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.

Monday, January 16, 2012

CubCrafters Delivers #200

Savvy companies find a way through even the worst of economic times.
Case in point: CubCrafters has just delivered its 200th LSA.
The Yakima, Washington-based LSA maker thus secures bragging rights, at least for now, for being the top US-made producer of ASTM-certified Light Sport Aircraft, eclipsing its Cub clone rival American Legend out of Texas, which has led the pack for some time.
Photo courtesy CubCrafters
 Coming just a couple days before Sebring's US Sport Aviation Expo kickoff on Thursday, the news should be welcome to industry watchers and potential buyers eager for a cheerier outlook.
The company offers two Cubalikes: the Sport Cub S2 (100hp) and the Carbon Cub SS (180hp, and what a climbout monster it is!)
The company started up in 1980 and recently added 15,000 square feet of space to its manufacturing facility.
And yes, they are a-hirin'.
Keep up the good work, you guys!

Friday, January 13, 2012

SEBRING EXPO Kicks Off Next Week!

The show I look forward to the most every winter is the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, the premier gathering of Light Sport industry vendors in America.
This is the fifth go round for the expo; each year it offers more pure fun for LSA pilots present and future.
This year sports a noticeably upscale look, with new management (show founder Robert Woods remains very active in the show) and a stronger promotional flavor.
Major sponsors this year include our own Plane&Pilot!
The four-day gathering, which kicks off next Thursday, Jan. 19, promises to be the biggest show yet. 
Lots of return and new LSA exhibitors, display booths with the latest hot gear, and symposiums, including the new Bristell low wing monoplane and Pipistrel Sinus 50-foot span motorglider, both of which I hope to fly for future reports.
The new Bristell will be at Expo next week.  Photo courtesy BristellUSA
Avionics leader Dynon will hold full on classes to teach the many ins and outs of its powerhouse SkyView EFIS display... for free!
Dynon's SkyView
 EAA's new head honcho Rod Hightower will speak at the annual LAMA dinner Thursday night.
EAA's Rod Hightower to speak
There's a ton more things to talk about, check it out right here for all the details.
If you've got a hankering for early Spring- style LSA tire-kickin' and demo flying, program Sebring into your GPS and get on down thar!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Tecnam Float Plane; Impossible Turn 2

A couple fun things before I lose the day entirely.

Floats always add sex appeal to land planes, don't they?  photo courtesy Tecnam
Just got word from Tecnam today, via our publisher Mike McMann, that the Italian aircraft producer has adapted one of my favorite LSA, the P92 Echo and Eaglet (trainer version), for water operations.  
Dubbed the P92 Sea-Sky Hydroplane, this waterbird should prove to be yet another fun entry into the SLSA sweepstakes.  
My impression of the Eaglet remains: a lively, forgiving, fun-to-fly all metal trainer that I expect will appeal even more with web feet, for those of aquatic inclinations.
Some details: 
The Hydroplane is the 6th generation model of the successful P92.
Takeoff run is spec'd at under 200 meters, along with "an impressive climb rate" from its 100 hp Rotax engine. And I wonder how the Eaglet's landing performance, for example (26 kts., full flaps, no power) will translate to the water and extra weight.
The Hydro will be produced at Tecnam’s new composites production facility, home to both the Tecnam P2008 and Tecnam P2010 four-seat GA up-and-comer, in Capua, Italy.
There's nothing much online about it yet; I'm hoping it will make it to Sebring mid-month, or Sun 'n Fun in April.
Jim Lee finishing the NASA speed run.  photo courtesy NASA.

Gliders and the Impossible Turn
Also just heard from friend and soaring pilot/instructor/longwing trendsetter Jim Lee, last heard from when he flew the only conventionally-powered aircraft in the NASA Green Flight Challenge last fall that won Pipistrel's Taurus Electro G4 a cool $1.35 million prize.
Jim acquitted himself admirably with the Phoenix motorglider at that event.
He dropped me an e-note to add his glider-centric take on my Impossible Turn post here of a couple days ago.
Take it away James:

"For one, in any aircraft, don't follow the centerline of the runway (after) take off unless required by parallel runways or tower ops.  Veer downwind of the runway on climb out, then if the engine quits, you only have to make a 180, not a 270.  
Pretty Phoenix.  photo courtesy Jim Lee
Glider pilots are required to practice, and perform on the checkride, a turn back to the runway from 200'.  It is easy in a glider.  I can do 100', and I have seen 50' done in a real emergency when the towplane flew into a hangar.  500' is easy in a small Cessna with practice. [Even] 400' is easy, and 300' is doable in an LSA with practice."
Jim heads up PhoenixUSA out of Melbourne, Florida.  I've flown and reported on the Phoenix and it is one wonderful all-around dreamship.