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Sun 'n Fun: Redbird Flies

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Redbird Takes Flight
At the Piper booth Wednesday morning, Jerry Gregoire of Redbird Simulation took delivery of a new Seminole painted in the company's swirling red livery. As you've probably read, Redbird has an intriguing project underway in San Marcos, Texas to basically re-invent flight training by basing it heavily on flight simulation.

Gregoire said Redbird has graduated about 20 students from the program and early indications are that it takes fewer hours and fewer dollars to earn the private in this type of program than it does grinding out all of the training in an airplane. In a podcast interview we did with him after the Seminole acceptance, he said from zero to private costs $9500, with about 33 hours in the airplane and 50 in the sim. While ten grand is hardly what I would call cheap, Gregoire says it's just a little more than half of the national average of $17,000 for the private.

I'd like to see a little more data on this, but I suspect the potential is there to drive costs down further or to simply make the training more effective because Redbird is carefully collecting biometric data to gain a clearer understanding not just of what students are learning, but how. They plan to use their new Seminole as a flying laboratory to collect data on how this innovative new training approach is working. Gregoire, by the way, is one of the straightest shooters in GA that I've encountered and this program is truly innovative. We'll see if it has legs. Meanwhile, if you're at the show, get over and see the Redbird booth. They've got one of their sims set up.

What Customer Service?
I ran into former AOPA prez Phil Boyer early Wednesday morning, happily stalking the grounds like the lucky tourist he has become. Our conversation evolved to a discussion of how various FBOs handle the customer experience. Many do this well, but many, well, you know the story.

Boyer mentioned the Cutter FBOs in the southwest, where he pulled into one and was given concierge service. "I wasn't flying a jet and they don't know me from Adam," he said. As I do, he makes a point to buy courtesy fuel, at least, to support this kind of welcome customer care.

My personal favorite story is Showalter Flying Service at Orlando Executive. A few years ago, I flew our Mooney up there to cover NBAA, figuring I'd be parked in the hinterlands and would have to drag my stuff across the ramp to the ground transportation.

Nope. In the middle of this crazy busy show, they pulled me right up in front of the FBO door, tossed out a red carpet and helped me unload the airplane. They then towed the Mooney to a tiedown and reversed the process when I left. I can't recall if they had a ramp fee, but if they did, it was well worth it for than kind of service. Our should I say common courtesy?

I wish my home airport, Venice, Florida, would emulate it. Companies frequently fly in to show airplanes for flight trials or for interviews and video work. Even though there's a vast open and usually unoccupied expanse of concrete right next to the FBO, my colleagues are usually parked as far from the door as possible. I know why they do this. They're keeping the ramp open for the bizjets that arrive and buy bags of gas. I get that. Those airplane pay more and should get more. But given the size of the ramp, it sure seems like even a humble little piston aircraft deserves a little corner of it.

Suggestion Box
From my personal list of things to improve at Sun 'n Fun, the lead item is to move the media center back closer to the show grounds. For many years, it has been in the Seaplane Pilots Association building at the far eastern edge of the display area. This year, it's in the Davis Center at the far west edge of the grounds. It's a long hike from anywhere.

Here's the problem with this: I don't mind the 10-minute walk; I like the exercise. But if you have to do it three or four times a day, you've spent an hour-and-half just walking and that's time not spent not talking to vendors, seeing demonstrations and kicking over stones to see what's really going on at the show. Yesterday, for instance, I really wanted to interview Harrison Schmitt, as I am a dedicated student of the Apollo program. But I had other commitments in the main show area and simply couldn't move far enough fast enough to do both. Mary Grady made it, but the event was poorly attended. We missed at least one or two other press conferences for this reason. When we cover these shows with daily wall-to-wall feeds, we do so at great expense and we feel we have a duty both to the Sun 'n Fun organization and the companies who also (expensively) participate. We like to see and cover as many of them as we can and these companies depend on that press coverage to justify the time and expense of coming here. It just works a lot better if press conferences and the media center are centrally located.

Share a Ride
Speaking of walking, I see a lot of golf carts whizzing around the grounds with just a driver. Here's another suggestion: If you're driving one, stop and give someone a ride. In the spirit of conserving the earth's dwindling hydrocarbons, every golf cart should be fully occupied. (And yes, that includes you FAA staffers who motor around in government-plated cars and who get private parking spots while the rest of slog from distant lots. How about helping out once in awhile?)

Ride-sharing is our long-standing policy at AirVenture, where we always offer lifts in our golf cart. You meet interesting people, you learn things and you help people out—all good things. (That's how I met Cliff Robertson many years ago.) So a tip of the editorial hat to Mallory Player who gave us a golf-cart lift to the media center last night after a long, tiring day. She works in one of the hangars, selling The Claw tiedown.

