Sunday, July 31, 2011

Farewell to Oshkosh 2011

By all accounts it's been a good show.  I talked with several LSA vendors who, despite the pitiful wrangling in Congress over the debt and general lack of a strong economic bounceback, either wrote some sales or were 90% certain they would.
 U.S. sales leader Flight Design even announced they'd written $11 million worth of business at the show.
 I talked with John Gilmore, the U.S. sales manager for Tom Peghiny's U.S. Flight Design operation, who briefed me on the new, four-seat, to-be-certified Flight Design C4 the other day (I'll post more in the next few days).
John also updated Dan Johnson today on the company's excellent numbers at the show:
"We have taken 40 orders for the new C4 plus another 8 orders for Light-Sport Aircraft here at AirVenture 2011," said John.
The C4 debuted in Europe in April and a full-scale mockup seen here was prominent in the display all week.  Historical note: Flight Design has topped the LSA sales leader board since the category was created in 2004, an impressive run due in large part to an excellent management style and top customer support and service.
Remos GX NXT upgrade model
I was up at the crack o' dawn to fly the new Remos NXT, which has some new features such as a new panel profile that gives more viewing room on top and more leg room underneath - very nice and it definitely feels roomier.  The avionics upgrade features Garmin Aera 500 GPS, and the Dynon SkyView glass cockpit with electronic flight instruments, embedded transponder, and engine monitoring.  Dynon is winning over cockpits left and right with the SkyView, and no wonder: it's got it all, at a price that's magnitudes cheaper than equivalent certified glassworks.
The NXT also refines placement of some control knobs in the cockpit and adds visors and air vents to keep things cool.
Personally my flight in beautiful, calm dawn air reinforced my impression from my flight report 18 months back that there is no finer LSA of the 30 or so I've flown so far in terms of sheer joyful handling.  I hadn't flown one in all that time, yet made two greaser landings with hardly any coaching from my demo host, Ryan Hernandez, who admirably handled the Oshkosh chores for Arkansas dealer Tommy Lee and his Adventure Flight dealership.
The Remos turns so smoothly, is so light on the controls yet not twitchy or oversensitive at all, and as I said back then, as soon as you lift off, you feel like you've been flying the airplane every day.  Really quite an achievement in aerodynamics for Remos.
It's beautiful interior is a testimony to the fit and finish of the entire plane.  In you're in the market for a comfortable, really fun-flying LSA, certainly put Remos on the list.  I know it's on my top ten (a list that constantly changes as I fly more airplanes...but Remos has stayed there since my first flight.
One closing note then on to the show, time to line up some last flights and say goodbye to friends and colleagues in the industry.
It's not an LSA-centric product, but this cute idea, Mutt Muffs, reminds us that any time we go flying with our sensitive-hearing furry friends means we want to help them enjoy the ride too.  'Nuff said.
Scroll down for more pix of the Remos GX NXT upgrade model below.
I'll have another pickup blog for Oshkosh probably in two-three days as I'm flying home in the new Evektor Harmony with AB Flight's Art Tarola
tomorrow...if we can get all our gear into one airplane!
Leading Edge intake for new cabin vents

Two SkyViews and an Aera 500...oh boy.

Top-notch interior features rearranged knobs, smoother workflow

Room With A View...what a wonderful age we live in.

Friday, July 29, 2011


It's late, I got heat stroked a bit in the beautiful but intensely sunny day so I'm going to post some pix of some things I saw at the show with short captions and will hope to get back with more details once my feet stop throbbing and my brain temps cool down a bit.
A beautiful day in Oshkosh.  Everybody was catching up on flying after being in the gloom and doom for two days.
The electric symposium went off well, I assume, although I missed it, had to try and get in a thrice-postponed flight with Remos...which was postponed yet again, bummer.  That's happening now at 6 am...about 7 hours from now.  Yark!
Calin Gologan, the freshly bestowed LEAP Award, and Elektra One.  Exciting times ahead.

I had a nice chat with Calin Gologan, the extremely tall creator of the Elektra One that won the Lindbergh LEAP award today.  He told me they have achieved a battery storage density improvement that will allow them to make a 500 mile flight in Germany, they hope, this August.  
A very nice, very brilliant man.

Remos GX getting some help from the line dude.  Lots and lots of traffic today.
 LSA Mall seemed to be buzzing all day long...

