Sun 'n Fun 2003: A Centennial of Flight

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

Midweek Opening Thins Crowds

If we had to pick one word to describe the mood at Sun 'n Fun's opening day on Wednesday, April 2, it would be: tentative. What with war jitters and a soft economy looming, we didnít expect to see record crowds and we generally didn't. A couple of exhibitors told us traffic through their booths was sparse on opening day but on the other hand, we found ourselves hemmed in by gawkers in a couple of the vendor halls, so the place is hardly deserted. All the parts and pieces are in place for a hassle-free show, including a new Wednesday-to-Tuesday show schedule thatís earlier in the month, improved parking and access, and superb crisp weather of the sort you canít always count on in Florida for April. Itís supposed to remain sunny through the weekend in Florida but an approaching cold front may make VFR trips from the northeast and Midwest a non-starter. If youíre flying in, better to leave earlier than later.

Whatís new and exciting? Weíll have a more complete report later in the week but in the meantime, here are some glimpses of Wednesdayís show activity.


New Aircraft Unveiled

New Piper Announces Two New Models...

Actually, theyíre not entirely new but are revised editions of the fixed-gear Saratoga that sold moderately well in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The new 6X and 6XT are based on the PA-32 six-place airframe that evolved from the original Cherokee Six line. New Piperís Chuck Suma told reporters that the two models are intended as crossover/SUV-type aircraft suitable for family transportation or, thanks to quickly reconfigurable rear seats, generous cargo haulers. Or, if the owner prefers, some combination of those two roles. The 6X and 6XT will deliver the kind of payloads buyers haven't seen since the mid-1970s. New Piper says the 6X's useful load is 1,440 pounds and 828 pounds with full fuel, which totals 102 gallons. That's four people and a bunch of baggage. Offload some gas and six people can be comfortably carried with decent range. Powerplants for both are the 540-series Lycoming at 300 hp. (The 6XT is turbocharged.) The 6X is priced at $336,000 and the 6XT at $356,000, sans options. Some might be inclined to think Piper ill-advised to launch new models in the current market but Cessna has done well with its heavy-hauling 206, a model with similar useful load but lacking the Piperís rear entry door. The 6X can be seen in the outdoor display area along the flight line or at Piper's Web site.

...Symphony Plays For Four...

Another company that appears bullish despite GAís sales doldrums is OMF Aircraft, maker of the two-place Symphony thatís being marketed as a light trainer and sport aircraft. OMF announced at the show Wednesday that it plans to develop a four-place model called, what else, the Symphony 4. The new airplane, like the smaller Symphony, is a high-wing design but with more power, specifically a Lycoming IO-540-C at 250 . Cruise speeds of 145 knots are promised with useful loads of about 1190 pounds. See the Symphony folks at booth N-18-19 in the outdoor display area near the flight line, or log onto their Web site.

...And The Ever-Prolific Van's Delivers Again

If Piper is famous for morphing one spam can into yet another model, Vanís Aircraft of Aurora, Ore., is positively prolific. Just as we were getting used to the RV-9, Vanís says it's well along on the prototype for the RV-10A, a four-place nosewheel kit aircraft that will accept up to 260† for cruise speeds in the 170-knot range. With designs spewing forth like water from a spout, Vanís might be thought of as a bit of an air castle builder. But forget that. The company has some 3,200 designs of various kinds flying. See Vanís in the outdoor display area, or visit them online.


On The Show Grounds

Lancair Certified: De-Icing Debuts

The recent cash infusion at Lancair Certified Aircraft has the company back on the offensive with an aggressive evolution of the Columbia airframe ... now (literally) hotter than ever. Announced here at Sun 'n Fun, the turbocharged Lancair Columbia 400 will soon offer a "ThermaWing" thermoelectric deicing option to take full advantage of its 230-kt-at-18,000-feet cruise. If all goes well, the aircraft will be certified in July and the "anti-ice" system will be available to buyers starting with Columbia 400 aircraft delivered this fall. Certification for the normally aspirated Columbia 350 will follow. The actual hardware bonded to the Columbia's wings and horizontal stabilizer was created by Northcoast Technologies of Chardon, Ohio. It consists of an electrically insulating inner layer, beneath a laminate tape of flexible, expanded graphite, covered by a heat-conducting outer layer. Increased alternator capacity handles the task of de-ice and anti-ice through a patented system that sends power cyclically to different sections of the de-icing tape. The aircraft will sport a heated prop and will offer a removable heated window plate as an option. It has not yet been determined if it will be possible to retrofit existing aircraft with the system.

Lancair, which last year seemed inches from closing its doors, landed $50 million in funding -- twice the amount they were looking for -- rehired staff, and has clearly gone on the marketing offensive. Since February 28, the Lancair Company has delivered one aircraft per week and expects to deliver more than 50 aircraft in 2003. Aside from the hot wing, new buyers of the Columbia 400 will also be offered a dual-bus, dual-battery full authority digital engine control model that gives new meaning to the term "all-electric."

