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  • Writer's pictureJ.K. Caldwell

Flying Legend Tucano R


First Impressions: At first glance, my assumption was that this Tucano, painted in U.S. Military Spec (Aircraft Grey) was an actual COIN (Counter Insurgency) attack aircraft with a PT-6 under the hood.  It even had two Hellfire air-to-surface missiles hanging under the wings!  It is only when you move closer you can realize that it is smaller than expected.  Even then, it is hard to imagine this shark-mouthed war machine is in actuality, a Rotax-powered homebuilt plane!

Background:  Flying Legends is an Italian Company (founded in 2012) that specializes in scaled-down warbird replica kits.  The Tucano R Experimental (retractable gear) and Tucano R Light Sport (fixed gear) are both kit aircraft designed on a 70% scale of the Embraer A-27 Tucano (Portuguese for “toucan”, as in the tropical bird).  The kits are available with three build options:  Basic (1,100 hours), Advanced (700-800 hours), and Quick Build (300-350 hours).  For the quick build kit, the major components (fuselage, wings, tail surfaces) are pre-built at Flying Legends’ facility in Sicily and then shipped to one of 18 dealers worldwide, seven of which are in the U.S.  All dealers have teams and clinics to provide assistance to builders.  Jim Hosey (EAA#1227121), builder and owner of a Tucano R Experimental, opted for the Quick Build kit with dealer assistance, and completed the job in only eleven months.  Hosey is a retired U.S. Army AH-6 Little Bird pilot and currently provides training for military JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers), while flying fixed and rotary-wing aircraft as a contract CAS (Close Air Support) pilot for Blue Air Training.  It only makes sense his Tucano R is outfitted as a tactical machine! 

Design:  The Tucano R Experimental is an all metal, tandem-seat, retractable gear airplane.  The max gross weight is 1,653 pounds and the empty weight is typically between 925-1,050 pounds.  Access to the cockpit is gained by stepping on a small step below left wing-root leading edge, then onto the non-skid strip on the wing.  When opening the hinged canopy, be mindful of winds that might catch it.   You can then step right onto the floorboard without having to step on the seat.  Although the Tucano R is built to a 70% scale, thankfully, the cockpit is not scaled for a 70%-sized person! There is plenty of cockpit space for both head and legs of normal and even large-sized adults!

The landing gear switch electrically activates a hydraulic pump to extend and retract the gear.  The gear can be emergency extended hydraulically with a hand pump lever on the right fuselage wall or allowed to free fall by closing hydraulic shut-off valves between the pilot’s legs.  The front cockpit is outfitted with a 10-inch Dynon SkyView HDX, a uAvionix AV-30 standby attitude indicator, Dynon SkyView autopilot, Garmin 355, and the ultra-convenient SkyView vertical VHF radio.  The aft cockpit has an independent 7-inch Dynon HDX.  The autopilot can be slaved to both the HDX and Garmin 355 for both enroute and approach modes.  The stick HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) functions include radio Push To Talk (PTT), flap actuation, elevator trim, and autopilot disconnect.  Tell your neighbors not to fear - the AGM-114 Hellfire missile capability is not functional!  Jim gets lots of Tucano R admirers wherever he lands. Of course, kids (and adults) love the shark mouth on the nose, and he never misses an opportunity to put an awestruck kid in the front seat.  He especially enjoys giving Young Eagles their first taste of a ride in a “warbird”. 

Powerplant:  Most Rotax four-stroke engines are options for the Tucano R, and Jim selected the 141-horsepower turbocharged Rotax 915iS C24. He recently installed the newly introduced, carbon fiber 4-bladed Duc Tiger constant-speed propeller with a nickel inlay leading edge.  For those listening on the ground, the sound of the turbocharged 915iS sounds almost “turbopropish” when the engine is wound up.  Dual Rockwell Collins ECUs (Engine Control Units) reduce pilot workload while maximizing engine efficiency and protecting both the engine and turbocharger.  Two aluminum wing tanks, with an engine-driven fuel pump and two electric boost pumps, provide a total of 32 gallons of usable fuel.

Preflight: The engine is easily accessible with six cowling latches and four quick-turn screws for checking oil and coolant levels.  The compartment behind the back seat is easily accessible, holds 66 pounds of luggage and has plenty of volume.  A second baggage compartment, big enough for a small gym bag or emergency kit (up to 33 pounds), is accessible on the aft left side of the fuselage with five quick-turn screws. 

Taxi/Takeoff:  The Tucano has spring-assisted nosewheel steering that can feel a bit sensitive until you get a feel for it.  After full power is applied on take-off, track the centerline with small pedal inputs.  At about 50 knots, program the stick slightly aft.  Because the flight controls are lightweight, take care not to set too much backstick, causing over-rotation when the elevator develops lift.  After liftoff, especially when solo, it will take a particularly nose high attitude to prevent over-speeding the landing gear (VLE 85 KIAS).  With a 95-knot climb speed, you can expect about 1300 to 1400 fpm climb rate when solo and about 900 fpm with two adults. 

Inflight:  The Tucano R is a pleasure to fly and offers no bad habits.  Aileron and elevators use pushrods and bell cranks, with no slack in the controls. The recent addition of the four-bladed, scythe-shaped Duc propeller not only looks great when parked, but it has added about 4 knots to the cruise speed.  More noticeably though, it makes inflight vibrations non-existent, which is important because Jim flies his Tucano R to work locations all over the country.  In cruise, there is the option for economy or speed, but even the economy option is fast.  Above 8,000 feet, you can see 160 KTAS at 10.5-gph or 135 KTAS at 7.5-gph.  With two adults aboard, stalls will occur around 52 knots with power-off in the landing configuration and 58 knots when in a clean configuration.  For those used to baking in bubble canopy aircraft, the cockpit airflow is a pleasant surprise, thanks to four NACA airscoops, fast speeds, and four associated eyeball vents! 

The Tucano R is not just a cross-country machine, however!  It is rated to +6 and -3 Gs, if the gross weight is below 1,433 pounds.  Jim has a one-gallon smoke oil tank installed to make himself visible when yanking and banking his Tucano around. 

Landing:  The Tucano R is slick, so you need to manage your enroute descent to reduce the speed below 85 knots in order to lower the landing gear.  After observing three green lights, you can use a toggle switch on the stick to lower the flaps down to 32 degrees.  With two people aboard, an approach speed of 70-75 knots works well.  The large surface area of the prop acts as a speedbrake when the throttle is pulled to idle, which is a good way to bleed off excess energy on a slippery airframe!  The airplane handles crosswinds well.  Flare the airplane and hold it just off the deck until the mains touch.  It is a light aircraft with relatively short-coupled gear, so keeping the nosewheel off the ground until it naturally wants to fall will keep overcontrolling to a minimum while minimizing wear and tear on the nosewheel.  Once clear of the runway, you can crack the canopy oven for ventilation and de-arm the missiles (kidding). 

Wrap-Up:  The Flying Legends Tucano R is a fun machine, as well as a great way to build and fly your own warbird replica.  It is a mini multi-role fighter, inexpensive to operate and great for cross-country flights.  It has fantastic ramp appeal, and I guarantee most people will mistake it for a tactical military plane. 


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