Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Spy Network" Report: Twin Electric Sailplane

NOTE:  Below you'll see a comment asserting that members of the Pipistrel Taurus Electro team visited the PhoEnix project because they were having some difficulties with the Twin Taurus.
I've since heard from Tine Tomazic of Pipistrel's Research and Development team, who wished to correct Jim's false impression and wrote:  "
"The visit to PhoenixAir was a private visit to Martin Stepanek who runs PhoenixAir on HIS INVITATION, nothing else."
Duly noted and corrected and I wish Pipistrel all good luck with their exciting twin Taurus project.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled blogcast:

I heard again today from Jim Lee who's still overseas helping prep the PhoEnix electric motorglider for July's big, $1.65 million CAFE Green Flight Challenge (GFC) fuel-efficient flight competition in Santa Rosa, CA.
Jim sent along photos of the electric nosecone with integrated feathering prop/spinner assembly.  First test flights of the PhoEnix are planned in a couple weeks.
BTW, the enhanced streamlining afforded by the much smaller e-motor boots the lovely creature's performance from L/D 32:1 to 36:1 -- a 12.5% increase!  That's great for soaring and also means less power required to sustain flight, the Big Picture for endurance at this stage of electric aviation. 
The GFC PhoEnix entry will be powered by a 44 kW motor and controller developed in house by Phoenix Air.
Lipo (lithium polymer) batteries, popularized by the RC model industry for their light weight and high storage capacity, will hold the electric "gas".
I'd asked Jim earlier how they were going to get the airplane over, joking that perhaps they'd ferry it across.  You'll see his wry response below.
Note also his take on the cooperation between Pipistrel's Taurus Electro team, also entered in the Green Flight Challenge, and the PhoEnix team.  This brings back fond memories of the dawn of hang gliding, ultralight, then LSA flight, where pilots helped out fellow pilots because the goal was to share the joy and accomplishments with as many people as possible.
PhoEnix's feathering prop, standard on Rotax SLSA too. Photos: Jim Lee

 Once flight contests and market competition ramped up, that "one-for-all" spirit dwindled, as it inevitably does.
Yet I'm mindful of the spirit of mutual support and shared enthusiasm that exists today in the LSA industry, where entrepreneur/pilots like Bill Canino of SportAir USA, Tom Peghiny of Flight Design and Dave Graham of Legend Cub, each with a distinctly different flying background, regularly help out their fellow pilots even though they're all in competition for a small pool of sales dollars.
The recent Georgia LSA Tour is a great example, I'll have an update on that soon.
So here's that fraternal spirit again with the PhoEnix team helping out the Pipistrel team.  Even if it is too late to steal ideas, they certainly don't have to help one another, especially with all those greenbacks at stake. 
Makes you want to rethink this whole competition thing from top to bottom, doesn't it?  
Here's Jim's email:
"Mornin James,
I have enclosed a spy drawing of the Pipistrel entrant to the GFC.  Two Taurus joined together by a center wing a la Twin Mustang of WWII fame.  Pretty interesting, eh?  The Pipistel boys visited us a few days ago to look at our design because they are having trouble with theirs.  Anyway, from their description we put together this drawing.  Everyone realizes that it is too late in the game to copy each other and the prize is too hard to win so cooperation is in order.
PhoenixAir's speculation of what Pipistrel's special Taurus Electro looks like.  Photo: Jim Lee
Jim went on to answer a question I had about flying the PhoEnix which, unlike the SLSA version, has retractable main gear to optimize performance.  Jim had brushed me up (I'm a lazy FAR reader) on the FAA regs, which allow a person with only a glider rating to fly a self-launching (powered) sailplane without a flight medical.  This time, I asked him whether the same allowance held for a retractable-gear glider, and here's his reply:
"There are only 3 logbook endorsements with the glider rating: self-launch, aerotow, and ground launch.  Practically every glider is a taildragger for decreased drag (except for a few oddballs).  Most gliders have retractable gear.  Many are "high-performance".  Some have variable pitch or folding or feathering props.  There are no endorsements for any of this as there are with airplanes.  So a glider rated pilot with a self-launch endorsement can fly a retract motorglider."
PhoEnix after getting it's new coat of paint.  Photo: Jim Lee
And finally Jim's tongue-in-cheek response to my question about bringing the PhoEnix to California for the GFC in July:
"We will fly the PhoEnix across the Atlantic east to west.  We don't have quite enough battery storage to make the whole flight, so we will have to soar a container ship across.  We are looking into sailing schedules out of Bremerhaven now.  The GFC will be a piece of cake once we do this! :-)
Thanks again Jim for giving us an inside look to what I very much believe will be an historic event.

