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  • Writer's pictureJ.K. Caldwell

Bat Hawk 'R'

Updated: Apr 19

A Rhino Poacher's Worst Nightmare


First Impressions:  Holy Bat Hawk Batman!  The unconventional-looking Bat Hawk might not look like a tactical aircraft, but it certainly inspires fear in South African rhino poachers!

 

Background:  Believe it or not, the Bat Hawk is not named for its resemblance to any of Bruce Wayne’s vehicles.  The avian bat hawk (macheiramphus alchinus) is a medium-sized bird-of-prey native to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.  As you might guess, the primary prey for the bat hawk is bats! The bat hawk is an extremely successful in its hunting.  It can capture a bat with its talons and eat it while still inflight.  From intercept to when the prey reaches the bat hawk’s stomach is only six seconds!  While the Bat Hawk (airplane) looks like a just-for-fun sightseeing aircraft, it is also a highly successful bird-of-prey in Africa.  Rhinoceros poaching is a serious issue in Africa and the Bat Hawk is a useful tool for game wardens and law enforcement to use in tracking down and warding off these poachers.  Poachers, by definition, are criminals and often shoot at law enforcement.  If necessary, the Bat Hawks flying these patrols in Africa can even return fire with crew-served machine guns and automatic grenade-launchers!  Because the propeller is in a tractor configuration and sits high and forward, there is no concern that spent brass will go through the prop arc. 


The Bat Hawk is manufactured by Micro Aviation S.A. (South Africa).  Currently, some 400 Bat Hawks fly worldwide, primarily in Africa.  In 2021, Gary and Vanda Saitowitz, originally from South Africa, founded Bat Hawk Aircraft U.S.A., now headquartered in Atlanta.  The Bat Hawk is currently certified as Experimental Light-Sport with Special Light-Sport certification pending with the FAA.  Stand by for a kit-build option announcement at Sun-N-Fun 2024!

 

Design Characteristics:  The Bat Hawk is a high-wing, two-seat, side-by-side semi open-cockpit plane.  The Bat Hawk’s fuselage consists of an aluminum tube frame with a wide cockpit slung underneath. The engine is center-mounted on the leading edge of the wing, which places it over and in front of the cockpit.  The wings, flight controls and tail structure are enveloped in a polyurethane-coated polyamide fabric.  This fabric, made by Porcher Industries of France, is the same material used by world-class sailing yachts.  The cockpit is a round composite “saucer” with a large, round “Batmobile-style” windscreen in front.  The instrument panel is small and efficient; perfectly positioned so as not to obstruct forward visibility.  A MGL Avionics color display is a perfect “one-stop shop” to see everything engine-related.  A single control stick is located between the seats and has a grip-style brake lever.  Both pilot and co-pilot have mechanically-linked throttle levers outboard of their left and right thighs, respectively.  Overhead is an elevator trim lever and direct flap lever handle.  Do not search for a flap position indicator, simply look at the actual position of the flaps!   


Powerplant:  The Bat Hawk “R” denotes that it is Rotax-powered.  All new Bat Hawks are offered with the 100 horsepower Rotax 912 ULS.  A three-bladed carbon-fiber propeller by E-Props translates the Rotax’s torque into thrust.  Fortunately, Rotax engines are not known for leaking, so the canopy usually should not get unwanted engine fluids on it.  When maintenance is required, a protective blanket can be draped over the canopy or it can be completely removed by unfastening 15 screws.  Micro Aviation is also developing an engine cowling for purchase if you don’t like the naked-engine look.  A single 25-gallon fuel tank sits in the fuselage behind the seats and can keep you on-station, hunting rhino poachers for nearly five hours!

 

Preflight:  Check all hinges for proper hardware and cables for tautness.  Convenient clear plastic windows on the aft fuselage fabric allow for inspection inside the fuselage.  Access the cockpit “saucer” behind the wing strut.  Step onto the seat, lean against the backrest, place your feet against a metal plate below the rudder pedals and slide down into the bucket seat.  Connect your four-point harness and get comfortable!  The cockpit bubble is wide and gives plenty of shoulder room.  It is surprisingly comfortable and there’s certainly no concern for those with claustrophobia.  Start-up using basic Rotax procedures: ignition switches on, choke the engine, and crank it up.  It’ll fire immediately and you then can pull the choke off.  Check pressures and temps, and you’ll be ready to taxi.

 

Taxi/Takeoff:  Direct nosewheel steering makes both steering and tight turns easy, even without differential braking.  After run-up, point the Bat Hawk in the intended direction of takeoff and give it full power.  A little back-stick pressure will get the nose off the ground and minimize any over-controlling tendency from the direct-linkage nose gear. The U-shaped main landing gear struts are carbon-fiber and, along with the nose gear oleo strut, easily absorb abuse from rough field conditions.  The Bat Hawk is largely flown by feel, so it’ll let you know when it is ready to fly…and you won’t wait long.  It’ll easily be airborne in under 200 feet!  Once aloft, with two adults on board, expect about a 500 fpm climb rate.


Flight Characteristics:  The first thing you’ll notice once airborne is the fantastic visibility.  The overhead wing and the bubble windscreen allow both the pilot and passenger to enjoy an open-cockpit feel without being wind-battered.  Unlike roller coasters, there is no need to keep your arms inside at all times!  Put an arm out and enjoy the wind! Another factor that contributes to the great visibility is the small podium-type instrument panel in the center.  Even smaller than most helicopter panels, the Bat Hawk’s panel is perfectly positioned not to obstruct forward visibility.  You can expect to cruise at 75 kts, burning 4.8-5 gph.  A power-off stall occurs at 35 kts with full flaps (+11.5 degrees) and a clean stall at 38 knots.  The stall can hardly even be called a “break”.  The Bat Hawk simply “mushes” until AOA is decreased and is then happily flying again.  Like most new airplanes, it’ll take a few turns to determine how much rudder is required for a coordinated turn.  Before long, you will be happily dancing along over the countryside. 


Landing:  Use 60 knots for a full-flaps, power-off approach.  This approach will yield plenty of opportunity for a timely flare, along with a little float to grease it on.  For a shorter landing, use a stabilized approach, holding 52 knots with full flaps and a little power.  The landing roll can easily be kept under 200 feet.  The landing gear legs are formed from a single piece of carbon fiber and can handle dirt roads, cow pastures and sandy beaches.  Obviously, the prop is always well clear of the ground.  The tires are 4.40-inch and can be purchased in the lawn tractor section of your local hardware store.  If braking is required on landing, just squeeze the handbrake on the stick and the BlackMax disc brakes will prove effective to shorten the landing rollout. 

 

Wrap-up:  The Bat Hawk is as fun as its appearance promises it to be! It also has some very appealing practical uses.  While you may not be tracking down rhino poachers anytime soon, the Bat Hawk can be useful for farmers, ranchers, fish-spotting, pipeline patrol and good old-fashioned weekend flying!  The Bat Hawk excels at any mission that requires low and slow ground survey.  It is also an effective training aircraft, easy for new pilots to handle.  For sure, it has a unique look, which guarantees you’ll get lots of questions when you pull up to the local FBO.  However, with the Bat Hawk, you don’t need to land at airports if you don’t want to!



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