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New aircraft shipments continued to slip this year as declining sales were reported for the third quarter, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association said Thursday. For the year to date, airplane shipments worldwide are down 3.5 percent compared to a year ago, with 1,504 units shipped from January through September– down from 1,558 in 2015, according to the association's latest report. The turboprop airplane category saw an uptick for the year to date with 379 shipments, up 1.5 percent from 2015. Meanwhile, business jet shipments fell 7.7 percent to 429 units and piston airplanes totaled 696 units, down about 3.2 percent from 719 units. The piston rotorcraft category continued to see steeper declines, with a nine-month shipment total down 17.6 percent from last year, and total piston rotorcraft shipments down by 15.3 percent with 446 units. The third quarter shows worldwide airplane shipments of 534 units and total billings of $4.12 billion, down from 542 units and $5.24 billion for the same period last year.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that these numbers are not what we had wanted to see,” GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce said. “Unfortunately, they reflect the instability of the used aircraft market coupled with complicating global economic and geopolitical factors. What is encouraging is that every GAMA airplane and rotorcraft manufacturer has a new product development program recently completed or currently underway, so optimism for the future runs high.” GAMA will continue its efforts in the coming year, with a new presidential administration, to “highlight the importance of a vibrant general and business aviation industry with manufacturing, maintenance, and overhaul jobs at its core,” Bunce said. “We also welcome a focus on making critical infrastructure investments, particularly airports and heliports, to support a safe and growing global aviation system. We stand ready to work with elected and appointed officials on policies that facilitate certification reform and product innovation, and improve the validation and acceptance of products worldwide.”

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Now that he has won the presidential election, Donald Trump’s home in midtown Manhattan is within a Temporary Flight Restriction. The VIP TFR, effective Wednesday, closes open flights through the popular Hudson River area for sightseeing the city skyline. The FAA Notam is effective immediately through Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. The TFR has a 2-nautical-mile radius from the surface to 2,999 feet AGL. It still allows arrivals and departures from five locations including heliports and the New York Skyports Inc. Seaplane Base, as well as medical, law enforcement, firefighting and other emergency operations. All aircraft operating in the TFR must be in two-way radio communications with ATC and squawk an assigned transponder code.

AOPA said Wednesday it plans to look for options to provide more open access to the area. “AOPA respects the need to provide increased security for President-elect Donald Trump, but we will work to see if there is a way to balance the restrictions while maintaining GA access to the airspace,” said Nobuyo Sakata, the association’s director of aviation security. It remains to be seen how the TFRs will look when President Trump is in Manhattan, and the permanent flight restrictions to 18,000 feet surrounding the White House and Washington area remain in place.

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Two Marine Corps pilots are safe after their F/A-18 Hornet fighters collided off the coast near San Diego Wednesday. One pilot landed at Naval Air Station North Island, while the other ejected, The Associated Press reported. The jets, from the Third Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, were on a training flight when the collision occurred at 11:43 a.m. Rescue crews were called at 12:11 p.m. to find the pilot who ejected, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune report.

Details about the jets' locations and altitudes at the time of the collision are unknown. The pilots were reported to be in stable condition as Marine Corps officials investigate the accident. The collision was among other accidents involving FA/18 jets this year, including a crash during a night flight in July that killed the pilot, who also was from the Miramar station. 

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Winter is coming to the Northeast, and once again scores of sea turtles are stranding on the beaches from New Jersey to Cape Cod, and in need of transport to warmer climes. For several years, Leslie Weinstein, of Idaho, has been working to organize volunteer aviation efforts to help these creatures, and this year he is again looking for pilots who are willing to fly the turtles to rehab centers in the South. Recently, he helped to find a ride for a 280-pound turtle with a shell that was 49 inches across. A crate was found to carry the turtle, and a Cessna Caravan was found to carry the crate — but then the crate wouldn’t fit through the cargo door, and the volunteers had to build a new one.

“This was the easy part to resolve,” says Weinstein. “Maintaining temperature between 70 to 75 degrees was a factor, as was cushioning for the turtle in order to breathe, as they cannot be contained on a hard surface.” Three turtles were transported successfully to a rehab center in Beaufort, North Carolina, thanks to the volunteers’ efforts. They would not have survived ground transportation, Weinstein said. The sea turtle stranding season runs through the end of December, Weinstein said, and more volunteer pilots are needed. Weinstein can be reached via Facebook at “Sea Turtle Rescue Flights.”