Monday, April 25, 2011

PhoEnix : E as in Electric

Scoop time!
I've been having so much fun lately writing the electric flight article (now rescheduled to Aug. issue of Plane & Pilot) that it's bringing electrifying news from the universe to my email inbox.
Jim Lee, that hard working, happy-flying distributor for the Phoenix motorglider I was gobsmacked with at Sebring, told me today about the PhoEnix all-electric version of the Rotax-powered motorglider that is selling like hotcakes here and abroad.
 Here's some of what he had to say:
"Reporting from the Czech Republic where I am spending 2 weeks assisting in the production of our new electric PhoEnix.  The weather has been great ... soaring 5.5 hours in the last two days...I see that your blog has sort of turned into an electric blog lately, so that gave me the idea to report to you first on our electric project...Orders for the Rotax Phoenix are pouring in, so we had better stop flying and start working."
Oh, for that challenge: to fly, or handle orders for your aircraft! 


Here are excerpts from the blurb Jim sent:
[] The Phoenix S-LSA glider just won the 2011 Sun 'n Fun Outstanding Fixed Wing LSA award (and congratulations to all, Jim!)
[] The PhoEnix has retractable gear, variable pitch propeller, a modified Discus wing, and a new super streamlined fuselage. (check out the pix!)
[] The prototype PhoEnix debuted at Aero Freidrichshafen in 2010.
[] PhoEnix proto number two is about to begin first test flights! 
[] "Phoenix Air believes that the attributes of the PhoEnix will give it the winning edge in the Green Flight Challenge."
Check the Challenge link above, or here's the short tell:
Team aircraft must fly 200 miles in under two hours using the energy equivalent of one gallon of gas per occupant.
So far, 13 teams have entered, including Jim Lee in the PhoEnix.  Not all will show.
Location: Sonoma Co. Airport, Santa Rosa, CA, and don't I wish I still lived in Santa Barbara so I could go!
Date: July 11-17, 2011.
The Kicker: Prize money is $1.65 million!  Sponsored by NASA, which wisely realizes there are lots of innovations coming directly from grass roots aviation and it wants to cull the best.
PC Aero Elektra One
Some of the competitors:
[] Greg Cole/Windward Performance's Goshawk, a 50-foot span electric two-seater
[] PC Aero's LEAP award winning Elektra One, single seat electric
[] Scott Sanford/Yuneec is listed with the E1000, 4-seat electric, but don't expect to see that as the company's President Tian Yu just announced it at AERO and there's been no word of even a mockup, much less a prototype...although wouldn't it be super cagey for it to show up with four people on board, (which would allow the energy equivalent of 4 gallons of fuel?)
[] Eric Raymond (known for Sunseeker solar-powered sailplanes) with the eGenius two-seat electric sponsored by Airbus.
[] The Taurus Elektro G4, four-seat electric.  It's doubtful whether this will show either...but you can see the trend in thinking that four seaters sooner rather than later is an important goal.
Clearly, the minimal battery storage capacity of current technology is not diminishing enthusiasm...not to overlook the go-for-it stimulus of a 1.65 megabuck prize either.
Good luck all!  This ought to be a history-making event.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Getting a Charge

LEAP award winner Elektra One. photo courtesy PC-Aero GmbH
Well, Thomas, you've done it again: gotten me to blather on so long with your as-always thoughtful and knowledgeable comments that I exceeded the comment buffer so have to palaver on here in another post.
Well, that's why they call it a weBlog I guess: it's a place to hang our thoughts out to dry.
So what's below is a response to your comment from yesterday's post, with a couple more pix thrown in to thump the eye candy factor.
I think we can't overlook the market factor here.  Just as car manufacturers know where the buyers are, it could be what we're seeing with these projects aiming toward higher/faster/more payload electric are manufacturers figuring that they're since they're going to sell more of the expensive, travel-capable airplanes than sailplanes and motorgliders anyway, why concentrate time and resources on a transient, historically tiny share of the market?  Leapfrog to the future, expect the tech to come along as needed.

