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Aircraft owners now can rent out their airplane when they're not using it to help subsidize their costs, OpenAirplane co-founder Rod Rakic told AVweb at Sun 'n Fun this week. "Collaborative Aircraft Rental" makes the process "simple and affordable," Rakic said. The program includes a customized insurance policy that covers the aircraft owner, and uses OpenAirplane's "universal pilot checkout" to qualify the renters. "You can rent out your home, car, or boat when you're not using it, to generate extra income," said Rakic. "Now you can do the same with your airplane." Rakic said the system will utilize an online ranking system to review both renters and owners, and the company is also working on integrating scheduling capabilities into the website.

Rakic also said the OpenAirplane network is growing, and now includes 52 locations around the U.S. with more than 180 aircraft. The program allows pilots who pass the universal checkout to rent aircraft from any of the FBOs in the network. OpenAirplane also now offers multi-engine and mountain (5,500+ feet) checkouts, he said. Regarding activity, he said, "The numbers are still small, but they're heading in the right direction. Pilots who try it give good feedback and repeat business."

The acquisition of Beech Aircraft by Textron has brought Cessna and Beech back together for the first time since Clyde Cessna and Walter Beech were principals of Travel Air Company in the 1920s. In a position that didn’t even exist six weeks ago, Textron’s Senior Vice President of Piston Products, Joe Hepburn, briefed AVweb’s Rick Durden about the plans for the future of the piston aircraft line. He emphasized that there are no plans to stop production of any of the piston models from either the Beech or Cessna line and that there will be an emphasis on assuring owner support for all of the aircraft.

With two manufacturing facilities, one at the Beech plant just east of Wichita and one at the Cessna factory in Independence, Kan., as well as Cessna and Beech fabrication facilities adjacent to each other in Mexico, there will have to be decisions made as to whether any of the production processes will be moved or modified. Hepburn said that Textron is evaluating the supply chains for all of the airplanes to see where economies can be found. Hepburn also said that Textron is committed to continuing to improve the piston aircraft line and is looking ahead at new products to be added, although it is too early to make any projections as to what those might be.

Textron's acquisition of Beechcraft has resulted in the creation of Textron Aviation, the combination of Cessna and Beech.  AVweb's Rick Durden spoke with Textron Aviation's Joe Hepburn about the transition.

At Sun 'n Fun 2014, Kitfox had its new S7 LSA with a turbocharged Rotax 914 on display.  John McBean gave AVweb a tour of the airplane.

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Daher-Socata brought its new TBM 900 single-engine turboprop, which debuted just a few weeks ago, to Sun 'n Fun this week. The 900 is an upgrade of the 850, which it replaces, with winglets and a five-blade composite propeller, plus numerous tweaks to enhance the aerodynamic design, pilot interface and passenger comfort. "We're happy with the show so far, and seeing very good reception to the new airplane," Socata North America spokesman Michel Adam de Villiers told AVweb. Buyers like the 15 knots of extra airspeed, he said, as well as the climb performance and added range. "And the five-blade prop not only looks cool -- it's much quieter," he said.

Socata plans to build about 50 of the 900s this year, de Villiers said. "It's definitely an improving market," he said. The airplane sells for $3.5 million with standard equipment, or $3.7 million with the elite package. The TBM 900 also will be on display at Aero Friedrichshafen next week, and at EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, coming up July 28-Aug. 3. De Villiers added that he will have one of the TBM 900 airplanes available as a demonstrator at his base at North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

The SkyCraft SD-1 Minisport, a small single-seat S-LSA, first showed up at EAA AirVenture last summer, but this is the first time the airplane has visited Sun 'n Fun, designer Joe Doherty told AVweb this week. The airplane, which sells for about $55,000, is based on a Czech experimental design, with a 50-hp Hirth F-23 two-stroke fuel-injected engine made in Germany. The company has one flying in test mode now, Doherty said, and he expects it will complete the S-LSA certification and start deliveries before Oshkosh this summer. The little airplane burns less than 2.5 gallons of fuel per hour while cruising at about 100 knots. "We think a good market for us will be flying clubs, or flight schools," Doherty said. "This could be a great airplane for building time or flying cross-country."

