AirVenture: Affordable LSAs, Welding Lessons and Jet Shows

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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.

Join the conversation.
Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (28)

Paul, what do you mean by "autonomic" and dismissing with "Whatever"?

$420k diesel C172s, $200k VFR limited flight "Sun Flyers", "refurbs" for $270k, Boeing's $150k flight training practical for everyone else in the world except US pilots, ATP 1500 hr. rule, 2020 ADS-B requirements, 2018 Mogas and UL avgas supply obstacles, higher insurance rates, airport ops decrease, airport access difficulty increased, user fees threats, pilot population decline, aging aircraft fleet. The captains of industry are "leading" the impotent, disorganized and ill advised aviation market into a oblivion. Our so-called industry leaders are taking the flight training industry down by stupid, impractical, naive, grandiose and incredibly expensive product.

Is attempting to correct autonomic or thoughtless?

Whatever!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 2, 2014 6:49 AM    Report this comment

Actually a $140,000 trainer is about in line with pricing that was in the 70's, adjusted for inflation and the GDP!

What we have in aviation, is a bunch of complainers, and we need to find the fun flyer who understands that aviation is going to cost some money to do. It is all about VALUE, and how we perceive it! While out at Oshkosh 2014, I made camp one day close to the Comanche pilots association, and had a great time while they told me the mods they had on the airplane, and how much they enjoy flying the airplane. Never heard them complain about pricing, fuel costs, etc., they understood the game, and I enjoyed this Vs. the crap I hear at the local airport about the cost of flying.

My experience as a financial analyst with empirical data shows that everything is within 7% of the cost of flying 35 years ago, yet we have become a nation of people who believe we are entitled to flying? Aviation has always been expensive, and we need to change out the crabby people for the type of pilots who enjoy flying and can pay for it!

By the way, the 7% increase in acquisition price does not account for the features like leather and electronic panels that are now a part of the equation. When you factor real GDP, flying is actually CHEAPER than it was in 1972, but that is another story.

I think Oshkosh will embrace the Thunderbird demonstration team, and is long overdue for the convention. First, it will bring the rest of the Wisconsin population to Oshkosh...which from the license plates, appears to be about 30% of the convention goers. But, being the premier flying event, a big name team and exceptional demonstrations of precision flying is great and should be a part of the show.

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | August 2, 2014 8:18 AM    Report this comment

Dang, that's the best post I've read in a long time. Well said Michael Dempsey.

Posted by: JOHN EWALD | August 2, 2014 9:54 AM    Report this comment

"Actually a $140,000 trainer is about in line with pricing that was in the 70's, adjusted for inflation and the GDP!"

Really? I accessed some of those online "inflation calculators," and did some math. My 1979 Tomahawk cost $17,000 back then. If we use the CPI as our inflation metric, a 2014 Tomahawk would cost $55,810. The closest thing that we can buy today is a new Diamond DA-20 - but it costs more than three times that amount.

For giggles, I banged in today's price of a C-172 JT-A ($420k), and ran the CPI to generate a 1979-dollar figure. It was $127,933. That cash would have bought you more than three brand new 172s that year.

As nearly as I can tell, new planes today cost about three times what they did in the 1970s - AFTER adjusting for inflation. Since you're a financial analyst, perhaps you could show us why that assertion is wrong.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 2, 2014 10:36 AM    Report this comment

Ladies, Gents and Mr. Yarsley; Mike Dempsey and I muturallly agree on ONE thing; FIRST you need one WHO is interested; SECOND; one who SEES the VALUE, not the "cost", in the service (flight training) and the product (airplane); another words; the BENEFIT is equal to or greater than the cost.

Comments anyone?

Posted by: Rod Beck | August 2, 2014 11:36 AM    Report this comment

In addition, household medium income has increased about 16% since 1980 versus a 55% increase in the cost of flight training and recreational flying. It is a disproportional increase in cost vs income thus a reduction in recreational and other types of flying.

So the answer is; make more money and fly or reduce price increases in flying apparatus to a balanced level. Or both options simultaneously.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 2, 2014 11:50 AM    Report this comment

Hi Paul! Groppo Trail can be flown as a trike or a tailwheel. Same airplane same gear, just about 2 hour work to change configuration. Great airplane! In my opinion even better than J-3 and PA-18.