If I'm right, it's a visionary way to jumpstart an entire new genre, a new epic in fact, of flight.
And since I don't profess to be an expert, I'm just observing it like you are and wondering myself exactly which way and ways it will go.
Your NASA reference is intriguing.  I'd like to talk with some electrical bigbrains for enlightenment on the concept as I hadn't heard that. 
It could very well be that there's an "economy of weight", like economies of scale in manufacturing, that comes into play beyond a gross weight threshold, given the current technology.
HYNOV aircraft - first to fly 100% on hydrogen. Photo: Gerard Thevenot
 Still, Randall Fishman is quite unequivocal about it: he says he's crunched the numbers and has no doubt that the heavier the airplane and the poorer the pure aerodynamic efficiency, the less electric power makes sense, given the capacities we have today. 
I'll save myself from being thought a fool by opening my mouth and removing all doubt, by continuing to watch for what actually comes to market and extrapolating possible futures from that, as we've all begun doing to date.
I do believe we will see 4-seaters like Yuneec is currently promising.
Battery advances will surely determine, barring some other superspiffy technology coming in that nobody expects, such as some super solar cell.
Energy storage remains the holy grail from what I hear and read everywhere.
I also believe Yuneec has learned very well how to gin up enthusiasm, but it may well be true, like the flying car people, that they're simply making sure their name stays out there in public view, knowing  full well they'd be making an epic mistake by pushing out "vapor wings", i.e. aircraft that aren't really refined and truly ready for the market.
Antares DLR H2 fuel cell power: Photo: DLR-Institut für Technische Thermodynamik, Lange Research Aircraft GmbH
They can't fail to have noticed the Billion Dollar Debacle of VLJ, the Very Light Jet, as envisioned by Eclipse, which went down the drain and took most of the other swimmers with it. 
VLJ was trumpeted as the next great thing, the savior of smaller airports, the harbinger of a vast new regional "air taxi" network that would make short- and medium-distance travel more practical by  helping many of us, especially businessfolk, avoid the hassles of big airline terminal travel.
Problem was, the idea was not economically practical as conceived, and few VLJ will ever make it to market.
Yuneec has a lot of money and is at the vanguard of an entire new industry that they're helping to create, and surely hope to cash in on with lots of sales.
And clearly they're not rushing anything to market.  I wondered if they were having technical problems.  But the word I get from Yuneec insiders is they are not going to risk all that potential by rushing anything to market until it is thoroughly wrung out and ready for John Q. (Litigation-Capable) Public to fly safely and enthusiastically.
Fascination Ekarus, electric power.  Photo by W. Dallach
Remember when the iPhone came out?  That was a well-refined product.  I remember seeing the first commercials with the finger flick-scrolling from page to program, and thinking, "Yeah, right, just another bogus advertising hype."
Then I saw one some eager owner couldn't wait to share with me and anyone else within earshot.
I bought one as soon as I could and have never regretted it.  History changed with that product, just as it will with well-produced electric aircraft.
Two- and four-seat electrics are in our near future, we can hope, along with practical, affordable electric cars. 
In the meantime, there's a much broader technology to grow, and we're so clearly very much in the early Wright Years, so my guess is Moore's Law of computer tech proliferation (doubling every 18 months I think it is) will not likely happen just yet. 
There's still an entire, and basic, infrastructure to create and develop.  There are economies of scale to create first to make them affordable.
So that leads me back to concluding that for those of us who really want to fly behind (or in front of) an electric propulsion unit, we're better off for the next five years flying what I espoused above: light, efficient glider-style aircraft.
We shouldn't expect the moon just yet...but we can sure jump in and join the party, rather than gripe that we're not really saving money or going as far as we can with gas airplanes.
That's not the point in this stage of history, not the point at all.
Would I love to be dead wrong?  Would I welcome a two-seat, 2-3 hour electric 100 knot cruiser next month?  That didn't cost $150,000, but more like $40-50,000?   
You bet I would. 
And maybe we'll see it happen.
That's part of the fun: we get to watch it happen, all of us, and be a part of it as it unfolds.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Electric Flight: More Thoughts

Yesterday a reader commented on my electric flight post, specifically about the LZ FES, a pretty sexy add-on that just won the Lindbergh LEAP prize for best new electric propulsion system.  He wondered whether electric flight for now required light weight motorgliders or whether heavier, 15M plus sailplanes/motorgliders would be workable for electric power.
My answer began to get too lengthy to stick in comments so I'm posting it here, and thanks Thomas for your enthusiasm.