The Corbi Air Alto 100 was there, with an installed air conditioner!  Very nice install, they'll be selling them to experimental builders and LSA makers too.

Nice air plenum in the Alto 100 sends cooling air over the canopy.  An integrated heating element defrost too...I bet Ron Corbi will sell a lot of these.
Hansen Air Group's gorgeous FK12 Comet acro S-LSA is here much foot traffic has come, it's worn out the grass next to the plane!
busy busy busy
Randy Schlitter's newly reworked S7 with cool

New balanced ailerons for the S7

Legend Aircraft's new Super Legend.  Lovely!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The "Doc's" Prescription: Take Two of These Babies!

A year ago I did a blog piece here as well as a piece in the magazine about the resurrected “Lazarus Machine”, Renegade Light Sport’s super sexy low wing, about-to-be Lycoming IO-233-LSA-powered, all composite S-LSA.
I found Renegade’s prime mover Christopher “Doc” Bailey at the flashy Lycoming display and before I could say “Lightning round!” he was regaling me, as only Doc can do, with the leaps and bounds the company has made in the last year.
I’m going to serve up the rapid-fire infostream in his own words, but before I do, here’s the short tell: the Falcon is done with testing, is in production, comes in two configurations, tricycle and taildragger, sells for $125,000 with a bunch of nice features (including 10" Dynon SkyView, full Garmin stack and dual electronic ignition) and if your mouth isn’t watering yet, I’m stepping to the side and take it away Doc!
“The first production model Renegade Falcon with the Lycoming IO-233-LSA is owned by our dealer on Long Island, NY - Steve Norman.  It’s the airplane you see right here (and in the photos).”

“The engine is FAA Part 33 certified.  The airframe is ASTM certified.  We’re done with R&D, we’ve been through a year of testing with the 233.  We’ve tested six fuel injection systems, five electronic ignition systems (and settled on the Lightspeed dual ignition system), four different exhaust systems (and settled on the Vetterman exhaust), and three or four panel mounts.  We just brought on the Catto 3-blade, nickel-edge composite prop, we also tested Sensenich and others.”
 “And we’re getting 1500 fpm climb solo, 4.6 gph cruise at 2400 rpm, and we’re just where we said we would be in a year.”
“We’ve put in 100 hours of test flying so far.”
“This airplane, Steve Norman’s, has everything you can get, the stuff I mentioned and dual Grand Rapids Synthetic Vision with built-in highway in the sky and autopilot; a ballistic chute, ostrich skin seats...”
Real ostrich skins? I asked.
“You bet, I’m the one who paid for them, they were real alright!”
“So many guys came up and said they’d flown Cubs and other taildraggers all their lives, and when 500 people tell you they want that, you better take notice!   So we now have a taildragger version too, with beefy, durable 7071-T6 gear for flight schools and a Matco 42-degree breakaway tailwheel.”
 “We’ve got five engines coming from Lycoming this month, we’ve sold six airplanes since we’ve been here at the show, we’re in full production here, everything is built in the U.S., we have a new autoclave system set up by former Boeing engineers, and like I said we’ve come a long way in a year.”
“Before the prop has turned 45 degrees, the ignition system is producing a 120,000 volt spark and the engine starts right up like a car.  We call this engine the Rotax Slayer! We’re getting 305 degrees on the CHT, 1000 degrees on the EGT, so it’s burning efficiently and burning cool.  We’re placarding max level rpm at 2400 to maintain the 120-knot LSA restriction.”
“Future enhancements will include room for golf clubs, wing locker baggage, winglets for more stability, things like that.”
I asked how fast it was now at full power.  “You don’t want me to tell you that,” he said with a laugh.  “It’s fast.  We’ll placard it at 2400 rpm for 120 knots.  We had a CFII bring it out here from Kansas City.  He was doing 140 knots at 2700 rpm.”
“People ask me, ‘Why not restrict the engine?’  That’s a huge safety issue for me.  If you’re downwind to land and the wind falls out, you may need all the power you can get.  Why restrict that?  If you go over that 2400 rpm setting, it’s on you legally but I’m not going to take it away.  It’s like CubCrafters did with their 180 hp engine, placarding it to a max of five minutes full power.”
“The first production taildragger Falcon is going to Switzerland, to the guy who started the Swatch company.  We’ve got orders for five, with seven airframes done, we can make five a month and all of it is out of our Lees Summit, MO plant.”

