French Kiss

French Kiss
Frank Ogden
The Kiss is a highly significant trike. Not only is it the first new design to reach the
British market for several years, it is also the first kit-built flexwing to go through the
BMAA airworthiness scheme. Frank Ogden assesses the French newcomer.
BMAA member Steve Elsbury is building a Kiss 400 and has a web site for others
interested to see how the build is going and to learn from his experience if they want to
build one for themselves. This link, along with many others, has been available via the
BMAA Directory for some time. Our list of microlight oriented links is updated
At almost every microlight club meeting and trade event one attends, you hear the repeated
refrain as to how British flexwing manufacturers are locked into a design time warp. This
criticism is as unfair as it is regrettably true. Our Section S airworthiness system was forged
at a time when one or two highly suspect three axis aircraft designs fell out of the sky very
publicly. This resulted in a stifling UK regulatory approach that we still have to live with nearly
20 years on.
The French in the mean time had no such inhibitions. Pilots could operate and fly weightlimited machines on the basis that, provided they killed only themselves and nobody else,
then the Department of Aviation would take minimal interest.
The French ULM manufacturers were allowed to accept responsibility for ensuring safe
design: They simply reckoned that selling lethal machines was bad for business; proven
design negligence could leave designers and manufacturers open to action in French civil
courts. While this approach has had few implications for aircraft safety, it has given French
makers greater scope for successful mutation of the basic microlight genre and a larger home
market for economy of scale.
Air Creation has been around since 1982 producing some 4000 wings and 2500 trikes since it
began. Based at Aubenas in Southern France it currently employs 27 people turning out new
machines at the rate of five per week. This productivity is at least double that of any company
in the UK.
The Kiss 400 weightshift microlight is a typical result of the pilot-focused, free-wheeling
design philosophy allowed by the French certification system to which UK importers Flylight
Airsports, run by Paul Dewhurst and Ben 'Doodlebug' Ashman, have added the probity of full
UK BCAR Section S certification. UK pilots can now buy and fly a genuinely different - and
possibly more advanced - flexwing aircraft... providing they don't mind building it first. More
about this later.
First impressions count and they are all good. Even the leaden skies of a bleak Northampton
November afternoon couldn't disguise the bright plumage of a small, complex but beautifully
cut wing sitting on top of an equally colourful metal and plastic trike.
And the wing is small: just 13 sq m of composite fabric lifts 400kg of man and machine in
dazzling style. At over 30kg/sq, the effective wing loading of the Kiss 400 blows away the old
25kg/sq m Section S definition of a microlight; it follows the new rules governed by stall
speed. The low speed characteristics of this two-seater pocket handkerchief were likely to be
The other aspect which immediately impresses is the short wing keel. It is indeed so short
that the extended propeller arc misses the keel and trailing edge of the wing except for the
final metre or so at each wing tip. This allows the propeller to throw stones, cameras and lose
items of pilot/passenger equipment harmlessly upwards without slicing through a critical part
of the wing. If it were not for two seats and a meaty Rotax 582 high power engine behind, a
casual glance might mistake the machine for a Chaser S.
There are other touches to delight pilots like me who enjoy chucking a tent and sleeping bag
in the back of a trike to go touring for a few days. When not occupied by the rear passenger,
a U-frame folds up from within the seat area behind the pilot to create simultaneously a
comfortable back rest and a usefully large zippable luggage bag. The other delight is the
optional 60 litre fuel tank (as fitted to the review machine; standard fitment 38 litres) which will
tilt the balance of flight endurance towards the pilot's need to jettison previously drunk cups of
tea rather than the machine's need to take on more petrol.
There is a serious point about fuel and cockpit loads which applies not only to the review
machine, but any fitted with tanks larger than the 50 litre maximum allowed under the old
regulations. Some voices will raise objection that the fitting of big tanks as standard
encourages people to fly overloaded machines. Using the example of the Kiss 400, a
combined pilot and passenger weight of 180kg leaves an allowable fuel volume of just 27
litres without exceeding the 400kg MTOW limit. The doubters say that pilots will inevitably fly
two-up and fuelled over the weight limit.
