Friday, January 28, 2011

Sebring Wrap Up...and Beyond

I'd call this Day 4 but rush-deadline work for the mag intervened after the last day at Sebring so just getting to it now.
The Sebring experience gets better every year, I believe precisely because Bob Woods keeps it consistently valuable without tricking it up with a lot of extraneous booths selling things like Miracle Kitchen Knife or iPhone WonderMuffin Pocket Baker and the like: it's an LSA show, pure and simple, and a great opportunity for folks to crawl out from wherever winter is tap-dancing on their heads and let them see, compare, fly and even buy aircraft and peripheral stuff.
ALTO 100
Many airframe makers reported sales at the show, or expected deals to close afterward.  Exhibitors hope for sales of course, but realize folks often need to go home, reflect on what they've seen, then push the button or think more on it.
I'd say from everybody I talked to, optimism was rekindled that 2011 will be better than the last -- a real toughie.
Let's wrap up my highlights, then look at the 2011 Florida LSA Tour that launched right after Sebring.
ALTO 100:  Last year, Ron Corbi and Dan Coffey vowed to bring an Americanized, more affordable S-LSA to our shores and did just that with this retooled Czech design, newly S-LSA certified.  Their "pre-emptive maintenance" approach looks to eliminate those features that most tend to wear out in LSA.  American-made Matco wheels and brakes, bucked rivets instead of pop rivets in high-stress areas and so on.  The Alto features a Vertical Power electronic electrical system, Approach Hub avionics wiring and a Dynon SkyView glass panel, all for under $100,000, should attract attention.  It's a cute airplane too.
KITFOX SUPER SPORT:   Owner John McBean and Paul Leadabrand, owner of a top taildragger school in Idaho called Stick and Rudder Aviation, brought Paul's Kitfox to the show.  I had the pleasure of flying it with John the day after the show.  What a refined and highly evolved sport plane this much-copied design has become in the 19 years since I built the first iteration of it.  Smooth, responsive, great visibility, available as a kit too: and most important, really fun to fly.  Big baggage compartment (or optional airframe 'chute-ready).  Base price: $83,495.
FK9 ELA: Finally got to fly this handsome, comfortable cruiser from Poland’s FK Lightplane, a refined fifth generation version of the European-popular carbon fiber airplane repped in the U.S. by Hansen Air Group.  New is the redesigned engine cowl (reminiscent of the LoPresti speed mod on Piper Aircraft some years back) for the Rotax 912 ULS, which reduces drag yet improves cooling.: nice!  New winglets reduce fuel burn and improve stall handling for U.S. LSA requirements.  Folding wings, wing or fuselage fuel tanks.
HARDWARE DEPT: A couple more cool gadgets to talk about:
Watching the excellent wing-mounted video at Sebring
Light Sport Group's Contour A/V-ATOR HD GPS Camcorder has really caught on with flight schools and others looking to document their flights on High Def video.  Now the light-weight, 1080P cam has GPS tracking ability: speed, altitude and position data encode along with the video and audio. Software included lets users play back, edit and share videos online.  Data ports over easily to apps such as Google Earth.  Under $600.
DYNON'S Robt. Hamilton and 1 lb. Transponder unit
And Dynon's SkyView big, multi-talented glass panel keeps evolving.  Marketing veep Robert Hamilton updated me on two new features: autopilot and transponder.   For example, just tap VFR in transponder mode for the 1200 squawk code.  Manual code input is a snap too.  The Dynon transponder sending unit weighs just a pound: easy to put anywhere.  Dynon will also soon release a new worldwide Jeppesen -- sourced navigation database soon.
The 2011 Florida LSA Tour:  Take five top manufacturers to six Florida cities and you've got the gist of this clever and, we can hope, effective marketing effort.  Cooked up by Bill Canino of Sport Air USA and American Legend Cub’s Dave Graham, (formerly with Gobosh), the idea targets one of America’s busiest aviation states.  On the tours: Legend’s Cub, Flight Design’s CTLS, Sportair's Sting S3 and Sirius, the Rans S-19, and Jabiru’s J-230 joined the tour’s itinerary to Naples, Miami, Orlando, Spruce Creek, Leeward Air Ranch and Tallahassee.
If successful, tours like this could fill the gap until the LSA infrastructure reaches more fully across the country. 
Dave Graham (lt.) Bill Canino (ctr.) and friends

