighted the aircraft using the standard checklist and made sure the red “Remove Before Flight” streamer was removed from the pitot tube. A small step in front of the left wing, along with holding onto the roll bar, gave me easy access to the front seat. It’s a roomy cockpit, and the Infinity stick grip made me feel at home. The controls are easy to reach and in a natural position, and there’s a red T-handle for the safety parachute near each seat.
The prototype is equipped with conventional round gauges, but builders can install whatever avionics and instruments they prefer.
The panel in the company prototype is equipped with conventional round gauges, but there’s plenty of space for all the newest bells and whistles. The landing gear switch and standard three indicator lights, along with the electric prop controller, are on the left in a good position for handling. The four-point harness was more than enough for the mission.
With Francesco seated in back, I closed the right-hinged canopy and noted there was adequate headroom for a pilot taller than me. Starting the engine is standard for a Rotax 912. The cabin was a little noisy, but headsets took care of that problem.
Brakes are independent with nosewheel steering. As I started to taxi, the nose felt a little heavy, so I wanted to stay light on the pedals as we taxied on the macadam surface. Taxiing visibility was very good, and there was plenty of ground clearance for the prop.
Pods under each wing serve as interesting baggage compartments. They’re great for touring, but not for speed. Each pod holds up to 27 pounds.
Flying the Tucano
After checking all systems and cycling the electric prop, I lined up for takeoff on Runway 21. Temperatures and pressures were good, and flaps were set to one notch (15). With the fuel pump on and engine rpm at 5700, I progressively added power for takeoff. Small rudder force was applied, and it was easy to track the centerline. In less than 700 feet (about 12 seconds) we were airborne at 45 knots.
I lightly tapped the brakes before retracting the gear. About 8 seconds later, I saw three red lights as the wheels came up into the wells. Reaching 300 feet, I retracted the flaps, noting no appreciable pitch change. With the prop set at 5500 rpm, we were climbing at 65 knots and 700 feet per minute. The aircraft felt solid, and visibility was great.
We leveled out at 2000 feet due to controlled airspace. With engine rpm at 5000, the airspeed indictor showed 110 knots. I decided to get a feel for the controls: Rudder response was prompt and harmonized, and the roll rate was slow, but precise. Pitch felt too light. A little rudder input was required during turns. The trim action is predictable and positive. I noted a little backlash in the stick action, but Franco told me that this has been resolved in the production kits.
Faux turboprop exhaust stacks let you dream that the Tucano replica is powered by the same type of engine that’s found in the real thing.
At this weight, the aircraft showed positive static longitudinal stability, positive long period dynamic longitudinal stability (damped in less than three phugoids), and static directional stability after a rudder pulse.
Next it was time to check stall characteristics. I first tried clean at idle power. The break came at 40 knots and was straightforward and gentle, with no wing drop. In the landing configuration, with full flaps and gear down, the stall came at 35 knots. Stick shaking was evident and provided good warning. Recovery was prompt with forward stick movement, and only a small amount of altitude loss.
Leveling out, we saw a cruise speed of 120 knots. We had two baggage pods under the wings, so I’m pretty sure that a faster cruise speed is possible. With such light pitch forces and the pods installed, I preferred not to check the VNE speed (178 knots), so I started a left spiral to enter the pattern on the downwind.
Running through the checklist for landing, I lowered the gear and flaps with little perceptible trim change. After turning final, I was stable at 60 knots with full flaps (35). There was a 6-knot crosswind component, but directional control was a piece of cake. I gently landed on the maingear, slowly lowered the nosewheel, raised the flaps for takeoff, and was off for another run. On the next landing, I stopped in about 650 feet. Brake action was sufficient and once again, the airplane was very easy to land. I proceeded to taxi back to our parking space and shut down the engine.
Summing up the flight, the airplane feels solid, is pleasant to fly, and has outstanding visibility. I found a few issues that I discussed with Franco but, as noted earlier, the aircraft I flew is a prototype, and he assured me that everything is fixed in the production kits.
The Tucano airframe kit is best described as a quickbuild, since much of the work has been completed at the factory. The kit is currently being evaluated by the FAA and is expected to be fully compliant with the “51% rule.”
Included in the price of $67,900 USD (€60,430, depending on the exchange rate) is the complete airframe, including two M.E.RIN anti-explosion bladder fuel cells. An optional safety kit with a Galaxy GRS ballistic parachute and double activation bars is available for $7,600. Engine, propeller, electrical system, instruments, avionics, and paint are not included and are up to the builder.
Flying Legend may be new to the Experimental market, but their strength is a well-designed replica aircraft that looks incredibly similar to the original and is a pleasure to fly. There are four Tucanos currently flying, including one fixed-gear LSA. The staff has a strong passion for flight, so I’m sure they will be making small improvements to the kit and the design as more aircraft are completed and they gain experience with the type.
Flying Legend is serious about entering the U.S. market and recently opened a new facility in Archer City, Texas. For more information, visit www.flyinglegend.it/en.