Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Final 2010 Market Report

Graphic courtesy www.bydanjohnson.com
Dan Johnson’s periodic Market Share report (compiled by Jan Fridrich of the Czech LAA) is out on his website and there are some interesting trends.
For those who haven't seen these snapshots of the U.S. LSA market before, Dan focuses on FAA registrations, not sales quotes from manufacturers.  While this indicator may lag sales figures, over time it gives a more accurate view of who's actually delivering airplanes to customers.

The not-surprising but important highlight has to be Piper's shot in the arm to overall LSA production.
The venerable company registered 43 airplanes this year (24% of all registrations!) and will no doubt be stronger in 2011 as sales continue to mount for its sexy PiperSport.
CubCrafters really surged this year with 37 registrations, a 20% market share, on the strength of its 180hp-powered Carbon Cub SS.  My local field has one, and it's quite a performer.
In my recent post I mentioned Cessna's surge now that production at the China factory is in full swing.  A total 29 Skycatchers (16% of all registrations) went out this year: Cessna expects to ship 150-plus next year.
The market leaders, including Flight Design and American Legend are hanging in there, and newcomer Jabiru/Arion with its new Lightning was a big hit with 9 registrations for the year.
Sleepers to watch include Sportair USA's Sirius (4), Aerotrek (4), Skykits Savannah (4), FPNA A-20 (3), and 3Xtrim Navigator 600 (2).
Dan parses the numbers and projects, to end of 2010, a further slide of 4% over 2009, which was nobody's favorite year.
But with the economy slowly expanding again, a lot of folks are reading the tea leaves and hoping for a much stronger 2011.  Let's all keep drinking that happy tea.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Airport Kid

On those weekends that I'm hanging out at my newly adopted country airport of Great Barrington, MA (GBR), I always look forward to seeing young Joe Solan.
Joe's 12...going on 28, as someone at the airport affectionately quipped.
Joe is one great kid, the kind I sometimes wish I'd been more like when I was his age.
Joe Solan, right, giving local CFI John Lampson a ride
When we first greet, whether he's dutifully dragging a heavy gas pump hose that weighs half what he does, answering the airport office phone or hunting up a charged handheld battery, he'll flash a friendly smile, say "Hi!", and stick out his hand like the straight-up little man he is.
He's growing up at the airport, mentored in running the business and mentored in life by his dad Rick, a co-owner of the airport with lots of great ideas for growing its prosperity.
Rick's also the guy who keeps American Airlines 777 drivers on the straight and narrow as a top-level inspector pilot. 
I wrote a column recently for Plane & Pilot about GBR, extolling the charms, which are manifest, of this wonderful throwback to a kinder aviation era.
It's melange of hangar styles, tied-down airplanes and acres of grass, surrounded by the bucolic Berkshire Hills farmland of western Mass., inspires flights of poetic as well as winged fantasy throughout the year.
The 2600' paved runway has a grass strip right next to it, and there's another short-field strip at an angle alongside the triangle of tall corn that grows in the summer.
The recently repaired asphalt is long enough to let fast singles and some light twins in, but short enough, with the very tall trees at the west end of the runway, to inspire routine vigilance and Plan B thinking ahead on takeoff or landing.
Richard Solan, co-owner of GBR, American Airlines top gun...and Joe's dad.
Back to Joe: he's one of those genuine kids you like immediately.  He doesn't come off entitled or overindulged, has an adult-like work ethic, and like GBR, is a throwback himself to an earlier time when kids were eager to help out any way they could and took no small measure of quiet pride in doing so.
Oh, he gets to be a kid too, flying electric-powered RC models on the far side of the airport, or roaring by in the very cool Quantum Go Kart his dad just bought for him.
Mostly though you'll see him holding the unicom station mic to give radio checks or wind and weather updates, gassing up planes and running errands.
Last weekend was a classic late fall day in New England.  Clear and crisp, in the low '40s, no winds to speak of: the kind of flying day you just don't pass up if you can help it.
Sure enough, lots of folks and airplanes were out.  Pilots and friends shot landings and swapped tall tales over doughnuts and coffee or munching down a tangerine from the wooden crate Rick always has on hand in the office/"clubhouse".
I was eager to go flying but leery of hand-propping the cold J3 engine without some assistance -- and everybody else was busy.
"I can do it," offered Joe, confidently grabbing his parka and waving me to the door.
Outside, he offered me the right seat in his go kart.  Of course it was less than a minute's walk to the Cub, but no way was I going to pass up a chance to share that ride.
We shot across the ramp and onto the grass, moved some planes around and rolled out the J3.  I put on some gloves against the chill and Joe hopped into the front seat.
"Switch off," he called out, somewhat dwarfed by the big cockpit but not intimidated one bit.
"Switch off," I said back.
"Throttle cracked," he said.
"Roger that."
"Brakes on," he cried, all 100 lbs. of him applied directly to the little heel pedals to keep me safe in case the Cub surged forward.
I gave the prop hub a good tug: didn't budge an inch.  That's my Little Big Man.
It's not every day you trust your life to a 12 year old future pilot.
But Joe's not your typical 12 year old.
As Les, one of the local pilots, quipped, "This is a kid who will go far, whatever he sets his sights on."
The engine flooded a couple times, but Joe hung in there, giving me suggestions, offering advice (he's learned quite a lot already from Rick) and after 15 minutes, that cold-soaked 65-horse mill caught and came to life.
Joe worked the throttle just right to keep her idling, waited until I climbed into the rear seat, then hopped out, waved and drove off in the kart to help someone else.
It's less common for kids today to have the kind of experience Joe is having.  Access to airports starts with an intimidating fence and a coded gate, the sad icons of a frightened age.
But we can be happy there are kids like Joe Solan, and big kids like Rick Solan, who's favorite flying is in one of his J3s at the field where he learned to fly in the '70s.
They both help keep us all young, and ever mindful to practice gratitude for the gift of flight.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cessna Ships 50th Skycatcher