I would answer that decisions on cockpit load/fuel weight trade-offs affect every branch of
aviation and there is no reason as to why microlights should be made a special case for
concern. I personally do most of my flying one-up and all the more safely for having a
purpose-designed single tank of adequate capacity. Complicated multi-tank fuel
arrangements have caused serious problems for pilots in the past and it is my view - offered
with the benefit of 17 years experience flying flexwing microlights - that the new regulations
take flight safety forwards, not backwards.
We are quite aware that overloading is neither safe or sensible: heavy loads adversely affect
takeoff roll/climbout, particularly on soft grass strips, and primary flight characteristics especially in parts of the envelope towards the stall.
The Trike
The first - and lasting - impression is of design excellence. The beautifully moulded fairings
partially conceal a fairly simple tube and bolt structure in which the individual tube members
have been factory finished in a hard coat paint to match the mouldings. The single drum
brake arrangement on the sprung front wheel is the same adaption from a motor scooter as
currently fitted to Pegasus trikes.
The unbraked rear wheels inside finned spats - these assist lateral flight stability as well as
keeping flying stones away - are triangulated at the bottom of oleo suspension struts. They
subsequently proved themselves to be soft enough to adsorb the bumps of taxiing without the
rest of the machine wallowing around on over-soft suspension.
The main wing pylon folds forward for (de)rigging, hinged at the top of the seat frame in the
style of Pegasus Quasar trikes. This vastly improves design ergonomics over folding trike
arrangements. It allows installation of large, permanently installed fuel tanks, a favourable
trade between structural strength and weight and gets rid off that cow poo-collecting fabric
'skirt' at the rear of the pod which make old British trikes look so shabby.
The front forks with the oleo-damped wheel assembly turn in what amounts to a large hole in
the bottom of the pod - no draught excluders here! However, a moulded fairing around the
hole really does stop the wind blowing around up your ankles in flight. Paul Dewhurst said it
would and it does!
The trike has other, finer design touches. The starting battery (electric starting for the 582 is
listed as an optional extra which, in my opinion, amounts to a screaming necessity) fits within
a recess at the bottom of the HDPE plastic fuel tank moulding with the trike keel taking the
weight of the battery.
The three-point engine mounting virtually eliminates perceived vibration from the watercooled engine. The unit is mounted at a slight slant along its axis to offset the propeller torque
reaction on the mounting rubbers by virtue of its own weight. The notable lack of in-flight
vibration is also probably helped by the slow-turning three-blade propeller driven through the
3.47:1 reduction ratio E-series gearbox. It makes the aircraft remarkably quiet when
witnessed either from the ground or from the pilot's seat.
The cooling system also has a nice touch: the radiator is mounted horizontally below the trike
within a moulded cowling, forcing air downwards through the matrix. Wire mesh keeps out the
Cockpit instruments are mounted into a fairly small front panel with little room for more than
the basic flight and engine necessities. But this is very much part of the machine's Gallic
heritage. The French really do think that British trike flyers are a bunch of fairies for wanting
any kind of weather protection, never mind instrumentation…
Sizewise, cockpit accommodation is definitely on the cosy side when flying two-up but near
perfection when flown solo. The pilot leg room suits me perfectly but then at 5ft 9in I'm not
much of a design challenge. However, with Paul Dewhurst in the rear seat, I think that we
both experienced a degree of intimacy unusual outside the realm of consenting males. At 6ft
2in and 95kg, Paul is definitely not built to Section S.
The wing
Apart from being visibly small for a two seater machine, the wing planform looks in no way
unusual. But then, as with so many aspects of this French machine, interest is in the detail.
For a start the principal sail surfaces includes Dyneema filaments within the weave creating a
material of much greater intrinsic strength than that of pure Dacron. Dyneema is a proprietary
high performance polymer made by the Dutch chemical giant DSM and enjoys similar tensile
characteristics to Kevlar. Leading and trailing edges are reinforced with a laminate for
architectural stiffness. The sail retains a beautiful cut both on the ground and in the air without
any sign of wrinkling or, Heaven forbid, flapping.
