Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Major LSA Project Shuts Down

I've had my head buried in pilot reports, image processing and P&P's 2010 LSA Buyer's Guide. Guides in particular never seem like they'll be such a mind-numbing chore yet every time the same number of eyeball-jittering, typing finger-stiffening days roll by. Look for it in the Oshkosh issue, late June I think.

There are 107 registered LSA models on the books.  I couldn't write about all of them so went with the top-selling 20, realizing even then some great airplanes get left out, so I factored in another couple dozen or so that stand a good chance of garnering market share in the future.
Most if not all The Magnificent 107 remain in some state of production - a minor miracle given our sluggish  economy.  Even more new designs approach ASTM certification this year.  Clearly it's going to be a big pie -- with a lot of small slices -- for a long time to come.
Given our "Little Industry That Can" bravura, it's always a lamentable duty to report whenever a noteworthy aviation project goes down the tubes.  But reality is reality:  the Sadler Vampire project is looking for another owner.
The original Vampire revved everybody up back in the early '80s as a unique, single seat ultralight.
Here's a summary from an excellent Wikipedia blurb:

The Vampire won Grand Champion Design at Oshkosh in 1982.   Bill Sadler started up American Microflight, which became Sadler Aircraft Co., and by 1984 was cranking out 4 units per month!  Not long after, ABC's 20/20 broadcast its infamous, recklessly distorted "expose" on the danger of ultralights that nearly killed the industry singlehandedly, or I should say underhandedly...a cautionary testament, more evident than ever in today's media, to the press's power to inflame irrational fear in the general public, whatever the truth might be.
Anyway, Sadler, facing the dramatic industry downturn everybody suffered after 20/20, sold the rights to Aero.V.Australia.
By the late '80s, Sadler developed a military version: the aptly-named Piranha, with enclosed cockpit, bullet-resistant Kevlar fuselage pod, machine gun mounts in the wing roots, all to support a ground attack, interdiction and counterinsurgency mission.  Holy Third World combat ops, Batman!
A UAV (unmanned) version was developed around the same time but never flew without a pilot.
David Littlejohn, VP of Sadler Aircraft, just informed me that once the principals looked at the books, they realized they'd have to sell 40 units just to break even on R&D expenses in their attempt to bring the Vampire to the S-LSA market.
In his own words (excerpted):
"...the economic downturn ...has taken its toll on the Vampire. I'm disappointed to report that the Vampire project is being suspended and offered for sale.
I apologize to all that have been following our progress. As is so often the case though, we had lots of "interested" folks, but not folks interested enough to in escrow and secure aircraft. As such, we failed to meet the required pipeline commitments needed to receive second-stage capital from our investors.  It's frustrating.  But such is reality in periods of economic uncertainty.
At this time we are seeking buyers of the company. Specifically, we have the prototype Vampire and various parts for three more Vampires already under construction. We are asking for $50,000 obo (development costs were more than 15 times [that] amount). And that price includes a nearly brand new Jabiru 3300 with under 100 hours on it.
At this time the company is being sold as a package including: prototype Vampire (has flown, but not flying now), wing sections for 4 aircraft (unskinnned), raw aluminum to skin the wings, spars and tail booms for 2 planes, landing gear for 4 planes, various other miscellaneous parts.
If interested...please send an email to:
The Vampire was an exciting original from day one...if it's resurrected yet again, maybe it should be renamed the Lazarus - this is one design that just won't die.
We sincerely wish everybody connected with Sadler Aircraft the best of good fortune going forward.

   ---images courtesy Sadler Aircraft

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

PiperSport Taps Into Social Media

If you've checked into Facebook since January you may know that PiperSport has its own page that you can become a fan of (I am, along with 9200 others so far!)
What you probably don't know is there's a fascinating video interview that chronicles why and how Piper decided to add social media such as Facebook and YouTube to its marketing strategy for the already-popular LSA.
Very very interesting, and likely a sign of future marketing efforts from ad-cash-starved LSA makers.
To date, the only other company I know that has a Facebook presence is Gobosh, and they've been there for some time.
I won't reprise the entire video clip (it's well worth watching), but here are some of the highlights:
Back in January, Piper's content creators were tasked with making a video for the imminent launch of the PiperSport (the rebadged, "Piperized" CZAW SportCruiser).  They also had to set up a Twitter feed, YouTube channel and the Facebook fan page.