I caught up with the gang at Orlando's Executive Airport.  Air Orlando hosted an outdoor barbecue, much appreciated.  Attendance was decent, and made up of serious potential customers, which is the whole point.
Telling anecdote: I spoke with a Cirrus SR-22 owner who was looking at every LSA there.
"I'm really impressed," said the mid-40s software engineer, "with the quality of these LSA.  Once my teens are out of school, I'll probably buy one for my wife and I to take trips in.  I didn't realize how well-built these airplanes are."
Sebring is done: Long live Sebring!
And thanks again to Bob Woods and his terrific group of volunteers.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sebring Day 3: Busy Blustery Bouncy Fun

An FPNA A22 Valor, soon to be represented by a new distributor...who will also, according to conflicting reports at least, also be repping the Paradise P1.  More on that as the story fleshes out.
 The day dawned foggy and solid overcast...then cleared almost instantaneously...then snap overcast again.
Tom Guttman Jr. makes a low pass for my camera.
The wind grew...and grew...the temperature dropped, and by the end of it, everyone agreed it was an unseasonally chilly day, more like San Francisco in winter than Sebring, FL.
But people flew, and flew.  Folks came out in good numbers and, according to all the exhibitors I spoke with, and that was a lot, there was focused interest and orders, or solid prospects, were recorded.
My flying fortunes started bright and early with a morning flight in the new Flight Design CTLS, thanks to Tulsa, OK Airtime Aviation dealers Tom Guttman and his son...Tom Guttman.  Makes "Hi Tom!" less of a chore, you only have to say it once.
Tom soldiers on downwind through the building chop.
These enterprising lads have finalized the fitting and testing of their Clamar floats, designed and built by famed float maker Clair Sceli, and they're beautiful to see and fun to fly on.  
We did several landings and takeoffs on nearby, wind-whipped, whitecap-popping Lake Jackson.  Solid, balanced, well-performing.  And all that extra drag only costs about 18 knots...we were showing 102 kts. indicated straight and level, full power coming back to the field. 
Tom Peghiny, Prez of Flight Design, also had a gorgeous, futuristic panel on proud display: two Dynon Skyview EFIS displays and a Garmin 696.  Gorgeous!  See for yourself... 

I'll fly the Criquet Aviation Stolp Storch 75% replica tomorrow morning.  
Some tantalizing specs in the meantime:
Span: 34.7 feet
Wing Chord: 5 feet
Aspect Ratio: 7 
Cockpit width (tandem): 28"
Baggage: 3 cu. ft./25 lbs.
Fuel capacity: 30 gal
Engine: Rotax 912 ULS 100 hp
Engine: Continental Lightweight 0-200 available soon
Photo courtesy U-Fly-It
Prop: 6 ft. Tennessee wood
Takeoff distance: 168 ft.
Rate of climb: 850 fpm
Cruise: 80 mph
VNE: 117 mph
Stall (clean): 36 mph (that's not knots, that's mph folks)
Stall (40 degrees flaps): 30 mph!!!
Landing distance: 173 ft.

And here's the nifty EFIS-1831 from Levil Aviation...yep, it's a touch screen.  Does anybody doubt, with the paradigm shift brought about by Apples iPhone and iPad, that touch screen cockpit displays are the future?
This 10.4 inch Touch Screen Computer ties in all EFIS engine and navigation monitoring functions into one MFD.
Very cool, read all about it here, I'm going to bed.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sebring Day 2: Quick Takes on Cool Stuff

Here's a glancing blow at some products you might want to check out in depth:
A cute new LSA named Viper SD-4 showed up, beautifully built (in Slovakia) and should be very attractive to anyone who likes the conventional approach of an all-metal airframe done in the traditional way -- with a modern technological boost.
The parent company, Tomark Aero, uses CAD design and CNC precision cutting methods.
US distribution will be through Tomark Aero USA, located in Frisco, TX.

Some specifications:

WINGSPAN: 27' 10 1/2 "
MAX WEIGHT: 1320 lbs.
CRUISE: 108 knots
MAX SPEED: 120 knots
STALL: 40 knots
RATE OF CLIMB: 1280 fpm
TAKE OFF RUN: 525  ft.
LANDING RUN: 722 ft.

