Sun 'n Fun 2003: Day Two
The State Of The Industry...
We've waited and waited, the excitement has come and gone, but while foreign companies wait to send an initial wave of invading aircraft compliant with the requirements of the elusive Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category, U.S. companies are sitting tight ... and, for the most part, are quite happy to do just that. With the economy still weak, a war on, and LSA floundering somewhere in the distance, the U.S. kit manufacturers best poised to take advantage of LSA tell AVweb they're doing just fine, thank you very much. Rans Corporation has turned out well more than 3,000 aircraft kits over 20 years and produces a range of aircraft that could be eligible for the LSA category. But owner Randy Schlitter is in no big rush to see the ballgame change. Schlitter's niche market boomed in the early to mid 1990's, but had dropped off some since 1997. While the rest of the industry flounders, Rans -- and many other affordable aircraft producers -- have seen a steady increase in business since September 11, 2001.
...Comments From Key Players...
Schlitter's aircraft and business model have served as an example for the light aircraft industry and have spawned numerous clones overseas. The problem LSA may cause is the arrival of those aircraft in the U.S. market at a cost lower than American wages could allow. "We taught Europe how to build," said Schlitter. Now that market is filled with light aircraft built to completion by factories following the example set by companies like Rans. If LSA does come through, Rans may lose some business to competing designs -- based on his own -- from overseas, but Schlitter is confident that the remaining differences will ultimately lead the expanded market back to his door. "We're gonna get them on quality," Shlitter said. "If you think you can get an aircraft for less than 40K, you need to adjust your basis of reality." Schlitter already has type certification for his S-7C aircraft, but no production certificate. Rans representatives told AVweb it didn't make much sense to make the substantial investment necessary to obtain a production certificate if the LSA category will allow competing designs a more affordable avenue of production, resulting in a lower selling price. As the S-7C waits out the LSA rule, some of its potential buyers do too.
...Sonex Sits Tight...
Jeremy Monnet who, with his father -- award winning designer John Monnet -- markets the plans and kit-built and LSA ready Sonex aircraft aren't bothered by the lagging rulemaking process that seemingly has LSA stalled. Though the Sonex is a great fit for the potential category, Monnet has no intent to produce turnkey aircraft. There remains the issue of liability insurance. "How is the manufacturer going to get it?" he asked rhetorically, "We'd love to talk to Cessna if they wanted a turnkey LSA aircraft to produce." In the best case scenario, Jeremy tells us the rules will go through, further opening the market for which the Sonex design saw its largest sales increase in the fall of 2002 and someone else would approach his company with the desire to buy kits and produce the aircraft. The Monnets do not plan to offer turnkey aircraft through their own company although they would be able to under the LSA rules.
...And Overseas Upstarts
In Paradise City, the Ultralights section of Sun 'n Fun, creations resembling more of what the spam can drivers would consider "real airplanes" are sprouting up left and right ... and perhaps of incestuous parents. But these are sport pilot candidates. American Ghiles Aircraft is offering an LSA ready single boom-tailed high-wing Stork, which is extremely similar ... aesthetically ... to the single boom-tailed high wing Ukraine built CT2, which is similar again to the single boom-tailed high-wing German made Remos. You can buy these complete aircraft now as used experimentals with pricing from the mid $40k range to the mid $60K range. This compares with Schlitter's $65K S-7C. You can't have a finished Sonex. Word late Thursday on the EAA's Sport Pilot web site said the FAA was (again) hoping to announce completion of the final rule for the new Sport Pilot airmen and aircraft at Oshkosh. We've heard that before ... maybe more than once.
Bohannon: Head, Shoulders, Airplane, Above The Rest...
Sun 'n Fun wouldn't be the same without Bruce Bohannon and while the rare-air reaching record breaker sat this show out on the ground, he yet again impressed upon us his ability to achieve the seemingly impossible by setting four more aviation records without taking to the air ... sort of. Try to follow along. This much we knew: recognized as world records by the National Aeronautic Association in Arlington, Va., and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in Switzerland, Bruce's October 22, 2002 flight at Palm Springs, Calif., claimed three world records. Then, somebody started looking at the fine print. Bruce's Flyin' Tiger took the time to climb to 12,000 meters (31 minutes 3 seconds), 9,000 meters (16 minutes, 3 seconds), and sustained altitude in level flight (40,604 feet). Each was a new record for class C-1 -- all piston engine aircraft of any weight. What we didn't know ... what no one knew ... was that analysis would later prove that Bruce also won Class C-1.b records for those same listings applied to aircraft weighing between 1102 and 2205 lbs, bringing the total winnings to six. Next it was found he could add to the list an absolute altitude record of 41,611 for C-1.b category aircraft. That last one precipitated Bohannon's acceptance of the Bleriot Medal. In the end, months after the flight, Bruce Bohannon and the Exxon Flyin' Tiger garnered a total of seven world records in one day, in one flight ... likely a record in itself.