“Weight for the taildragger is 795 lbs.  For the tricycle gear it’s 814, with everything installed.   It gets off in 200-300 feet easily.  Before you get the throttle all the way up, it’s already rotated.”
“It will throw you back into the seat; with the Catto prop you really feel the thrust.  It really takes off.  We figure we’re getting 123-125 hp with the fuel injection.  With the traditional carbureted version, we were getting 120 knots at 2750 rpm.  With the fuel injection, we dropped 300 rpm to get the same speed, at the same altitude and in the same weather.  It just feels smoother.  We think it’s that 120,000 volt spark.   It was burning 5.5 gph with the carburetion: with electronic ignition, it’s 4.6.”
All that’s left now is for me to fly it for a pirep which I hope to do here at the show and let you know how much of this is real, and how much is “Doc”-ese!
One last word: the airplane, already a winner in the looks department, has a beautiful engine installation.  It’s clean, it’s elegant, it’s beautiful.  And, for those “graying” types Doc talks about who still don’t trust the well-proven Rotax, the Lycoming is the deal-maker.  It'll be interesting to see how much support this all-American, $125K looker garners in the market place.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

SplashKash 2011

Gleim's Aaron Wiseman takes a showgoer through a sample flight lesson
Today was not a typical Oshkosh day, and certainly nothing like yesterday, which was downright idyllic with its sunny skies, refreshing mid-70s temps and puffy clouds to complete the chromatic joys of a perfect green summer day in Great Lakes country.
In short, it rained until late afternoon, but by sundown the skies mostly cleared with the promise of hotter, more humid days ahead.
Aaron Wiseman pointing out flight-realistic EFIS readings
 Today was the perfect kind of day to walk around, dodge the liquid sunshine, meet and greet old friends and make new ones, and see what's shaking in the main display hangars and booths strewn all over Airventure.
I'd wanted to check out the Gleim X-Plane VFR Flight Simulator I've heard so much about.  I had the benefit of a stirring presentation by Aaron Wiseman, who energetically took me through all the main features of the system which has caught on at a number of flight schools already.
It's cool!  A really effective approach to flight simulation that can also save flight schools and their students real money.
Being able to realistically drill and anchor in-flight control feel, situational awareness and cockpit procedure skills before students actually get in that infamous "worst classroom in the world", while also shortening expensive flight training hours,without breaking the bank, should appeal to flight schools wanting higher student completion rates...and what school doesn't want that?
Fully customizable screen and audio warnings keep students on the straight and narrow
One of several advantages of the sim is how instructors can take a student through a full flight lesson on the ground, help students through rough patches, pause the routine and explain new concepts or problem areas, then take the student out for a practical lesson in the airplane when ready.
There's a lot to say about Dr. Irv Gleim's latest brainchild, and for that I urge you to go check out the info online here.
Be sure and watch the video at the bottom of the page for a quick intro.
For now, I've only got room (and late-night energy) to point out some key points.
[] The three-screen system, complete with Dell XPS computer, three screens, stick, throttle and rudder pedals (flight school version) is dramatically cheaper (around $5000) than similar simulators which cost tens of thousands of dollars.
[] Students can install a less-expensive version on their own home computer (many of us have two screen systems now, so only a third screen would be required).  The private user version is still in development and should market in the next few months.
[] It was developed for use in Remos Pilot Centers and has become very effective through continual feedback refinement with Gleim's programmers.
One section of the center screen shows how detailed and true-to-life the simulator is.
 The system I worked with was set up for a Remos GX and it was suitably smooth, light on the controls (I was constantly over controlling until I relaxed a bit) and very realistic.
The three screens give an excellent panorama view, and the background can be located right at the airport where students are being trained, and conform to the type of aircraft they're training in, for even more realistic - and transferable to the cockpit - skills.
Lou Mancuso of Mid Island Air Service of Long Island, who's had a lot of success training people in LSA for several years now, raves about this system.
Thanks again to Aaron Wiseman for his thorough briefing.  I'll be writing more on this in my Oshkosh top new products article for the magazine.