The airplane has a range of about 575 miles, a stall speed of 34 knots, and a 220-foot takeoff roll, according to the company. It weighs less than 300 pounds empty. It's available with either a tailwheel or tricycle gear, and a ballistic parachute is optional. AVweb's editorial director Paul Bertorelli took a brief tour of the airplane last summer at AirVenture; click here for the video.

Epic Aircraft has hired 25 more workers in the last two months at its production plant in Bend, Ore., company spokesman Mike Schrader told AVweb this week at Sun 'n Fun. He added that they plan to hire 50 more by the end of the year. "We're also adding new equipment, and building the final tooling," he said. "We'll fly the first conforming airplane this fall." Parts for that airplane are under construction now, he said, and structural testing is already underway. The company has taken about 35 orders so far this year for the $2.75 million E1000 turboprop. "We're seeing lots of interest from well-qualified buyers here at Sun 'n Fun," Schrader added. He said the airplane is on track for certification in mid-2015, with deliveries to start before the end of that year. 

The E1000, based on the 2004 kit aircraft, carries six at speeds up to 325 knots, with a range of 1,600 nm. The cockpit features Garmin avionics, and the engine is a Pratt & Whitney PT6-67A. Early this year, Epic purchased a 204,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Bend that was formerly owned by Columbia and later by Cessna. At Sun 'n Fun, the company was showing a cabin mockup and a couple of the original kit airplanes.

Stemme, the German motorglider manufacturer that got a boost with new ownership and investment a couple of years ago, is continuing its work to develop a robust network of dealers and service centers around the world, spokesman Lorenzo Costella told AVweb at Sun 'n Fun. Stemme USA is now based at Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina, with two demo aircraft available on site, and the company plans to have up to four service centers in the U.S., he said. The company also will be debuting some new modifications to its smaller glider, the S6, next week at Aero Friedrichshafen in Germany. "It will have a longer wingspan, going from 59 to 65 feet, and a better glide ratio," Costella said. At Sun 'n Fun, the company is showing its two-seat S10 motorglider, which has a 75-foot wingspan and a glide ratio of about 1:50.

Costella said the technology for the S10 is "stable," but the new shareholders now are investing in research and development. "We'll have no news about that until it's ready for the market," he said. Stemme also introduced at the show the new president of its U.S. subsidiary, Mark Stevenson, who previously worked at Embraer and Cessna. “My main aim for 2014 is to demonstrate the uniqueness and excellence of Stemme premium sports aircraft as a result of German engineering," he said. The company will return to EAA AirVenture in July with both the S10 and S6 on display. The S10 will also fly at the show, piloted by world champion aerobatic pilot Luca Bertossio, from Italy.

Quicksilver announced last year at EAA AirVenture they had a two-seat S-LSA model in the works, and this week they brought the finished product to Sun 'n Fun. "There's been a lot of very interested people looking at it," Eugene "Bever" Borne told AVweb on Saturday on the Paradise City flight line. "We've definitely created a little stir." Most of those who showed serious interest, Borne said, seemed to be pilots who already own an airplane, and this would be their second aircraft, for purely recreational use. "These people tend to be less interested in building an airplane, and are looking for something that's ready to fly," he said. A kit version of the aircraft, which would take 40 to 60 hours to build, would cost about $23,000, Borne said. The S-LSA ready-to-fly, which is expected to complete its ASTM approval by the end of the year, will cost about $40,000.

The other advantage of the S-LSA model, Borne said, is that it provides a legal way to give instruction. "That's the big reason for it," he said. The company has established manufacturing centers for the S-LSA in Minnesota and Louisiana, Borne said. From there, the airplane can either be trailered or flown to its new owner's location. Earlier in the week, company president Will Escutia said at a Sun 'n Fun news conference that kit sales overall for the company have gone up 15 percent in the last two years. About 15,000 Quicksilver aircraft are flying in 100 countries. Overseas, they are often used for commercial purposes, such as crop dusting. Escutia added that the company is working with a partner on an electric-powered aircraft, but "hurdles still have to be solved."

Photo Gallery: Opening Days at Sun 'n Fun

AVweb's Mary Grady took a few shots around the grounds while chasing down news stories at Sun 'n Fun this week.