Rotax Flies
I ran into Pipistrel's Tine Tomazic on the way into the grounds this morning. Shortly after we left Slovenia two weeks ago, Pipistrel got the Virus SW flying with Rotax's new 914 iS. (Rotax has been flying it it in a couple of test beds for three years.)

Does the thing deliver on Rotax's claim of of 20 percent better fuel economy? Seems to, says Tomazic. Pipistrel tested it by putting a jug of gas on the seat and flying off that source for a timed period and measuring the consumption. I'll be checking with other manufacturers to see if they achieve similar results. Rotax has a booth here, so you can check out the engine in the flesh.

Turbine Talk
On the subject of fuel efficiency, reader David Bonorden wrote to say that he's skeptical of the practicality of the Diemech turbine we covered in Monday's edition:

The math: The recommended 260-HP IO-540 for the RV-10 is making 169 HP while cruising at 65 percent and at a typical leaned Lycoming BSFC of .45 is burning about 12.7 GPH, giving you 4.7 hrs of no-reserve endurance. At $6 for 100LL, that $76 /hr fuel costs.

Now, per the specs published by Diemech, this engine runs at a BSFC of .82 lb/hp/hr. At the same 169-HP cruise condition, that's 21 GPH of Jet A and 2.9 hrs of fuel (no reserve) for a standard RV-10 tank. At $5.50 for Jet A, that's $115/hr for fuel, a 52 percent increase.

All that's true and illuminates the harsh fact that turbine engines just aren't as efficient as piston engines and the smaller the turbines are, the less efficient they are. Over in Europe, Austro engine is capitalizing on this efficiency Delta. It's marketing its Austro AE300 as an APU powerplant. It's a lot heavier than an equivalent turbine powerplant, but it's so much more efficient so Austro thinks it can make the case for the swap. In a world dominated by tight petroleum supplies, the math may just work in their favor.

Comments (26)

Paul - I am interested to know how the attendance was this year at Sun n Fun. The "Managers" managed to alienate everyone who was there last year with the parking lot fiasco, and I wonder how many of those folks returned this year.

I understand your frustration over the media location. It seems the folks who run that event have lost their way. If I am wrong please let me know.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | March 31, 2012 6:37 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I am really miss the daily pictures you usually post of the show. What happened to that feature this year?

I also wonder about this years attendance given the trouble at last years show.

About the LoPresti Fury, when are they going to produce them commercially? Seems like they keep pushing back the date they will start production every year. What is the true story?

Posted by: Ric Lee | March 31, 2012 9:06 AM    Report this comment

”... turbine engines just aren't as efficient as piston engines”

Is that true at all altitudes? If my (fading!) memory serves me correctly, pistons reach their maximum efficiency at the low altitudes, t-props at the middle altitudes, and jets reach their max efficiency somewhere around FL 370. I truly don't know, but shouldn't SFC for t-props be evaluated at altitudes where they can ”show-off their stuff” — like around FL 250 — where any increase in SFC would be balanced off by higher TAS?

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 31, 2012 9:08 AM    Report this comment

First, let me apologize for the mysterious disappearance of the previous comments. A coding error wiped them out.

I wouldn't say the management has lost its way. As I said before, these shows evolve as the market for them evolves. They're not going to remain static. They can't exist as small members-only fly-ins. That's just a fact, no matter how much many of us may complain about management being all about the money and or being out of touch.

Before I left Friday, I polled a few vendors to see if they were satisfied with how the show was run. I did this more or less all week. The responses were generally positive.

The very best thing both Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture could do is to have a professional ombudsman to make the organizational contact more friendly and more helpful. I heard a lot of complaints about this.

I checked out the traffic on West Pipkin on Friday morning and it was moving smoothly. I don't know if any changes were made there, but the weather was good and there was no mud, so that helped. Acid test will be Saturday and Sunday, the big public days.

If I were in charge of Sun 'n Fun, I'm not sure I'd do things fundamentally differently. There are always things you can tweak and improve.

I don't have a sense of attendance. Vendors told me booth traffic was slow but those who did show up were people more interested in buying. And that's a good thing.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 31, 2012 9:57 AM    Report this comment

Sorry the pix are missing. We didn't do them this year purely as a function of time. Our regular shooter couldn't make it and we just didn't have the wherewithal to pull it together.

We'll get it done for AirVenture, though.