Oshkosh Airventure 2011

After my own Labors of Hercules, I arrived at the EAA Oshkosh Airventure seasonal highpoint event Tuesday mid day.  Since it was a beautiful day by anybody's standards, I decided not to brave the hordes at the show and headed out, once I got settled in my digs for the week, to a lovely little airport named Brennand about 10 minutes northwest of EAA's Wittman Field show grounds.
I was in luck with more than just weather: the San Antonio Light Sport Aircraft (SALSA) gang from Texas was there demo-flying its all-composite Pipistrel Virus SW 80/100, tricycle-gear (there's also a taildragger version), composite touring motorglider.
The Pipistrel line includes several designs I have admired from afar but not had the opportunity to share air with.
All that changed when Salsa's prime mover and shaker Rand Vollmer introduced me to a big, friendly Texican fella named Dave White.
Dave is Salsa's Sales Director, chief glider/motorglider instructor and demo pilot out at Brennand Airport, which, by the way, is one of those lovely, quiet airport communities I think we should all get to live on either in this life or the next one.  Green grass and trees, lovely homes, quiet, no hassle backyard flying: can't ask for much more than that.
San Antonio Light Sport Aircraft's Rand Vollmer
 Anyway, Dave said, "Hey, I just had a demo cancel, want to go up?"
Do Pope wear tall, funny looking hat?
Ten minutes later I was taxiing the light-handling, 40-foot span Virus - which as everyone hastens to mention is a terrible name for a wonderful airplane. It comes from Slovenia, where virus is pronounced "vee-roos", which sounds a whole lot better than the way we say it).
The wonderful-airplane part is fully realized after just a few minutes.  I haven't flown anything but a Cub for the last 3 months so I'm stomping that poor airplanes rudder rather mercilessly, but the airplane doesn't seem to mind at all.  And in just a takeoff, a couple turns and listening to Dave obligingly talk me through everything - and letting me really get to know the airplane by letting me do everything, a wonderful teaching style - I've learned one important thing: The Virus SW is a real sleeper of an S-LSA. Check out this video:

I'll have a pilot report on it in the magazine soon.
The Cliff Notes version:
Virus handles more like a plane with a 30-foot span, has a 45-45 roll rate around two seconds, has light, balanced control feel, turns quickly and with virtually no adverse yaw - I pulled turns left and right without any rudder at all and it obliged with nary a complaint.
The airplane, which is built for lightness and thus has a 660 lb. useful load - though it's max weight is more than a hundred pounds below the LSA ceiling weight of 1320 lbs.!, hangs on in soaring turns to the lightest little bug fart of a thermal, which became evident in calm, 6:30 p.m. air where I, the newcomer, was able to make a few turns in just a bit of a bubble and approach zero sink for a few seconds.
Glide ratio by the way is 24:1 and sink rate is around 250 fpm.  That's plenty good enough to shut down and let the earth/sun/sky engine keep you up for hours.  And the robust top-o'-wing, hand-lever pop up air brakes give great glide-slope control for landing.  Dave demonstrated a most impressive dead-stick landing using only the brakes for putting her down on the narrow paved strip at Brennand.
Handling is light and nimble, cruise is ridiculously efficient - we saw 112 knots at 80% power and remember, the engine is an 80hp, not 100hp, Rotax.  The Euro version which isn't restricted to top speed approaches 150 knots max level cruise!  Yes, a very, very clean airframe, and you feel that when you fly it.  It's a joy, very forgiving too (especially with that big span).
Salsa has a variety of motorgliding training and buying options.  And you won't find many places better to earn your soaring chops than the big-thermal country of Texas, where numerous soaring records have been set for decades.
Give these guys a closer look, they're fully dedicated and devoted to demonstrating the benefits that learning to fly powered soaring aircraft bestow, not only on new and experienced pilots, but on the future of GA itself.
Their brief thesis, which I'll explore with Rand in the article more fully, is that pilots can get their glider rating much cheaper than any other ratings, learn a great deal about flying, and have much more fun at it than merely crunching through the syllabi and getting handed a certificate.
Motorgliding, they believe, creates pilots who experience and learn to understand the vital nuances of flight in a way that will stick with them throughout their flying lives.
Pipistrel has showed up in a big way this year with a choice display in front of Hangar B near Airshow Central or whatever they're calling it now.
Prominent is its Taurus Electro G4, the 3,000lb.+, four-seat, all-electric motorglider that's competing at September's CAFE Green Flight Challenge.  The two-fuselage aircraft is drawing a lot of attention, and once all the requrements to compete legally (as Experimental Exhibition aircraft since there is yet to be an FAA standard for electric-powered aircraft) are met it should have a good shot at winning the $1.3 million prize.
Jim Lee of PhoEnix, the electric version built for the race that's in test and development now, tells me there are so many hurdles for so many of the entrants, it may be postponed again.  It was originally scheduled for earlier this month but nobody was ready.
Off to the the rain!