Here's an item we've all waited for: Cessna exercising it's production mojo by shipping its 50th production Skycatcher S-LSA.
     The company manufactures and ships the C-162 from its Shenyang Aircraft manufacturing site in China to the US final assembly facility (Yingling Aviation, Wichita, KS).
     Current Cessna projections call for 30 total deliveries by year's end, with another 150 in 2011.
     The skies will be white with Skycatchers before long!
     That's welcome and none-too-early news for the industry as well as all those Skycatcher owners who've been patiently waiting delivery, which includes flight schools across the country hoping this will be the next 150/152.
     Price is holding steady at $112,000, including a Garmin G300 avionics deck and the Continental O200D engine. Cessna has also added five flight training schools to its network, which bumps its U.S. presence to more than 280 Cessna Pilot Centers.
     Five of them already use the Skycatcher for flight training duties:
--Downtown Aviation;
Memphis, TN
--Eagle Aircraft; Valparaiso, IN
--Kansas Aviation; Wichita, KS
--Panorama Flight Service; White Plains, N.Y
--Space Coast Aviation; Merritt Island, FL  (which also rents the C-162 for $99/hr)

The more LSA people see, the more they'll grok that LSA are here to stay.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Snow Coming? Think Sebring!

Looking out the window, I see cold gray clouds and possible precip.  Of course, it's late Fall and this is the Northeast, so we call this Situation Normal.
Which means it's never too early to imagine warm weather and blue skies...which naturally leads our daydreams to the LSA kick-off aviation event of the year: U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, AKA Sebring: the pre-eminent happening for us sport flyin' types since it debuted in 2005.
It's only 66 days until the show, which runs Jan. 20-23, 2011.  Start making those travel plans, flyfolk!
Sebring's founder and head honcho, Robert Wood, is already busy wrangling the exhibitor lineup.
"We actually have a waiting list for inside exhibit spaces and have very few outside spaces remaining for the January show," he said just a few days ago.
Many of the top makers are already signed up, including American Legend, Flight Design, Cessna and Piper.
This year's theme is A Salute To Military Veterans.
A temporary FAA control tower will keep everything kosher from 9 to 5 every day (which is a good thing, as air traffic can get mighty busy with all the demo flights.)
EAA, Avemco Insurance and other aviation notables will run several forums through the four-day event.
Admission is a reasonable $10/day or $30 for a 4 day event pass.  You can also camp "under wing" if you like.  Plenty of parking there too, and there are motels conveniently located.
Okay, okay, maybe it's a bit early with the holidays just ahead, but I can't wait!  Sebring is the most enjoyable pure-LSA event of the year.  Be there or be square, y'all.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Remos Teams with LoPresti

Folks with any GA background at all will know the name LoPresti...the late, great Roy LoPresti was a famous aeronautical engineer who became famous for finding ways to streamline and otherwise enhance existing airframe designs to squeeze more speed out of them.
LoPresti Aviation (nickname LoPresti Speed Merchants), now owned by son Curt LoPresti, just announced that it is the new east coast sales, distribution and service center for Remos Aircraft, to be based at LoPresti's Sebastian Airport facilities near Palm Beach, Florida.
 It should be a good move for both companies as Remos Sales/Marketing Veep Earle Boyter and LoPresti can make good use of their longtime relationship. 
And Sebastian Airport is ideally located in the middle of a robust year-round flying community.
LoPresti engineers will hope to enhance the Remos GX fuel efficiency (LSA speed limit of course is a max of 120 knots) by bringing its speedifying technology to bear with things like redesigned fairings, cowls, aileron gap seals and other "clean-up" technologies it's become famous for.
Rj Siegel (yep, that's his first name), LoPresti's COO, said "We believe the LSA market is...a sleeping giant and we have focused our engineering expertise to support it. We feel privileged that Remos is like-minded and selected LoPresti as their partner in this venture."
Remos HQ hails from Germany.  The flagship Remos GX was heavily promoted but the tough economy played no favorites.  Let's hope the LoPresti partnership brings this top-notch airplane to U.S. airports in greater numbers.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Rise, Cried the Phoenix

Looking out the window at falling snow (and it's only Nov 8...bah!), back from a two week vacation to Europe and Turkey, and mired in writing a big LSA buyer's guide for the mag, I've only got a few minutes to splash up some photos of what to me is a big event:  the ASTM certification as an S-LSA of the Phoenix motorglider!