Wild and Crazy in a Flying Boat: that's what I'd title a short movie I'd make of my fun ride with Kerry Richter, designer of the SeaRey amphib, took me for a way-too-fun ride over, around, onto and off of a nearby lake.  We chased the shouting windspray along, so to speak, and I was completely jazzed on how much fun, and how easy, that 19 year old airplane is.
More than 550 have been built as an Experimental Category kit.  By Oshkosh, Kerry hopes to have finished ASTM certification for the SeaRey LSX, which will be an S-LSA.
Boating around on near-glass smooth water, chasing other seaplanes around, not to mention a duck or two (no birds were injured in the filming of this fantasy movie), and making several landings myself, were so doggone much fun and frankly so easy, and so bullet-proof, that I felt like I'd been flying the bird since I was hatched.
Really, this has to be the easiest and most goof-proof airplane I've ever had the pleasure to fly...and that includes hang gliders, which in spite of all the media hysteria are as easy to master as a bicycle.
I'll go into detail in my pilot report for the magazine, but here's a teaser:
"Wanna see an accelerated stall?" Kerry asked.
"Sure," I replied, silly me.
He snap-rolled the airplane into a 60 degree bank (if not more), then racked the stick back all the way to the seats.  Holy moley!  I thought we'd do an accelerated stall and drop into the water not far below like a cormorant gone fishing.
No way.  The SeaRey held on as if we were on a roller coaster car on rails.
Then Kerry got my attention by demonstrating a departure stall in the same Ramboesque manner.
He pushed the throttle to full power then yanked the stick back hard, you guessed it, all the way to the seat again.  We snapped up to at least a 70 degree angle, my stomach landed somewhere back by the (retracted) tailwheel...and the airplane just hung on, and hung on, and hung on...and never broke into a stall.
"It may not be idiot proof, but it is pretty much goof proof," he said laconically.
I just grinned like a fool.
"Just out of curiosity, what's the load factor?"
"Six g's positive, four negative."
Landings are so easy.  Takeoffs?  We actually did one without touching the stick!  Using rudder alone to keep things straight, we accelerated to about 60 mph and she popped off on her own.
Add the SeaRey to the growing list of airplanes I'd buy tomorrow, if only I'd had an inheritance or a winning Lotto ticket.

Sebring Day 2: Able To Fly

Charles Stites has to sleep really well at least some nights. 
heather portrait 584 x 876
Heidi Schultz
The Able Flight organization he founded believes in something big: giving people a second chance at life, specifically by awarding them with scholarships to learn to fly.
Sean O'Donnell
Two scholarship winners, Heather Schultz and Sean O'Donnell, are partially paralyzed young people who not only refused to give up on life after their injuries, they decided to take action in a bold way: by using their Able Flight scholarships to earn their Sport Pilot licenses.
They didn't stop there.
Pairing up to pay forward the opportunity Able Flight gave them, they've staged their own 1,000 mile fund raising flight, dubbed Freedom Flight 2011, to earn enough money to award at least two similar scholarships to wounded veterans and show others who have a desire to push through even the most daunting of challenges.
I met them both here at Sebring, just after they arrived at in Sean's specially modified Sky Arrow 600 tandem LSA, after event stops in Philadelphia, PA, Frederick, MD, Richmond, VA and Atlanta, GA.Both are inspiring, upbeat people.
I spent several minutes with Sean who described how the specially modified controls allow him and Heather to fly the airplane using only their arms.
The Freedom Flight 2011 odyssey has already raised enough money for more than one scholarship and is closing in on the second one.
If you'd like to help, surf on over to the official donation site here...there's another 1,000 miles still to fly back home.  Here's a chance for all of us to chip in, even if it's just a penny a mile, to help a wounded veteran get wings.
I just donated and I expect to sleep just a bit better myself tonight, knowing there are people like these two intrepid pilots, and Charles Stites, the Hansen Brothers from Hansen Air Group who've supported Able Flight all along, and industry leaders like Bob Stangarone of Cessna, a member of Able Flight's Advisory Board.
A toast to you, one and all.

