Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sebring EXPO: 2.5 Perfect Days

I am ready to commit homicide on the wireless in this place I'm sending - or attempting to send - from.  More later, as I start for the third time in three days to get a single blogpost to upload after hours of working on it!  Computers!  A pox on all of them.
I'm posting this now without pictures.  If the *&$% thing will stay connected long enough to update the post with pics, I will...assuming it will even publish this!
Okay, on to the good stuff.
Sebring is alive and well and gliding along better than ever.  More than I can say for the wireless where I've tried to post since Thursday night, so today (Sat), you get two point five posts for the price of one.
First bit of news: Opening day Thursday was the best attended in the show’s eight year history (not five years as I doofishly reported the other day).  Aiding and abetting: beautiful, absolutely beautiful weather.  No hurricanes, no clouds of leaflets from Republican Presidential hopefuls, just a lavishly enjoyable (for us snowbirds at least) 70 degrees, with a steady 10 knot wind a good part of the day, followed by a crisp, clear night.  Thank the Maker.
Your humble and now very frustrated blogster took full advantage of opening day by spending almost half of it shooting and flying the new BRM Bristell S-LSA (yes, it’s ASTMified).  A very, very sweet ship.  Think second generation Piper Sport nee SportCruiser, since the low-wing monoplane bears a design familiarity of clean, attractive lines and is, if not a sibling, certainly a cousin to that seminal Czech design.
Bristell designer Milan Bristela is here at the show with John Calla to give the airplane some street cred.  Milan co-designed the original SportCruiser and is full designer of this new airplane.  Clearly he’s incorporated many things we’ve all learned along the way, including about the roomiest low-wing cockpit, at 51", I’ve had the pleasure to fly.
That’s just frosting on the cake, though: if the SportCruiser/Piper Sport is a light, playful airplane that lands itself, rolls around the sky with enjoyable and docile characteristics, the Bristell really feels like a GA airplane.  All three axes are beautifully harmonized, the stick feel and responsiveness are both muted and lively.  I mean it’s neither twitchy like a spring colt nor sluggish like a one-track dray horse, but both smooth and firm in control handling, and wonderfully quick to jump to your commands.
Many thoughtful features like a painted sun screen built into the canopy top, 600 lb. useful load, lovely aerodynamics, 1000+ fpm climb, sturdy, sturdy tricycle gear, outsized GA-robust landing gear with Goodyear tires, very lively nosewheel steering (a little too twitchy, but as my endlessly energetic demo host, former C-130 Special Ops driver John Rathwell was quick to tell me, a simple tweak is in the works for that), and all in all, quite an airplane.
European LAMA board member Jan Fridrich catches our low photo pass at Sebring.  Thanks Jan!  Nobody ever shoots the photographer!
I’ll properly flesh out my positive impressions when I write the pilot report.  For now let’s say this creation of Mr. Bristela is a solid, mature, sophisticated design with many fine details, it’s very comfortable, most certainly enjoyable to fly, and beautifully finished inside and out.
Alright, that’s way too much for an airplane blog post so let’s move on:
FK12 Comet folds its wings.
I spent a very interesting hour with Roger Crow, a 35-year Air National Guard fighter pilot and law enforcement aviator who briefed me on how his Echo Flight Resources company out of Tulsa has transmogrified a Flight Design CTLE into an aerial surveillance platform, complete with a highly sophisticated aerial video ball turret camera that’s controlled by a John Law techie in the right seat in pursuit of people doing bad things.  I’m hoping to do a story on it for the magazine: a fascinating look into how useful LSA are at dramatically cutting costs without compromising performance one bit over similarly equipped Cessna 172s and 182s, and helicopters, which cost a whole lot more to operate than a CTLS.  He’s winning over converts with law enforcement orgs across the country, because he’s one of a small club and speaks the lingo.
Randy Lervold showing how it's done.
At the annual LAMA dinner Thursday night, it’s prez Dan Johnson and his lovely wife Randee along with a host of sponsors and volunteers and new Sebring fearless leader Jana Filip put on an excellent feed, a raffle of prizes, and a presentation by EAA’s new President, Rod Hightower, followed by an excellent video short from EAA’s superb video department.
Day for night
Friday, although no official numbers were in as I dragged myself off to dinner and to rescue my newly arrived roommate, P&P publisher Mike McMann, from being GPS-lost in the crocodile-infested badlands east of Sebring, looked to be another record day.  Lots of folks walking around, kicking tires, taking demo rides throughout yet another gorgeous day.
Highlights for Friday included catching up with Charles Stites of Able Flight, that wonderful organization that underwrites, with four types of scholarships, the flying dreams of disabled people.  Seven more dedicated and determined people, including a deaf woman and a multiple combat amputee successfully negotiated Sport Pilot training to defy the odds.
Roger Crow's CTLE
As I told Charles after the update, I always feel better after talking with him.
Another guy who always lifts my spirits is Boris Popov, founder of BRS parachutes.  Boris and I go back more decades than either of us care to acknowledge, when I first began extolling the virtues of the ballistic ‘chute concept he successfully brought to market.
How good would you feel to wake up every morning and know something you created had incontestably saved hundreds of lives over the years.  Yeah.  Way cool.
Sebring Expo showgrounds above the CarbonCub SS
By the way, forgot to mention feel-good band Ravi performed for the exhibitor’s reception Wednesday night and also at the LAMA dinner.  The band’s namesake Ravi tours the world performing original songs, conducting clinics and lecturing on crucial issues facing the music and aviation industries – two groups you don’t often see conflated.  A talented and engaging young pilot/musician, you can find out more at
And th-th-that’s all folks.
The twin brothers Hansen and the twin brothers Hansen (one father’s sons are also twins) of Hansen Air Group demonstrated changing the cockpits on the sexy FK12 Comet from a single canopy to two-holer and also folding the wings, all in about five minutes.  Hansens the younger performed the operation as the elder sibs “supervised”.

