April 10, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Sun 'n Fun Expands LSA Exhibit Space
It was just a year ago that the first Light Sport Aircraft were introduced here at Sun 'n Fun, and now the number of fixed-wing Special-LSAs is up to 30, with four new models approved just the week before the show. Sun 'n Fun added 28 spaces in a new southeast exhibit area this year, close by the main entrance, and most of those spots were taken by sport aircraft dealers. By all accounts from the manufacturers we spoke to, interest was high and folks weren't just looking -- they were buying. "We've sold two airplanes already, and it's just the second day of the show," Evektor's Scott Andrews told AVweb early in the week. By later in the week, Tim Elliott, founder of American Legend Aircraft, couldn't stop beaming. "We're very happy with the show," he said. "We've had quite a few sales." American Legend debuted its Legend Cub Special at the show, with a new two-tone paint scheme along with a selection of premium features that have proven popular with buyers. About half of buyers so far have been private pilots or better, Legend spokesman Kurt Sehnert told AVweb. Hear more about the new airplane from our interview with Sehnert on AVweb's audiocast.
While many of the first S-LSAs were imports from the European "microlight" class, which is restricted to about 950 pounds gross weight, more of the newer models are designed from the ground up to meet the U.S. rule, with a limit of 1,320 pounds. This allows for bigger, roomier models with more features. Danny Defilici, president of Sport Aircraft Works in Florida, imports the newly approved Sport Cruiser from Czech Aircraft Works (CZAW). He says the Cruiser is a "clean-sheet" design built to the U.S. rules, with a 660-pound useful load and excellent low-speed performance. It's easy to handle for a low-time pilot or a flight-school environment, he said. Interest also was high at the show in the CZAW amphibious Mermaid, which recently got its S-LSA approval despite some FAA consternation over the repositionable gear. The FAA approval requires that the aircraft carry a placard in the cockpit that forbids sport pilots from repositioning the gear in flight, Defilici said. The FAA has assured him it will eliminate that issue in a future rewrite of the rule, he added.
Three High-Profile Accidents
So far, many buyers of LSAs are already pilots, but a lot of effort is going into expanding the market by finding and training new pilots as well. Jeff Parnau, who is working with Sportsplanes.com in Wisconsin, said the company recently brought an Ikarus C42 S-LSA to an outdoor-sports show in Milwaukee and hung it from the ceiling. Interest was "phenomenal," he said: "We got hundreds of leads, and signed up 40 new students." CZAW is reaching out to new pilots by offering 20 hours of free flight training with its Sport Cruiser. And EAA's Charlie Becker told AVweb yesterday that 150 new student sport pilot certificates were issued at the show. The certificates are free to EAA members, and also are available at all stops of the Sport Pilot Tour, he said. The process takes some time and effort, reflecting sincere interest on the part of those who apply, Becker said. He also noted that EAA now has kits available for owners of Part 103 or homebuilt aircraft who want to convert to LSA categories. About 1,500 of the 103 kits have been sold, he said, and new homebuilt-conversion kits are also selling well. You can hear more from Becker on our audiocast.
Ron Bertram, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia, died in a crash near Sydney on Wednesday. Bertram was taking a Lancair 360 homebuilt for a check flight at Bankstown Airport after some routine maintenance work, according to news reports. Bertram reported engine trouble on takeoff, then crashed near the runway. The aircraft was destroyed. AOPA Australia said in a statement: "His comrades at AOPA are stunned by his loss and are very aware of how difficult it will be to follow in his footsteps. AOPA under his leadership had achieved significant milestones." Airservices Australia Chief Executive Officer Greg Russell praised Bertram's work. "The association has lost a true reformer and a person dedicated to making AOPA more relevant and valuable to the aviation industry," he said. "In memory of Ron and as a legacy to his work and role, it is of critical importance that all of us in the Australian aviation industry continue to strive to achieve his vision." Bertram, who was in his early 40s, had been AOPA president for about two years.
Two LSAs were missing from show exhibits due to accidents that occurred as they were heading to Lakeland. Aviation writer Dan Johnson, who has been working with EAA on the Sport Pilot Tour, was taking off in a CZAW Parrot from Palm City, Fla., on April 2 when engine trouble developed. CZAW CEO Chip Erwin was there, and later told AVweb that Johnson tried to get the airplane down on the airport, but hit hard off the side of a runway. Johnson suffered back injuries and has already undergone surgery with a prognosis for full recovery, Erwin said. The Parrot was badly damaged. In Walhalla, S.C., on April 2, Just Aircraft co-owner Gary Schmitt also had problems on takeoff and was unable to make a safe landing. Schmitt was flying a Highlander, which was just approved the week before as an S-LSA. The aircraft was destroyed and Schmitt was seriously hurt. No further details were available at our deadline.