And they had a week to do it in.

Greg Jarboe does a video interview for Search Engine Watch with Michael Kolowich of Boston's DigiNovations, who gives a thumbnail of the entire project.  Here's the vid - in case it's slow to load, go here:

Things that caught my ear from the video:
* The goal was to create a less formal market presence that would work on authenticity, including interviews with Piper notables including Piper's Chief Engineer and my longtime colleague Bart Jones, the company's Chief Pilot.
* Piper wanted a "live feel".
* It had to be up in time for the January launch date at Sebring.
* A PiperSport was sold online the very first week...and paid for with PayPal!
* the creators input key tag phrases to help web searchers find the site, including: light sport aircraft and the brand names of key competitors - very smart.
* The Facebook video was viewed more than 7000 times the first week.
* PiperSport's YouTube channel has more than 22,000 viewings for several of its videos.
A lot of marketing types would do well to watch Piper's venture into social media, especially if it proves a sales success.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Getting the word out to the great unwashed about the virtues of LSA flight - even with the inevitable "mainstream media" gaffes and general buffoonery it typically displays regarding general aviation - is an ongoing devotion for all LSA entrepreneurs, from manufacturers to flight schools.
Witness then this terrific video clip that enterprising young Brit (profiled here a few weeks ago) Charlie Thompson of Santa Monica Flyers pulled off on Los Angeles's local, venerable tv station, KTLA.

I remember KTLA and it's veteran newscasters from age 5 (that's six decades back, sports fans!)  The station has a long and storied history, so having it run a spot extolling the virtues of LSA during its prime broadcast slot and also posted on the web is a real plum for sure.
Charlie wisely told the reporter the aircraft he was flying was the PiperSport, although in fact he's training and doing demos in a CZAW SportCruiser.
There were the usual daffy phrases we've come to expect from "infotainment" news spots, such as "This airplane is singlehandedly changing the face of the flying community," and "Beat the hassle of airports!"
To be fair, the reporter did a reasonable job considering how badly the media usually does with aviation stories.
For instance, he accurately reported on the virtues of LSA, using automobile comparisons - what else from car-centric L.A.?:
  *  low-fuel burn: "at 40 miles per gallon, it beats every car in mileage except the Prius!"
   * aircraft price: "It costs the same as a high-end Porsche!"
    * and fuel burn again: "You can fly yourself to Las Vegas for only $45!"
Ah, how I miss the Land of Lah.
But image is everything, likewise positive stories - any positive stories - about general aviation.
So even though we LSAers know that SportCruiser (which the tele reporter happily dubbed "PiperSport Cruiser") is essentially the same airplane as the PiperSport, I still say "Well done, Charlie Thomson!"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Longest Flight

Two wild-and-crazy Swiss airline pilots decided to take a busman's holiday - one hell of a busman's holiday - by taking two Flight Design CTLS S-LSA on a little jaunt, in celebration of the birth of aviation in Switzerland 100 years ago.
Their destination?  The airport they launched from April 30th: Sion, Switzerland.
The catch?  Before they return to Sion, they're flying around the world!
Dan Johnson's got a detailed writeup on his Splog but the short tell is the pilots, Yannick Bovier and Francisco Agullo, will fly 27,500 miles over 18 countries, five continents and two oceans. 
Both craft are modified to carry extra fuel - 120 gallons each, instead of the stock 35 gallons. 
They're also carrying survival gear including water ditching rafts as their route crosses both the Atlantic (Africa to South America) and the Pacific (America to Viet Nam).
As of today they've made it across from Africa to Natal, Brazil.
Keep track of their progress and get the in-depth story on their website.
Bon Voyage Francisco and Yannick!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