Bop on over to Dan Johnson's site for his post on it, then follow his links to Jim Lee's sites for more info on the exciting news we've been waiting for some time to hear.
The Phoenix is the more-than-worthy "sequel" to the Lambada S-LSA motorglider that turned a lot of pilots on (including me and Dan).  When two breakups last year clouded its future, a lot of us were glad to hear from Jim that the Phoenix was waiting in the wings to take its place.
So congratulations Jim, glad to see it's a happening thing.
He just completed a recent cross country trip and posted some beautiful shots on the soaring and motoring high above my old stompin' grounds in the Sierra Nevada Range of California...read all about it for an up close and personal account on Jim's blog.
And even if you're in a better clime than I, don't feel bad about my snowboundedness: I'll be in sunny Florida in January hoping to fly the gorgeous Phoenix at the Sebring Sport Aviation Expo.
Mark your calendars and start searching for accommodations: it's Jan. 20-23, 2011.

---all photos courtesy Jim Lee

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Electric LSA as Primary Trainers?

One of the interesting speculations in a recent Wired magazine article on the E-Spyder electric ultralight being developed by Flight Design USA's (and FlightStar Aircraft's) Tom Peghiny invokes turning the lemony limited range  of current early electric aircraft into the lemonade of broadly-applied commercial use -- specifically in flight schools.
The first production E-Spyder, soon to be sold for around $30K, will have no more than 30 minutes of range.  Yuneec's two-seat E430, now scheduled for 2012 debut, aims for a 2 hour flight endurance.
But two hours clearly is more than enough for the typical local flight lesson.  And with spare -- and charged -- battery pack modules ready to go to quick-swap out of electrical "fuel tanks", flight schools could run training ops as easily as their current gas engined counterparts.
No distracting engine noise and frame vibration; no lean/enrich fuel settings; no starter motors or smelly exhausts to deal with.  No pollution.  Just quiet, satisfying, smooth flight in which the basics of flight training can be taught with, one can easily imagine, far greater efficiency and enjoyment.
And the relative costs for students could be much, much cheaper as well.
Yuneec postulates owner flight costs around $10/hour.  How many new pilots could be licensed, even with the same instructor fees of $30-50/hr factored in, at a significantly lower price than current flight school rates of $125/hr and up?
Beyond the tantalizing prospect of teaching primary skills in an electric aircraft lies the Holy Grail: growing GA pilot numbers by churning out more new licensees, who would surely flock to the new tech appeal of lower-cost electriflying, since cost is the single most often identified cause of lower flight student numbers.
It's also not hard to imagine aircraft rentals of $50 per hour or less as electrics prove themselves in day-to-day operations, further stimulating more flight hours for FBOs.
And once the quest for greater battery storage density bears fruit -- several promising research projects already show many-fold increases per equivalent battery weight --  longer range electric aircraft will bring cross country flights, without burning any gas at all.  That's a day we can all plausibly dream about right now: it may be just a few short years ahead.
Back to the present: Tom Peghiny recently taught non-pilot Flight Design employee Mathew Fortin to fly -- in the E-Spyder prototype.
(Full Disclosure Dept: Tom, I am extremely envious.)
Since the ultralight is a single-seat aircraft, Fortin made several extended taxi and on-the-deck hops to acquire the basics before Tom kicked him out of the nest, which gave the electric fledgling the distinction of becoming perhaps the very first electric student pilot ever.

Here are some of Mathew's remarks from the Wired piece:
“It was less intimidating having the electric motor, not some loud clanky gas engine...It really makes it easy to focus on flying.”
Flight schools, are you listening?
Post Script: Remember those early photos of the first days of flight with delicate, boxy-shaped biplanes like the Wright and Curtiss Flyers?  Check out this video: it shows several of Yuneec's electric-powered flying vehicles at Yuneec's factory unveiling, at what has to be the world's first all-electric meet.
You'll notice two things at least: how well all the vehicles fly, even the power-pack paragliders, in the stiff wind (check out the smoke trails); and how you can barely hear any noise at all, even on the low passes.
Now imagine it's 2110, and your descendants are looking at this tiny, funky old internet video and marveling that we flew such primitive electric birds.  Then try to imagine what they might be flying.  Fun, huh?