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our thanks to FlySouth Aviation News

The Samba, now a well-known light aircraft in South Africa, with about a dozen in service, has been joined by it's slightly bigger brother, the Lambada.

When we reported on the Samba around 18 months ago, with a mere two units having been sold locally, we were highly impressed with this composite aircraft from Czechoslovakia and wrote "The Samba, whilst being a microlight by virtue of light weight and being a glider by virtue of it's characteristic high-aspect ratio wings and excellent glide ratio, also, as it happens, manages to be a pretty great little all round flier..."

Having spent an afternoon recently with Rainer and Barbara Friebose, principals of Wings 'n Tracks, who hold the Southern Africa distributorship for Urban-Air who make these aircraft, and having the opportunity to fly the Lambada, we are equally impressed, once again.

The Lambada is virtually identical in it's construction to the Samba - high quality composite throughout, well - finished internally and externally like a sheet of white glass! All the result of using European resin and composite technology first developed by the high-performance competition glider manufacturers in Germany.

Major differences from the Samba are the shoulder mounted wing and the T-tail. The wing is longer at 13 metres in standard form, and can be extended with quick-mounting wingtip extensions to give a 15 metre wingspan, the same length of wing as seen in racing and competition gliders.

The longer wing, particularly when the wingtip extensions are added, and the T-tail give the Lambada very much improved gliding performance over the Samba - which is the reason for Urban - Air building the Lambada. The directors of the company aimed to build a true motor-glider, which can operate under it's own power, but still provide good soaring performance.

The glide-ratio of the Lambada is claimed to be in the region of 25:1 - for every 25 metres of forward flight, 1 metre of height will be lost in no lift or sink conditions, when soaring without any engine assistance. That ratio is not close to the ultra high-performance gliders of today, which can exhibit ratios of 60:1, but then these are the Open class ships, which cost up to R 2 million, and have only a single function and use - that of winning contests.

However at 25:1 we suspect that the Lambada can serve as a very satisfactory sport glider, but with the capability and convenience to hoist itself aloft, cruise to distant places and get you back to the field without worries when the lift runs out.

The cockpit of the Lambada is laid out identically to the Samba, with integral seat buckets moulded in and control sticks for each occupant. Basic VFR instrumentation is provided, whilst comprehensive engine instrumentation is taken care of by a tiny digital readout, on which all engine parameters can be selected as required.

The Lambada, like the Samba is powered by a Rotax motor of 100 hp. On the demonstrator an in-flight electrically adjustable propeller is fitted, and as an option a constant speed unit is also available.In operations where the Lambada is used as a glider tug, the CS unit may be preferable, as it should help relieve workload on the tug-pilot, during a hard day's dragging gliders into the sky at a busy club.

With the additional wingspan, we were anticipating that the Lambada would not be as responsive to fly.We flew it first without the extended wing-tips and later clipped these in place to sample the machine with it's maximum wingspan.

Taxiing the Lambada, according to Rainer, can be improved, as with only a steerable tailwheel, the turning circle is large - Wings 'n Tracks hopes to be able to modify the braking system to give some differential braking effect, which will improve matters dramatically.

However at Brits Airfield, with it's wide open spaces and little traffic, we did not have any problems - obviously on a crowded ramp, one would appreciate improved manoeuvrability.

Take-off, as with the Samba is quick and the run short - after only about 150 metres we were airborne and climbing strongly at 1500 fpm. Visibility is great through the bubble canopy and the shoulder wings are behind your head and do not get in the way.

Once at a reasonable altitude, we could start to explore the handling of the aircraft - speeds appear to be very similar to the Samba, with a comfortable cruise of 110 kts or so. The VP prop must be helping here, and when we flew the Samba it had a ground adjustable propeller, rather than an in-flight adjustable - if both aircraft had the same equipment we suspect the Samba will have the legs on the Lambada.

Control feel is excellent - nicely weighted controls let the pilot fly the machine with precision and ease. The control feel is very similar to the Samba, (which we rated as excellent in our previous article) albeit a fraction heavier. Ailerons are powerful, with the ability to generate brisk roll rates and we carried out a smooth chandelle with ease.

Since the Lambada is rated at +6/-3G, it would be structurally capable of aerobatics but we did not do more than a chandelle out of deference to the novelty of the aircraft, which has less than 10 hours of flight. Once Rainer is more familiar and has completed his series of checks on this new airframe, he will explore the Lambada's capabilities.

During turns and manoeuvres relatively little rudder input is called for - just a little rudder pressure here and there to keep the ball in the centre, and that of course, is what pilots of most modern aircraft are familiar with. Later, we found that the Lambada handling characteristics change in this respect, once the wingtips are added!

Even without the wingtip extensions, gliding performance is good - pulling the motor back to idle at the midpoint of the downwind leg, the Lambada sailed serenely on around base and on to finals, losing little height and aided by a pocket or two of weak lift, until we landed without needing the motor. The point on downwind where we decided to turn to base was a point at which, in my own aircraft, a Grumman AA1B, the pilot would have declared the emergency!

Glide slope is easily adjusted using the spoilers fitted - no flaps on this one, unlike the Samba which has no spoilers but uses very effective Fowler flaps.

Having landed, the wing-tip extensions were fitted in just a couple of minutes, and we went aloft once more. No difference on the ground of course, expect that it's wise to remember the extra 2 metres of wingspan when manoeuvring. Take-off and climb out seemed much the same as before, but once at height and in turns the difference became apparent. While control feel in roll becomes significantly heavier, it however maintains excellent responsiveness. The rudder now comes into play, as with the added adverse yaw generated by the longer wingspan, the pilot must wake his feet up and pedal to keep the ball centred! According to Rainer this is very much like the 15 metre gliders that the Lambada emulates so well.

Gliding performance with the extra span is markedly improved. In the late afternoon, with little thermic activity around, the Lambada could maintain almost zero sink or lift for longish periods - and this pilot is no soaring fundi! Where some tiny hint of lift existed, as in one or two spots that we located, the Lambada made the most of them, although they died out very quickly.

With the Lambada, as well as the Samba in the Wings 'n Tracks stable, the leisure and sport aviation market is well catered for - the Samba being a delightful two-seat touring aircraft, glider tug and sometime fun glider, whilst the Lambada does all those things well, but with the added attraction for some potential owners, of being able to accomplish effective sport-soaring.

Pricewise these offerings represent good value for money, even though the collapse of the ZAR exchange rate against other major currencies last year December has adversely affected selling prices - but then it negatively affected everything else in aviation too!

As we left Brits Airport, Rainer mentioned that he was preparing for a trip where a Samba and the Lambada would be flown to the Cape Province and then on to Namibia - in the Cape the Lambada was to be demonstrated to a gliding club, hopefully to replace it's ageing tug-fleet of two conventional aircraft, and the Samba would be delivered to the latest customer in Namibia - seems like aviation, which appears to resist change to a remarkable extent, IS changing in this neck of the woods.

Perhaps the likes of Cessna, Piper and others who have been manufacturing single-engined aircraft and selling them for private use for decades, had better wake up - a part of their market is piece-by-piece disappearing as more owners realise the substantial gains to be made through discarding old ways of thinking about aircraft.