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our thanks to FlySouth Aviation News

Never got around to attending the Arthur Murray shortcut to social success, at their famous dance classes - but boy did we have some fun doing THIS particular Samba - and without any fancy footwork needed!

This Sambas got wings, long ones, like the glider it is - and isn't! Sounds Oirish? Let me explain.

Rainer and Barbara Friebose are a friendly couple, nice folks, who have taken up residence in South Africa, along with their aircraft called a Samba. They are from Germany, where the tradition of gliding is super-strong, and spent eight years from 1991, as motorised nomads, wandering in a leisurely way through Africa to get here. Quite an experience no doubt, but having arrived and being "flying-people" thoughts turned to enterprise.

The enterprise has developed into Wings 'n Tracks, run by Rainer and Barabra and the distributor for the Samba and its (more glider-like) brother the Lambada, in SA. Having seen the Samba at the Fridrichshafen Airshow in Germany, where many new and innovative designs are shown, Rainer decided that this was just what SA needs and wants, and procured the distributorship, bought the demo machine and brought it into SA.

At the first opportunity, Fly South grabbed the chance to have a close look and to fly the Samba and we met the couple at their base of operations, Brits Airfield.

First impressions count and the impression that the Samba gives is that of a smallish light aircraft with some striking differences. The styling is to our eyes, not of an American flavour and is certainly not unattractive. The construction and finish externally is all composite of a very high quality, with not a rivet or protuberance in sight on the wings or fuselage. The big bubble canopy promises excellent visibility, and it's dimensions indicate a fairly roomy cockpit for two people.

Wheels are faired, as are the nose and maingear legs and the wheels are large - Rainer confirmed that these are the standard wheel, but with tyres fitted that are more suited to Africa than those supplied originally. The new tyres have a deep, knobbly tread, more able to handle sharp stones and thorns without punctures than the original thin-skinned stock tyres. All Sambas sold here will have the heavy duty tyres.

With the one-piece cowling quickly removed with the twist of a few Dzus fasteners, the engine installation, a Rotax 912 of 100 hp was revealed in all it's glory. A neat and tidy installation, with one essential mod that Rainer has added - a backup electric fuel pump to take over should the mechanical pump ever quit, always a definite "nice to have", as anyone who has ever had a mechanical pump "go awol", can attest!

Turning at over 5000 rpm at max. the little Rotax (only 1300cc) pumps out it's 100 ponies via a neat gearbox, and this is how 1300cc can make an airplane fly - whilst a gearbox won't multiply horsepower, it most certainly can and does multiply torque - and as we all know torque is what will get you off the ground!

Lifting the canopy up and back on it's rails for an examination of the cockpit showed two built-in seat pans with thin cushions - comfy enough for most flights, but for a flight the distance of which the aircraft is capable, over 1000km or 1500km with optional tankage, I would take an extra cushion or two. Behind the seats, and soon to be closed in with a quickly-removable cover is the tunnel of the rear fuselage leading to the tail, almost unobstructed save for the battery sitting back there. There are plans to make this space available for transportation of items such as fishing rods, golf clubs etc.

The panel is neatly laid out and features electronic, digital instrumentation in the form of a Flydat panel which gives all engine information, including EGT, CHT, oil temp, oil pressure, water temp and more - very nice.

After wheeling the aircraft out easily from the hangar, we clambered in and strapped ourselves to the machine with 4-way harnesses. Startup held no complexities and the engine instantly settled into a 1300 rpm smooth and quiet idle - the rpm indicator give engine rpm - just divide by the gear ratio of 2 (to 1) to know how fast the prop is turning.

Steering on the ground is accomplished using the rudder pedals linked to the steerable nosewheel - pressures are light and steering simplicity itself - brakes are only available on the pilots's (left-hand seat) side, and consist of a single "bicycle" type lever operating through a hydraulic cylinder. Since I was doing my thing from the right hand seat, Rainer handled the braking duties.

Once turned around and facing the correct direction at the threshold, we had to wait a while with the engine idling, as temps came up - this delay largely due to the fact that the relocated oil cooler, on a cool day as we had for the flight, is exchanging the heat efficiently and unlike an air-cooled motor, it is essential to get the temps up before putting power on, for the sake of the engines' longevity. No great hardship however as with a couple of minutes the temps had reached the magic number and we were ready to go, after run-up and vital actions, which included setting one notch (half) flap for take-off.

With the relatively large amount of horsepower for the aircraft weight, the Samba exhibits a decided tendency to swing on initial application of power, before the rudder bites. Once air is flowing over control surfaces, and that seemed to be a very short time, we were about ready to lift off - with less than 100 metres in total we were airborne and climbing strongly at just under 2000 fpm and between 50 - 60 kts indicated! Very impressive and with a good amount of TSF (That Solid Feel). Noise levels at max available rpm of 5400 were moderate and conversation was easily possible without headsets and intercom, during the climb.

Levelling off the aircraft accelerated quickly and would no doubt have kept accelerating to it's claimed 90 kts cruise or 115 kts top speed, but we were there more to explore how it flew, rather than ultimately how fast.

With power reduced to around 4400 engine rpm (2200 prop rpm) we were wafting along at 60 kts and exploring turns and general handling - at all times the Samba likes to climb, testament to it's excellent aerodynamics. All controls are powerful, light and responsive - unexpectedly, given the 10 metre wingspan, roll rate and response is excellent. For the size of aircraft and it's fairly short-coupled configuration, longitudinal stability is good.

During turns a touch of rudder is needed - unlike many modern aircraft which can be flown with virtually no rudder input in normal turns to keep the ball in the centre, the Samba prefers that your feet remain on duty, just to keep everything nicely balanced.

Returning to the Brits Airfield, Rainer warned about the glide ratio of 20:1, but also pointed out that the flaps, Fowler type, are very effective and he was right! Popping half flap on final nicely nailed a proper glide slope and it was clear that these are no token flaps - they allow the pilot to slow the aircraft dramatically, and stick the nose down, without speed gain and all the while creating a useful rate of descent of around 800 fpm. He told me that they work and look just like miniature versions of the flaps on Boeing 747s - he was right!

On short finals, with full flap extended, I handed control to Rainer for the landing and sat back - with the flaps doing their thing, the arrival at terra firma was not tentative but ...firm, as it should be with an aircraft that otherwise might have a tendency to float into the next province! Once established on the runway, Rainer dumped all the flaps, in order that things should remain that way.

Our verdict - a very impressive aircraft, which vastly exceeded our (perhaps unjustified) expectations, given the light weight and microlight definition. This is a real "light' aircraft, with exciting performance, excellent economy of operation, and it is built to take it. We wish Wings 'n Tracks the very best of luck and success with the Samba.