A Big Show Or A Busy Show?

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People keep asking me what the big thing is at this year’s AirVenture and I keep not having an answer. From a news coverage point of view, it has been a very busy year for us, but I feel like we’re just doing a lot of wheel spinning without gaining much traction.

I think part of that has to do with how many events EAA has stuffed into the show. In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned the many anniversary events and the unusual number of intriguing aircraft displays and activities in Boeing Square. One B-29 is an eye catcher, two is a show stopper.

The press conference schedule has been busy but other than avionics, nothing of significance has emerged. Continental promised “multiple major product announcements,” but my fellow journalists were grumbling as only journalists can that incremental reports on engine certs and new roller tappets aren’t exactly major. Hear the podcast here and decide for yourself. The least significant part of that presser—roller tappets from Continental—may actually be the most impactful. More on that later. As we mentioned in our preview video, I was hoping for a rollout of the electronic ignition I know Continental has been working on. Well, maybe next year.

On the other hand, I don’t know why we continue to torture ourselves with the notion that something revolutionary is going to appear at AirVenture, thus launching general aviation into a new golden age. The aviation age we’re in now is one of reduced expectations and incrementalism but it is at least propelled along by some really cool autopilots.

Southwest Pilots Hate Privatization

As I’ve mentioned in the blog recently, Southwest Airlines is leading the charge among the major carriers in supporting ATC privatization. Delta, once an opponent, has now caved and is in the pro-privatization camp. For the life of me, I can’t see what they think they’re going to get out of this deal.

A Southwest pilot stopped me in one of the vendor buildings Tuesday and said because many of them are involved in general aviation, they oppose the privatization bill. His estimate was about 80 percent of SW pilots would retain the current ATC structure. I suspect the percentage is the same among the other major airlines and these guys fly in the system every day.

The Eternal Cub

When I was shooting today’s video on the CubCrafter’s Xcub, Jim Richmond mentioned to me that the company can’t build the things fast enough. He figured the sustainable market is probably around 100 airplanes a year. In the year or so since the airplane launched, they’ve delivered about 30.

CubCrafters has the capacity at its Yakima, Washington, factory, but it’s not readily available. They’ll need to ramp up the facility and, more challenging, find the workers with the necessary skills. With Boeing in the same state if not necessarily nearby, the pickings shouldn’t be too slim but that skill won’t come cheap, I suspect.

The Cub idea is just about a century old—the J-3 is celebrating its 80th anniversary at AirVenture—and it continues to endure. When I reviewed the XCub a year ago, I concluded that it’s not really in the Cub mold. I could make predictable observations about airplane DNA and the durability of tradition, but in the end, I think the XCub sells because it’s just an exceptionally well-executed airplane that happens to be a taildragger. It handles beautifully and has great performance and a modern, nicely appointed interior. And the fact is, CubCrafters can probably find 100 people a year willing to spend north of $300,000 for just such an airplane.

Comments (18)

"north of $300,000 for just such an airplane" I'll bet Bill Piper is rolling in his grave. I doubt if this is what he had in mind for this simple little rag-wing airplane. Strange times..

Posted by: Ken Keen | July 26, 2017 7:59 AM    Report this comment

"On the other hand, I don't know why we continue to torture ourselves with the notion that something revolutionary is going to appear at AirVenture, thus launching general aviation into a new golden age. The aviation age we're in now is one of reduced expectations and incrementalism but it is at least propelled along by some really cool autopilots."

Seriously?

Take a walk through the show. Right inside the gate: Pipistrel - LSA and electric aircraft you can actually buy. Bristell - a high-end LSA. Next row - Aerotrek, an affordable LSA. Whisper Aircraft - a new manufacturer. Czech Sport Aircraft - a high-selling LSA. Next row: BushCat, an affordable LSA. Next row, on your left: the huge Icon display (say what you will). Next row (on your right) - Stemme/Remos will sell you a cutting-edge motorglider or an LSA. On your left: Cirrus will sell you a freakin' single-engine JET. A few rows down on your left, Epic aircraft has a production single turboprop that's DERIVED FROM AN E-AB kitplane! Rotax is there, with the 21st-century piston engines we begged for, for decades. Redbird is there, with flight sims that are reinventing flight training. Now I'm down to Boeing Plaza, and just over on the right is Tecnam, with a range of LSAs (and one of their planes is being used by NASA to do an all-electric X-Plane). Gosh, what if I'd gone left at the gate? I'd have passed Textron and Diamond Aircraft, and come to Velocity Aircraft, the Sun Flyer all-electric trainer, the Workhorse Group's flying car, and made my way to the North Aircraft Display, where I'd find Van's (don't even talk to me), the Airplane Factory (premium LSA), Ion Aircraft (innovative E-AB), Zenith Aircraft (don't even talk to me), RANS (don't even), Sonex (a freakin' single-engine JET that's affordable), Bearhawk, Lancair, UL Power (more new engines)...

No, you're right. There's nothing new, aviation is dead, except for some avionics.

Or is this, in fact, the most golden age in avionics that anyone under 50 can remember?