Friday, July 22, 2011

LSA Registration Numbers: The Gang of Six!

Winged buddy Dan Johnson and his colleague Jan Fridrich, head of LAMA Europe, just posted Jan's exhaustive parsing of the LSA registration data and came up with some shockers.
 Dan calls it the LSA Market Share Report.  The first thing he notes is apparent stability in the marketplace: overall registration numbers for the first half of 2011 are about the same as last year, he says, so at least the industry didn’t fall off from that tough year. The pace is on track to better 2009's 177 total registrations and 2010's 202.
In 2010, 48 came from Cessna, which, when subtracted from the total, gives you 154 for the whole year for the rest of the fleet. 
So, looking again at 2011's first half of 126, subtracting Cessna's numbers from the total of 126 yields just 72.
Double that (144) and we could end up with even fewer registrations than 2010, (not counting Cessna) although at just 10 less it's not an earthshaking falloff unless you want to be a worrywart and consider 2009, which had 177 total...and none from Cessna.  But we won't go there.
As has been the trend from the beginning, just a handful - six this time - LSA companies racked up 92% of all new registrations!
Remember, these aren’t sales on the book but previous (or future) sales, since these numbers only reflect aircraft registered from Jan. through June with FAA.  For instance, several LSA might come in at one time to a dealer, who might register them all at once before selling any of them.  Or vice versa: some already sold may not have been registered.  Still, the reg numbers provide a pretty accurate glimpse of what's really going on.
And The Gang of Six
Cessna: 54, for almost 43% of all registrations, on the strength of Skycatching-up in production
CubCrafters: 20 for 17%
Czech Aircraft Works: 16 for 13%, which includes formerly-badged PiperSports
American Legend: 11 for 9%
Flight Design (still #1): 10 for 7%.
Jabiru: 5 for 4%
That’s 116 aircraft out of the total of 126.
Now if we throw in Aeropro (Aerotrek models) and its 4 registrations, those top 7 companies account for just over 95% of all 2011 registrations!  That means of all the other 112 manufacturers, only 6 aircraft made the books.
CubCrafters continues to show strong market share
That, my friends, is a hard number to swallow for all those hardy, perservering companies who are still in the game mostly, as the numbers suggest, on a wing and a lot of prayers.
Dan goes on to point out that eight makers have now sold more than 100 aircraft.  In an economy as enduringly painful as a chronic bad tooth, that’s somewhat encouraging.
And even though only 126 aircraft were registered since January 19th...well, 126 aircraft were registered since January 19th!  In other words, the industry is not throwing in the towel, though it’s sure getting a drenching.
Another bellweather of sorts: Cessna’s healthy production has for the first time tipped the market scales toward the U.S.: we registered more aircraft than offshore producers in 2011.
Cessna is now 8th (13th six months ago), based on 54 Skycatchers registered.  That’s like watching an insider stock chart shoot for the moon! 
And with a goodly percentage of those highly-touted initial 1000 orders still on the books, Cessna will only continue to leapfrog the rest at the top of the list for the foreseeable future, at least until purse strings not only among the merely well-off but the uber-rich loosen up, because right now, not many people in any income category are buying much of anything considered a luxury.
Some surprising numbers, as my reader Thomas pointed out in a comment to my previous blog post:
Five major makers, all in the top 20,  narrowly missed striking out completely in registrations the first six months!
Four of them - Tecnam, TL Ultralight (Sting), Eastman (Zodiac models) and Evektor (SportStar), failed to register a single ship.  Only Remos  It registered 32 in 2009!  What’s happening here? 
Eastman is working on a comeback after several fatal crashes and a subsequent airframe redesign, but the other four produce a variety of excellent quality aircraft and enjoy good reputations.  Pricing on any of their models is not by and large out of line with the rest of the market.
Thomas goes into the shadows with this:  “It's not that there's no demand: SportCruiser, Cessna, CubCrafters and Flight Design all registered decent numbers of aircraft. Was the owner experience of these other aircraft not so good? Support not there? Wrong features? Parts problems? Airframe failures? Or did the distributor simply bring in too much inventory, register it all at once, and then spend the last 2 years not registering any new ones while steadily selling off the inventory?”
All are reasonable inquiries.  I’m particularly drawn to his support and inventory sell-off conjectures.  Airframe failures have been at a minimum.  Owner experience is difficult to gauge: what one person tells a private buddy may never reach many public ears, rumor mongers though we pilots tend to be.
It’s hard to see a clear picture for four of those five companies not tallying.  It’s worth some digging; I’ll have Dr. Watson and my magnifying glass at the ready at Oshkosh, which starts in just three days!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Another Roadable Aircraft Project!

