Monday, February 28, 2011

Hot Off The Water

To the answer “Progressive Aerodyne!” comes the Jeopardy question “What LSA company thumbs its nose at the bad economy?”
Certainly one of the most-fun LSA flights I’ve had in some time came at the controls of that company’s SeaRey amphibian.
Designer Kerry Richter and his SeaRey, buzzing the pond at Progressive Aerodyne's factory in Tavares, FL
My LSA pal Dan Johnson recently wrote up a piece on the amphib which spurred me to excerpt some highlights in advance of my own flight report on the lively sea bird coming soon in Plane & Pilot.
Kerry and Wayne Richter, second and third generation founders of Progressive Aerodyne, started back in the ‘70s with many memorable UL birds they created with dad/grandfather Stanley Richter.  The company then was Advanced Aviation and it put out, among other craft, several iterations of a very popular ultralight amphib: the Buccaneer.
Buccaneer SX-1.  Photo -
Building on that success, as Dan notes, Progressive Aerodyne popped out 31 Experimental Amateur Built kits in 2010.
After Sebring 2011, they sold 14!  That's impressive for any aviation company in these difficult times.
All those new builders will have lots of company: more than 600 SeaRey builders are already splashing into lakes and rivers all over the world.
The kit goes out the door at around $70,000.
And as I reported last month, Kerry tells me the SeaRey SLSA should be through ASTM accreditation by Oshkosh and will sell in the neighborhood of $120,000 -- "loaded" -- a very attractive price for an amphibian.
I went to Progressive Aerodyne's factory in Tavares, Florida after the show to shoot and get the tour.  Kerry is one busy designer.  He demonstrated a folding-wing option he’s developing that can be done, on land, by one person!
If you’ve got flying from water on your mind, this is one hot setup.  Other LSA amphibs have yet to make the big splash SeaRey has.  
A good part of that has to be its nearly two decades of design refinements and a cohort of happy owners.  Here's one well-seasoned, robust design...and one heck of a lot of fun to fly.

Friday, February 25, 2011

AERO...and e-Flight Expo...coming soon

The e-flight Expo kicks off for the third time at "AERO" in Friedrichshafen, Germany, April 13-April 16.  
Bunches of new aircraft and propulsion technologies along with the awarding of the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize (LEAP) will mark the gathering of 550 exhibitors from 26 countries.
The e-flight name stands for more than electrical flight innovations: ecological and evolutionary advances in flight regardless of their nature are embraced, although electric is certainly leading the show.
Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh, will present his foundation’s prize for outstanding achievements in the development of electric flight.  
This year should bring several exciting advances in electric flight .  I’ll be doing a broad story for the magazine soon on what’s up and what’s coming.
Another highlight of the Expo is
"History for the Future of Flight”, a tantalizing assemblage of descendants and close relatives of last century’s aviation pioneers:  Claude Dornier, Igor Sikorsky, Marcel Dassault and Count Zeppelin.  
Bertrand Piccard, globe-circling balloonist and grandson of the atmospheric scientist Auguste Piccard, will also be there...unless test flights for his ongoing electric flight project "Solar Impulse" interfere.
Mr. Lindbergh, a tireless environmental champion in his own right, will also bring Albert II, Prince of Monaco, to augment support for Lindbergh’s championing of “electric mobility”, which includes  – aviation but also other forms of more planet-friendly transportation.  

Yuneec's new Viva two-seat electric powered motorglider
The expo will feature flight demonstrations from Yuneec’s e430 and E-Spyder electric aircraft, and the Chinese company’s new Viva.  The two-seat, side-by-side all-electric motorglider has a folding prop in the nose, run by a 40-kilowatt electric motor.
Top Slovenian LSA maker Pipistrel will display a four-seat hybrid airplane.
And Flight Design, top U.S. LSA producer, plans to display the latest version of its hybrid engine: a Rotax 914 combined with an electric motor.
But wait: There’s more!  36 teams will take to the air in the Berblinger Flight Competition, created to demonstrate "flying using innovative techniques" based on the latest research, knowledge and developments in aviation.
Germany, Slovenia, Italy, France, Australia, Czech Republic and Austria will field teams...but none from the U.S.  What’s up with that?