Rotax has tweaked the fuel-injected 912 iS to optimize its application in light sport aircraft.  AVweb's Paul Bertorelli spoke with Dean Vogel of Lockwood Aviation at Sun 'n Fun.

Following FAA certification on February 28, Eclipse Aerospace has already delivered five of its new model 550 jets.  On April 2, it was set to deliver number six at Sun 'n Fun to a buyer who agreed to put the brand-new airplane on display during the show.  Mason Holland of Eclipse briefed AVweb on the 550 and Eclipse's plans going forward.

Mahindra Aerospace's GippsAero GA8 Airvan has been available in North America for more than a decade, and it's finding a home in a variety of environments and locations, including Alaska.  AVweb's Rick Durden spoke with GippsAero's Earl Boyter at Sun 'n Fun 2014.

Seeking to provide a flight planning app for Android users, FlightPro has launched an app it refers to as intuitive, fast, and pilot-friendly.  CEO T. R. Wright described the app to AVweb's Rick Durden in a podcast at FlightPro's booth at Sun 'n Fun.

The 40th annual Sun 'n Fun air show and exhibition opened in Lakeland, Florida on Tuesday morning with a record number of exhibitors and strong ticket sales.  In this brief video, Sun 'n Fun CEO Lites Leenhouts gives AVweb viewers a preview of the show.

At Sun 'n Fun, Redbird is showing its sim-based Flying Challenge.  You can sign up for free and compete against thousands of other pilots in sim-based flight maneuvers.  Redbird's Jeff Van West explains how the challenge works.

At Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland, Florida, popular app maker ForeFlight is showing off the latest version of its flight planning and management app, ForeFlight 6.  The upgrade provides split-screen capability for the Stratus portable ADS-B/EFIS, new terrain plotting features and improved flight plan filing.

Garmin has redesigned its G3X glass cockpit for LSA and experimental aircraft.  It has a touchscreen feature set and supports on-screen display and command for the Garmin VIRB action cam, plus it controls the GMC305 flight control/autopilot system.  Garmin's Jessica Koss gave AVweb an overview of the system at Sun 'n Fun 2014 in Lakeland, Florida.

Garmin has its pilot watch, and now Hilton Software has an interface that sends wireless flight plan data from its WingX Pro 7 iPad app to the Pebble e-paper watch.  Hilton Goldstein gave AVweb an overview of the interface from Sun 'n Fun 2014 in Lakeland, Florida.

At Sun 'n Fun 2014, WACO Classics was showing off its new Great Lakes 2T biplane, a neat little sport and acro aircraft.  Peter Bowers gave AVweb a video tour of the aircraft.

ASA has 39 specialty training apps for pilots and dozens of aviation e-books.  At Sun 'n Fun, ASA's Brian Snider showed AVweb some of the more popular apps.

The DA42 VI is Diamond's most sophisticated piston twin, equipped with a pair of Austro AE300 diesels.  It's on display at Sun 'n Fun in its first U.S. appearance.  You can see it at Diamond's booth or take a look in this quick video tour with Jeff Owen of Premier Aircraft.

There's a reason you don't see many helicopter simulators.  Helicopter flight dynamics are difficult to model, and modeling a simulation that can hover is a challenge.  But with it's new VTO simulator, Redbird says it has done just that.  At Sun 'n Fun, where Redbird introduced the VTO, the company's Roger Sharp gave AVweb a demo.

GoPro action cameras capture cool in-flight video, but when shooting from inside the cabin, the propeller disk and cabin windows can blur otherwise good footage.  The EAGLE360 from Airborne Sensor is an STC-certified belly pod that houses up to three GoPro cameras.  Company CEO David Tenenbaum gave AVweb a demo at Sun 'n Fun 2014 in Lakeland, Florida.

Touchscreen for LSA and experimental avionics is the new trend at Sun 'n Fun 2014.  Dynon Avionics brought its latest touchscreen system, the Skyview Touch.  Dynon's Michael Schofield showed the system to Kitplanes magazine at the show.

Built in 1937, the Flagship Detroit is the oldest flying airworthy DC-3 in the world.  The airplane is operated by the Flagship Detroit Foundation, which brought the restored DC-3 to Sun 'n Fun 2014 in Lakeland, Florida.  Steve Jacobson, who captains the aircraft, gave AVweb a tour at the show.