Marion Blakey, administrator of the FAA, received a warm welcome at Sun 'n Fun on Friday afternoon, in her first appearance at the show. "Sun 'n Fun ... it sure sounds a lot better than most of the things I get invited to," she said. In the hour-long "Meet the FAA" session, she recounted the progress of the Sport Pilot movement. In the last year, the FAA has authorized 254 LSAs, 54 new sport pilot examiners, and 43 new designated airworthiness representatives for light-sport aircraft. "The build-up of the sport pilot infrastructure still has a ways to go, but we're clearly off to a good start," Blakey said. She also recounted the funding woes of the FAA and the need for a stable revenue stream. At a Pilot Town Meeting held at the show on Thursday night, AOPA President Phil Boyer told the crowd there is no FAA funding "crisis," just an effort by the FAA and airlines to justify imposing user fees on GA.
Mercury Computer Systems normally makes imaging equipment for military and medical applications but there are a lot of pilots in the company and, well, you know the rest of the story. The Massachusetts company showed off its Vista Nav synthetic vision system, which, at about $4,000 for the complete system (weather's an option), the company is hoping will be an affordably more capable alternative to high-end GPS systems. The system shows a database-derived real-time depiction of terrain and ground features (including runway markings) on a tablet PC. The clear color display shows a variety of moving map views that include terrain and there's a target point on the screen that shows the aircraft's projected position nine seconds in advance. Charts and approach plates are also included in the database, along with text versions of airport data. The device will also provide vector headings for ATC-commanded course deviations and then pick up the original route after the controller-inspired fun is over. The tablet is the only part you can see. The heart of the system is the navigation unit that is normally installed under the seat and contains the GPS, solid-state gyros and a barometric pressure sensor to provide all the position, attitude and altitude data. Don't worry about a big wiring headache. The navigation unit sends a wireless signal to the tablet.
A new prototype for what could be a future LSA was on exhibit by AviaDesign, a California company that provides mods for business aircraft. At first glance, with its round belly and top-mounted pusher prop, the A-16 Sport Falcon looks like a seaplane, but the fixed gear nixes that concept. Mark Ward said future versions of the aircraft will come with optional floats. The all-metal bird has flown twice so far, Ward said, and he's hoping for S-LSA approval by September. Also showing nearby was the Envoy, a six-seat cabin-class kitplane. An earlier prototype was on exhibit at Oshkosh last year, but the design is still evolving, spokesman Rienk Ayers told AVweb. He said it's about three months away from first flight. Sean D. Tucker debuted his air show program with the stock Columbia 400SL. All maneuvers demonstrated are within the Columbia's higher G limit load for utility category aircraft, the company said. Tucker's flawless routine featured wingovers, rolls, and a loop. Tucker said the maneuvers are carefully choreographed and require that he carefully monitor the G forces, the maximums of which are recorded during each flight. If the aircraft exceeds limits, it goes back to the factory for a complete checkout. The performance is designed to show the controlled capability of the Columbia, highlighting the Columbia's safety-through-performance philosophy, while also promoting Tucker's school, which targets executive-pilot upset training. Don't try this at home. Really.
Two of the newest U.S. fighter aircraft, the Stealth fighter "Raptor," visited Sun 'n Fun Friday through Sunday, and there was no missing them ... they make a bit of noise. Tracks stopped and heads turned each afternoon when the two roared past, showing off with low-level steep turns and power climbs. Designed to replace the F-15, the F-22A combines stealth technology with supercruise capabilities, maneuverability, and advanced integrated avionics and sensors. "It's a big deal for the Air Force. This is the first time out of the nest," Lt. Col. Michael Shower told The Tampa Tribune. The Raptor had never before traveled to or staged from a civilian air show. Both Shower and fellow pilot Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver are from central Florida hometowns.
The folks at BRS, the ballistic parachute company, seemingly won't be happy until everything that flies comes with a BRS chute installed. The systems so far have saved a documented 188 lives. A Symphony SA 160 set for delivery this week will be the first certified aircraft other than the Cirrus to have a BRS chute installed at the factory. Other certified aircraft have been approved for the chutes, but as an aftermarket retrofit. John Gilmore, BRS vice president of sales, told AVweb in Lakeland the company also is continuing its research into creating parachutes for the light-jet market. (And AVweb has learned BRS part-owner Cirrus may have a working name for its light-jet concept.) "It's essential to integrate the parachute system into the aircraft at the design stage," said Gilmore. Space, weight, and balance factors make it difficult to engineer a system that would be viable as a retrofit. Since Cirrus is a part owner of BRS and its ownership has been a big booster of the parachute concept, the possibility exists that the P-jet Cirrus is reportedly working on will include such a system -- if the engineers can make it work. The chutes are also popular with the new LSA models, available as options on some, and standard on the Flight Design CT.
John McBean, owner of Sport Plane LLC in Idaho, is now also the new owner of the Kitfox kitplane. Skystar, the former owner of the model, declared bankruptcy last October, leaving some homebuilders stuck. Some had already ordered and paid for their Rotax engines through the company, but that money never made it to Rotax. McBean said he bought the assets of the company out of the bankruptcy, noting that is not the same as buying the company itself -- he incurs none of the obligations of Skystar. However, McBean has a long association with the Kitfox, and said he plans to do all he can to provide support to the existing Kitfox community. "The Kitfox legacy now will continue on," he told AVweb yesterday. The deal was just completed on Friday. McBean said it's too soon to announce any long-term plans for the project, but he expects to have more details soon.
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