ICONographic Marketing

I thought I'd share a couple interesting videos recently posted on the Icon Aircraft website.  There's a multimedia gallery of high-profile, appealing eye candy, including YouTube videos chronicling various aspects of the ongoing test program for the company's A5 amphibian S-LSA.
Two I found particularly interesting: a stall sequence and a potpourri of recent flight test ops.
First, the stall sequence shows the classic tufted airflow indicators taped to the wing to demonstrate inflight stall progression from the root outward.
Watch the tufts near the root begin to wiggle and change direction first, demonstrating loss of lift.  Then see the stall move outward from the root and along the trailing edge.  To my eye, it seems like the middle of the wing completely stalls before the root.  I'd like to know about the aerodynamic significance of that, and why the wing doesn't stall more classically at the root first.
Also notice how the flaps appear to be taped at the inboard seam, which would seem to prevent deployment from 0 degrees.
Whatever it all means, it's fascinating to watch aerodynamic design theory demonstrated so dramatically!

The other video is a series of short in-flight clips of water/land-launching capabilities, water taxiing versatility and in-flight maneuvers, both from a photo plane and from the ground.

I watched the Icon go through its paces at the Oshkosh Seaplane Base last summer (along with hundreds of other folks) and was particularly impressed with the nimble, smooth handling and sexy inflight look of the amphib.
In sync with the company's marketing approach for the Icon - "Jetski For The Sky!" - the flight video shows a couple (wingless) jetskis in formation on the water with the A5.  Very cool, very smart - but nothing this company has done so far seems remotely second class.

Case in point: Demonstrating how well-connected, sophisticated and well-funded this company's principals are, an Icon mockup is on display at John F. Kennedy Airport in NYC to celebrate Jet Blue Airline's 10th anniversary!
Icon continues to refine the bird toward ever-more-benign (translate: fun and safe for new pilots) handling that should greatly aid its push to attract watersport/non-pilot types to its market segment.
High speed water taxi testing continues along with ocean operations, such as challenging entry/exit tests near Long Beach, CA.
Everything seems on track to deliver the bird by 3rd Quarter 2011...hey, that's next year!  Can't wait for a demo myself.  Maybe I can get my LSA water rating in an Icon: wouldn't that be a trip?

   ---photo and videos courtesy Icon Aircraft

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sympathy Flying

Michael Combs's epic Flight For The Human Spirit odyssey just made it into Chicago a few hours ago after a whirlwind tour of the Northeast (he just missed some premature, summery 90-degree weather - and nasty thunderstorms).
Since Michael's flying a new Remos GX, I thought to make a sympatico gesture by taking the air in the same type, and, I confess, to prep my flight report for the July print issue of P&P.
BTW, Tom Peghiny, Prez of Flight Design, told me recently he was in the dark whenever I wrote "dead tree P&P".  (I guess he doesn't read Time magazine online, they say "dead tree Time" all the, uh, time.)  Alas, in deference to Tom and others similarly not conversant in super-hip online lingo, I must abandon journalistic trendiness in favor of humdrum journalistic clarity.)
Anyway, with many thanks to Ron Glazer of Remos (and Marketing Veep Ken Weaver, who sent him up) for making an extra leg to meet me, I finally got my chance to fly the bird. 
Ron flew the 2010 Remos GX Aviator II (full panel version) into Great Barrington Airport (GBR) in Massachusetts - one of God's little aviation secrets, shhh!
Ron, a recent grad of Embry Riddle who's already racked up 435 hours in the GX (!), showed me the ropes and confirmed what I'd long suspected from anecdotal reports: all that high-profile presence and aggressive marketing from Remos is backed up by a first-class S-LSA.
Of course, you'll want to read my full report in the mag, but here's a brief kiss-and-tell:
> wonderfully light, smooth handling in all axes
> very comfortable and stable in flight
> really well-thought out panel placement of knobs, breakers, etc.
> ground handling with the steerable nose and console brake is like driving around a go-cart...very precise, very easy
Meanwhile, I am grooving psychically with Michael Combs on his flight because I know he's got a terrific LSA to carry forth his crusade...just wish I was with him!