Posted by: Ari Tamminen | August 2, 2014 12:32 PM    Report this comment

Hi Rafy; AGREE - if ONLY referring to "recreational GA" which is highly dependent on disposable income. Business/corporate use (utlity value) is more about "need" and less about want.

Posted by: Rod Beck | August 2, 2014 12:48 PM    Report this comment

Hello Rod, we are doing donuts over the same argument. Affordability, cost, income, market and value as you imply.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 2, 2014 1:10 PM    Report this comment

"One Week Wonder" Day Six:" the spirit of aviTion at its best. Love this.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 2, 2014 1:47 PM    Report this comment

"When you factor real GDP, flying is actually CHEAPER than it was in 1972, but that is another story."

Michael Dempsey, please explain the "another story" part of your essay.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 2, 2014 3:01 PM    Report this comment

I always describe the cost of flying as being the same as it was in 1960, when I earned my Private. It still takes "all ya got". I missed more than one meal to spend the money on lessons. If you want to badly enough, you will find a way.

Posted by: Jim KLick | August 2, 2014 4:24 PM    Report this comment

" I missed more than one meal to spend the money on lessons. If you want to badly enough, you will find a way."

And just how many people "want it" bad enough to make major sacrifices? Judging by the deserted airports I see on warm severe clear days not many.

When you factor in cheap airline seats (I just flew round trip from New Jersey to Wisconsin for the price of a tank of gas maybe less) the perceived hassle of obtaining a certificate, dealing with a big Bureaucratic agency ,old beat up airplanes and yes training COST - Many a sane person has decided to spend their discretionary income elsewhere.

Posted by: Juan Dickerson | August 2, 2014 6:10 PM    Report this comment

" I missed more than one meal to spend the money on lessons. If you want to badly enough, you will find a way."

And just how many people "want it" bad enough to make major sacrifices? Judging by the deserted airports I see on warm severe clear days not many.

When you factor in cheap airline seats (I just flew round trip from New Jersey to Wisconsin for the price of a tank of gas maybe less) the perceived hassle of obtaining a certificate, dealing with a big Bureaucratic agency ,old beat up airplanes and yes training COST - Many a sane person has decided to spend their discretionary income elsewhere.

Posted by: Juan Dickerson | August 2, 2014 6:14 PM    Report this comment

Juan; you summed it all up - MANY alternatives TODAY that weren't available in "recreational GA's" heyday of the mid 60's- late 70's - and MORE benefit at a MUCH lower co$t!

Posted by: Rod Beck | August 2, 2014 6:50 PM    Report this comment

"Do jets fit in?" Yes--and no--a mixed review.

Last year showed that the show CAN work well without the military. There is also no doubt that the military attracts different attendees.

Do I enjoy watching the Birds or the Blues? Yes--but I resent the "special requirements" of an expanded aerobatic box--excluding all other flights and moving the crowd line. The Snowbirds fit within the normal box, and frankly, I prefer to watch them over the US teams--they exemplify quiet Canadian competence--the narration is calmer, and they are far quieter. Like Bob Hoover's shows, they use inertia and pilot technique to produce their shows--not raw power.

Perhaps if any of the services can get the F-35 fully operational, they can use that in their shows. Its maneuverability is said to make up for its lack of raw power in combat--perhaps it can demonstrate that maneuverability by staying within a standard box.

Posted by: jim hanson | August 3, 2014 9:47 AM    Report this comment

Hey Rod, I lost the link to your site could you give the name or post it?

Posted by: Juan Dickerson | August 3, 2014 10:08 AM    Report this comment

Paul, Funny you should mention it, but I've been thinking of attending some of those welding classes myself. Glad to hear it sounds like it's worth it! Now I just need to get myself to the show next year.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 3, 2014 10:11 AM    Report this comment

This is a good and very exciting thing!.

"Vice president and general manager Christian Pulm said Triple R Affordable Aircraft will partner with Part 145 maintenance facilities that will refurbish airplanes under a standardized protocol that will include what components will be replaced or overhauled, inspect and certify the shops and provide a centralized marketing program for the airplanes...