Sebring Day 1: Cessna's Skycatcher Update

Cessna's Skycatcher program is really gaining traction.  I had a fun chat with Julie Filucci, Mgr of Cessna Pilot Centers (an excellent formation stick too - she flew for my Cessna shoot a year ago).
Matt Tutton, an Orlando Cessna dealer, and Bob Stangarone, Cessna's VP of Corp. Communications also weighed in the haps in Wichita.
By the end of 2010, 30 Skycatchers had been delivered, mostly to flight schools across the U.S.
"We expect to deliver 150 more by the end of this year," says Bob, "and more than that in 2012, although we don't have an exact number yet."
Cessna's working tirelessly working away at that backlog that initially climbed to 1000 orders when the scratch-built LSA was first announced a few years back.
Both Julie and Matt Tutton had recent long XC trips with the Skycatcher.  Julie's reached out to Oshkosh from Wichita, while Matt's went southeast from Wichita to Orlando.
"I did some low and slow flying," says Matt, "and it trims up so nicely; with half flaps I was loping along at 45 to 50 knots, going around and taking pictures.  The visibility in the Skycatcher is incredible.  Just keep a micro fiber cloth with you to keep the window clean for photos and most of the time reflections aren't a problem."  I'd imagine that high wing helps a lot too.
"With the Garmin G300 on board," Julie said as she demonstrated a really cool feature of the proprietary EFIS (based on Garmin's terrific 696, 7" display), "you've got everything you need: Airport Information Manuals, weight and balance automatic calculator and a lot more."
Weight and balance can be tricky with LSA due to the upper weight limit of the category.
"With the G300's calculator, feature" says Julie, "two heavy passengers can automatically dial in the numbers and instantly see whether they're in the box (see photos below)."
Since useful load on the Skycatcher is listed at 490 lbs. and can be less than that with options such as wheelpants, a second MFD etc., keeping track of weight is important.
"Most training operations are an hour to an hour and a half though," said Bob, "so even with two heavy pilots, they can carry enough fuel for at least a couple hours plus reserve."
Perhaps the biggest weight factor in Skycatcher orders has been the optional airframe parachute.
"No one's ordered one yet," Bob said.  "It adds 38 lbs.  As a former flight instructor, I prefer students not have that ease of getting out of a tough situation;  sometimes you need to sweat your way out of it.  That’s the logic I think why there have been no takers so far."
He adds that the system can add extra peace of mind, especially for spouses.  My argument in favor of 'chutes continues to be that there is likely to be no pilot skill-centric option after a bird strike, pilot incapacitation or mid-air collision.
Which makes the upper weight limit of the LSA category problematical.  I wish there was a weight allowance for parachutes, just as there is for water operation equipment (raises the limit from 1320 lbs. to 1430 lbs.)  Surely FAA and ASTM aren't saying water operations are more important than survival after a major mishap.
Julie also filled me in on the soon-to-be-released Sport Pilot training course, currently available through Cessna Pilot Centers and translating to an online course.  The new course, due to be finalized within the next couple months, has tons of video shot by the King School.
"John and Martha King show students exactly what procedures look like from the cockpit point of view.  They had the airplane for three months for filming.  The program, based on the FITS training principles, gives you a feel for what you’ll do before you even go out to airport." 
I'll go through the program once it's released and do a story on it.
Garmin G300 display has this page that lets you do instant weight and balance calculations.  Just input the values in the top of the screen, and the little dot tells you whether you're good to go...or not (see below)

The Garmin G300 easily lets you input pilot and passenger weights and fuel quantity.  If you're in the weight and balance limits, you instantly see the green dot, left.  Too much weight in any category gives you a clear warning.