Yuneec E-Spyder (based on FlightStar ultralight)
The prize will go to aircraft capable of “carrying people and incorporating original and innovative ideas of environmental sustainability, economy, safety and/or construction.”
The first, technical part of the competition happens April 15, 2011 at AERO.  The winner gets €100,000 in prize money - that’ll work!
The second part takes place in the German city of Ulm on its 200th anniversary of Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger’s attempt to cross the Danube River in a hang glider of his own design.  Studies of his failed attempt indicate the design was sound...he could very well have succeeded, in 1811, if he’d had more knowledge of thermal air currents over the cold river. 
Expect AERO's e-flight to once again be the premier showcase of cool new stuff that will change all our lives in years to come.

Friday, February 18, 2011

AOPA to FAA: Let CFI-S Hours Count for the Private License!

There’s been some controversy lately regarding FAA’s mandate that flight training towards the Sport Pilot license is not allowed to count toward the Private Pilot (PPL) and higher licenses and ratings unless the instructor is a certificated CFI, rather than a CFI-S (as FAA delineates Sport Pilot-only instructors).
Recently, AOPA petitioned the FAA to change the regulations and allow those hours to count for all higher levels of certificated airmanship.
The pilot member organization picked up support along the way from EAA, GAMA (General Aviation Manufacturers Association), and NAFI (National Association of Flight Instructors), all of which are now petitioning FAA to change these regs: FAR Part 61.99 and 61.109. 
Should hours logged with a CFI-S count toward the Private - and beyond?
The specific language asks FAA to “permit the instruction time received in pursuit of a sport pilot certificate to be credited toward the instruction requirements of additional certificates and ratings.”
Of course, getting advanced ratings requires training from a qualified CFI.  The petition only addresses Sport Pilot training as given by a CFI-S.
The crux seems to be FAA's 2009 ruling reinterpretation that revised its own 2002 take that held ultralight flight time logged by Sport Pilots would count toward higher-level certificates. 
The 2009 statement posited that allowing CFI-S training to count toward the PPL in effect constituted permission for CFI-S to provide training for the PPL.
No way, said AOPA, proclaiming that aeronautical experience gained in pursuit of the SPL provides “a valuable foundation for the additional requirements of the private pilot certificate.”
Nobody’s suggesting that CFI-S can legally take a student through the PPL.  Buy why shouldn’t the skills taught by one count?
Does any pilot logically believe that good instruction doesn’t make them a better pilot from Day One?
FAA’s narrow view is akin to making a student retake 7th grade algebra before he takes geometry in the 9th grade, because he was taught by middle school instructors instead of in high school. 
Math is math and teaching is teaching. 
Aeronautical skills and knowledge, as with riding a bicycle, don’t simply evaporate because they were initially learned from someone with a CFI-S-only credential.
The group goes on to say allowing sport pilots to move smoothly up to higher-level licenses and ratings not only doesn’t compromise safety, but gives Sport Pilots greater incentive to pursue those skills and in fact enhances safety.
Works for me.  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Flight Design 4-Seater to Debut at AERO

Although not strictly LSA-centric, here's a cool story: German-based Flight Design, maker of the top-selling CT-line of LSA, is coming out with a new, certified 4-seat aircraft dubbed the C4.
As the name unintentionally implies, Flight Design surely hopes to have an explosive impact on the General Aviation market, and we wish it success.

This is NOT an official Flight Design rendering, just my own fantasful imagining of the C4 based on the CTLS