... The goal is to provide a supply of quality affordable aircraft to individuals, flying clubs and flight schools and a stream of revenue for industry, including OEMs that will be supplying new parts for the refurbishment shops."

But we still need new airframe.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 3, 2014 10:51 AM    Report this comment

For those who question the data, and want more information regarding actual GDP and personal income, the formula is easy to figure but you have to do some research, which I have made easy to understand here.

I do not break down the aggregate income data in this example, but use the GDP for per capital personal income, which has grown substantially from our baseline of 1972. Although you can use the inflation calculator...which will show we are within a reasonable two standard deviation (random variables, expectations, and variance) regarding an airplane trainer rental costs, you will find this data interesting.

IN 1972, per capita personal income for the year averaged $4,717 US dollars. In 1982, per capita personal income for the year averaged $11,901 In 1995, per capita personal income for the year averaged $$23,262 In 2012, per capita personal income for the year averaged $43,735

My point is that for a renal price and/or operating cost of an airplane, if you compare the per capital income Vs. the cost to fly, the price is actually less! I am not saying anything about an acquisition price here...I will agree, the price of a new airplane has a higher increase than GDP, it is an economy of scale rule and other "society adjustments" like liability costs, etc. we have to include in the cost of doing business.

Simple math for me is my cost of learning to fly in 1982 (approx $2,500), with relation to average income for that year, and what that cost is today of what...$9,000?

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | August 3, 2014 10:51 AM    Report this comment

Juan and other pragmatic "types": Mike and I can be reached at: get-aviation.com. Thank you!

Posted by: Rod Beck | August 3, 2014 12:32 PM    Report this comment

Speaking of jets--does anyone know who is footing the bill for the Thunderbirds this year? Normally, communities hosting the jet demo teams have to come up with a number of hotel rooms, cars, jet fuel, and other associated costs. Is this the case for Oshkosh, or is this coming out of "General Revenue"?

No agenda--Just curious. If it IS EAA--did it draw enough people to break even (many locally-funded shows involving the jet demo teams do not). If it is General Revenue, what is the criteria for that funding vs. local funding?

Posted by: jim hanson | August 3, 2014 3:03 PM    Report this comment

Rod:

Certainly "interest" is a prequalification for participation in GA. But "interest" most often evolves from simpler "curiosity." GA is laden with lots of barriers-to-participation that often prevent curiosity from becoming interest. High cost undeniably is one of them. The complexity of obtaining and maintaining a pilot certificate is another.

The FAA made an earnest effort to address the latter, with the introduction of the Recreational and Sport pilot certificates. Bravo. Here in southern New England, airspace and weather considerations make the issuance of a Rec or a Sport license a very rare event. But that doesn't take anything away from their value at large.

Cost presents two problems: the cost of training, and the cost of flying. Of course, the latter has the biggest effect upon the former.

New airplanes are prohibitively expensive for all flight school operations except the big aviation universities and pilot farms - both of which typically charge about three times as much to certify pilots as do Ma and Pa Part-61 operations. Like universities and tech schools in general, they exist by convincing comers that their product just has to be superior to what the little guys offer. The results don't support that, but that's another topic for another day.

So, ordinary flight schools have to content themselves with non-new aircraft, which are in plentiful supply at prices not much more than one-tenth of the price of similar new vehicles. And if one is willing to do a thorough refurbishment of a typical older bird, the result is a remarkably-like-new vehicle at a total cost that still is about one-third of the price of a brand new one.

All of the foregoing qualifies me for little more than the title of "Captain Obvious."

So, what do I think the future holds for light GA? See PART 2

-YARS

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 4, 2014 5:46 AM    Report this comment

PART 2

In the very near term, the EPA-inspired and FAA-conspired leaded avgas problem is an existential threat to about 50% of the light-GA universe. If the Agency doesn't approve a 100% fungible replacement for 100LL (and if the EPA does indeed ban leaded aviation fuels), then 50% to 75% of the light GA fleet will get turned into Coke cans, and almost all of their pilots will hang up their wings permanently.

Also in the very near term, the FAA's proposal to mandate diagnosis and treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea across the entire pilot population (combined with inaction to do away with the Class-3 medical certificate for not-for-hire operations) will result in the grounding of 25% to 50% of the over-age-30 pilot population. Their costs-of-compliance (money and hassle) simply will outweigh their perceived benefits.