I talked over this very subject this week with Randall Fishman, the award-winning electric flight pioneer.  His take on where we're at right now is in my Profiles in Vision column, coming in the July issue of P&P.
Randall's whole trip is to get people up in the air with electric power right now, and not for 150,000 clams either.  To summarize his own one-man research and development plan, it's all about lightweight motorgliders.
There are two key factors -- light weight and a good low sink rate.  The less power you need to get airborne and maintain flight, the better contemporary electric flight technology works.
Randall hopes to debut his latest design, a composite two-seat LSA called ElectraFlyer X, at Oshkosh this year.  It's a very cool looking airplane...and a motorglider.
Previously, as I've noted here more than once, he rocked the electric world with the ElectraFlyer Trike, currently available for sale, and the prototype ElectraFlyer C, a single-seat model (more below). He's also in test mode with newly designed motors he's had built for the X and other projects.
There are lots of other electric motorglider projects out there, for this basic reason: the less amount of thrust you need to stay airborne, the more viable electric propulsion is.  For now that has to mean less transportation-style flying and more "pure enjoyment" local flying.
Can we live with that?  Hell cool is it that we are able to fly this completely revolutionary technology right now?
My favorite story of Randall's recounts the time he took his electric trike off from Ellenville, NY's little airport, motored over to where the hang glider guys were soaring the popular ridge a couple miles away, turned off the motor and joined the thermaling gaggles.
Typically, and I've done this myself, you work up into ever-stronger lift bands at E-Ville by ramping  up the sloping ridge, which can get you good and high but also back half a mile or more from launch.
That particular day, some guys were way high but way back.  Randall, because he had the boost of electric power when he needed it, was able to penetrate out in front of the hill and catch some really strong lift that the pure soaring craft couldn't risk trying to reach for fear they'd land out from the LZ, the landing zone.

He flew two hours that day -- and landed with plenty of "juice" to spare.
This is one highly doable scenario for electric powered flight.  No, it's not 100 knot A-to-B flying, but we've got plenty of gas-powered aircraft for that already.
The Electric Swift.  Photo from Icaro.  No, that's not a tail, but a folding prop!
This is something new, but also old: flying again for the pure joy of it...without the many detriments of gas engines.
On a good soaring day, you can take a current-tech electric, whether it's a hang glider trike or a lightweight motorglider or a flying wing like the Swift at left, motor up into the lift, and fly as long as the lift holds out.  That's possible right now.
And to repeat my electric-flight mantra: no mess, no smell, dramatically less noise, no vibration, no annuals, no oil, no gas, long-life motors, rechargeable battery packs that cost under a buck to charge, and will last many hundreds of hours, and will get increasingly affordable as more people jump on the electric bandwagon, not just in the air but also for ground vehicles like cars, bikes and cycles.
We're in the beginning stages of a paradigm shift that will outlast all the greed-based attempts to forestall it.  It's here, it's growing, and it will be glorious.
Okay, down with the pom poms and back on topic.
There are more pure "muscle" electric aviation projects out there as well, of course.  Before those become reality, before the "higher, faster, more payload" visions become reality, battery efficiency will have to improve by a few scales of magnitude.
Electric Swift's cockpit view.  Photo courtesy Icaro.
So the answer to your question, Thomas, about electric powered flight right now, remains with lighter weight and more efficient airframes, and that spells motorgliders.
Bigger motorgliders will work but are more exotic and complex to deal with (trailers, special hangars, elaborate feathering/streamlining systems, and higher costs for sure.)
Meanwhile, the electric powered hang glider trikes that Randall and others have developed work, and work very well.
They serve up more than an hour of flight and don't require 130 lb. pilots to do so (Randall weighs 200 lbs. and has consistently had 1 1/2 hour and longer flights.)
Some other notable projects, including the video below, are popping up around the world.  Search for "electric trike" to get an idea.  Here's a link to get you started learning about various electric projects already for sale or imminent.