The undersurface occupies some 80% of sail area and connects to the upper surface by a
flexible neoprene tie strip along its entire trailing edge allowing a degree of relative movement
between the upper and lower surfaces for controlled aerolasticity. A further tie system
between upper and lower surfaces is located deep inside the wing chord close to the leading
edge. This arrangement gives a positive servo assistance to roll inputs making the machine
demonstrably light to handle in the air. Air Creation has provided a neat finishing touch at the
wing tips with caps between upper and lower wing surfaces held in place by Velcro
23 top surface and 12 undersurface batons maintain the wing profile. The batons are retained
in their pockets by ordinary cord rather than the ubiquitous bungee. According to Dewhurst,
the dimensional stability of the sail material obviates the need for a flexible baton retention
system. Certainly the machine flies straight as a die in the air. Should a turn ever manifest
itself, it can be tuned out by rotation of the sail attachments at the wing tips.
Structurally speaking, the wing holds no surprises. Interest is once more in the detail. For
instance you won't find a bolt through a bit of ali channel hinging the crosstubes to the leading
edges. This French machine uses a purpose designed complex hinge giving a controlled
movement in three axes. The hinge components are individually machined from solid metal.
Having said this, I rather like the simplicity of a simple aircraft quality bolt at this lifedetermining position.
The trim system shows the same attention to quality and detail. The trim knob on the A-frame
uses integral gearing to ease use in the air while wearing thick gloves. The system acts on
the middle luff lines only but this is sufficient to take 10mph off the 60mph untrimmed
The airframe uprights have been faired with clip-on profiled coverings offering a neat,
structurally neutral solution to draggy tubes. Some enterprising chap should offer them for
sale to those of us with older trikes: I am sure that there would be quite a few buyers for such
a simple solution to an old problem.
In Flight
With Paul Dewhurst shoe-horned into the back seat we commenced taxiing to the easterly
holding point at Sywell. The massive foot-shaped pedals for brake and throttle are also the
footrests and operating them smoothly does take a bit of practice. Ground steering is
satisfactory - very little wallowing on the suspension - although the drum brake on the front
wheel is not progressive and tends to snatch.
Lined up and cleared by the Tower, the excitement begins. The first thing you notice on
opening the throttle fully is how leisurely the 582 sounds. Although it pulls 6200rpm, the big
reduction on the slow-turning prop made me wonder if I had opened the throttle fully. The
next 100 metres of travel down the slightly bumpy grass strip dispels any doubt with the
machine rotating decisively at just over 40mph IAS.
You know instantly that the machine is a good one. It leaps into the air in an absolutely
straight line and the pilot becomes immediately aware of the positive forward bar pressure
required to keep airspeed down to 50mph for best climb performance.
And what performance! The Kiss had no trouble sustaining a timed 700fpm at the maximum
legal takeoff weight of 400kg. Indeed, it mostly pushed 800fpm fully laden. And it wasn't the
sort climb rate that required a bit of nudging and scratching around the heavens together with
a scrupulous eye on airspeed to maintain. The machine achieved this climb effortlessly and
I couldn't wait to get the thing back on the ground to boot Paul out and see what a French
Kiss could really do. Also, I found that his long legs were projecting so far forward past my
shoulders that I couldn't really pull the bar in far enough for fun without giving him a kneecap
Before this, there were other things which this machine absolutely begged you to try. Blade
and Q(uantum) pilots would be totally familiar with the fully laden pitch response of the Kiss reassuringly positive and disappointingly heavy. It needs real muscle either to hold the bar
into your chest or outwards against the front strut. Heaving the bar in returned a sustained
IAS of 85mph while straining to keep the bar against the front strut brought the indicated
airspeed down to 40mph without any sign of an imminent stall - both figures obtained at
400kg flying weight.
The engine seemed fairly leisurely in the cruise. With the trim control set at fast giving a handoff indicated airspeed of 60mph, the rev counter showed 5000rpm. I would guess - and it is
only a guess - that the power setting would equate to about 12-14 litres/hour. Winding up the
trim control took about 10mph off the airspeed but I can't imagine why anyone would really
want to do this in a machine built for going places.
Opening the throttle on most machines while straight and level normally produces a climb
with little change in indicated airspeed. The Kiss is unusual. Opening up the throttle puts
about 10mph on the airspeed and requires a pilot input to convert all the added power into
climb. This isn't a problem, just a noticeable difference.