Not sure about the Fury. I didn't get a chance to ask them.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 31, 2012 10:02 AM    Report this comment

On turbine efficiency, it depends on how you measure but on a heat cycle/specific fuel consumption basis, Otto cycle engines are always more efficient than Brayton cycle engines.

The very best pistons are running at .34 BSFC for diesel and about .38 or .39 for gasoline engines. The new Rotax 912 iS may approach the diesel numbers. The best small turbines--the PT-6, TPE331 and the Rolls 250-B17/F2 run in the .6s at the very best. The new 500 Rolls had planned--now postponed--looked to be in the high .5s.

The fuel consumption vs. airspeed curve looks different for turbines than pistons. Most pistons that can fly high do so with turbocharging, so the fuel consumption decreases very little with altitude because they're making the same power. But the airspeed increases linearly.

In a turbine, the fuel flow falls off rapidly with altitude, but so does the power. It looks more like a normally-aspirated piston engine. In all of the singles equipped with turbines, they start out with more power so they can afford to lose a fair amount of it to density altitude and still go pretty fast.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 31, 2012 10:14 AM    Report this comment

One more "DQ": what ever happened to the Wankel engine for aero applications? There just *has* to be some efficiencies gained by reducing all that oscillating mass of the piston design.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 31, 2012 10:37 AM    Report this comment

But consider some real-world numbers for combined airframe and engine economy. A turbocharged Cirrus will do 200 knots or so on about 17.5 GPH for about 11.4 MPG. A TBM850 will do 320 knots on 55 GPH for 5.8 MPG. So what has always been true is still true: Going faster is less fuel efficient.

Unless...you are hauling a lot of seats. Five years ago, I took the airlines to OSH and the Captain happened to mention the fuel burn for the trip. When I did the math, my share of gas to haul me and my seat to Chicago was 9 gallons for a fuel mileage of .5 MPG for the airplane, but 111 seat miles per gallon. At the time, we still had the Mooney, which would have required 15 gallons just to get to the Florida line.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 31, 2012 10:41 AM    Report this comment

"One more "DQ": what ever happened to the Wankel engine for aero applications?"

Austro makes two Wankel type engines. We saw them on a plant tour a couple of weeks ago. The AE50R has been around for awhile in Europe; used in a motorglider.

The newer AE75R at 75 HP is still in development. They don't seem to be as efficient as pistons. It was explained to me why Atkinson cycle isn't as efficient as Otto, but I forgot the exact reason. Maybe to do with vane seals or something.

I'll find out, since I have to prep an article on those engines.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 31, 2012 10:47 AM    Report this comment

This was my first SNF and have been here all week for the Czech Sport Cruiser (ex-Piper Sport) exhibit. I agree whole-heartedly about all the mostly empty golf carts zipping around. There are plenty of older folks who obviously were struggling with all the walking that really could have used a lift. And when it started raining and some folks were trying to get to the parking lots, I saw even more of it (driver only carts). I enjoyed the show and all of my dealings with vendor related issues were handled well. I must admit I'm concerned about the nasty black dust from the phosphate plant(s) that's gets on and in and under everything. Not only could it be corrosive to the airplanes, but can't be healthy to breathe. IMHO

Posted by: Jonathan Trunz | March 31, 2012 10:48 PM    Report this comment

I was ther for three days. Walked the show Wednesday and thought attendance was down and some 'regular' vendors missing. The 91 year old guy with me said he could remember when the parking lot would be full by early afternoon. I was in F37 Committee meetings Thursday and Friday so didn't see the show, but thought the attendance was still down. I thought they did a pretty good job with the traffic getting off the airport - getting back into town on Pipkin is another story. I agree with the golf cart comment, especially for older people who are obviously having trouble walking to the gate.

Posted by: Richard Norris | April 2, 2012 6:16 AM    Report this comment

I was ther for three days. Walked the show Wednesday and thought attendance was down and some 'regular' vendors missing. The 91 year old guy with me said he could remember when the parking lot would be full by early afternoon. I was in F37 Committee meetings Thursday and Friday so didn't see the show, but thought the attendance was still down. I thought they did a pretty good job with the traffic getting off the airport - getting back into town on Pipkin is another story. I agree with the golf cart comment, especially for older people who are obviously having trouble walking to the gate.

Posted by: Richard Norris | April 2, 2012 6:16 AM    Report this comment

I totally agree with you on the golf carts. Always seems like Sun-N-Fun has 2 and 3 times more vehicle traffic on the grounds than Airventure and Airventure is 4 times bigger. My wife and I walked the ground for 3 days and was never asked if we wanted a ride (We're in our mid 60s. People driving around too fast in crowds and getting annoyed when people would not get out of their way. Getting out of the parking lot Friday afternoon was horrible. We got to our car at 5:00pm and didn't get out of the grounds until 6:30. They had only one exit and people were required to funnel themselves into one exit lane. Only a couple of people directing traffic. 7 or 8 Sheriff cars sitting on the highway but only one law enforcement gentleman directing traffic out the only exit gate.

