Kiss & BRISTELL
Friendly, refined, beefy for rough-field training, yet a cruiser’s delight
Text and Photography by James Lawrence
Although my typical demo flights average under 45 minutes, you can still learn a lot about an airplane in less than an hour. With S-LSA like the BRM Aero BRISTELL, it takes more like 45 seconds for you to realize you've got a winner on your hands.
The BRISTELL is refined, clean and stylish, with a less rakish profile than the SportCruiser but a sleeker one than the Evektor SportStar series. I name those airplanes since they, too, were in part created by Milan Bristela of Czech Republic, who first sketched out the BRISTELL in 2007. Production commenced after a long development process in early 2011. As such, the all-aluminum bird represents his most seasoned offering yet. More than 50 have sold overseas, and production rate is planned for four planes per month by summer.
The BRISTELL exemplifies attention to detail, from construction to airframe paint and trim, instrumentation and cockpit furnishings. This is no to-be-improved prototype, but a mature aircraft. For my flight, a minor squawk or two are no doubt tuned out by now. A recently added larger nosewheel pant, for example, tended to catch the swirling prop blast enough to kick it, and the linked rudder, slightly off kilter. It felt like an overbanking tendency to the left, but has been corrected since with a stiffer self-centering spring.
The clean, pretty bird is imported by BRISTELL USA. Veteran GA personalities John Calla and Barry Pruitt (formerly associated with Evektor), own both the distributorship and Liberty Sport Aviation of Pa., which has the airplane already working in its training fleet.
Last January, I met up with the BRISTELL crew, including the designer himself and John Rathmell, an ever-cheery, high-energy, ex-military C-130 Herc jockey who is Sales Manager for Lou Mancuso's Mid Island Air Service of Long Island, N.Y. Mancuso was there, too: He loves the airplane and has already added it to his diverse LSA training fleet.
In The Details
John Calla points to the slight positive curve in the fuselage belly. "It reduces turbulence by dispersing the force of gusts," he says. That's what I meant by refinement. "The center spar extends 18 inches to either side of the fuselage," Calla continues. "When you step onto the wing, you're on the spar, not just the skin." From that 18-inch point, the wings rise in a mild dihedral, contributing to lateral stability and echoing the legendary AT-6 warbird that trained so many WWII pilots.
"The BRISTELL is entirely CNC machine produced, which will make many parts readily available here in a pinch," Calla goes on to explain, "without waiting for shipment from Czech Republic."
The airplane weighs in empty at 705.5 pounds, significantly less than the Skycatcher (843 pounds), with a useful load of 614.5 pounds. Fuel capacity at 34-plus gallons brings a conservatively estimated range of 700 nm and 6.2 hours' endurance, at a high-cruise fuel burn of 5.5 gph and 116 knots top cruise, which makes it one of the faster LSA out there.
Two more nifty features: a lockable canopy (push-button start—no ignition key) and lockable, waterproof wing-top lockers on both sides (44 pounds each). My demo plane was loaded with an emergency kit, which comes standard with tools, electrical and duct tape, first aid supplies, jumper cables, batteries and even a tire compressor in case of flats!
"A grown man loves a kit!" chirps John Rathmell before our flight.
"Yeah, but John, where's the frying pan?" I counter.
Let's start here: cabin width. At 51 inches at the shoulders, it's nearly five inches wider than the Evektor Harmony. Rathmell is a broad-shouldered six-footer, and I'm 5'11", yet there's plenty of room between our shoulders and headroom enough for pilots up to 6'8". The wooden stick grip is a fun touch. Attractive red/gray leather/fabric upholstery should also hold up to flight-school abuse.
BRISTELL's adjustable rudder/toe brake pedals are a treat. Pull the under-panel latch, and the spring-loaded pedals slide back to meet feet. Bonus factor: On long cruising flights, push them all the way forward for relaxing footroom.
I like the placement of the fuel-tank dial right under the panel, at center stage and just above the throttle quadrant. In-cockpit fuel lines are aluminum, not plastic.
The cylindrical throttle lever feels good in your hand: a smooth action and short (but not too short) lever arm. The flap dial left of the fuel switch is unusual, but I quickly adapt to the twist-on/twist-off convention and end up liking it.
Push/pull knobs on the panel just above the flap/fuel tank dials are clearly labeled and differentially colored to help quick-scan identification: parking brake (black), cabin heat and defroster (aluminum), carb heat (yellow).
The deck on the version I flew was nicely equipped: Tru Trak 7.25 inches tall by 6 inches wide EFIS with all the bells and whistles, including airspeed, artificial horizon, VSI, HSI, slip/skid ball and lots more; the new seven-inch Garmin GPSMAP 796 GPS; a dockable Apple iPad; PS Engineering PM 3000 intercom; Garmin SL 40 comm radio and GTX 327 Mode C transponder; and Composite Design Electrical panel.
The overhead composite shield molded into the canopy blocks that brain-cooking overhead sun and also provides some additional rollover protection. Some might prefer a curtain or semi-opaque sunblocker, but if you don't require the straight overhead view, there's still an abundance of good visibility.
The BRISTELL cockpit measures 51 inches wide and features leather/fabric upholstery. The A and B magnetos are wire-frame-protected toggle switches right above the master switch: neat! Taxiing is a breeze with the steerable nosewheel and toe brakes. Toe brakes are easy to work and the turning radius is plenty adequate for reversing direction on the taxiway.
There's no distracting distortion from the one-piece canopy, so tracking straight on power-up is easy. Liftoff comes quick, and holding John Rathmell's recommendation of 62 knots (best L/D speed in case of engine failure. Note: Barry Pruitt recommends 65), we see around 1,200 fpm, with near-full fuel and 400 pounds of payload.
The BRISTELL feels like an old friend on my first crosswind turn. Although not quite as nimble in roll as a Remos GXNXT, the pushrod-enabled handling has no slop, and is quick, smooth and responsive, never twitchy: You put in a touch of muscle, and the airplane goes right there. Same with pitch: Both axes feel nicely balanced and friendly.
The rocker-style elevator trim tab is right where your hand can easily find it, left of the throttle quadrant. Very easy to trim up: I like it better than on top of the stick where many LSA have it.
The Impossible Turn
Air Boss Rathmell and I pull approach and departure stalls: non-events both, with no unusual traits and plenty of burble to signify the approach of stall. Slow flight is a breeze and easy to control with rudder alone; no doubt wing dihedral helps here.
I ask Air Boss to help me quantify the "impossible turn" as popularized by Barry Schiff. Climbing at 62 knots (best L/D, remember?), we chop throttle and simulate turning back to the airport.
I clock altitude lost over several trials for a 180-degree turn: best is just 150 feet. For a full 270, we average around 300 feet. Double that for insurance and, all other factors equal, you could feel confident you can readily make it back to the field. Dear reader, note this: I by no means make this a recommendation. All pilots should practice this maneuver at altitude and arrive at their own minimums, and be prepared to overrule them even so if conditions (crosswind, turbulence, etc.) aren't to their liking in an emergency.
Touchdowns are nominal: I managed a smoothie on my third try in light bumps and a touch of crosswind—and I hadn't flown anything at all in weeks. The overall handling of the Bristell inspires confidence, plain and simple. It's lively and fun to fly.
I'll let Lou Mancuso have the last word since his flight school has taught on several models of LSA for years now, and he knows the turf as well as anybody: "I'm excited...because the Bristell...is in my opinion the finest light-sport plane to come on the market." But don't take his word for it: Check it out for yourself at a local dealer or the next big air show...I'd guess you'll then agree it's one of the top S-LSA, period.