Innovation: Plastic plane that fits in your own garage: Aircraft made from a kit offers freedom of the skies on a tank of petrol

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The Independent Online
OPEN the garage door, pull out a trailer carrying a small two-seat aeroplane with wings detached, hitch up the trailer and drive to the petrol station to fill the aeroplane's tanks with unleaded fuel. Then drive to the large field that a local farmer lets you use.

Remove the plane from the trailer and attach the wings and tailplane - in less than five minutes - and take off in 100 yards. Climb rapidly and cruise at over 130mph for up to 500 miles, using less than 2.5 gallons of fuel an hour, then travel up to 500 miles before landing.

This sounds improbable: even more so when you learn that the aeroplane is made from a pounds 20,000 kit. Called the Europa, it has been designed and manufactured at Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire, by Ivan Shaw, a retired commercial pilot.

Aircraft designers have long hankered after a vehicle that converts from a car to a plane. The Europa is not quite that, but it has cut the cost of having your own plane by eliminating the need to use an airport and by using petrol rather than the more expensive aviation fuel. Mr Shaw has sold 35 Europa kits since launching the model earlier this year.

The Europa is made of plastics, or composites, which are light but extremely strong. They have been widely used by home-build aeroplane designers for 20 years and are now increasingly a substitute for metal alloys in commercial airliners and warplanes.

The Europa's fuselage, which comes in two halves, is formed from glass and carbon fibre laminates. The wings and tail are made from a foam similar to that used in furniture upholstery. The wing was designed by Shaw and Don Dykins, who as chief aerodynamist at British Aerospace was responsible for the wing design of the European Airbus.

The Europa's wings allow it to perform safely and efficiently at very low speeds. This means the Europa can take off and land in a short distance, and cruise with stability at altitude. The engine is a Rotax 912, originally developed to power a snowmobile.

Mr Shaw's company, Europa Aviation, won a pounds 100,000 grant from the Department of Trade and Industry recently in recognition of its use of advanced technology and innovation in light aircraft production. Worldwide, manufacturers are selling around 3,000 plane kits a year, far outstripping production of commercially available light aircraft.

(Photographs omitted)