Colin Chapman (b. 19 May 1928, Richmond, d.
16 December 1982, Norfolk), the man behind the famed Lotus automobile company, believed that Lotus composites technology
could be applied to build an aircraft that still met ultralight rules, would be cheap and easy to fly, and very attractive
to buyers. After reading up on German glider technology, Chapman approached the Rutan brothers in 1982 to study the feasibility
of the project and commissioned Burt to design a new microlight. Despite Burt Rutan's dismissing the idea as complicated,
Chapman insisted that the new plane should be a two-seater. Lotus themselves were to produce a new engine being developed
by Tony Rudd (a senior officer at Lotus), the 50 hp Magnum 4.5, but this was eventually to prove a failure.
June 1982, the final configuration was chosen out of nine different studied designs. The prototype Lotus
MicroLight (Rutan Model 97M), built by Scaled Composites Inc. and appropriately registered N97ML, first flew on 1st February
1983, but tragically Colin Chapman, the visionary who championed the Lotus MicroLight, was not to witness the event, having
died December 16, 1982 at the age of 54.
Lotus wanted to build a business for the MicroLight, and sought backing
to continue alone. When that wasn't approved, Lotus went looking for partners and teamed up with the Eipper to distribute
it in the USA, while Malcolm Lawrence's Aviation Composites of Thatcham in Berkshire, was to distribute it in the UK and Europe.
Lotus originally planned to build the basic structure themselves, with Aircraft Composites finishing and distributing it,
but Aircraft Composites agreed to take over the development and build, with the help of Peter Jackson's Specialised
Mouldings. Aviation Composites used the design's features as a basis for a different aircraft. The company employed Ivan
Shaw, later to design the Europa, and built a similar but much heavier version, the two-seat Mercury. Initially, the aircraft was to be available by February
1986 and Aviation Composites intended to obtain UK certification in the motor-glider category before introducing the type
to the US market. However, Scaled Composites, while assisting Ivan Shaw, now the company's production manager on the program,
with flight testing discovered a poor spin recovery characteristic and Aircraft Composites discontinued support of the flight
testing and further development.
At about the same time as the demise of the Mercury, David Wilson of AEL went to work for Aviation Composites, taking his Striplin Sky Ranger derived Rover design with him. This was also to have
been powered by the Lotus Magnum, but appears never to have flown.
- Company references TBD
| Lotus |
| || || MicroLight
Model 97M || 1981 || || Proto
1E canard monoplane || 1,2 |
1E canard monoplane || 1,3,4,5 |
| || || Rover
1E high wing monoplane || 1 |
Prototype only, c/n 0001,
N97ML, later G-MMLC, registered to Group Lotus Car Company PLC.
Aviation Composites Mercury:
c/n AC001, G-INAV, registered to Ivan Shaw.
Total Aviation Composites Production 3