Despite the denial and foot-dragging of the Agency, fully-autonomous unmanned vehicles are coming - in a very big way. This will have at least two very positive effects:

1. GA safety will improve markedly.

2. GA activity will expand significantly - because it no longer will be constrained by the barrier-to-participation comprised by the requirement to obtain and maintain a pilot certificate.

The most-common forms of participation will be air taxi and fractional ownership, a.k.a. "flying clubs." Individual ownership and low-count partnerships will become increasingly rare - as already is happening.

With or without a 100LL replacement fuel, kerosene will become THE single fuel of aviation. With the exception of tiny UAVs, electric airplanes are and will remain a green pipe dream - and a false one, at that. As already is the case with electric cars, electric airplanes would just be "coal-fired airplanes." Unless you're willing to imagine a United States that somehow derives most of its electricity from sunlight, breezes, or fairy farts.

Certification Reform (LSA / FAR Parts 23, 25, 27, 29) MAY reduce existing barriers-to-innovation. But unless the introduction of human-carrying autonomous vehicles increases demand for new vehicles by a factor of ten or so (which it actually could), it's unlikely that Reform alone will reduce the price tag of GA vehicles in any meaningful way.

Reform very well may make it possible and profitable for SOMEBODY (Garmin?) to offer a "magic box" avionics solution for $10k. As long as the installation costs remain below $5k, these boxes could appear in 75% of the light GA fleet - provided that the 100LL issue is resolved satisfactorily. But it's going to need to happen before 2020. I'm not holding my breath...

Traditional scarf-and-goggles flying is dying along with its practitioners. Gen-X and younger Americans simply don't see anything compelling about aviation at all. It's just a means to get from one place to another. To the extent that the travails of airline flying have become so egregious as to comprise violations of the Geneva Conventions proscriptions on torture, easy-access autonomous GA may become very attractive to the not-inconsiderable population of people who would be willing and able to pay a premium of 3x to partake of point-to-point travel without having to surrender their shoes, their aftershave, and their dignity.

Is GA's future bright? I can't tell whether that light ahead is the end of the tunnel or an oncoming train. But we're selling the plane that we've owned for 27 years.

-YARS

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 4, 2014 5:47 AM    Report this comment

Jim, any jet team requires the same aerobatic box showline distance from the crowd. The minimum is 1200 FT from the crowd with special approval but it's usually 1500 FT. The Snowbirds are no different. Their box is smaller on the length than most other teams but they require a 10NM TFR ring (smaller if appropriate) instead of the normal 5NM ring for the T-Birds, Blues and AAC TAC demos.

The cost of the team is borne by the show organizer. Each team has different requirements but this will give you an idea about the T-Birds. 52 rooms paid by team, organizer pays any cost above gov't rate. 33 vehicles which are usually donated by local car dealerships but not always. ~22,200 GAL of jet fuel paid by team. ~20 barrels of smoke oil paid by team. $6,000 per demonstration day fee = $12,000 for OSH paid by the organizer. This touches the high points of some of the costs associated with having a jet team. There are plenty more that are paid by the organizer when you consider all the other items required in the team support manual.

Posted by: Bruce Huddleston | August 4, 2014 9:09 AM    Report this comment

As one of the aging, crabby and pragmatic complainers who has had the 'fever' for almost 45 years, I can't believe some of the voodoo analysis by financial 'experts' in this blog. Aviation costs within 7% of 35 years ago -- really?? And, I don't think of myself as being entitle to fly and never did. I fly because I love it. I afford it by not paying too much attention to the cost and NEVER doing an analysis of same ... knowing I'd faint if I did. The problem is, every AM I read of still another mogul -- and sometimes mountain -- that I have to climb over in order to continue my chosen avocation. I'm running out of energy and patience to put up with the crap coming out of the FAA, et al ... period. All it's gonna take is one or two more rocks thrown in my path and my two fine GA airplanes will be for sale along with my hangar and all the stuff in it.