Okay, so no way this is ever going to be a Light Sport aircraft, but this is just too much fun and I had to pass it along.
Famed aircraft designer Burt Rutan has been at it again, this time with his eclectic take on a flying car that began life as an electric-powered flying testbed.  
BiPod lifts off (sans props) for initial test flights.  All images courtesy Aviation Week & Space Technology
Aviation Week's online blog (also picked up by Wired magazine) shared information released exclusively to it by Rutan's Scaled Composites company known in recent years for many fantastic projects including Spaceship One and White Knight.  
Called BiPod, the flying car became a crash program, completed in just four months and already in test flight mode.  Rutan himself retired in April of this year.
Model 367 BiPod is characteristically, wonderfully unconventional as have been all of Rutan's many designs.
The two-seat, hybrid-electric "roadable" aircraft (mini-rant: I sure hope that term doesn't replace flying car, which flows off the tongue much more agreeably, don't you think?), originally conceived as a fast, inexpensive electric aircraft, morphed into a flying car.  The program was hurried along, says Aviation Week, to allow Rutan to shepherd it through to completion before he hung up his cad cam computer's mouse.  He was in the shop cutting, fabricating and sanding many nights long after the rest of the team went home. 
First "flight" was last March 30.  The unusual-looking carplane has made several short hops at Scaled's Mojave, California airport location.  
And the hops were just that: speed, built up from battery-powered driving wheels, was translated into short glides above the runway.  Fun stuff!
The fully operational BiPod will carry two 450cc gas engines, one per fuselage, which will drive generators feeding an electric power system.  In land mode, the system will drive motors in the driving wheels at the aft location of each fuselage pod.  The forward wheels are steerable.
During flight, the power grid will drive four 15kW motor-driven props: one on each nose, two on the horizontal stabilizer.
Good old Burt: you can never count out his sheer design originality.
Lithium batteries fill the nose of both pods.  They are inflight-rechargeable and will augment takeoff power from the two engines.  
The Scaled Composites crew.  Burt Rutan is seen 4th from left
Think of the advantages for driving with disagreeable companions (mothers-in-law?) too.  They can ride in the right hand pod, leaving the driver in the left pod, in blissful silence.
Interestingly, only the throttle is common to both...cockpits?  Car interiors?  Carpits?  Your choice: driving is exclusively from the left pod, and flying is done from the right.  Hmmm...that means mischief could still be done from the other pod by a cranky passenger. 
Span is almost 32 feet.  Wings detach for driving.  Cruise speed in flight: 200mph with max range of 750 miles at 100 mph.
Driving, BiPod can go at freeway speeds for 820 miles on a tank of gas or 35 miles on batteries alone.
It'll be fascinating to watch what happens with this project.  It's a bit challenging to imagine this project ever coming to the market.  Taking a road trip with the fam separated into two compartments seems strange...although anyone with surly teenagers (or those poor, traditionally maligned mothers-in-law) will easily see some potential benefits.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Europe Approves ASTM Standard - kinda

