Mike Causer posted this on the Yahoo Groups Lotus List -
<i>Patrick Peal, Chapman's son-in-law, pilot and (in 1996) Head of Communications at Lotus gave us this description:
"I'll now try to produce a potted history of the microlight... incidentally, the late Hugh Haskell's book "Colin Chapman - Lotus Engineering" is full of good stuff about cars, boats (including Clive Chapman's racing monohulls..), aircraft, and even furniture. The story about the flying saucer was considered too wacky...
Rumour has it that in the very early days of board-sailing someone suggested to the OLD Man that he should get into the manufacture of said boards - "no, it'll never catch on" he is reputed to have said.
So when ultralights/microlights began to appear on the scene, and with his love of flying to encourage him, Chapman "got into" microlights very fast and deeply. I think it was Summer 1980 when we got taught to fly behind the Chapman house in a Double Eagle, driven by two two-stroke paint stirrer engines.... it hardly flew, and bits fell off every hour or so. ACBC believed that Lotus composites know-how could be applied to build a "proper" aircraft that still met ultralight rules (and hence would be cheap and easy to fly i.e. very attractive to buyers). He commissioned Burt Rutan of Mojave, Ca to design a new type of microlight, based on Rutan's love of composites, efficiency, and the use of the "canard" wing layout for which Rutan is famous. (He designed Voyager, which flew round the world, and the Starship, which has nearly broken Beech). At the same time, Lotus were set the task of designing a small lightweight 4-stroke aero engine, which would fix the inherent two-stroke problems of noise and gas-guzzling. (Ian Doble, the engineer given the task, went on the lead the LT5 engine programme, the Elan programme, and has just finished the Vector in Florida.)
First, the aircraft - two-seat side by side enclosed cockpit, retract front wheel, unique design. Tragically and ironically, the maiden flight was December 16, 1982 - the day ACBC passed away. Trials continued with a little Italian two-stroke engine, to the end of the proof-of-concept phase. I watched some test flights in Mojave, and was totally impressed with the machine. Next time I saw it was August 1983, when it arrived in a crate at Hethel - two days before the Open Day Mike Causer referred to. We assembled it on Friday and Saturday, I taxied in daylight on Saturday afternoon, and "accidentally" hopped in the dusk. My first proper flight was Sunday morning, with the demo flight in the afternoon for the crowds. It was exciting, terrifying, and very emotional for me.
(Yes, it did appear at a Brands Hatch CTL event, but I thought that was `84?)
We wanted to build a business for it, and sought company backing to continue alone. When that wasn't approved, we went looking for partners. We eventually teamed up with Eipper (a big ultralight builder in those days) to distribute it in the USA, and Malcolm Lawrence's Aviation Composites in UK and Europe. We originally planned to build the basic structure, with AC to finish and distribute it. We then decided that the materials (epoxy glass) and the quality control techniques were not part of our core business, and AC agreed to take over the development and build, with the help of Specialised Mouldings (well known in motorsport). As we were struggling to cope with the aftermath of ACBC's death, AC's move into taking over the whole project lock, stock and barrel, was a godsend. They built at least one more prototype, with various modifications from the Rutan design, showed it and test-flew it. Sadly, their prototype apparently exhibited some less-than-attractive characteristics, and they sued Rutan. The case dragged on (way beyond Lotus being taken over by GM in `86) and eventually was either dropped or Rutan won - I can't remember which. The backers disappeared, and AC went into liquidation. I don't know where the Rutan prototype is, but I'd love to find it again... it flew beautifully - just what Chapman would've wanted.
The engine was a brilliant concept - a modular monobloc design (crankcase half, barrel and head cast in one piece) which could be built as a two- or four-cylinder (25 or 50 hp). To keep the weight down, the castings were intricate with minimal fixings and parts count. The prop drive came off the camshaft to use the inherent 2:1 reduction drive - brilliant thinking! (You need a big prop turning slow for efficiency, and a small engine turning fast for good fuel economy). However, we didn't have the sophisticated CAE systems we have now, and we experienced severe torsional vibration problems.
After slogging on, we got up to 150 hour durability (way below our hoped-for 1000 hour goal) about the same time GM spotted we had a connection with the aircraft business...The engine project was closed down very fast to prevent any possibility of aviation-sized product liability lawsuits. Sad, because the world is still crying out for a light, cheap, four-stroke aero-engine. The Rotax is nearly there, but... even Porsche failed with the PFM aero-engine based on the 911 motor!
We have one of the 4-cyl engines on display at the factory - it is still a gem and sits proudly alongside the LT5 engine and the 1.5 litre compound-supercharged F1 engine we were doing about the same time..... what would it be like if we used our second new Cray to support the analysis today?
We were close to supplying the engine for use in target and reconnaissance drones (some flight testing was carried out) but it didn't happen.
TO KCLAIBORNE: yes, the Lotus microlight was a dream - for aircraft spotters it had a pointy nose, little wing at the front, and the prop at the back behind the big wing - and it was FAST! No, we didn't get to Paradise/Hawaii on any durability flights, sadly...
Patrick Peal, Head of Communications, Lotus Cars Ltd."
Mike further posted a few URLs with an article from then "Lotus World"...
Front cover: 58kb http://www.mikecauser.com/images/G-MMLC-1.jpg
Article page 1: 201kb http://www.mikecauser.com/images/G-MMLC-2.jpg
Article page 2: 210kb http://www.mikecauser.com/images/G-MMLC-3.jpg
Enjoy a bit of Lotus history!