I wonder how many 'new' airplanes the purveyors of the 'analysis' here have purchased recently. I wonder how many years they've had to pay for keeping airplanes up and etc. Camping out with some Comanche owners who purchased an airplane years ago at a small fraction of what they'd cost now -- new -- doesn't qualify as proof that aviation is affordable for the masses if ONLY they'd realize that the value is still there ... and that mathematical analysis can prove it so. What've you guys been smoking?

Have you noticed -- as Juan aptly points out -- that absolutely beautiful small GA airports are noticeably devoid of many operations on beautiful CAVU summer days? Have you noticed that the great preponderance of fliers have grey hair -- if they even have any? The people who have the fever WANT to continue flying but the boys who are here to 'help' sure ain't helping much. The few younger folks who are "curious" rapidly discover that they can't afford the hobby OR are unwilling to put up with the myriad of obstacles they'll have to overcome. Good on the few that do but they aren't coming aboard in numbers sufficient to replace those that hang up their headsets. We're down by almost 30% of aviators from the peak and losing more at the tune of 10K per year. How does your 'analysis' answer THAT?

This was my 35th Airventure and the first where I stayed for all week. I even camped out in the vintage area in a tent with a buddy next to his Aeronca. Great fun but ... As many others did, I went to hear Mr Huerta on Thursday hoping that the Administration had come to its senses over the 3rd class medical issue and came away totally bummed out. I even lucked out and was one of the six or seven in the crowd who got a question in of the Administrator but Jack Pelton quickly jumped in and deflected any answer from Mr Huerta. I implored the FAA to quickly act on it's -- mandated -- update of FAR Part 23 to include implementation of the Primary Non Commercial special airworthiness category allowing legacy aircraft owners (me) to install some of the fine but not TSO'd avionics equipment in my airplanes. I'm beginning to wonder what's going on. To hear the myriad of excuses given for lack of prompt action on an issues of PRIMARY IMPORTANCE to aviators, all, was an exercise in probable futility and why so few are taking up aviation.

I also went to Oshkosh to see if I could find a new light sport airplane that might offer value and the only one that came close is the RV-12. That said, I don't want a low wing airplane with a greenhouse over my head and I want one with the new Rotax 912iS Sport engine. Looks like the two I saw do not justify themselves. I'd be lucky to sell two airplanes and get MAYBE one-third of the cost of an LSA. SO ... value IS a primary consideration to me.

Now then ... where's my slide rule so I can work some new empirical analyses on justifying a $150K LSA ... I think I can still find my statistics book somewhere ...

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 4, 2014 9:42 AM    Report this comment

Bruce--thanks for the cost breakdown--it verifies what we have paid locally. The issue is: Did EAA pay those costs? I haven't seen anything that indicates that they did. If they did--did the Birds draw in enough paying spectators to make up the cost? At many airshows, they do not--sponsorships make up the difference.

Another factor is precedence--EAA does not pay for appearances or expenses for other acts (recall the refusal to pay ferry costs for the Mosquito a few years back?). If they set a precedent for paying for one act, they will open a Pandora's box by having to pay for other acts.

Regarding the aerobatic box--the Snowbirds have performed at OSH before--WITH the normal sideline restriction. Their lower speed allows them to stay inside the length restriction. One of the warbird pilot performers mentioned that EAA had to clear out some residents during the performance each day--a fact borne out at the press briefing. Regarding the larger TFR for the Snowbirds--I believe they have performed at OSH post 9/11--I don't recall shutting down the helicopters and ultralights during that performance.

IF there is a huge financial cost to EAA for the Thunderbirds, and IF there is disruption to the sidelines, the residents, and sterile airspace--is it worth it? Perhaps others will weigh in--or perhaps that can be the "Question of the Week".

Posted by: jim hanson | August 4, 2014 10:13 AM    Report this comment

Ladies and Gents; I could write a "dissertation" on the subject, like Mr. Yarsley, however, and frankly, I find this GA thing quite boring. So I'll be brief: REAL business folks don't belong in GA (why I left in 1978 at age 34) - all about having "fun" at the expense of profit or financial security.

When, and IF, a GA entrepreneur appears on "Shark Tank", and the ROI minded judges want "in", I'm In too- until that time; "I'm out"!

Posted by: Rod Beck | August 4, 2014 4:11 PM    Report this comment

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