The roll response is probably the lightest that I have ever come across in a two seater flown
two-up. It acts both rapidly and positively and probably requires about half the effort required
for Blades and Qs. This French machine is possibly even lighter in roll than my own personal
two-seater favourite, the Raven.
It is quite a good test of roll control to place the machine in a gentle bank and take your hands
off the bar. Well-tuned Pegasus wings will eventually reduce the angle of bank without pilot
input. Ravens have a tendency to increase the angle of bank until things get scary. This
French machine simply sits in the attitude you left it in although, like all flexwings, it requires a
handful of opposite control to damp violent roll manoeuvres.
There isn't a two-up stall as such. Gently decreasing airspeed by edging the bar up to the
front strut simply results in a fully flying machine with ponderous roll response either in bank
or level flight. Accelerated entry to the stall does produce a more classic response - a
significant symmetrical drop below the horizon which can easily be recovered with carefully
controlled rearwards bar movement.
Interestingly, an observer in an accompanying chase plane said afterwards that the
accelerated stall had looked spectacular 'losing several hundred feet'. I have to say that the
manoeuvre did not feel spectacular from the pilot's seat; the positive and progressive pitch
response of the Kiss 400 made recovery almost pedestrian.
Time to head back to the airfield. The machine was easy to line up for a deliberately long
approach: with an examiner of instructors and an exemplary pilot sitting in the back seat, I
wanted to do the perfect landing.
It wasn't to be. Executing a near perfect approach and sliding down to the threshold as if on
rails with 65mph of airspeed on the clock, it looked as though the landing might be a greaser.
Enter into the flare and burn off the flying speed at just an inch or two above the grass. All is
going well until… you reach the front strut and the wretched machine is still flying with no
forward bar movement left to flare with! The back gear gently touches the grass, hits the
smallest of bumps, and sends you back a few inches into the air until the wheels touch the
next bump. And the next…
It was a perfectly acceptable landing but not completely tidy: the front strut places a restriction
on forwards bar movement preventing the aircraft from flying right to the stall. This was borne
out both by the stalling tests and in a further landing.
Time to go solo with just 300kg of takeoff weight. With such a small, short keeled wing above,
it is like climbing into a Chaser. Line up, open the throttle and... Wow! The high power 582
literally catapults you into the air after what seems like no ground run at all. The VSI edges
past 1200 fpm and the thin layer of stratocumulus rushes down to meet you in a manner
unusual for a microlight. Actually, the machine is climbing at such a wonderfully crazy angle
that sky is really all you see, even with 50mph on the ASI.
Oops. Extract myself from the cloud and try to be a tiny bit professional.
Flown one-up the machine feels entirely different. True, it exhibits the climb performance of a
sky rocket but what really stand out are changes in roll and pitch. Although both axes remain
positive and convergent, they reduce significantly to the point where, if you were to shut your
eyes, you could be flying a hot single-seater. You can throw the machine about, point it at any
place in the sky or on the ground and go there directly and precisely. Wonderful stuff. This
machine really does become a weightshift fighter aircraft.
A more measured appraisal suggests a neutral bar trim of 58mph with the engine turning at
4700rpm for level flight - a fast solo cruise would probably be possible with a fuel
consumption in the region of 10 litres/hour giving an easy endurance of 300 miles on that big
60 litre tank. Pass me the Little John.
Pulling the bar right in puts 75mph on the ASI with the machine still capable of going upwards
but the rearwards bar force required to sustain this would soon become uncomfortable.
Pushing the bar gently out to the front strut once again fails to stall this machine. It simply
grumbles along at 40mph or thereabouts. An accelerated stall entry once again produces a
definite but easily recovered stall.
The lowest sink rate on a trailing throttle would be about 500fpm at 45mph.
And back for a solo landing. Once again, everything travels down on rails to the runway
threshold resulting in a textbook flare. And once again, I run out of forward bar movement
before flying speed has properly decayed resulting in a bump, bump, bump.
Would I want to buy one? Oh yes, even if it is a bit of pain to put back on the ground cleanly.
