Sport Aviation Expo: A Lively Start

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As a Florida resident with more than a decade of Sunshine State winters behind me, I have to admit that the Sport Aviation Expo has a knack for picking the coldest day to open the show. It was in the high 30s in central Florida, with scattered frost. But no matter; it warmed up and Wednesday turning out to be one of those pleasant sunny ones that are the reason we moved here.

I ran into Dan Johnson of LAMA on the midway and he said traffic for the first day appeared to be impressive despite the brisk temperatures, and I think I'd agree. This show never draws huge numbers but for people interested in buying an LSA or getting close, this show has a favorable tire-kicker-to-buyer ratio. And this year, as we reported in our news columns, there are a record number of exhibitors, both indoors and out. I've talked to exhibitors who do this show and although they sometimes complain about low foot traffic, they also say for LSA manufacturers, the show is a must-do, at least every other year. 

A tip of the hat to the show organizers for upping their game in the media accommodation department. They moved the media parking lot opposite where it used to be, so it's right next to the main gate. It's like … 500 feet closer. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is to me. It's not because it makes humping a bag full of cameras and a tripod easier—although it does—it's because in doing this minor little thing, the show is saying they want and appreciate having press coverage and will help to make our jobs easier. These days, at some of the shows, it has been going in the opposite direction. Sun 'n Fun, for instance, has a new media staff and we have to start the cycle all over again explaining who we are and why we have four people promoting their show with daily coverage to 200,000 readers. It's frustrating when just the basic infrastructure gets in the way of providing the instantaneous coverage audiences now expect.

Most of the airplanes at the show we've seen or covered, but one that's new is called the Merlin PSA. It's a single-place experimental powered by a Rotax 582, but with the option of an electric propulsion package. Chip Erwin, of Aeromarine LSA, says he's not pushing the airplane as an SLSA until he's decided to put the effort into that and make it a real offering, not a wannabe.

The press release on this airplane was one of the few we got ahead of the show and based on the description, I was prepared to hate it. With its sub-$40,000 price, I was picturing an airframe of bolted-together aluminum tube covered by Dacron sail cloth. But hold on a minute. It's a proper, riveted metal airplane with an impressive cockpit and even BRS. The cockpit is capacious by LSA standards because, well, it's only gotta accommodate one person. Given the opportunity, I'd fly it. I especially like that it's DIY. With a single seat, you're on your own. See the video here.

I spent a pleasant part of the afternoon flying Legend's new Super Legend HP, their answer to CubCrafters' Carbon Cub. The airplane has a 180-HP Titan engine stuffed into what's essentially a Super Cub airframe. So I held the brakes, firewalled the throttle and exclaimed "Oh, s&^t," when the brakes came off. If you never did anything else other than stupid short takeoffs with this airplane, it would be worth the price of admission.

With this airplane, Darin Hart of Legend is reaffirming something every manufacturer seems to find out in the LSA space. When a higher-performance, fully tricked-out model is offered, that's what buyers will want. They complain about high prices, but when it comes to writing the check, they don't buy cheap airplanes. Look for a video on the Super Legend tomorrow.

Comments (3)

Sorry Paul, I kept getting hung-up on the first paragraph where there's an implied complaint about temps in the upper 30's. It's so cold here I had to thaw my frozen fuel cap because the latent hangar humidity was enough moisture to freeze it shut.

Out of curiosity, what's the target market and expected sales numbers for a single seat LSA? Did they happen to share? Even 2 seats seems to make buyers nervous for resale reasons even when they know seats 3 & 4 usually go empty. Anything less than 4 seats seems to scare buyers away.

Posted by: Robert Mahoney | January 21, 2016 12:16 PM    Report this comment

Interesting comment on the single-seat Merlin PSA. We have several single-seat light airplanes available to us (RV3, Onex as examples) and they seem to be doing well enough in the market. As an owner of a 2-seat airplane, I often fly with one seat empty and would give serious consideration to going to a single-seat airplane in the autumn years of my life. Low acquisition cost, low operating cost, and an airplane that's small/light enough for a frail old guy to push around on the ground are all reasons for me to consider a single-seater. Add the potential to make it electric-powered and I'm even more intrigued. Make the wings fold quickly and easily so I can cut my hangar costs and I'm in!

I'm currently building a 2+2 design and am leaving the back seats out, simply because I doubt they will ever be used. Similarly, I fly a certificated 4-seat aircraft. After looking at the logbooks it became clear the last time it carried human blubber in the back seat was 11 years ago. I think we'll see more than enough interest in these single-seat airplanes to keep the market lively for years to come.

Posted by: Mark Briggs | January 21, 2016 1:08 PM    Report this comment

(Second attempt at posting - hope it works this time!)

Interesting comment on the single-seat Merlin PSA. We have several single-seat light airplanes available to us (RV3, Onex as examples) and they seem to be doing well enough in the market. As an owner of a 2-seat airplane, I often fly with one seat empty and would give serious consideration to going to a single-seat airplane in the autumn years of my life. Low acquisition cost, low operating cost, and an airplane that's small/light enough for a frail old guy to push around on the ground are all reasons for me to consider a single-seater. Add the potential to make it electric-powered and I'm even more intrigued. Make the wings fold quickly and easily so I can cut my hangar costs and I'm in!

I'm currently building a 2+2 design and am leaving the back seats out, simply because I doubt they will ever be used. Similarly, I fly a certificated 4-seat aircraft. After looking at the logbooks it became clear the last time it carried human blubber in the back seat was 11 years ago. I think we'll see more than enough interest in these single-seat airplanes to keep the market lively for years to come.

Posted by: Mark Briggs | January 21, 2016 1:11 PM    Report this comment

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