Garmin's Glass Announced

When Avidyne unveiled its impressive glass cockpit system, the Entegra, last summer, avionics watchers wondered what Garmin had up its sleeve. They found out on Thursday. Garmin announced the G1000, a pair of 10-inch flat-panel primary flight displays with a 15-inch MFD that will launch on Cessnaís planned Mustang personal jet. The system isnít on display at Sun 'n Fun but it's flying, according to a Garmin spokesman, and will be shown at EAA AirVenture in July. Like the Entegra, the G1000 may be some distance from seeing any aftermarket applications. On the other hand, the Mustang is at least three years away and probably more and it wouldnít surprise us to see this system flying before that.

UPSATíS CNX80 Debuts

We got our hands on UPSATís new CNX80 color GPS navigator and can report that the photos youíve seen donít do it justice. Last week we reported that UPSAT gave dealers a sneak preview of this new unit, and the company has plenty of demonstrators scattered around the Sun 'n Fun vendor booths. We jabbed the buttons and twirled the knobs to see if the unit is as user friendly as current-generation navigators. Happily, it is, even though it sports 24 -- count 'em -- buttons, knobs and soft keys of various types. The screen is crisp and vibrant and a bit larger and squarer than that found on the Garmin 430. What we especially liked was the sexy blue background lighting for the concentric knobs and generally good key lighting. See UPSAT in building C, or at their Web site.

Little Guys Make EFIs, Too

Although all eyes have been focused on avionics giants such as Garmin and UPSAT, some of the most interesting developments -- especially for the experimental field -- come from smaller companies. One we've been watching is Dynon Avionics of Woodinville, Wash. Dynon has been showing nifty little self-contained electronic gyros for a couple of years but now theyíve developed a miniature EFIS that contains 10 instruments, including a solid-state attitude indicator. For $2000 or so, you get an attitude indicator, altimeter, rate of climb, airspeed and angle of attack, compass heading, turn coordinator and lateral acceleration ball, voltmeter, G-meter and timer, all in a package about the size of a conventional steam gauge. And did we mention the thing will run for a couple of hours on battery power alone? Oh, how we pine for a way to put this in a certified airplane. (Experimentals only for now.) See Dynon in booth C-23, or visit them online.

New Developments At GAMI

While other companies large and small are bravely advancing on the avionics front, our friends at General Aviation Modifications Inc., makers of GAMIjectors, continue to develop interesting powerplant projects. The latest offering is a turbo-normalizing setup for the Cardinal, which builds on the highly successful systems the company has been installing on Bonanzas for years. (Actually, the turbo systems are marketed by GAMIís sister company, Tornado Alley Turbo, but both outfits share the same hangar.) GAMIís long-awaited PRISM electronic ignition system inches closer to certification and although it hasnít flown yet, one component of the system soon will. GAMI will be marketing to the experimental market its Supplenator auxiliary alternator, with a clever electronic load control display. Eventually, says GAMI, the Supplenator will find its way into the market as a back-up alternator for certified airplanes, but its real reason for being is to power the PRISM system. See GAMI in building C or at their Web site.

Unstable, Unresponsive and Underpowered

If you ever wondered how the original Wright Flyer flew, those three words describe it. And now, from Microsoft, comes a simulator that models the Flyerís unique flight dynamics. You can fly one at Sun 'n Fun this week, complete with a wooden stick and the hip cradle the Wrights developed for roll control. As part of a traveling exhibition celebrating the Centennial of Flight, Microsoft has three of these sims set up in a vast tent near the FAA building and we think they're worth a look and a try. Later this year, Microsoft will release Flight Simulator 2004, which will include the Flyer and several other vintage aircraft. (But itís just not the same without the stick and cradle.) While you're at this exhibition, be sure to take in Park Ranger Darrell Collins' talks on the Wrights. He does a terrific job with the subject.

Amazing Resurrection

Sun 'n Fun was graced with a truly historic aircraft in the form of an original 1910-design Bleriot XI produced by Enoch Thulin's Aeroplanfabrik in 1914. In 1986, the aircraft was found intact in a barn in Sweden, by Mikael Carlson, who restored it -- including hand-carving his own mahogany propeller. He returned it to authentic, airworthy condition using nearly 95% of the original materials ... and not just to say he could. Carlson has logged more than 30 hours in the 70-knot aircraft and added another fraction Wednesday in front of a large air show crowd, warping the wings to coax each turn. The flight could have lasted longer, but the original aircraft flew behind a rotary Gnome Omega 50- engine and Carlson's version is accurate enough to leave him coated in oil after a brief hop. Still, Carlson is anything but timid -- he flew the aircraft across the English Channel in July 25, 1999, recreating Louis Bleriot's 1909 flight that gave the Bleroit XI a permanent place in history and likely the pilotís fill of oil at the same time.