The Pioneer 300 is a two-seat light aircraft with extraordinary performance.
I was lucky to spot this aircraft advertised, soon after lockdown 1 ended in July 2020, by its first owners Tim and Dave, who were also its builders. Having already had a flight in a similar aircraft owned by a friend at Sleap (thanks, Mike!) I was able to respond to the advert as a serious buyer rather than a tyre kicker. Tim brought the aircraft to Sleap for a test flight a couple of days later, and a half hour over the North Wales hills had me convinced it is a very well built aircraft in good condition. It would be one of the few aircraft I’d seen that could replace my Starlet. Except we found that I could get both into my hangar!
The deal was done and Tim was brave enough to let me P1 her back to Graveley. I’m very glad he was in the P2 seat else I’d never have made it, a short strip in an unfamiliar area just inside the Gatwick CTA. My first landing wasn’t praiseworthy, although it’s said that any landing you walk away from is a good one! So it was a good one.
There’s lots to learn on a new aircraft when it’s significantly different from the one you’re used to flying. The differences between the Starlet and the Pioneer 300 are significant – the Pioneer has many more things to think about. Primarily – variable pitch prop, flaps and retracting undercarriage. But also an unfamiliar radio, two fuel tanks, powerful and essential elevator trim to deal with the huge trim change on extending or retracting the flaps, and a heavy rudder on the ground (compared to the feather light Starlet).
So it was with some trepidation that I took off from Graveley for the return flight to Sleap. A light, completely cross wind slightly favoured taking off towards the farm and local church, which seemed quite an obstacle. However after a briefing from Tim reminding me of the take-off procedure, G-OPYO whisked me over those buildings with plenty of room to spare.
The return flight was uneventful, and I learned a lot about various cruise settings on the way. The landing was a greaser……but I’ve now realised that with the trailing arms in the landing gear, this is a much, much easier aircraft to land than the Starlet. Provided you remember to put the gear down, of course. A big check list on constant display helps. But my passengers so far have failed to detect the wheels touching down.
So, what’s it like to fly? I think it’s brilliant, althought the Starlet can beat it in some respects. There was a review of this aircraft in Pilot in 2011, – see http://docplayer.net/52664254-Pioneer-300-hawk-small-but-beautifully-put-together.html
There’s another one here of a different 300 – https://www.pilotweb.aero/features/flight-tests/alpi-pioneer-300-flight-test-1-5808556
I find it’s really fun to fly.
It gains and loses height at a surprising rate, mainly I think because the sound changes much less than it does in the Starlet. Once I get an automatic prop controller fitted (I’ve ordered a Flybox controller) it will disguise this even more.
Handling is heavier than the Starlet in all 3 axes, but not unpleasantly so, it’s quite responsive. When I bought it, it had a TruTrak single axis autopilot which had recently started to behave poorly. Its permanently-engaged servo gave the ailerons a heavy feel, and the “free and full” test caused me panic the first time I tried it because the servo motor could be felt, imposing resistance to movement which was notchy. Tim assued me it was normal, but once I realised the autopilot was not usefully functional I removed the servo, and the improvement in aileron feel was significant. So when I fit a replacement, probably a Flybox Oblo, it will have disconnected servos to avoid this happening again.
The speed and fuel economy of this aircraft are excellent. Personally I usually fly for the nice view and pleasure of flying, so flying at 130 kts is useful when needed. But I often throttle back to 100 kts, when I’m getting a fuel burn of about 12-13 litres per hours – much the same as my Starlet. Except this is a heavier, 2-seat aircraft, so that’s a remarkable figure in my view.
I’ve done 25 hours now in it (November 2020)- starting to feel at home. Lots of learning apoints have emerged, such as
“Why won’t it accelerate over 80 kts?” (Try raising the undercarraige!)
“How many rpm is that??” (It’s easy to hit the engine red line on take-off, hence a full automatic prop controller would be an improvement.)
Hobby aviation was grounded over the post-Christmas lockdown, so I took the opportunity to fit a SkyBox PRP-1 propellor controller. Whilst I had the time and opportunity, I re-wired the radio to eliminate the intercom which I felt was adding nothing since the Icom A200 had been fitted.
5 hrs now done and the controller works very well.
I’ve also fitted a PilotAware Rosetta with external aerials. Thanks CAA for your £250 contribution! This works great in conjunction with SkyDemon.
On 25th October 2021, I suffered an engine stoppage when turning onto final at Sleap, at only 500-600 ft AGL. It wouldn’t restart, and so my hope was it would glide to the runway, but I wasn’t high enough to glide that far. So the landing site was a large field directly between me and the airfield. The field was fairly flat and soft, but alas there is a wide ditch in its middle with an electric fence down one edge, none of which was visible until I was too close to divert at all. The good news is it wasn’t live as there were no cattle in the field, but OPYO collected it on its way over the ditch. The bump from “landing” on the far side of the ditch and the picking up of the wire and some posts caused substantial damage to the leading edge of the wing, the fuselage bottom and the propellor.
It has taken a long time to arrange, but hopefully in a couple of weeks it will go back to Alpi in Italy for repair. Out by road, but we expect it to be flown back to the UK.