Let's take a closer look at Randall's ElectraFlyer C prototype (which he is selling for $49,000, see my earlier post).  The C is a single-seat, converted all- aluminum Monnett Moni motorglider he built from a kit.  And Randall also gets 1.5 hours and more on a full charge too, along with 70 mph cruise and 90+ mph top speed.
Manfred Ruehmer's electric trike (see video above).  Photo courtesy Icaro.
Yuneec is of course fine tuning its many electric projects.  Notable are several one- and two-seat motorglider frames, the e-Spyder ultralight, a trike, and a four-seat electric airplane just announced...and all are electric powered.
Some time pretty soon, certainly in the next year or so, we're going to have a lot of electric aircraft on the market, to suit a broad range of budgets.
This will not be solely another rich person's hobby, although it will take time to get the electric industry up and running because important technologies need to be developed and proofed, such as higher-storage batteries and more sophisticated, safe electronic motor controllers.
It is happening.  It is happening now.  We will be flying electric globally in a rich variety of planforms and applications before very much longer, you can count on it.
This year's Oshkosh, in particular, should bring more exposure and new electric aircraft to a broader audience.
Keep a lookout for my survey of electric flight projects around the world, also coming in the July issue of P&P.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

LEAP Awards Electric Aviation Prizes

Eric Lindbergh, grandson of Charles A. Lindbergh, awarded the LEAP Prize to Pipistrel's Ivo Boscarol at the just-finished AERO General Aviation convention in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
The 3rd annual e-Flight gathering took place there also, and Lindbergh's Best Electric Aircraft award went to Pipistrel's Taurus Electro.
There were some notable challengers in the category and three finalists: the Taurus, the Electric Cri-Cri (power by Electravia), and Eric Raymond's Sunseeker II solar airplane.
Also awarded was the Best Electric Propulsion.  The two finalists were the LZ Design FES (Front Engine Sustainer) system and the Rapid 200 Fuel Cell propulsion system from Polytechnic Torino.
The LZ FES was the winner -- check out this video.

The LEAP 2011 Outstanding Achievement Award went to Bertrand Piccard, Andre Borschberg and the Solar Impulse Team for its electric around-the-world project airplane. 

A romantic, and apt, spin on the awards is linking today's electric pioneers to Lucky Lindy's amazing transatlantic flight in 1927, which pretty much singlehandedly changed the global perception of aviation from a daredevil hobby or foolhardy mail delivery system to the common transportation, recreational and warfare tool it has become. 
It may be years before there is a viable non-motorglider style electric aircraft.  Battery density advances are needed, since gasoline still has more than 70 times the energy per pound of the best commercially available batteries today.'s coming, and publicity-rich enterprises like the LEAP award are helping fuel public acceptance of the new technology.  Meanwhile, we can all have fun thinking about flying for pure enjoyment...on near-silent propulsion.
And congratulations to all the winners, including Pipistrel for the Taurus Electro, which is the first commercially available electric two-seater aircraft in production. And it sells with a Solar Trailer, which charges the batteries with sun power while the bird is stored. 
Kinda cool.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Europe's AERO in Full Swing

Aero Friedrichshafen, Europe's big annual GA convention, has more than 600 exhibitors showing their wares and innovations right now through tomorrow. 
Sub-titled The Global Show for General Aviation, if you want to see what's happening and what's coming down the pike, you'll not find a more intensely focused representation than at Aero.
The show spreads displays from many big names and newcomers alike, up through bizjets, across its 14 big hangar-style display areas. 
I like this show, although lamentably I've yet to go, because it never fails to draw cool new stuff, in particular Microlight/LSA developments and electric and solar powered birds.  Thousands of visitors flock to the "e-flight Expo" at Aero, in its third year as part of the show.
Two big events will highlight the show this year: the Berblinger Flight Competition and the awarding of three LEAP prizes from Erik Lindbergh (Lucky Lindy's grandson).
The Berblinger event involves 36 teams, most of them from Germany (23), although none from the U.S., and two parts: a technical award (and €100,000 prize) to be awarded today at Aero; and a flight competition later this year in the city of Ulm in which teams fly a specific course while being judged by several environmentally significant parameters including noise level, energy use and overall performance.
The Lindbergh LEAP prize will award the most notable electric advance, best electric design, and best electric systems and technology, similar to its Oshkosh 2010 awards.