Posted by: Herb Driskill | April 2, 2012 7:44 AM    Report this comment

You are correct about the lack of "in the show" and parking lot transportation. I have attended S-N-F since parking was across the creek and in the trees. Now at 85(still flying)the walking gets exhausting. An early bird, I was all through at 3:45 PM. Oshkosh has shuttles.

Posted by: JACK WILLIAMS | April 2, 2012 8:11 AM    Report this comment

A very major problem at both AirVenture and SNF is the wide open spaces between just about everything. Many of us have wondered at the decisions to spread things out so far, but what's done is done. As Paul notes, the distances are often too great to do many of the things you'd like to do.

Maybe more frequent trams and some express trams would be a good idea, especially considering the aging pilot demographic, and the comments above from older pilots who attended.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | April 2, 2012 12:25 PM    Report this comment

We were at the show Thursday and Friday, attendance was definitely down. The vendor area across from the food court had less than half the vendors from previous years. I suspect additional vendors will downsize or drop out next year, like Sonex did a couple years ago along with the small tool tents. I used to come and stay all week but the cost no longer matches the benifits. The forums in the school are a major improvement, but not enought to get me to stay longer. Ultralite and Chopper town are vanishing. Having a couple tram stops loop along 'club house row' would improve access and connect to remote areas. It was easier to walk in on the car track, then deal with the large uneven gravel in the center path of the parking lot.

Posted by: Stone James | April 2, 2012 1:38 PM    Report this comment

We flew our RV10 in and out on Wednesday. The light traffic was appreciated. We visited most of the vendors we wanted to see, bought some stuff and then discovered we had to wait for the air show before returning to the HB parking. It was a long afternoon but okay. Flew to Venice for an overnight before returning home. The FBO booked a room and car for us and all was in place as requested. We experienced the parking issue out front - not so bad but so many places do it so much better. Good self serve fuel price and good tie downs. The line guys hustled. All in all, a good experience but not great. Worth the $12 overnight but in retrospect the only less than seamless part was the parking spot/baggage/SS/security gate boogie.

Posted by: BILL WATSON | April 2, 2012 1:41 PM    Report this comment

My faded memory is that the Wankel’s advantage over a reciprocating engine may have been in weight and smoothness – Mazda used it in sporty cars first. Like any new technology it took work to refine it to be competitive – durability of seals and emissions were challenges IIRC (the lands near the seals could be a pocket of incomplete combustion, IIRC). They disappeared from serious consideration for cars when fuel prices went high and emissions limits low. Are there any Mazda Wankels still flying in homebuilt airplanes? As for shaft turbines, note many ground applications used heat recovery schemes, notably a ceramic disk rotating through exhaust and inlet airflow. I don’t know if durability has improved to be viable but I expect they will be heavier.

Posted by: Keith Sketchley | April 2, 2012 5:48 PM    Report this comment

The scheduling of the show near to the Easter Season may have negatively influenced the attendence.

Posted by: Kenneth Buchmann | April 3, 2012 10:56 AM    Report this comment

Have you noticed that whenever we, the pilot population, make a comment on low attendance at either Sun'N Fun or Oshkosh, the official statement always seems to be "Record attendance!"

Kind of makes me suspicious.

Posted by: Ric Lee | April 3, 2012 11:26 AM    Report this comment

The Redbird mention caught my eye, $10K estimated for a private ticket vs. $17K national average.

In 1965 the USAF Aero Club where I was stationed (North Africa) had a package that would get you to your private checkride for $195 using a C172 (T-41, actually). Ground school was free, but I think you had to buy your books.

Posted by: John Wilson | April 3, 2012 6:31 PM    Report this comment

Didn't make it to SNF this year. Enjoyed the blogs and videos of the show, but really, really missed the daily photo galleries.

Posted by: John Cronin | April 3, 2012 9:20 PM    Report this comment

With fuel prices skyroketing, we are closing our tent. Aviation is no longer fun. Brian and Ruth

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | April 4, 2012 9:00 AM    Report this comment

I was thinking a private is still maybe 6-8k but then again....Checked into renting a Cherokee @ KMGJ...would you believe $140.00 an hour...DRY?? Holy Cow!

Posted by: David Friedman | April 5, 2012 9:46 AM    Report this comment

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