Kevin Hopper along with his son Dean and fellow builder Aidan Cantin watched nervously as test pilot Dale de Klerk gently coaxed the Orion Cub off the runway for its maiden flight, this was a culmination of many years of dreaming, planning and execution for the trio.
Kevin life long love affair with aircraft started at the tender age of six when he got his hands on his first plastic model, he quickly progressed to more ambitious projects and by the age of eight, he had rebuilt a President Highboy RC aircraft and was soon out flying it. In 1989 Kevin took this to the next level when he joined 43 Air School and began rebuilding aircraft, at the time the school used predominantly “Cub” type aircraft, soon his love for these magnificent machines grew and has not waned at all over the years.
In 2005 Kevin designed a wooden construction aircraft based on the tried and tested Piper Cub, the prototype took to the air in 2007. The aircraft was christened the Teddy but sadly due to the labour and time-intensive wooden construction, the design was shelved after only building a handful of them.
The dream of designing and building a Cub never quite left Kevin and in 2014 he designed and built a wing for what at the time was to be called the “Teddy Too”. The Teddy Too was a steel trellis frame design with an aluminium sheeted wing a far more economical proposition than the labour-intensive wooden design. The wing and fuselage design were sent to renowned structural annalist Francois Jordaan and the verdict was brilliant, motivating Kevin and Dean to continue the project. Unfortunately, at the time finances did not allow the project to go ahead and it had to be shelved once again.
The project was once again revived when a young CAD draughtsman with an insatiable passion for aviation, Aidan Cantin, stumbled into Kevin's hangar at Krugersdorp Airfield. Aidan’s enthusiasm seemed to ignite Kevin and Dean’s determination to complete the project. Aidan brought a new perspective to the project with his ability to create 3D drawings of all the individual parts of the project led to refinements and in some cases total redesigned components.
In 2020 Kevin's father fell gravely ill and sadly passed later in the year, Kevin recalls fondly the years spent working with his father on everything from model aircraft to his personal favourite an MG replica kit car that he named the Orion. As a tribute to his father, that had taught him so much, Kevin decided to rename the project “The Orion Cub”.
After thousands of hours of design, redesigning and refinement of each and every component the intrepid trio decided they were ready to start constructing their prototype. In December 2020 they managed to get their first airframe laser cut which was a much more difficult task than expected due to many companies still suffering the effects of the prolonged lockdown. The last of the fuselage sections were collected just hours before the laser cutting company closed for the December break. Kevin, Dean and Aidan then set out to construct not only the fuselage but with an eye on future production a fuselage jig was also constructed, this while everyone else was enjoying their festive season. The fuselage was finally completed on 20 January kicking off a process that would keep them busy for the next 19 months.
A total of 30 jigs were constructed for the entire aircraft while the prototype was being built ranging from empennage to the engine mount, a jig was even built for the control column. In addition to these, 20 odd jigs were also constructed for all the composite mouldings on the aircraft.
To ensure control over every aspect of the production quality they opted to do everything in-house which has inevitably led to the expense of purchasing advanced machinery. Kevin made a decision to supply a very high-quality product utilizing only the best materials available, the airframe is constructed from 4130 chrome-molly tubing and all machined aluminium parts use only 7075 aluminium. The wing spars are specifically extruded for Skyworx and eventually covered with the highest quality 6061T6 aluminium sheeting. The material used for the windscreen is specifically sourced with quality and safety in mind, they decided on a 2mm thick cast acrylic that is the same material used by Airbus for helicopter windscreens.
The finishing and attention to detail on the Orion Cub will astound even the most avid aircraft builder, small detail such as the CNC cut landing gear steps, brushed aluminium footplates, 3d printed air intakes and carbon fibre wing tip masking add a special personality to the aircraft. The instrument panel is designed to house any modern glass or analogue avionics with ease. The seats are specifically manufactured for the Orion Cub in the factory to perfectly fit the ergonomically designed interior.
Eventually, two variants of the Orion Cub will be available to aviators the one is slightly longer and is more suited to larger engines and will have a more useful load than the shorter version. The prototype is powered by a Rotax 912 engine which is recommended to be the lowest power used on the Orion Cub. Orion Aircraft plan on selling the aircraft in kit form as well as factory-built aircraft, the kits will range in complexity in order to comply with different countries' requirements, for example, kits shipped to the USA will comply with the 51% build law on experimental aircraft.
The test flights have proved that the Orion Cub performs better than expected in both STOL and cruise, with a clean stall speed of only 35 mph and a stall speed of 20 mph with one notch of flap while maintaining full control it is the ideal bush plane. An initially recorded cruise speed of 105 mph makes it rather fast for a Cub-type aircraft with a few prop adjustments this is bound to increase.
There is no doubt that the Orion Cub will be a very successful aircraft judging by what is offered for the price, at approximately $34000 one will receive a basic kit aircraft excluding the powerplant, propeller and avionics with no nasty “finishing kit” hidden costs. We wish Kevin and his team all the best and firmly believe that the Orion Cub will continue to promote the aircraft design and building capabilities that we possess in South Africa.