And now for Something Completely Different: Flynano, a kind of...well, stay with me here.  Look at the pic.  Now, do you agree with me that it looks like a personal flying watercycle?
This no-cargo, one-person, fun-flying, joined-biplane ultralight will take off and land in the drink.  Wow!  What a hoot this thing could be...or a complete boondoggle.
Call it Icon-Light:
[] Empty weight (it's mostly carbon fiber-built) will be under 155 lbs.,
[] gross weight 485 lbs.,
[] wingspan 15.7 ft., nose to tail 12.4 ft., height 5 ft.,
[] cruise 87 mph, landing speed 43 mph, nearly 600 fpm climb rate,
[] 18,000 foot ceiling, and a range of 21 miles.
Power comes from a pylon-mounted 20kW electric motor (24hp and 35hp gas motors also available. 
Deliveries projected for summer of this year.  Prices range from € 25,000 to €27,000, around $40,000 USD.
I'll be watching to see how this takes off in Europe, where you don't need a license to fly because of its weight.
Could this be the market-killer fun-flying jetski concept that Icon's much-ballyhooed amphib, still in development after three years, has yet to deliver to the market?  (Latest delivery projection from Icon: late this year)
If Flynano does what it claims, even though it only carries one pilot, heck, people could buy four for the same price as one Icon and have money left for gas...a lot of gas.
And in the U.S., it would qualify as an ultralight -- no sport pilot license needed as with the Icon, since it's well under Part 103's max 254 lb. ceiling -- except for a couple things old friend Michael Bradford pointed out that I'd, ahem, kinda forgotten about: ultralights have a top legal speed of 55 knots and must stall under 24 knots.  Used to know that.  So Flynano, and this is of course a good thing, just sayin', would require a Sport Pilot License.
Of course, these are two decidedly different aircraft...but Icon's stated mission -- to create a fun-flying, easily portable flying water craft -- well, that's kinda the same.
Stay tuned on this one.  I want to see one of these puppies fly.
Tomorrow, I'll have a report on the Elektra One electric monoplane I blogged about a few weeks ago: it's at Aero also.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Electric Motorglider For Sale

Catching up on some particulars with Randall Fishman of ElectraFlyer after our chat at Sun n Fun, he told me he's selling his prototype C model for $49,000.
Here's what he had to say about it and other aspects of his electric powered aircraft pioneering efforts:
"We have sold trikes since 2007. Most of our sales are propulsion kits, batteries and chargers for people either building something new or converting to electric."
ElectraFlyer C
 "The first two of the new motors are in my shop now and we will be mounting them for testing."
"The C is a one off conversion of a plane I already owned (a Moni kit motorglider).  I want to sell it now to help finance the new projects. It is really the first successful electric airplane other than some exotic million dollar science projects such as the solar planes.  Hope there is a collector out there."
"The ElectraFlyer X is running now. Have to button up all the details and get the airworthiness cert. Had made arrangements to bring it to Sun 'n Fun but the weather and field conditions prevented this. Lucky for me, probably saved the plane."
"The original ElectraFlyer trike...(is) I believe...the very first successful electric aircraft of any kind that can be bought, stored and flown by a regular guy. Had its first flight of  over one hour May of 2007. Shortly after that I had flights of 1.5 hours in calm air and then 2 hour+ flights in Ellenville (renowned NY hang gliding site) with the help of lift."
 So now of course, I'm thinking of getting an electric trike conversion for my Wills Wing Sport 2 hang glider, as my bod doesn't tolerate the strain of flying prone very well any more.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

LSA Tour #2 Is Underway

Hard on the heels of their prototype LSA Tour after Sebring last January and the recent Sun 'n Fun 2011 in Lakeland, Florida, the 2011 Georgia LSA Tour gang is at it again.
Three makes of Cubalikes alone will be there, as well as the other LSA you see in the mailer above.
This time they're swinging north from the Sunshine State to bring The Word to several Southern airports.  
Here's a great way to avoid the airshow crowds and have some meaningful one-on-one with top industry reps.