At Sun 'n Fun 2014, Seattle Avionics introduced a new app that offers just charts, plates and sectionals — no ADS-B support and no weather-getting.  Here's AVweb's quick take on the new app.

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As Sun ‘n Fun drew to a close over the weekend, I’d say that most of the people I spoke to deemed it about average. As I’ve said before, it’s pointless to draw any conclusions about the aviation economy based on how vendors saw the booth traffic or what the daily gate was. We’ve long since passed the point of expecting a booming turnaround.

As I said in a blog last week, I was wondering if we would see at least the outlines of the next big thing. Maybe there is no big thing, just a steady trickle of developments in a market that continues to evolve slowly. Normally, when companies announce what avionics they'll use, it's a snoozer, but Flight Design's decision to use Garmin's G3X in its developmental C4 airplane is significant. Keep in mind, the C4 will be a full-up, IFR-certified four-place airplane. So how are they gonna get away with the uncertified G3X for avionics? Plan A is to certify those boxes as part of the airplane under the new revisions of FAR Part 23. Yup, they’re betting on the come alright and I think it’s not a bad bet, actually.

Plan B, if the regulators fail to deliver on their lofty promises, is to use the airplane’s TSOd mechanical instruments as primary for IFR and the two G3Xs as displays. The airplane will have a TSOd GTN 750 and a TSOd backup radio, so unless the regulators get really chicken^&%$ about it, Flight Design should have it covered. They’ll need this to work if they hope to hit the $250,000 target price for the airplane. That price, by the way, is what a new G1000 Cessna 172 SP cost in 2007. They’re comparable airplanes, although the C4 is faster and its engine is approved for mogas. (Sort of...91 AKI, really.) Wouldn't it have been nice to have a G3X-like box 10 years ago when the G1000 was just appearing. But the displays just didn't exist then. I hope Flight Design makes these numbers. I also hope events in Ukraine, where FD does much of its manufacturing, don’t conspire to give them more headaches. (They’re also building a factory in China.)

Light Sport

There seems to be a substantial body of opinion—if not a majority-- that the light sport aircraft rule has been a mistake. We published one argument for this case last week.  While I don’t share that view, I also don’t think the LSA rule has been a ringing success, either. The reasons are many, but like those who argue against LSA, I do think the big negative driver is that an unnecessarily low max weight has meant that the aircraft just aren’t seen as durable for training. But that doesn’t mean the whole idea is a failure. Just ask Cub Crafters, which recently sold its 300th LSA.

And yet the new designs keep coming. At the show, Glasair Aviation showed off a mockup of the Merlin LSA it plans to introduce. Quicksilver showed its own S-LSA and I suspect we’ll see more at AirVenture. Why, I’m not sure. The market has declared it will support, at most, a couple of hundred airframes a year. Weak sales and low margin has already sent Cessna screaming into the night. I suppose if new entrants can make money on under a dozen airplanes a year, the business case is sound. Maybe. I always wonder what some of these companies might be doing with those investment bucks and developmental energy that might make them more return on the investment.

Rotax Numbers

Okay, I’m giving myself this week’s Wolf-Blitzer-Insufferably-Moronic-Question Award for a comment I made in this podcast. In discussing the torque numbers for the newly announced Rotax 912 iS Sport, I allowed as how the higher torque in certain RPM bands won’t have implications for the engine’s power output. That’s wrong, of course, because more torque at the same RPM means more horsepower.

During that interview, I was glancing at the 912 iS’s new torque curves and noticed that at the RPM where the peak power is measured, both engines had about the same torque, hence they’re both considered 100-HP engines. However, in the middle of the range, the Sport engine, by dint of having its induction tuned, generates a bit more torque, and hence horsepower at a given RPM. Also, I read past the scale on the right side of the graph—it was in Newton meters, not foot pounds. Not that it matters for the basic relationship of power and torque. This was done, by the way, mainly for the U.S. market, where constant speed props aren’t used much on Rotax engines. In Europe, they’re common, so the pilot can just dial up the RPM for max takeoff power. Improved induction gives the 912 iS better power delivery at takeoff revs with a fixed-pitch prop.