...Onward And Upward
Bohannon has been chasing time to climb records for years and now in his fifth year with Exxon has yet again set his sights a bit higher -- at 50,000 feet. So what's an extra 9,000 feet or so? Well, it will require a quarter million dollar pressure suit to keep Bruce's innards in working order. The team is currently pursuing channels to borrow one. The aircraft itself will undergo little in the way of changes to facilitate the attempt with work to the turbocharging unit intended to optimize power output at the 24-squared power setting Bruce runs. Aside from that, Bruce tells us he may request a change to the canopy -- if he makes the altitude, he will become the first American ever to fly that high in a piston engine aircraft in which case Bruce is concerned his head may not fit for the spontaneous swelling.
A new arrival: WXWorx...
If ever there was a moving target for the avionics buyer, it’s a weather data link system. After a year, one leading contender---Merlin—is laying low or gone entirely, only to be displaced by this year’s new star: WXWorx. This is a new company that’s an offshoot of Baron Services, which every TV weatherman knows as the leading company delivering NEXRAD products to the domestic broadcast market. But Avidyne, Garmin and Bendix/King are still in there pitching. Interestingly, WXWorx will use XMRadio as its datalink in a new system that presumably could also deliver entertainment programs to the cockpit. WXWorx will provide NEXRAD and other weather products for display on PDAs, laptops, tablets and, eventually, hard-mounted panel displays. (Those players are yet to be named.) A company called Heads Up Technologies will produce the hardware, a $3,750 certified box that receives data from XMRadio’s two geostationary satellites. Unlike Garmin’s offering, it will be a monthly flat-fee subscription--$49—for which you get unlimited use of continuously broadcasted weather data. Garmin will use the XMRadio data option for its new G1000 primary flight display system but it won’t be available for GNS430/530 owners, who will have to use the GDL49 and the EchoFlight low-earth orbit system for weather on those boxes.
...And UPSAT Will Go With WSI
UPSAT is evidently pursuing a similar strategy, but with leading weather provider WSI furnishing the hardware to display weather on the company’s popular MX-20 MFD. We don’t have cost numbers on the WSI system yet but we’re told it will be competitive with what’s already fielded, namely the EchoFlight request-reply system Garmin is using and Bendix/King’s Wingman services, which continuously broadcasts weather data via ground-based datalink. And let’s not forget Avidyne. This company, which pioneered the color multi-function display, has just received data link approval for its EX500 multi-function display, which includes a data link receiver as standard equipment for a price of $8,995. Like Garmin, Avidyne uses low earth-orbit satellites for its weather data but instead of pilot-operated request-reply, the receiver automatically queries for the appropriate weather, mimicking broadcast data link. It’s billed on a per-use basis but the pilot can toggle it off to save money when the weather doesn’t warrant frequent downloads.
Want A D-JET? You Can Order One Now...
In the personal jet field, Diamond got serious at Sun ‘n Fun Thursday, announcing that it’s ready to take orders for its new D-JET this week. Current Diamond owners will be given preference for delivery slots, says John Gauch, Diamond VP for sales and marketing. The D-JET’s first flight is promised for 2004 and a rather modest $20,000 deposit will secure a position on the $850,000 single-engine jet. The D-JET is billed as a five-place personal jet and has been on the drawing board for only a few months. One of the big question marks with Diamond's entry in this burgeoning market is the engine choice. According to Diamond, it will put out 1,400 lbs. of thrust but that's all they're saying right now. Everything else about the D-JET is typical Diamond: all composite, big glass and that ever-present T-tail.
...That Eclipse Is Playing Catch-up Ball
Many of these companies are chasing the apparent leader in the personal jet field, Eclipse 500. But if Diamond meets its 2004 first-fly date, it could easily catch Eclipse, which stumbled late last year when the Williams International EJ22 engines it had originally planned to use evidently came up short on thrust. Eclipse has since announced it will use Pratt & Whitney’s PW610F, a new low-weight, high-thrust turbofan. As if to silence doubters about the Eclipse’s growing weight, at Sun ‘n Fun, the company showed how many bags the 500 will carry: a total of 14 pieces of luggage. That ought to be plenty for the Eclipse’s typical load, which Eclipse now says will be one pilot and three passengers, even though it has six seats. Eclipse is promising a 3390-pound empty weight for a maximum useful load of 2250 pounds.
Aircraft Market Notes
Did you know you could now buy a new Luscombe from two separate companies? Luscombe Aircraft Corp. is building the Model 11E, a four-place design that looks for all the world like a stubby Cessna 172. The company got its type certificates late last year and they have a couple of airplanes on display at Lakeland. (Actually, they have the entire fleet on display; only two production airplanes have been built.) The 11E is a modernized version of an earlier Luscombe design. Powered by a Continental IO-360-ES, the 11E sells for $155,900. And nostalgia buffs can get a new version of the airplane that made the original company famous. The "other" Luscombe is a re-heat of the 8F taildragger built by a company heretofore called Renaissance, based in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The 8F was, and is, a side-by-side, all-metal tailwheel airplane with sticks. A 150 HP Lycoming O-320 powers the current version, which conforms to the original type certificate. The price is $77,500, without radios. A spokesman for the company told us they’ve worked out some snags with the foundation that previously owned the Luscombe name and can now call themselves Luscombe. But what about that other Luscombe airplane company? "There's another one?" she asked. Ah, hope springs eternal in airplane marketing.
Even with the soft overall and GA economy, Cirrus continues to boom along with its popular SR20 and SR22 aircraft. But the company has suffered a difficult initial accident record, with 13 accidents so far, seven of them fatal. Cirrus is addressing this issue head on and announced at Sun ‘n Fun on Thursday an aggressive owner-training program that offers decreased insurance premiums in exchange for meeting certain training milestones. Cirrus spokesman Ian Bentley told AVweb that the company believes that owners will be more proficient if they earn their ratings in the airplane they’ll eventually own. The training/insurance discount offer applies to any owner with fewer than 500 hours and who will take deliver on a new SR20 or SR22 by December 31, 2003 or July 31, 2003, respectively. The owner has to agree to commit to an instrument rating.
There was a time in the world of kit-built airplanes when "fast glass" almost certainly referred to either a Glasair or a Lancair. At Sun 'n Fun 2003, a new aircraft and a new design perpetuated that tradition. For Lancair, the new Legacy FG is a fixed gear fiberglass 200 hp alternative to their 300 hp retractable carbon fiber Legacy kit. It will cruise near 200 mph for some 1,300 miles, but only after a willing $32,900 investment in the kit, more for the powerplant, and a significant personal investment in the building process. Lancair has since inception headed up-market from their popular two-seat Lancair 235 (115hp) now through the even more popular turbine-powered, pressurized, four seat Lancair IV-P. But their latest offering with lower acquisition costs reaches back to the company's roots and with fixed gear likely makes the acquisition of insurance much easier for many pilots. The offering puts high performance and trademark good looks back within the reach of the market that first fueled the company's growth, but now offers it with considerably more experience.
Mooney made its first serious post-bankruptcy debut at Lakeland, showing a pair of Ovation 2s and a revised mock-up that touts the company’s new, lower glare shield and panel that ought to address some customer complaints about poor forward visibility in the long-body Mooneys. With the 2003 model year, Mooney has a leaner product line, with two versions of the Ovation and the TLS Bravo. Spokesman Earle Boyter told us sales were strong in February but fell off in March, no doubt due to war jitters. Socata is also bullish for the coming year and is expanding its support network to prove it. Although Socata have never been a big seller in the U.S., it has placed a steady trickle of airplanes in the North American market. Lately, it has done well with the single-engine turboprop TBM700 and the company says it will sell 26 of that model this year. Last week, Socata rolled out the 257th TBM 700C2, the first production C2 model certified by the FAA. The company announced two new U.S. support facilities, one in Portland, Oregon and a second, a factory direct sales office, in Atlanta.
Gadgets and Airware
Got oxygen? If you own an oxygen system and the answer is no, it may be because you suck it through the hose as if it was free. There is a better way and a couple of vendors at Sun 'n Fun showed some products that will reduce oxygen consumption, keep you from turning blue with hypoxia and save you a few bucks in the process. Precise Flight makes a nice line of oxygen equipment and now they’re working on a mechanical demand conservator that slips into the oxygen line between the cannula and the supply. It senses when you’re about to inhale and dumps a pulse of oxygen into the line. It can be adjusted for various altitudes and it’s entirely mechanical; no batteries or wires. When the product is available later this year, it’s expected to cost between $400 and $500. Another oxygen gadget we liked was the Bandit cannula, which solves one annoying problem of using oxygen: the damn hoses are a nuisance. The Bandit attaches semi-permanently to your headset and has a flexible boom that puts the oxygen output under your nostrils. When you remove your headset, the cannula goes with it; no fussy hoses. Cost is $90. Contact SkyOx at www.skyox.com.
We always get a good laugh when tying down an airplane at Sun 'n Fun or Oshkosh. Those canine auger thingies won't hold squat in a good blow and everyone knows it. A company called Hunting Solutions was showing an intriguing solution to this at Sun ‘n Fun. They’ve got a product called "The Claw" which consists of a three-legged casting hinged in the middle. You open up the three legs flat on the ground and drive steel pins at an angle toward the center of the device. This causes the load vectors on the tiedown to be directed in such a way that the angles work against each other; the harder the wind blows, the more the thing digs in, up to a claimed 1200-pounds of resistance. The kit comes in a carrying bag and sells for $89.95. Contact 601-932-5832.
In the airware front, Destination Direct’s new flight planning software has advanced quite a bit during the past year. DD has joined up with aeroplanner.com and the offline version is cleverly married to online resources to gather up current charts and nav data and to plot TFRs and NOTAMS on your flight plan.
Speaking of charts and plates, Control Vision, which continues to develop new aeronautical applications for the PDA beyond its Anywhere Map program, announced yet another product called Pocket Plates. Think of it as a discount version of the Chart View program UPSAT offers for the MX-20 multi-function display. But rather than using Jeppesen charts, Pocket Plates used scanned FAA NACO products. But the scans are crisp and despite the Compaq iPAQ’s tiny screen, the zoom and scroll features makes the plates quite readable. Cost is $245, which includes six months worth of revisions. For $390, you get 18 months worth of revisions.
Maintenance and Mods
Our sister publication, Aviation Consumer, is forever cautioning against mechanic-in-a-can additives that promise more power, faster speeds and lower fuel consumption and deliver nothing. But a new engine oil additive that debuted at Sun ‘n Fun this week may hold real promise. And while we’re on the subject of oil, there are now more products than ever to keep the stuff from blowing out the belly of the airplane and making a gooey mess. The new additive is called ASL CamGuard and was developed recently by a New Jersey petrochemical lab specializing in aviation lubricants. Aviation Consumer was shown test reports on this additive that suggest it’s an effective anti-wear and anti-corrosion compound suitable for any aircraft engine oil. Some oils already have anti-wear and anti-corrosion packages, some don’t. ASL CamGuard claims to improve these qualities measurably and the testing seems to suggest it works. The price is $24.95 a quart and the material is supposed to be added with each oil change. Contact 800-826-9252.
One question we occasionally hear is whatever happened to the Walker Air/Oil Separator? It used to be big in the aircraft field but has disappeared. Well, now it’s back, being marketed by AirWolf, the folks who make aftermarket filter products of all kinds. Air/Oil separators, of course, condense the oil vapor from the breather tube and return it to the crankcase so it isn’t pumped overboard, where it slimes the belly. The Walker product costs $495 complete and AirWolf has STCs for most models. Another new air/oil separator that caught our eye comes from Andair, a British company. It’s cheaper, at $148, but it only applies to experimental aircraft. You could always try for a field approval.... Last, another well regarded air/oil separator is the M-20 Turbo's Air/Oil Separator. Prices for these separators start at $279 and are due to go up after May 1st.
"Inflatable restraint technology" is now available for your aircraft. Translation: if you really want to, you can get an airbag for your airplane. The AMSAFE Aviation Inflatable Restraint System (AAIR) is a self-contained modular restraint system compatible with standard seats and seat belt attach points and looks very much like a seatbelt system with a an inertial reel shoulder belt and padded lap belt. However, the "padded" section is actually an integral inflatable bag designed with sensors that "detect and verify a catastrophic event" before deploying a large airbag within milliseconds. The idea is to protect the occupant's upper body and head from things like glare shields and instrument panels should circumstances (or landscape) conspire to turn them against the aircraft's occupants. The company is not saying that the units would be of any value in anything but otherwise survivable survivable accidents. The units to can be installed on all Part 23 general aviation and business jet aircraft and the company is also marketing the device for retrofit or new installation on all commercial aircraft including those certified to FAR/JAR 25.562.