The Kiss 400 really does have a dual personality. As a small two-seater it outhandles the
competition in most respects - it would have been interesting to fly this machine in heavy
turbulence. The high wing loading might confer some advantage, possibly offset by the light
roll characteristics. As a single seater hot ship, it wipes the floor with everything else that I
have ever flown. This really is a machine that is whatever you want it to be.
Get Your Kit Built
Flylight only supplies the Air Creation Kiss 400 as a kit requiring typically about 100 hours of
build time. The machine arrives in five boxes of various sizes containing absolutely everything
needed for a complete machine. All the members are pre-cut and drilled and individually
labelled. In essence, putting a Kiss 400 together is a straight Meccano job. The only drilling
required is for a set of self-tap screws to attach the seat webbing.
Construction has to be overseen through the BMAA inspector network with inspections taking
place at rolling chassis, wing/airframe completion and after final assembly.
Flylight Kiss 400 582
Air Création, Aérodrome de Lanas, 07200 Aubenas, France; tel +33 47593 6666; fax +33
47535 0403;. Director: Jean-Luc Tilloy.
IMPORTER Flylight Airsports, Sywell Aerodrome, Northampton NN6 0BT; tel 01604 494459;
fax 01604 495007. Proprietors: Paul Dewhurst, Ben Ashman.
Tandem two seat flexwing aircraft with weight-shift control. Rogallo wing with neither fin nor
keel pocket. Pilot suspended below wing in trike unit, using bar to control pitch and roll/yaw by
altering relative positions of trike unit and wing. Wing braced from above by kingpost and
cables, from below by cables; floating cross-tube construction with 80% double-surface
enclosing cross-tube; 22 battens on top surface, 14 battens on under-surface. Undercarriage
has three wheels in tricycle formation; gas damped shock absorber suspension on all three
wheels. Push-right go-left nosewheel steering independent from aero-dynamic controls. Drum
brake on nosewheel. Rectangular-section aluminium-alloy tube trike unit, with glassfibre pod.
Engine mounted below wing, driving pusher propeller.
Length overall (to tips) 3.90m, 12.8ft. Height overall 3.57m, 11.7ft. Wing span 10.20m, 33.5ft.
Chord at root NA. Chord at tip NA. Dihedral NA. Nose angle 130°. Wing area 13.3m 2 , 143ft
2 . Aspect ratio 7.5/1. Wheel track 1.63m, 5.3ft. Wheelbase 1.60m, 5.2ft. Main wheels dia
overall 36cm, 14 in. Nosewheel dia overall 36cm, 14 in.
Rotax 582 DCDI engine, liquid-cooled. Max power 64hp at 6500rpm. Propeller diameter and
pitch 1.70m x 23°@50.5cm radius, 67 inch x 23°@20 inch radius. Gearbox reduction, ratio
3.47/1. Max static thrust NA. Power per unit area 4.8hp/m 2 , 0.45hp/ft 2 . Fuel capacity 38
(60 optional) litre.
Empty weight 178kg. Max take-off weight 400kg. Payload 222kg. Max wing loading 30.1kg/m
2 . Max power loading 6.25kg/hp. Load factors +4, -2 recommended, +6, -3 ultimate.
Max level speed 78mph. Never exceed speed 87mph. Economic cruising speed 60mph. Stall
speed 37mph. Max climb rate at sea level 750ft/ min. Min sink rate 500ft/min at 45mph. Best
glide ratio with power off 8/1 at 45mph. Take-off distance to clear 15m obstacle 159m on
grass. Landing distance to clear 15m obstacle 180m on grass. Service ceiling NA. Range at
average cruising speed 200miles with reserves and 60 litre tank. Noise level 80dB(A) LEL.
* Under the following test conditions Airfield altitude 0ft. Ground temperature 15°C. Ground
pressure 1013mB. Ground windspeed 0mph. Test payload 400kg.
£11750 +options and instruments
NA = Not available
Figures above are manufacturer's/importer's data
Figures in text are tester's experience: test conducted 16/11/01 at Sywell Aerodrome, weather
light overcast, stratocumulus, nil turbulence, <5mph surface wind, 11°C, QFE 1021mb, RH
70% (estimate).