Diesel Traction

Continental’s Centurion diesel is popping up in more places and at next week’s Aero show in Friedrichshafen, we’re told to expect more announcements. At Sun ‘n Fun, Glasair showed off the first experimental installation of the Centurion 2.0s, the 155-HP variant, in a Sportsman. The company estimates it will add about a $60,000 price premium over the Lycoming choice. Homebuilders, who are notoriously frugal, may balk at that, but one Glasair builder stopped me near the booth and said he would order a Centurion now if it were available for the Sportsman he's got up on wheels. That’s a single data point, but maybe there’s more interest there than we think. And for reasons we don’t get yet.

At the Redbird booth, Jerry Gregoire told me the current price of the Redhawk conversion using the Centurion 2.0 will be $249,000. Isn’t that creeping up from the original estimate? Yes, it is. Gregoire said the airplane is simply proving to be more expensive to build than originally anticipated. To be fair, Redbird really didn’t make any promises about prices last summer, but had a goal of under $200,000 on a trial-balloon basis.

My view of it was that a price of around $225,000 would have been impressive; $249,000, I'd call not-that-bad territory and it has a whiff of the same old story in aircraft manufacture. One reason for the higher price, I have to guess, is that Redbird switched from the Aspen Evolution system to the Garmin G500. Sometimes I think we’re like crack addicts in aviation, larding up airplanes with more sophisticated and expensive equipment than they really need to do the mission. Then when we get bitch slapped by how expensive they’ve become, we act surprised and launch another bout of hand wringing over how we need to reduce prices. We can be our own worst enemies. In the end, there may be no solution for it. Maybe customers just won’t settle for anything but the highest price stuff, even while they complain about how much it costs.

On the plus side, Gregoire said with volume—and Redbird has big plans for that—the price might settle back to something lower. I certainly hope so. I’m not sure it’s enough to say an airplane is a good value just because it’s priced south of $390,000, which is where new Skyhawks are going. That $200,000 mark, or near it, seems like a sweet spot for buyers. And by the way, to achieve anything, these projects need to drive down the cost of what the customer will actually pay and not just improve profitability for flight schools. If would-be customers don't see price relief, profitability won't matter a bit.

Redbird has some competition from Premier Aircraft, which is doing Centurion conversions of the non-G1000 R and S model Skyhawks. Prices will vary, but the near equivalent of the Redhawk will sell for $289,000. That gets us to about the 2009 model Skyhawk as an equivalent. Redbird sees the market as a fleet lease opportunity through Brown Lease, while Premier seems to be angling for sales.

As refurb becomes a dominant market force, AOPA is shortly to announce its own project in this area. Several sources told me the association is doing a refurb project on three Cessna 152s with a price point of $85,000 out the door. Not that AOPA is getting into the airplane remanufacture business; it’s doing this as a demonstration project. This could be an idea with legs. As mentioned above, LSAs have been found wanting for lack of durability in the training market. But no one would say that about the venerable 152. In my mind’s eye, I can conjure up what a freshly restored one would look like. And I like what I see. My middle section hasn't expanded so much that I can't squeeze into the right seat comfortably.

Press Day

Many major trade shows have press days--a day or even two when the show is open just for press people to meet with companies and get their stories told. Of the aviation shows, only NBAA does this. But some companies are starting to figure this out on their own and are setting up appointments on set-up day. Redbird, for instance, had a major event and I met with them the day before to film the challenge project. It paid off in Google hits and clicks. So did ForeFlight and WACO Classics, to name a couple more.

Bluntly, for us and a few others I've spoken to, Sun 'n Fun just gets harder to cover every year. We blew off several events simply because we couldn't get from the press center to the show grounds or wherever the event was to be held. The golf cart taxi was a nice gesture, but didn't always work because there didn't appear to be enough available drivers. 

So if you're a company looking for press coverage, in the world of Google, you want it out there earlier rather than later. Give us a call or an e-mail before the show and we'll make a point to shoot coverage before the show opens--and this applies to any show. If you're still centering your coverage plan on press conferences, trust me, you're about 20 minutes late. You can do better.

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