FAA's European doppelganger is EASA ( European Aviation Safety Agency), a governmental body which has wrestled with how to "regulate the new kid" for some time.
And EASA has at last come out with its much-anticipated CS-LSA, or Certification Specification for Light-Sport Aircraft.
American makers have eagerly awaited the announcement so they could at least consider how they might better compete with the many LSA producers overseas that have dominated our domestic market (roughly 2 out of every 3 LSA sold here come from offshore).
Although CS-LSA, as industry insider Dan Johnson reports, is "not exactly what the industry hoped for, it at least represents acceptance of the ASTM certification standards."
The benefit extends to all manufacturers foreign and domestic, since uncertainty over whether LSA aircraft produced for America, under the ASTM certification, would ever be legal to sell in Europe has been a stumbling block for Yankee sellers since the creation of LSA here in 2004.
Light sport aircraft in Europe, known as ultralights and microlights, was already a thriving industry over there, and contributed to their acceptance here even as American makers scrambled to create, refine, upgrade and promote their own Light Sport designs.
Working against everybody for some time has been the market's Perfect Storm trifecta :
1.  A high Dollar/Euro exchange rate (currently $1.41 per €1) which imposed high prices for all European-made LSA sold in this country
2. The Economy, duh.
3.  The higher-than-anticipated cost of LSA from all makers foreign and domestic.
Perhaps the biggest impact of CS-LSA on American companies will be that they can finally sell their ASTM-certified aircraft overseas.  And the high Dollar to Euro exchange rate means American aircraft would be attractively priced to Europeans: they get an effective 30% discount.  A U.S. aircraft priced at $90,000 would cost €60,000 over thar.
But knocking that in the head is the nature of the CS-LSA spec itself, which incorporates many expenses not incurred in certifying aircraft to the ASTM spec in America.
CS-LSA provides, as LAMA Europe's head Jan Fridrich points out in Dan's blurb on this topic, "merely another airworthiness code, which a manufacturer can choose in lieu of full EASA Type Certification." That's as in millions-of-dollars full.
Say whuh?  He means even under CS-LSA, any manufacturer must still get DOA (Design Organization Approval) and POA (Production Organization Approval) from EASA to produce aircraft for sale under under the new category.  Which still means a significant cash outlay above and beyond typical ASTM certification costs that could run into hundreds of thousands of bucks for each model.  Why?  EASA charges fees for those standards.  In our country, FAA's oversight is funded by, yep, you and me, the taxpayers.  Although the current debt reduction free-for-all in Congress might change that here too, who knows where that's going?
On top of all that, EASA also charges annual fees to keep those standards current.
So Mr. Dan speculates this all could mean, if CS-LSA isn't revised more favorably down the road, one of two things:
1. Bigger companies could pay the EASA charges and fold the increase into sales prices.
2. Smaller companies could say, "Nein", throw up their hands and bail out of the entire business, finding the cost of competition too great.
Bottom line: higher prices likely, at least for European-produced LSA.  Americans who choose not to sell overseas might actually improve their appeal cost-wise here, while their EASA-conforming competition ponies up and suffers the need to produce pricier aircraft, even as those smaller European producers drop out of the game.
One ray of hope in all of this lies in LAMA Europe's ongoing push for a more "self-declarative" adjustment to the CS-LSA specification, which would lower or remove those added DOA and POA costs and help many companies choose to stay in business.
Otherwise it could indeed be DOA for several companies who have hung in there all this time hoping to jump into the European market without incurring typical EASA and FAA full certification costs.
Probably the best part of this news is that ASTM, doing well here in the U.S., now has a good foothold overseas, which expands its potential influence on light aircraft production worldwide.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Horses of a Different Color

 I've written about the topic of high-hour pilots and the need for transitioning them into LSA a fair amount now. 
I've also heard about it from and talked to a lot of people about it.  Avemco Insurance, before they took a hiatus from writing new LSA policies a couple months back, wrote a minimum of 5 hours mandatory transition training into their premium contracts with pilots, stipulating, basically, this: "We don't care if you be Sully Sullenburger or Wiley Post incarnate.  If you want us to insure you in your new LSA, you will get five hours flight training in it."
Stumbling around the net the other day, I found this excellent piece written by Ed Downs for In Flight USA, in which he lays out the need, in particular, for veteran pilots to check the uber-confidence at the hangar door and give LSA full respect as unique aircraft with distinct behaviors.
Definitely worth reading if you're at all of the LSA = "little airplanes" persuasion.

