Aviation Composites

Aviation Composites


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.

By 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
  1. Company references TBD

Project Data top

Project No
Type No
Alternative Name(s)
Spec (Requirement)
     MicroLight  Rutan Model 97M  1981    Proto  1  2S, 1E canard monoplane  1,2
 Aviation Composites
     Mercury    1983    Proto  1  2S, 1E canard monoplane  1,3,4,5
     Rover    1986    Pro(n)  1  2S, 1E high wing monoplane  1

Project References
  1. Ultralight and Microlight Aircraft of the World, Alain-Yves Berger & Norman Burr (Haynes, 2nd Ed., 1986)
  2. http://stargazer2006.online.fr/aircraft/pages/microlight.htm
  3. http://stargazer2006.online.fr/aircraft/pages/mercury.htm
  4. Flight International 10 Aug 1985
  5. Flight International 11 Apr 1987

Production Data

Lotus Microlight:
Prototype only, c/n 0001, N97ML, later G-MMLC, registered to Group Lotus Car Company PLC.

Aviation Composites Mercury:
Prototype only, c/n AC001, G-INAV, registered to Ivan Shaw.

   Total Aviation Composites Production     3   

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V1.4.4 Created by Roger Moss. Last updated August 2020