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | July 26, 2017 8:41 AM    Report this comment

I meant to say, "most golden age in aviation that anyone under 50 can remember"

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | July 26, 2017 8:43 AM    Report this comment

P.S. My complaint about the show is that there's a lot going on in the "flying car" and electric/hybrid aviation space that ISN'T on display all week, although it was highlighted at the show last weekend.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | July 26, 2017 9:01 AM    Report this comment

Dang Thomas, you nailed it. Even I get excited after reading that.

Sometimes we need to see the glass as half-full. It's not the Cessna/Piper/Beech world of our youth, but a lot more choices ARE available today even if it's not cheap (if it ever was).

Posted by: A Richie | July 26, 2017 9:03 AM    Report this comment

Takeaways.

The Eternal Cub: Minimalism for $300K.
Delta: The Gravesmisters
Southwest pilots: The Loyalists
AirVenturers: The NextGen Envisionaires

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 26, 2017 9:32 AM    Report this comment

"most golden age (of avionics) in aviation that anyone under 50 (74) can remember"??

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 26, 2017 9:40 AM    Report this comment

The Eternal Cub: $300k
Aerotrek ragwing, side by side: $89k
Pipistrel all-composite side-by-side training airplane: Base price $87k (plus shipping, I think)
Oh - full-on more-advanced-than-a-business jet avionics suite: about $6k.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | July 26, 2017 10:02 AM    Report this comment

"CubCrafters can probably find 100 people a year willing to spend north of $300,000 for just such an airplane."

Is this the same airplane that one can legally register as an LSA, but safely (albeit iligaly) fly at over the LSA weight limit?

Further, are we to believe that a $300k LSA is so affordable that the company can not keep up with demand, but the same $300k LSA owner can not afford user fees?

Posted by: Robert Ore | July 26, 2017 10:52 AM    Report this comment

"are we to believe that a $300k LSA is so affordable that the company can not keep up with demand, but the same $300k LSA owner can not afford user fees?"

No, user fees won't hurt *those* pilots. But it *will* hurt pilots who can't afford a new $300k LSA, and are instead flying rented/club/owned sub-$100k 40+ year-old airframes. It's just one more way to nickle-and-dime pilots out of flying.


"most golden age in aviation that anyone under 50 can remember"

Most of those mentioned are LSAs. Yes, they have plenty of appeal, but they're next to useless for the type of flying I typically do, which requires an IFR-certified aircraft that can carry 2-3 other people besides myself. That leaves me with 40+ year old aircraft, or unaffordable new aircraft. Though I do look forward to seeing if some of the proposed 4-seaters that promise to be cheaper actually make it through certification at those prices. I simply don't have the time or space for a home-built, so those are also out.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | July 26, 2017 12:08 PM    Report this comment

The Xcub is a Part 23 airplane, not an LSA.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 26, 2017 2:11 PM    Report this comment

The big thing at this year's AirVenture is it's consistent popularity and attendance. Welcome to the amazing and wonderful universe of aviation.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 26, 2017 2:21 PM    Report this comment

Almost surrender to buying something. Anything.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 26, 2017 2:23 PM    Report this comment

Best comment ever: "The aviation age we're in now is one of reduced expectations and incrementalism but it is at least.."

Posted by: Jason Baker | July 27, 2017 4:30 AM    Report this comment

Gary,

You say "That leaves me with 40+ year old aircraft, or unaffordable new aircraft. "

That has been true since the 1980s, when I learned to fly. I learned on a C152 and C172, and they were considered antiques then - and the only innovation at Cessna since then is that you can't buy a C152 any more (and, although the 152 is often remembered fondly, it was slow, gutless and tiny, with the saving graces of honest handling and relative reliability).

I'm not so much excited by LSA because they're highly-capable airplanes (although some of them are surprisingly so) but because they're a source of innovation and life in an industry that has been dead for essentially my entire life.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | July 27, 2017 6:27 AM    Report this comment

Thomas:
If you learned how to fly in a 152, and if that was in the 1980s, then you learned in an almost-new airplane (the first 152s were 1978 models). In the 1980s, 40-year-old airplanes were those that were built in the 1940s. I sold a lot of airplanes to recently-minted pilots in the '80s. Most of those pilots were in their 40s, but the planes usually were less than 10 years old. Here we are, 30 years later, and those pilots are in their 70s - and their planes are in their 40s. Today, they can't affort to buy any 10-year-old bird.
Gary is right.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | July 27, 2017 7:32 AM    Report this comment

Gary - the truth is no one who ever completed a homebuilt had the time. It's no different than any other major endeavor - if you want it, you will make the time for it.

Posted by: Ken Keen | July 27, 2017 3:49 PM    Report this comment

What about the Switchblade? It's probably the only truly roadabke aircraft design. They had their prototype at the show and had a well attended press conference.

Here is something interesting. Instead of going to airventure this year I went to Posey Patch, Indiana to build a MX Sprint II. The owner told me he and the other Quicksilver support companies were so busy they didn't have time to attend Airventure this year. When he took over the business he figured he would support 600 airplanes. There are 30,000 Quicksilver out there and he is experiencing a huge increase in business as pilots bring the old Quicks back to life. He gets enough business from Facebook and word of mouth. He doesn't need to spend the money to attend Airventure.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | July 28, 2017 7:10 AM    Report this comment

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