The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo is alive and well and in its seventh year.
Indus Thorpedo, Mkg. Dir. Scott Severen's personal plane...lucky dude
The day dawned bright and clear, temps in the 70s, and as Event Chairman Bob Woods told me early on, "It's our best opening day yet."
Visitors were indeed evident all over the expansive tarmac of Sebring Airport, right next to the famed (and sometimes very noisy) Sebring Raceway, home of the 24-hour race.
More than 140 exhibitors are here, and although rainy/gloomy weather moves in for Friday, it's expected to clear out in time to return cooler-but-sunny skies for the weekend.
If you're anywhere in the area and hope to see many of the top LSA, new kids on the block and lots of ancillary display booths for the latest avionics, sport flight accessories live-on airparks and lots more, it's just getting started so come on down!
Lots of folks in the display hangars
First, a few photo picks from Day 1, then individual posts of some highlights from my first day...lots to talk about so let's get to it.
Juli Filucci, Mgr Cessna Pilot Centers
A gorgeous S-LSA replica of the WWII German recon plane, Criquet's Stolp Storch.  More to come on this bizarre bird.

Former Gobosh mover and shaker Dave Graham (center) in his new post with American Legend .
Dave's cooked up an LSA Florida tour for right after the show.  More in a separate blog.

Watching Light Sport Group's Aviator HD camera in action
Michael Steele of Virtual HUD and the Wingman portable EFIS (left), which links to GPS includes Highway in the Sky display potential

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Day In The Office

"...through footless halls of air..."
Nothing like getting some air.
Thanks to Jim Lee of Phoenix Air USA, I finally had my desire: Jim and I flew the fabulous new Phoenix LSA motorglider, with both wingtips (max span: 49 feet!) out of his home base at Melbourne International Airport, Florida, and I have to say simply this: it cured my winter blues.
Hard at work: Jim Lee, left, and me
Or to paraphrase RenĂ©e Zellwegger, "Shut up.  Just shut up.  You had me at liftoff."
To say the Phoenix lives up to its advance billing is understatement, plain and simple: it's a wonderful airplane for anybody who desires to have friendly Light Sport handling (2 second roll rate, 45° to 45°), wonderful engine-off soaring performance (200 fpm, 32:1 glide ratio), excellent and comfortable XC cruise (100 knots at 75%), comfortable, semi-reclined seats, great visibility with the sleek bubble canopy and forward rake of the cowl, beautiful lines, wonderful engine package...need I go on?
Ready for sky: Phoenix with the long wing extensions.
I'll let the pix do the talking for now.  Expect my flight report in Plane & Pilot soon.

Tomorrow...Sebring 2011 Light Sport Expo!

Climb over 1000 fpm at 57 knots

Stay tuned  for my daily reports.  The rumors be flyin' about lots of exciting new developments in what we all hope is a move-up year for the economy, and the aviation industry.
A beautiful Rotax 912 ULS (100hp) installation
Wonderful aerodynamic lines and just plain beautiful.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Piper Tells PiperSport Maker: "CzechMate!"

In a tersely worded and OMG-style announcement, Piper Aircraft today said today it "will terminate its business relationship with Czech Republic-based Czech Sport Aircraft to market that company’s Light Sport Aircraft, citing differences in business philosophies."
Piper's CEO Geoffrey Berger said, “After a year working with Czech Sport Aircraft, Piper determined that it is in our company’s best long-term interests to discontinue the business relationship...Clearly, the company (i.e. Piper) has a different business perspective and approach to the market than Czech Sport Aircraft,” he added.
Piper excited the LSA world with its announcement last year, when helmed by former CEO Kevin Gould, that it would virtually take over rebadging, and upgrading, the popular but problem-plagued Czech Sport Aircraft SportCruiser, a beautiful and popular aircraft.
“We at Piper have a close affinity with this emerging segment of the marketplace," Berger continued, "and we have great expectations for the LSA industry. The LSA we were distributing is a good one and we encourage aviation enthusiasts to continue their support of this segment of the market,” Berger added.
“We certainly understand the implications of this development in the Light Sport Aircraft segment and do not take this action carelessly,” he said
No word (of course) whether Piper will get back into the LSA segment any time soon...they were pretty secretive about it the first time around.
I called and spoke with Jackie Carlon of Piper, who dispelled my two initial surmises:
That Czech Sport Aircraft couldn't produce in quantity and/or quality, or that the program, brought onboard by Kevin Gould, who was a real mover in repopulating the low-performance end of the Piper Aircraft legacy, was a casualty of his departing the company last year.
No, and no, says Jackie.
"Piper made the decision to terminate our master distributor agreement," she just told me.  "We were happy with the aircraft, and it was doing very well in the marketplace.  Piper and the distributors were very pleased with the quality.  At the end, it was truly a fundamental difference in philosophy.  Now, we'll be focusing on managing the transition process, establishing a plan on how to best do that."
When I asked her if killing the program was a change in strategy reflected by the departure of Mr. Gould, she said "Absolutely not, we remain committed to the light end of the spectrum, such as our Archer which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and our trainers."
"Piper supports the LSA marketplace; it's a good market, with a lot of potential, and we remain very enthusiastic about it."
In other words, she wasn't at liberty to say anything more at this time.
I'll do more digging on this.  If you have a great airplane, which the PiperSport/SportCruiser is, and quality control and delivery weren't the problem (so far as we know now), and it's selling well, then the mystery only deepens.
More news as I can dig it up.
But wow, what a shocker...and what a potential morale blow to the industry as a whole.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Zen of Cub

