AirVenture: Affordable LSAs, Welding Lessons and Jet Shows
I don't have good enough sales and price data to precisely say whether $130,000 is the median or the average price of a new LSA, but many of the most popular models sell in that range. This causes the standard autonomic reaction that insists that the people who sell these airplanes have become detached from reality. Whatever.
But there are at least of couple of cheaper options that aren't stitched-together sail cloth over aluminum tubes. One is the Groppo Trail, an Italian import that's being shown this week at AirVenture. I flew it two weeks ago and shot this video during that flight, with some additional footage at the show.
It's available as an experimental amateur-built, an E-LSA or an S-LSA. The S-LSA version sells for about $80,000, reasonably equipped. That puts it in the same class as the Slovakian-built AeroTrek, which sells for around $70,000. Yes, those numbers still represent a pile of money, but they're the least expensive new airplanes on the market that you don't have to build yourself.
The Trail is typical of taildragger LSAs, although somewhat unusually it's got stressed-skin, pop-riveted aluminum construction instead of fabric or composite. The wings fold easily for trailering or storage. I thought it nothing less than a modernized, Italian version of the Cub. If you're considering an LSA and shopping the low tier of the price spectrum, the Trail is worth a look.
Mig and Tig
Parked almost next to our press trailer in Oshkosh, Miller Electric has a fabulous portable welding demonstration center mounted on a tractor-trailer rig. It's loaded with welders and plasma cutters to die for, just the kind of thing AirVenture is great at providing for anyone interested in building stuff.
So for the past couple of days, between deadlines, I've been taking welding lessons. I'm a self-taught stick and mig welder and if I'm honest, I'll admit that most of my welds look like slag piles from which occasional short, identifiable beads emerge. But Miller's Myles Fimbiger turned me loose for a bit with a new Miller welder and had me building nice little stack-of-dimes beads in no time, even on light-gauge aluminum. I've never done tig before, which requires heating the puddle with a plasma torch and then feeding in metal from a thin rod. It's tricky, but fun, too. I was doing OK until I caught my left glove on fire, so I decided to retire for the day. Tomorrow, it's on to plasma cutters.† †
Do Jets Fit?
During my walk of the vendor booths Friday, I stopped to talk with Mark Henley and Steve Gustafson of the Aeroshell Team. These guys are among my favorites because they're consistent, graceful performers and a couple of years ago, Steve and I flew along the Florida coast in the Collings P-51. He showed me what a perfect eight-point roll feels like from inside the airplane. Quite a change of perspective.
When I asked how the season was going, Mark said it was good, but not quite so good as it might be. "The sequestration is still killing us," he said. Really? That was over a year ago. Yes, but many military demo teamsónot the high-profile Thunderbirds or Blue Angelsóbut the units who fly from local bases, are still budget restricted. And when they don't fly, some regional shows don't go on at all and so they don't book any acts, thus the Aeroshell Team has fewer dates this year.
This is the first time a major U.S. military team has flown the Oshkosh show ever and I'm keeping my ear to the ground to see what the reaction is going to be. To our surprise, ahead of the show, we've heard mixed reviews at best.
We've heard complaints from the volunteers about the flightline being moved back 100 yards and unlike during the regular airshows, everything else comes to a halt when the Thunderbirds fly: no helicopters, no ultralights or powered-parachutes. Then there's the noise; the Thunderbirds (and Blue Angels) are just stupefyingly loud and when they roar by, and all normal conversation comes to a halt. On Friday, the Thunderbirds were flying their practice show late in the day, so the vendors weren't too impacted. EAA says major jet teams won't be an every year event at AirVenture, but this year's show will be a test case to see how they integrate into the greatest general aviation show on earth. Still, there's nothing quite like watching these superbly drilled pilots flashing by in a perfect diamond formation.