I’ll be flying the Comet tomorrow for a future report.  What a very cool bipe indeed.
Finally, because it’s bed time for yours truly, Randy Lervold of Cubcrafters and his superb pilot Clay (didn’t get his last name) helped me get an air2air session with their wildly popular Carbon Cub SS.  The light couldn’t have been better, and ditto goes for the formation skills of both pilots.  Every formation shoot ought to go this well.
Here’s a sample, judge for yourself.
Tomorrow, looking forward to shooting my old friend the Flight Design CTLS, thanks to another old friend Tom Peghiny.  The CT sports a new dual-panel SkyView deck.  Managing Director of the successful European company, Matthias Betch, is in town for the show.


Anonymous said...

It's sort of ironic that you're praising the Bristell and ballistic parachutes in the same posting. The Bristell does not appear to come with ballistic parachute as an option.

Also, without taking away from its roomy cabin, good handling, and marked weight reduction relative to the SportCruiser, if its styling is anything like the SportCruiser, it will look really cool but have a) very poor forward visibility, especially in the climb and b) very poor downward visibility because the occupants' eye line is above the wing and not far forward of the flap hinge. Visibility is something I think needs to get more discussion than it does; these aircraft are for fun flying, and being able to see ahead and down are important both to safety and to fun.

Please do address these in any follow-up review of the aircraft.


Anonymous said...

P.S. - Good luck with the wireless!

Anonymous said...

Love the photo of the Carbon Cub - perfectly framed!

fun run said...

It's a great idea. I do enjoyed reading the articles.

KatieB said...

Hi James, I'm wondering if I can get a hi-res of one of your Carbon Cub shots ("Day for Night") to help decorate our new Retail Store at CubCrafters... my email is katie dot bosman at cubcrafters dot com. Thanks!! Beautiful photos!