Seems everybody who's done any kind of flying has a J3 Cub lurking somewhere in their psyche.
just after hand-propping: photo courtesy Michael Bradford
A most evocative rendering of the mystique of flight in a Cub comes in the form of a poetic blog by Michael Bradford, a long time hang glider, ultralight and light plane pilot.
I wrote for a publication, Glider Rider (now Light Sport and Ultralight Flying), that he edited for years and we hadn't talked in some time. 
My loss.
Now, as self-described "recovering smartass" and software writer, Michael keeps his feet in the hang gliding harness boot and can be counted on for eclectic, highly original takes on 'most everything.
But don't take my word for it: check out his blog right here
He calls himself Lazarus Nobody.  The blog's titled: Nobody's Flying Service: Making People Nervous since 1951.
I bet, like me, you will nod and smile as you read through his excellent take on what it means to fly.  I plan to read it over on a regular basis.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

FAA Take 2: Gliders Can "Feather"

In a related note to yesterday's post on possible changes to the 3rd class medical requirement for Private Pilots, FAA proposes new wording re the "auto-feathering" description for LSA powered gliders.
The official description simply removes the word "auto" from the term "autofeathering".  It's more of a semantic rather than practical change, updated to reflect actual hardware modes already out there.
In effect, the amendment embraces both manual and autofeathering ops for powered LSA gliders.
Anyone who wants to comment can go to the link above until Feb. 2, 2011.  The final rule becomes official on March 4, 2011.

Monday, January 3, 2011

FAA Medical To Go Bye-Bye?

There've been some rumblings recently that the FAA is unofficially taking a look at the private medical requirement for pilot licensing.
 Janice Wood, writing for General Aviation News, cites the efforts of an airport owner/operator, David Wartofsky, to petition the Secretary of Transportation to replace the FAA's 3rd class medical with a driver's license for private aircraft weighing under 6,000 lbs.
Mr. Wartofsky makes some salient points, and calls the eventual loss of 3rd class medicals that all pilots face as "the greatest threat to aircraft ownership". 
I've never thought there'd be a snowball's chance in a blast furnace of the medical being removed, but there are compelling reasons to do just that -- or amend the current rule to conform with the lesser medical requirement of a state driver's license, such as requiring vision-corrective glasses when flying.  How many drivers in 4,000 lb. cars who barely passed their driver's license requirements whizz by you head-on at a closing speed of 120 mph? 
Some of the downsides of the 3rd class medical:
* High costs to manage the system
* overkill on the 3rd class requirements for physical health, which are equivalent to those required for a Commercial Driver's License...while a light plane is equivalent in its potential crash impact to a passenger car.
* Statistics show that barely 1% of all general aviation accidents are medically related. 
* Light Sport statistics, since the rule came into effect in 2004, reflect the same ratio of medical to all other causes of aviation mishaps, which supports Wartofsky's contention that a 3rd class medical is no more necessary for light planes than for LSA.
* Another point on the LSA side of the equation: many owners are baby boomers who fly LSA rather than run the risk of losing their 3rd class medicals.
Wartofsky's petition, which you can view and sign here, was published by DOT as required by law...and then buried by a comment period open until 2099!  Sneaky sneaky, DOT!
Pilots can get involved by adding comments to the petition and contacting their representatives in the House and Senate to support the petition.
As Wood states, the objective is to force a full re-evaluation of the need for a 3rd class medical through an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking).