Special Report: AOPA Expo 2002


Strong Attendance, Happy Vendors

Member support again shows GA community’s resiliency

The last time AOPA Expo came to the desert community of Palm Springs, the aviation world was a different place. TFRs — as in, airspace that’s “too freakin’ restrictive” in the words of political commentator Mark Russell — were not part of common pilot conversation; preserving aviation funding and airports were the perennial political points; and the only agency influencing community operations was the Federal Aviation Administration.

Today, of course, the world is much changed. The Transportation Security Administration makes policy decisions unthinkable four years ago; security for general aviation means more than a fence to keep out wildlife and vandals; and TFRs can pop into existence with no warning to pilots already en route.

But none of the new factors in the life and times of practitioners of private aviation proved strong enough to dissuade thousands of true believers — more than 11,700, to be exact — who swelled Palm Springs Regional Airport to its physical limit of general aviation aircraft. The new record in attendance contributed to the temporary closure of PSP to transient traffic by 9:30 Friday morning, the second day of Expo 2002.

And for the record 488 vendors displaying their wares in the Palm Springs Convention Center, the level of business brought far more smiles than frowns. Many of those vendors reported over-the-top activity at their respective exhibits, whether the product was an airplane, accessory or pilot gadget.

“From my perspective, this has been the best Expo we’ve ever attended,” said Hal Shevers, head of Sporty’s Pilot Shop. “Our sales have been strong and getting stronger over the past year, but our traffic here has been beyond anything I’ve ever seen,” Shevers told AVweb.

Of course, with record-breaking attendance, airport-inundating traffic and vendors smiling, AOPA’s head man was nothing but smiles at the gathering’s closing-night banquet.

“It’s been a great three days,” said Phil Boyer, AOPA’s president. “It has truly been one of our most-successful conventions ever.”

Given all the evidence, it’s impossible to view Boyer’s perspective as hyperbole.

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Boyer and Blakey
AOPA President Phil Boyer Shows Weather Data-Link Technology to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey

Another example: Boyer and company scored a major coup by convincing newly minted FAA administrator Marian Blakey to make her debut to the flying public at AOPA Expo 2002. On her 41st day on the job, she faced a packed house of AOPA members to deliver a strong message of support for retaining pilots’ “freedom to fly” in open skies, despite forces in the federal government who would just as soon see little airplanes absent from the system.

After a humorous opening noting that, despite elevated security measures, “passengers are still slipping through” in great numbers, Blakey won points with her constituency by delivering her serious messages firmly and without equivocation. No FAA administrator in our memory ever delivered a message to an audience of AOPA’s rank-and-file membership with as many applause-interruptions as Blakey received Thursday morning.

She followed up on that appearance by taking time for a Boyer-led tour of exhibits, during which she was introduced to some of the new technologies that hold promise for making flight safer and more accessible. “This is fabulous stuff,” she was heard saying after a brief explanation of on-board data-link technology that delivers minutes-old images of Doppler weather radar to color multifunction displays.

And there was much more.

Advances in engine-control technology long in development were shown as ready-for-prime-time equipment. The state of development of new light jets showed that there is promise for even more advances downstream, thanks to ongoing development geared at making powerplants even lighter, smaller, more efficient and more powerful.

Adam Aircraft Launches A700: Bigger, Faster, Roomier — And, a Jet

Test bed under construction; first production FJ33 engines in-hand

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Adam Aircraft A700 Cabin Mock-Up

Barely a month after the annual National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention in Orlando, the general aviation community has yet another light-light jet contending for business. Colorado-based Adam Aircraft unveiled development of the A700 jet on opening day of AOPA Expo 2002, briefing the media even as prospective customers started trying the fit of a cabin mock-up on the exposition-hall floor. And to emphasize how quickly Adam Aircraft is moving ahead with its second program, the company displayed the first production FJ33 engine (serial number 101) at the company booth.

Using a twin-boom airframe configuration similar to the centerline-thrust A500 piston twin, the A700 boasts a main fuselage three feet longer than the A500’s, resulting in an internal cabin 29 inches longer than the piston twin. And with engines in neither nose nor tail, that main fuselage provides luggage and lav-space gains compared to its piston kin.

Preferred pricing and delivery positions were available for $10,000 through a document remarkably similar to what Cessna Aircraft used to sign more than 250 customers for the $2.29 million Citation Mustang during last month’s NBAA. And the A700, at $1.95 million, delivered a similar level of appeal as the smallest Citation ever conceived, attracting a number of its own converts during Expo 2002. A progress payment will be due in January 2003, followed by another upon first flight — expected in the second half of next year.

With two FJ33s developing 1,200 pounds of thrust each, the A700 is expected to deliver a cruise speed of 340 knots true at FL380. With NBAA IFR reserves, the A700 is expected to deliver a maximum range of 1,100 nautical miles; VFR range, with reserves, is expected to be 1,400 miles. Certification and first deliveries are expected in the second half of 2004 — about two years ahead of the A700’s most-similar competitor, Cessna’s Mustang.

Meanwhile, Adam continues to progress its centerline-thrust A500 piston twin. That model from Adam is sitting on 60 deposits, the company reported.

Meanwhile, Mustang Orders Continue to Trot Along

Building on its galloping success at NBAA, Mustang’s order near 300

Fuselage Mock-up with Visitors
Cessna Mustang Mock-Up

Cessna Chairman Russ Meyer was his usual dynamic self at AOPA Expo 2002, hosting a breakfast briefing to introduce AOPA members to the new Citation Mustang, working the company’s outdoor static display, showing off the Mustang mock-up, and taking more $10,000 deposits on the latest addition to the Citation family. “We’re so far ahead of expectations that it’s a little hard to believe,” Meyer told AVweb.

“Before we went to NBAA last month, we were thinking that we might end the year with 150 commitments,” Meyer related. But NBAA ended with commitments of 217; upon arrival at AOPA Expo, the number of commitments exceeded 270 — and growing. Now, Meyer fully expects 2002 to close out with Cessna sitting on 300 deposits — if not more.

“Not bad for a year of hard times,” beamed Cessna VP Roger Whyte.

By way of a refresher, the Mustang is an all-new design with an expected cruise speed of 340 knots at FL350, an IFR range of 1,100 nautical miles and a service ceiling of 41,000 MSL. First flight is about two years out, with certification and first delivery in 2006, including known-ice certification.

The Mustang will fly behind either Williams International’s FJ33 or a new Pratt & Whitney Canada powerplant, the PW600 series. The flight deck will use three large displays for all instrumentation, and the standard-equipment list will include traffic, weather and flight-management equipment. There will be no options offered or available.

Clearly, the response at NBAA helped validate work Cessna had been pursuing for more than two years. No other product launch in general aviation history has generated response equal to what Cessna experienced at NBAA in Orlando. But there is realization that a few folks might have second thoughts when the $40,000 comes due in January to convert the position reservations into firm deposits.

“But given the enthusiasm we’re experiencing, I’ll be surprised if there are more than a few — if any,” Meyer said.

At Independence, times looking better — despite Lyc crank yank

Cessna sources told AVweb that interest in the company’s six-plane line of piston airplanes has strengthened — something confirmed by some of the company’s dealers — leading to plans to bolster the 2003 production target to 700 units. Many dealers are clamoring for units to fulfill 2002 sales that exceeded their quotas; even the 206 and T206 — grounded by the Lycoming crankshaft dilemma — continue to garner orders. “We’ve sold two since the problem surfaced — with the buyers fully aware that delivery of their planes is contingent on solving the problem,” this Cessna dealer told AVweb.

And times at Cessna’s Wichita plant are, for now, pretty much stabilized. “We’re comfortable that we’ve made the adjustments we needed,” one Cessna executive told AVweb. “We’re planning on 250 Citations next year and probably the year after; beyond that, things start to look better.” And Cessna will achieve its mark of building and delivering 300 Citations again this year — although finding homes for some has proven more challenging.

Eclipse Continues Certification Work — But Only On The Ground

Data gathering continues; second prototype nears completion

While “maturity” problems keep Eclipse Aviation‘s developmental 500 on the ground in Albuquerque, the effort to certificate the littlest twin-jet continues, helping the program stay on track for certification in late 2003 — for now. While there has been no second test flight to follow the Aug. 26 first flight, the first production prototype has been performing taxi tests and hops a few feet off the ground. And thanks to a lab mock-up “flying” all the aircraft’s systems, data gathering needed for FAA certification has continued unabated, keeping some parts of the program moving ahead as scheduled.

But company boss Vern Raburn admitted that if the engine problems delay flying much longer, the problems would cut into cushions built into the schedule that targets first customer delivery in January 2004. “We built pauses into the program,” said Raburn. But as with any developmental program, they are not infinite. Curing the unidentified problems with the Williams International engine and the addition of a second conforming aircraft would put the fledgling company in a position to start catching up.

Eclipse advances pilot-screening & training program with UND

Raburn and company have again answered critics questioning the ability to qualify Eclipse pilots with another set of solutions: a multifaceted training program designed to qualify candidates, screen pilots for jet-transition training, and take the pilot through a type rating for the Eclipse 500. The company also includes a mentor program designed to give the new jet pilots the benefit of the knowledge of more-seasoned jet pilots.

This extensive transition and training regimen is a key element in assuring the insurability of new jet pilots flying the Eclipse 500 through a program developed with General Aviation of Global Aerospace. The initial elements of the training program — the pre-screening and type-training preparation elements — are being developed by UND Aerospace at the University of North Dakota. The initial elements should be available by mid-2003, with the other elements progressively coming online through the end of that year.

Oh, yeah, one last thing: Eclipse’s book of firm orders for the 500 stood at 1,375 as of Thursday — up about 18 from NBAA. Folks are still buying.

Lancair: Operations to Resume in Early November

New investor bringing more funds than already invested

The 180-plus customers holding orders for a new Columbia 300 or 400 should soon feel better about their decision thanks to agreements that will bring in more cash than the $30 million already invested in the Lancair Company. According to company President Bing Lantis, the funds from this unidentified private firm will result in operations resuming very quickly. “We still don’t have all the paperwork done, but we expect the agreements to be signed so that we can resume operations in early November,” Lantis told AVweb.

The equity positions of existing investors will shrink by more than half — from 30 percent for each of three major shareholders to about 12 percent — upon completion of the transaction. The new investors — a group with an aviation background — will hold a majority share of the company and the largest block of seats on the Lancair board. “But the other shareholders will have enough seats on the board to outvote the new investors,” according to Lantis.

Lancair will remain in Bend, Ore., which means “99 percent” of furloughed employees are expected to return to work, picking up where they left off when the company went idle in July.

That means, Lantis said, that work at the factory should resume “almost immediately. We’ll be back at work in early November, if not earlier.”

That means production of the already-certificated Columbia 300 should resume as quickly. Test flying of the turbocharged Columbia 400 should resume almost as quickly, with certification now expected by the opening of the EAA Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In in April 2002. And approval of the all-electric Columbia 350 could be complete before year’s end. “But most likely, it will be approved in January.”

“Needless to say, we’re very excited and anxious to get back to work,” Lantis stressed. Initially, the production line will work toward reaching a “break-even” production level of 10 airplanes a month.

Shelved development plans also face resumption

Once the company clears out the backlog of project work held in suspension, look for Lancair to again start looking ahead to new models and permutations. “We’re pretty excited at the prospect of developing a turboprop model,” Lantis admitted. “We’re also at work on a pressurized, retractable model.” And plans will again proceed toward winning approval for icing protection for the Lancair line.

“But there’s a lot of other stuff we have to get through before we tackle any other projects,” Lantis stressed.

Tops among that “stuff” is, of course, resuming delivery of airplanes. Somewhat miraculously, the company’s order backlog continued to slowly expand during these months of operational hiatus. “We picked up about 20 new orders during the period, a real measure of the confidence people have shown in our ability to bring back the company,” Lantis said. Three of those new orders were for the 400. Now, the 180-plane backlog is about evenly split between the 300 and 400.

If nothing further upsets Lancair’s plans, the upcoming holiday season should be much brighter than it was looking back around Labor Day.

TCM and Aerosance Get Production Release of FADEC

OEMs line up; retrofit STCs available for all-electronic engine control

Panel with two Primary Flight Displays
Diamond Star Panel by Avidyne

Good news arrived for some OEMs and a lot of pilots interested in flying engines with more-advanced systems: FAA production approval for the Aerosance/Teledyne Continental Motors FADEC engine-control system has finally arrived. “It has been a long time coming, but it’s going to be worth the wait for thousands of our customers,” noted TCM president Brian Lewis.

The Aerosance-developed system uses multiple, redundant computer controllers to manage spark and mixture electronically. The mixture control is courtesy of individually managed pulse fuel-injectors to maximize power and efficiency for each cylinder’s needs; spark is likewise electronically managed with a seamless advance curve that matches timing to power demands. Both mixture and spark are managed by redundant controllers that take into account atmospheric conditions, as well as individual cylinder head and exhaust temperatures.

Aside from the crank-speed and crank-position sensors, the only moving parts are a single diaphragm in each injector. Thanks to testing that totaled more than 24,000 hours — including more than 1,400 hours of flight testing — the company is offering an initial warranty of five years.

Initially, FADEC will be available as OEM equipment on the Adam A500, the Cirrus SR22, the Diamond C1 Katana and the Liberty XL2 — all powered by Continental engines. Retrofit kits coming available through STC will provide owners with the option of adapting FADEC on the Beech Bonanza and Baron and older Cessna 206s and 210s; other adaptations will become available as demand warrants, said Aerosance president Steve Smith. Already, the company offers a retrofit kit for the A36 Bonanza at a price of $9,999.

And for pilots of experimental aircraft, the Lancair IV and IVP, the Lancair Legacy and the Van’s Aircraft’s RV series — all powered by four-cylinder Lycomings — are also eligible. In fact, the high-time airplane flying with this FADEC is an owner-built RV-6 with a 180-horse Lycoming O-360.

As promised years ago at the start of development, the Aerosance FADEC hardware will soon be available to fulfill the dream of single-lever power control through options to control the prop and turbocharging systems. Availability of these options remains about six months out.

And the companies won’t be done even with the certification of the prop and turbocharging-system hardware or the widespread availability of FADEC for all types of engines. Work is continuing to provide on-board digital trend monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities. And work is proceeding on hardware that can also control aircraft-engine cooling systems, whether through operation of cowl vents or articulated baffling systems. Perhaps the brave new world of automotive-style efficiency and reliability may yet be realized for existing air-cooled aircraft powerplants.

New Piper Unveils Step-Up Training Path And Insurance Programs

Training geared to take customer from zero to Meridian — in five years

For several years, New Piper Aircraft‘s Step-Up Program has drawn about 70 customers a year to step up to another Piper model by offering a guaranteed trade-in value for a new plane if the upgrade occurs within certain calendar and flight-hour limits. Now, the company is offering converts a program that will take them from zero time to 500 hours in a progressive program geared to move them from a Warrior to a Meridian in five years.

The Piper Ace Pilot Program will provide the new or low-time pilot a training path that employs SimCom and the U.S. Flight Academy training for qualifying the customer for each aircraft along the upgrade path. “We’ve seen more people wanting to start in general aviation with high-performance aircraft and we believe this program will provide the path to competency at each step along the way.”

The program is designed to work like this: The new customer orders a Warrior through the distributor and is enrolled in the Piper Ace program for training that will lead to a private pilot’s certificate and 100 total flight hours within the first year. The pilot who opts to step up can move next to the Saratoga, with the Piper Ace program then geared toward earning an instrument rating and another 100 hours. With the next step, the training and mentoring continues toward a multi-engine rating for a Seneca or Seminole; another year, another 100 hours. After further step-ups in the four-phase program, the customer can move on to the Meridian, having participated in further training and flight time that leads to a total of 500 hours at the end of the five-year process.

If the customer doesn’t want or need to move all the way up to the Meridian, they can stop and exit the program. “But at each step along the way, this program will assure the pilot of the training and experience needed to achieve competency needed before making the next step up,” said New Piper Chairman Chuck Suma.

SimCom developed the training syllabus for the Piper Ace Pilot Program. On-site training will be provided by professional instructors screened and hired by USFA and trained and qualified to the SimCom program standards. Each Piper dealer will have a resident training coordinator qualified in all the aircraft in the program. Starting in January, New Piper plans to have the program in place at 11 dealers by year’s end.

Piper also adding Piper-specific insurance program

New Piper Chairman Chuck Suma also announced a new in-house insurance-services program designed to help owners of any Piper product obtain the most affordable insurance available. “We’ve found that the way clients are presented to underwriters influences the rate the customers pay — but that the presentation didn’t always make that representation in the most accurate way for the product they fly or their experience level,” said Suma.

He promised that the New Piper Aircraft Insurance Services program will assure the Piper owner that the presentation of their situation to insurance brokers is accurate, reflecting specifics of their experience level and flight time as it relates to the peculiarities of the Piper they fly. “We believe this will result in Piper customers getting the best coverage for the best rate possible,” said Suma.

Survivor, BRS Style: Lionel Morrison Relates His SR22 ‘Chute Use

“It felt serene,” said the first pilot saved by a certificated system

Dallas-area pilot Lionel Morrison initially believed he had an autopilot problem when his Cirrus SR22 started into a left descending roll; but a glance out the left side when attempting to disable the autopilot told him something different: “I saw the aileron dangling by one hinge,” he told reporters during a briefing at AOPA Expo 2002.

Morrison needed both hands and plenty of right rudder to level his stricken aircraft. Landing was out of the question; so he let the SR22 fly northwest from the area near Addison Airport (ADS) where the plane had just had some maintenance performed — on the aileron system. Mindful of the congestion below him, Morrison nursed the plane out over undeveloped terrain before pulling the red handle in the overhead.

“I knew in a few seconds that the parachute had deployed, because the airplane stabilized in a near-level attitude,” he related. “It felt serene.”

The serenity of the moment it took to descend to the ground was interrupted by a hard impact on the nose when the SR22 landed in a short mesquite tree and pitched down, shearing off the nose gear and burying a prop blade in the ground all the way up to the spinner. “It hit kind of hard,” he said.

A private pilot with an instrument rating, about 400 hours total time and 120 hours in his SR22, Morrison became the first pilot in history to survive a catastrophic failure through the deployment of a certificated on-board parachute system. But his was far from the first save recorded by an on-board parachute system made by BRS Inc. in South Saint Paul, Minn. In its 20-plus years of existence, BRS-made systems have saved 156 pilots, most of them in ultralight or light-experimental aircraft, according to company President Mark Thomas.

And the company expects more in the future, thanks to an expanded product line that now includes a retrofit system STC’d for the Cessna 172 Skyhawk. BRS pioneered on-board parachute systems for certificated aircraft with the first STC’d system ever approved in 1992 for the Cessna 150/152, followed, of course, by systems certificated in both the SR20 and SR22.

Meeting the Boss: Blakey Speaks, AOPA Members Cheer

“She sounds like someone we can count on,” says AOPA member

Administrator Blakey Speaking at AOPA
FAA Administrator Marian Blakey

“I believe authority erodes when you don’t exercise it,” new FAA administrator Marian Blakey told the standing-room-only opening general session of AOPA Expo 2002 Thursday morning. To rousing applause, she continued: “I believe in exercising authority, appropriately.”

“I believe in general aviation,” she said, drawing even more applause.

Blakey was addressing concerns about the perceived erosion of FAA authority in issues ranging from airport-grant assurances to pilot training to airspace issues — and the audience loved what she had to say. “We plan to vigorously protect our authority for licensing, for flight schools and airspace,” she stressed, responding to questions about a Michigan law currently under challenge by AOPA. With the initial federal court hearing scheduled for Tuesday, her administration’s general counsel is already on record with an opinion that the Michigan law encroaches on FAA authority. That state law requires criminal background checks and fingerprinting for all flight-training candidates, including those engaged in upgrade training or rating additions such as instrument training.

She also stressed her intent to work with the TSA and other agencies to assure that airspace and other security-spawned restrictions are “reasonable” and “viable.” And she noted that some progress toward reasonableness has already been made, citing the recent abandonment of the questions airline passengers faced concerning the possession and control of their baggage. “I mean, Hello! Have you ever heard anyone answer ‘No,’ to those questions?” she asked rhetorically. And she promised further “common-sense changes” are coming to security and screening issues, thanks to an improved communications environment between the FAA, TSA and the aviation community.

She noted that through work with Jeppesen and AOPA, Flight Service Station briefers are getting graphical display of TFRs on their computer screens; in January, that capability should become available to pilots through the Internet, much in the way they can already access up-to-the-minute weather graphics on the web.

And in another related issue, she confirmed that the last approvals have been received to authorize the use of government-issued photo IDs — such as state driver’s licenses — as acceptable documents for fulfilling requirements that pilots be able to produce positive identification where required.

Even though other issues will make life difficult for the FAA — budgets, for example, since Airport and Airways Trust Fund revenues are down — she promised her agency’s support against unnecessary measures in the air or on the ground. She also noted that DOT secretary Norm Mineta — a former student pilot — insists on a balance between security and reasonableness.

“You have a right to expect consistency; you must have accurate information.” Blakey was unequivocal in her assertion that the FAA will work with the general aviation community to achieve the balance pilots deserve. And she noted that it’s also up to general aviation pilots to check and know what’s out there, citing the repeated incursions into the TFR around Crawford, Texas, and the nation’s capital.

“But the secretary insists we are not going to expand TFRs without a specific threat,” she said.

As honeymoons go, Blakey is clearly off to a good start with AOPA members. With a little luck and a lot of diligence from all parties, the honeymoon could last a long, long time. We’ve got five years to see how it all works out.

Note: Marion Blakey’s complete comments are available here on AVweb.

That’s It From Palm Springs, For Now; Next Year, It’s Philly

We’re going to close out our report on AOPA Expo 2002 at this point. But we’ll have more in a coming edition addressing some issues about the future of engine alternatives to the piston powerplants most of us fly.

Until then, fly safe — and watch out for those TFRs.