The first full-size POC (proof of concept) version debuts in April at Europe's big Aero 2011 airshow in Friedrichshafen, Germany.  It's a fabulous show, BTW, especially since lots of electric-powered aircraft will also be on display.  I'll do a wrap up of its coming events in the next couple days.
Back to the C4: An interesting wrinkle is the company's outreach for feedback on the merits of the airplane's design.  They'll poll the show goers at Aero, but also will have an online survey for all of us to weigh in on.  That link won't be hot until March 1st, but make it worth your time: they're giving away a Garmin aera 500 GPS for your trouble...not that serving up opinions is ever a problem for us pilots.
This is apparently a sincere request, not just a marketing strategy: Although in development for years, Flight Design's engineers won't freeze the design until somewhere around Sun 'n Fun 2012, after wading through all the public input.
Also of more than passing interest is the company's plans to type-certify both the CTLS and MC — currently ASTM-approved S-LSA designs here in the States. Flight Design will use a EASA certification system, which makes use of the company's recently granted Design Organization Approval.
You have to admire Flight Design's impressive commitment to all aspects of private flight.  Over 24 years, the company has built more than 1,500 aircraft, flying in 39 countries, has successfully passed quality control audits conducted by LAMA, ISO (International Standards Organization) and TÜV (a vast German technical standards consortium in existence for 130 years, roughly equivalent to ASTM).
It's also developing a hybrid power system and working to expand its global service and support, currently in place in 39 countries.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Voice of the (Pilot) People

Smart Brief picked up on an AOPA poll of its membership (without citing the numbers of poll respondents) that shows an overwhelming majority can see themselves "flying as a sport pilot in the future."
That dovetails into a topic I'm working on in my column for the May issue, which covers the recent LSA Tour of Florida that took place right after Sebring 2011.
John Hurst, head of Sebring Aviation, who flew a Flight Design CTLS on the Tour, told me of his desire to overturn what he perceives as an entrenched belief among younger pilots that LSA flight is primarily viable as an alternative for older pilots faced with the possibility of losing their flight medicals, and therefore their flight privileges.
"I want us to stop preaching to the choir and reach out to younger pilots.  Too many younger pilots think of LSA as a compromise you need to make when you're in danger of losing your medical.  I've heard younger pilots say, too many times, 'I won’t have to do something like that for a lot of years'.  I'm trying to change that perception to show them LSA offers several benefits they can't get with a type certificated aircraft."
The question the poll doesn't answer is, "How far in the future do you see yourself flying as a sport pilot?"

On the face of it though, these are encouraging numbers.  At the very least it shows that sport pilot flying is building a strong positive image for itself.
The poll results:
74.91%: Yes -- I could see myself flying as a sport pilot in the future
11.06%: Yes -- I am flying as a sport pilot now.
(aggregate total: almost 86%!)
14.03%: No -- I would not fly.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Larry Newman, 2011