Specifics below: be sure and call in case of changes due to weather.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Let There Be Light

After the disastrous tornadic storm that blew through the area last Thursday, Lakeland was blessed with warm, then hot, picture book Florida weather and good crowds, right up through final day Sunday, as the fabulous Blue Angels, a stunning demo by the Air Force F22 Raptor, Patty Wagstaff's always-incredible acro routine, and the Aeroshell T-6 squadron doing its thing: always great to see those (noisy but iconic) big old WWII trainers do such graceful, precision loops and rolls in formation through the sky, leaving billows of white smoke to mark their path.
The One, The Only, The Blue: 100 Years of Naval Aviation
Garmin's new touchscreen GPS
I was a bit under the weather last night so no blog...knew I shouldn't have eaten that chicken...but back at it today to fly with Bill Cox as he previewed Garmin's exciting new GTN touch screen technology.
Then pounding the sneaker rubber to finish up the rounds of the five exhibit hangars and survey new products and gadgets.  I even bought myself some oil-filled insoles to calm my throbbing ends up walking miles and miles at these airshows, unless you can pop $60/day or more to rent a small personal electric cart.
And riding around in those little carts invites derogatory digs from friends, so maybe it's better just to suffer.  Manly honor and all that.
Caught up with Randall Fishman to divine the latest on his ElectraFlyer X two-seat LSA, which didn't make it to the show (and a good thing since the tent it would have been in was destroyed by the wind storm).
We swapped old hang gliding and ultralight stories - like me, he flew several Seagull gliders back in the day - and I met his very first customer, an 87 year old pilot, still current, who bought his first prototype electric trike...which Randall told me now gets up to 1.5 hours of endurance with a 70 lb. battery pack.  I had made a slip in an article I wrote a couple years ago saying the trike had "limited" endurance so let me correct that mistake now, and sorry Randall.
Randall Fishman's ElectraFlyer C
I'll be working on an electric aviation article after Aero finishes in Europe next week.  Exciting developments in the electric aviation field to be sure, so stay tuned.
I also met lots of good people who introduced me to their aviation products.  Photos and links of a few below for you to explore.
I'll have more details in the Sun 'n Fun roundup article I'm doing for the mag.
Kannad's XS4 Personal Locator Beacon

Dave Gustafson models the new Lightspeed Zulu headset

All told, it felt like a three-day show.  My late arrival in the Dakota Cub Super 18 due to weather, the storm, 69 (at last count) damaged airplanes and the cancelled show day made for lots of running around playing catchup.
Some disappointing sales results for several LSA companies, not to mention folks like Lockwood Aviation which lost four display aircraft and Aviat's extensive Huskie losses, put a bit of a damper on the hopes of vendors. I'll survey more companies soon for the overall picture.
Now, assuming the weather doesn't have different ideas, it's about time we had some decent spring and summer flying.
On to Oshkosh.
And Sun 'n Fun 2011 be done: Long Live Sun 'n Fun!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Trail Of Tears

I was just leaving So. Lakeland AirPark (X49) today, bemoaning the lack of activity down there -- LSA dealers used to bring their aircraft down there for demos but not many people seem to do that the last couple years, and I don't know why.
That's a shame because it's a long grass strip with a wonderful country ambience...a great place to try out an LSA without the hussle and bustle of the airshow a few miles north.
Departing the field, I came across the Dakota Cub folks.  They were finishing the unhappy task of bringing the wreckage (fuselage on one trailer, wings on another) to a hangar at X49 until they could get a determination from the insurance people as to whether to rebuild it or write it off as salvage.
Back at the airshow later, I talked with Amy Gersch and Speedy Richardson, my companions on the interminably long (weather-delayed) trip out to the show all last week.  They were both understandably blue about the loss of the airplane Speedy had flown down, and the damage to Amy's favorite "Little Airplane" as she affectionately, and constantly, calls it. 
She talks to it like it was her personal teddy bear...and Speedy reportedly had a few tears himself when the 180 he flew was trashed.
But nothing holds these folks down for long.  As we watched the opening of the airshow, they both spoke of the Cub enclave at New Holstein, where I hope to meet up with them during Oshkosh this year.

Komet Acrobatic SLSA Biplane Wows Crowds

Jon Hansen and twin brother Ron, and sons Mike and Mitch and probably some other Hansens I missed, all of Hansen Air Group (must be why they call it a "Group") were besieged by excited showgoers eager to learn more about the new FK12 Komet.
 It's made by the same German company that has produced so many fine microlight and LSA aircraft, including the FK 9 Mk IV and ELA, and should satisfy that niche of sport pilots eager to fly acro, since there are few such light sport birds out there.
You can get more details on the German site, but here's a quick taste of what you can expect flying this acrobatic SLSA from Jon Hansen and son Mike.