Monday, July 11, 2011

eWow! Blockbuster Electric Flight

A crack team of aeronautical whizbrains in the Institute of Aircraft Design at the University of Stuttgart, Germany has just passed its second important milestone in less than two months: its electric aircraft eGenius just flew more than two hours at more than 100 mph.
Not by coincidence, that's exactly the kind of performance that will be required to take $1.3 million top prize in the recently postponed (until September 25) CAFE Green Flight Challenge
The GFC will award the prize money to the aircraft that can fly 200 miles at greater than 100 mph on the equivalent of one gallon of gas per occupant.  The per occupant proviso is significant...and EGenius carries two people, so it can use enough batteries to store two gallons worth of energy. 
That's a lot of batteries given the current relative inefficiency of energy storage of batts vs. gas, but it appears that hurdle has been overcome, and rather handily, since there was apparently several minutes of charge left after the record-breaking flight.
The eGenius electric motor - 60kW (80.5 hp equivalent)
The eGenius, funded by Airbus, is an electric motorglider, with the requisite high-aspect wing (55 feet).  It's powered by a 60 kW (80.5 hp) motor, installed in the tail to drive a larger, more efficient prop.  The battery pack can stow 56 kWh of energy.
Flight profile included a climb to 4000 feet and an out-and-back between two nearby towns.  Total distance was 211 miles, a world record for electric flight.
This on the heels of its maiden flight in May.
If the other entries (12 at last count) in September's GFC big-money event aren't shaking in their boots yet...they oughta be.  It's a stunning development and augurs well for advancing the technology by at least one leap and bound...the point of the contest in the first place.

Let me say it again: Wow!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Of Amphibs and Aircars

Two of the best-promoted and most interesting LSA projects - and two of the most delayed getting to market - are back in the news. 
A5 flight testing continues.  * photo courtesy ICON Aircraft
ICON Aircraft, a startup company created to produce the sexy composite A5 amphibian, just snagged  $25 million in funding to help complete remaining design issues, tool up for production and begin cranking out airplanes.
The company reports around 500 A5 orders on the books, at $139,000 per.  A few months of flight testing remain to be completed, along with a new wing (reportedly for better spin resistance and directional stability), which means the production target date has been pushed back again, this time to the last quarter of 2012.
Reported among the new crop of investors are Eric Schmidt of Google, Satyen Patel, formerly of Nike and Phil Condit, former CEO of Boeing, and some "undisclosed" Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.  The initial infusion of greenbacks will be $15 million, with an option for $10 million more.
Meanwhile, on the flying, "roadable aircraft", front, the always press-visible Terrafugia recently got a nod from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when it granted the company's application for a temporary exemption for its Transition flying car (or driving airplane...oh heck, it's just easier to say flying car).
Concept of revised Transition design.  * photo courtesy Terrafugia
The exemption relaxes four federal vehicle safety standards requirements for the Transition, acknowledging that complying with the standards at this point in the ever-more-costly aircar would impose a condition of substantial economic hardship on the company and also grant more time to find safe alternatives to current automotive safety standards.
Nonetheless, these are temporary exemptions.  And Terrafugia had asked for a longer time period for two of the four exemptions.
The company cited its 500 potential jobs by 2015 as partial justification for requesting the exemptions, and the agency took that into consideration as well as the overall occupant safety factor.   One selling point was Terrafugia's contention that the Transition increases pilot safety, since it can land at any airport in worsening VFR conditions and continue to the destination by road.  Boy, those folks know how to articulate every possible benefit out of their concept.
The point here would seem to be that the Transition would reduce potential VFR-into-IMC accidents because pilots wouldn't be tempted to continue flights in bad weather in deterioriating weather.  Of course, that's only common sense for non-IFR pilots, a legal requirement as well, but as we all know, pilots get in trouble this way all the time, with occasional disastrous results.
Exemption periods of one or three years included tire and rim selection requirements, glazing materials (windows and windscreen), occupant crash protection (advanced - and heavy - air bags) and electronic stability control systems.
Finding the middle road between air and ground regulations.   * photo courtesy Terrafugia
 One can appreciate the difficulty of having to comply with not only aircraft but also automobile regulations, each set of which is tough enough to meet for one-medium vehicles.
One teaching point for those inclined to scoff at the need to "bend" the rules: the glazing exemption deals with the potential safety hazard that traditional laminated car safety glass presents to pilots when can cobweb something fierce.  Imagine you get a bird strike front and center on final approach and can't see forward.  You could pull a Lindbergh and look out the side window, but you get the point.
Significant weight penalty from auto glass is another consideration, so the exemption allows for time to develop polycarbonate materials with comparable protection for the occupants, at less weight, while still resisting shattering or crazing.
The many design and regulatory challenges have again postponed flight testing of the 2nd, redesigned Transition prototype (the first, which flew briefly, had a canard), until at least March of 2012.