Larry Newman, 63, one of the seminal manufacturing/marketing dynamos in the early days of hang gliding who made the successful transition to ultralights, has died after a reported 3-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
Larry Newman
Larry was a flamboyant entrepreneur who successfully sold his ElectraFlyer hang gliders.
When people started sticking motors on the foot launched craft, he came out with a new company, American Aerolites, to produce the Eagle ultralight.
I first flew the Eagle with Plane & Pilot Publisher Steve Werner back in 1983.  I remember it vividly: while Steve was up on a test hop, I was taking photos of his flight next to the runway at Coronado Airport, north of Albuquerque, near Larry's factory...and I got stung twice by fire ants.
American Aerolites Eagle
I almost jumped out of my jeans, it hurt so bad.  I thought I'd been shot in the leg.  I could barely see the critters but what a painful wallop they packed. 
After the success of the Eagle, Larry debuted the revolutionary, composite-fuselage, clear mylar-winged Falcon, a wonderful, radical design leap forward that would fit in well with today's S-LSA...and this was 26 years ago!
Today, to qualify as a Light Sport, it would need a fixed nosegear: the production Falcon had a cockpit pull-up retraction system that worked very well at reducing drag.
Always a superb (and shrewd) marketer, Larry managed to get Chuck Yeager and Delco batteries to endorse and use the Falcon in TV commercials, which ran for years and was a big success for Delco.
I had the great pleasure to fly Chuck's Falcon in the Greater Arizona Ultralight Air Race in 1984. 
I must report without intending to brag that I won the race...entirely by accident.
Photo courtesy Aerosoft
I say that because I got completely lost on the course, buzzed around for ten minutes looking for the pylon, then found it and flew the rest of the race firewalled.  The only pilot skill I exhibited was flying a crab course where everybody else seemed not to understand how to compensate for a 15-knot wind.
The winner was to be the pilot who completed the course in the fastest time...without exceeding the FAR Part 103 legal limit of 63 mph, straight and level, full throttle.  Yep, the Sport Pilot Rule that limits LSA to a top level speed of 120 knots had its germinus in the 1980s.
Anyway, my final average time for the 108-mile course was 62.58 mph!  Now you know why I say "accidental" winner.
Clearly the Falcon was capable of much faster than legal flight.  I wonder today how many LSA, especially these sleek composite ships, nudge the 120-knot limit by a few knots.  Maybe FAA will send up some air cops with speed guns.
I remember practicing before the race.  I'd run a few laps around a practice course and was on short final to land when I saw someone on the tarmac, furiously waving a red shirt.
"What an idiot," I mumbled, wondering what the hell he was doing.
As I got within 50 feet of touchdown, the guy was still there.  I suddenly realized it was Larry, and he was trying to wave me off from landing.
"What the...?" I said to myself, then checked the right side of the cockpit.  I'd forgotten to lower the nosegear!
"Dumbass," I mumbled, powered up for a go-around, dropped the gear, and flew the whole pattern that way.
After I landed, he grinned at me with a "You dumb s---" look...then eased my embarrassment by saying, "Don't feel too bad: Chuck landed in it a few weeks ago with the nose gear up."
He meant the great Chuck Yeager.  Larry introduced me to the legendary USAF test pilot a few months later.  Chuck  gave me a quick glance, a perfunctory handshake, then made to move off to join some other people.  I felt slightly invisible but my ego was none the worse for wear: Chuck was a huge hero of mine, as he was for a lot of pilots.
But Larry grabbed his arm and said, "Wait up, Chuck: Jim's the guy who flew your Falcon in the big race and won it!"
Suddenly Chuck's face lit up in a broad grin and he reshook my hand with substantial vigor.  "Well hell, Jim, great to meet you!"
Suddenly we were members of the same club...for a few moments anyway.
I saw Chuck a few years later in the Warbird area at Oshkosh and reintroduced myself.  I remember thinking at the time, "Man, he's getting up there in years."
At first he didn't remember me, not surprising since he'd become a highly visible and sought-after celebrity by then.  I reminded him of flying his Falcon - which had carried the nickname "Glamorous Glennis" after his late wife.  The Bell X-1 rocket plane carried the same famous moniker.  Chuck was the first human to break the sound barrier in level flight in the X-1, in 1947.
As years before, his face lit up briefly in a smile, then his brow wrinkled and he said, only half joking, "Hell, Jim; you got old!"
I laughed.  (I'm 22 years younger.)
I ran into Larry Newman a few years later.  He'd long since drifted away from the hang glider biz and hooked up with Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson to be the first, in 1978, to cross the Atlantic in a balloon -- the Double Eagle II.
Double Eagle II
Later Larry accomplished the same feat in a different balloon with a different crew, this time being the first to cross the Pacific.
Ben crashed and died at 55 taking off in a light twin with five women aboard, at the same Coronado Airport where Steve Werner and I first flew that spidery-framed Eagle ultralight.
Maxie Anderson had died, at 48, two years earlier during a balloon race in Germany.
I'd wondered whether that was hard on Larry: to lose the people he'd made history with, and so much life still ahead of them.
Larry was an excellent and well-rounded pilot.  Before the hang glider and ultralight game, he'd flown for the airlines, and after the hang glider, balloon and ultralight adventures, he returned to the professional cockpit. 
He had a penetrating gaze to go along with a cocky Joker's smile that could easily intimidate you with his abundance of self confidence.
Larry wasn't always the easiest guy to have a casual conversation with either.  Try to BS your way through a topic he was conversant in, or disagree on a cherished belief, and he'd nail you right on the spot...grinning all the time, almost seeming to revel in your discomfort as he dared you to prove him wrong. 
I saw Larry the last time at an event in Washington, D.C. to honor his flight over the Atlantic.  We talked briefly; I could tell life had mellowed him considerably.  He'd had his share of triumphs and setbacks, as do we all, and life had etched his face and soul accordingly.
His big smile and bright eagle's penetrating stare were still there, but there was a resignation, and an acquaintance with humility and gentility too, and that's how I'll best remember him.
Fly high, fly long, Larry Newman.