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AVweb's search of news in aviation found announcements from Able Flight, Jeppesen and Diamond Aircraft, Ross Aviation and Independence Aviation. Able Flight has selected Captain Ferris Butler (U.S. Army, Ret.) as the first recipient of the new Lockheed Martin/Able Flight Scholarship. After successful completion of Able Flight’s six-week flight school held at Purdue University’s Department of Aviation Technology, Butler will earn his pilot’s certificate and receive his wings at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow in July 2017. Jeppesen and Diamond Aircraft Industries GmbH have signed an agreement to deliver preselected Jeppesen NavData and digital charts at the time of delivery as part of the purchase process of new Diamond aircraft. Jeppesen flight information will be on board with the purchase of Diamond DA40, DA42 and DA62 models and will be ready for immediate use in flight.

Ross Aviation announced it has successfully completed the purchase of the AirFlite FBO located at the Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, California. Ross Aviation embraces a system in which managers are granted authority to operate and optimize their business based upon the unique considerations and customer base of their locations. This philosophy will continue at the Long Beach location under the general management of Greg McQueary. Independence Aviation LLC, based at Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colorado, announced that it has added charter travel services to its roster of private-aviation services. The FAA has issued an Air Carrier Certificate to IA allowing for single-engine flights. Service will initially be provided using a Cirrus Aircraft SR22T Generation 5.

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Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

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Somewhere between conception and execution of the light sport aircraft idea, the notion of simple and inexpensive got tossed overboard. Typical LSAs are lavishly equipped at prices in the $130,000 range. Yet at least a couple of companies persist with offerings below that price, including the Italian-built Groppo Trail, which surfaced again this year at AirVenture. (This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.)

It’s not entirely new to the U.S., having appeared sotto voce last year, but with no marketing push. Now the model has been picked up by Steve Bensinger’s Lone Palm Aero for another run at the U.S. market, offering an experimental amateur-built version and ELSA and SLSA models.

With a background in European microlight manufacture dating to 1982, Groppo appears to be applying that kind of technology to the Trail, which will sell in a U.S.-equivalent LSA version for $79,900 with steam gauges and $82,900 with a minimal glass panel from MGL, a South African company. Options like floats and tri-gear may drive that base up, but it starts well under the $100,000 mark.

No Frills

How do they do that, when everyone else is selling LSAs for $30,000 to $50,000 more? In our view, there’s no mystery to this. The Trail is simply a minimalist airplane. While it has some intriguing features, Groppo and Bensinger have resisted the urge to tart the Trail up with more elaborate features than it needs to fulfill its basic purpose as a day VFR fun flyer meant to be, if not cheap, affordable. 

First impression of the airplane is that its design brief is built on the Cub idea, although it’s not exactly a Cub clone. It’s a tandem two-seater with conventional strutted wings and simple, lightweight construction.

The cabin is a welded cage of 4130 square-section chromoly tubing which, ą la Mooney, provides some crashworthiness. Aft of the cabin section, the airframe is conventional stressed-skin riveted aluminum construction over ribs. We noticed that many of those rivets are pop rivets,  which simplifies construction.

The wings are conventional aluminum skin over ribs, with fuel stored in molded nylon tanks in the wing roots. Capacity for U.S. models will be 26 gallons between the two sides, almost doubling the 15 gallons Euro versions carry, since these airplanes typically aren’t used for distance flying in Europe. Also to the European design mode, the wings fold, the idea being that this enhances affordability, saving the thrifty owner the expense of a tiedown or even a shared hangar. Europeans have many more affordable garages than they do hangars on airports. Trailering is more common there than in the U.S. and Bensinger isn’t sure how North American owners will adapt to it. 

“We’re leaving it up to the buyer at this point. Because the tail doesn’t fold yet, it’s still a bit tricky to trailer,” Bensinger said. Groppo is working on a folding tail design which, if it works as intended, will reduce the width of the folded airplane to the width of the gear—5 ft. 7 in. That will easily fit into one bay of a two-car garage.

“Once we come up with a good tail fold system, we’ll probably come up with a trailer that can be sold with it. It’s still very doable to take it back and forth and stick it in your garage at home, “ Bensinger told us. |

Quick Fold

He demonstrated the wing-fold process, which takes one person about five minutes, with no tools required. The aileron push-tubes disconnect and there’s a threaded pin to fasten each wing into the spar carry through. Fuel lines remain attached. The wings rotate to the vertical (chordwise) and pivot toward the back, where a fixture secures them for towing.

Those fixtures will likely be options for the Trail, as will floats, a full control set for the rear seat, a belly pod luggage compartment and the parts to convert to tri-gear, which requires a few hours of work. There’s no accounting for taste, but in our view, the airplane would be considerably less appealing as a tri-gear airplane. It just looks right as a taildragger and why not leave it at that? There’s also a tow hook add-on for glider tugging, another Euro-inspired option. 

Panelwise, the Trail is likely to remain austere to meet its sub-$100,000 price point. As currently priced with steam gauges, it has just a single MGL V6 radio/intercom and a Sandia STX-165 transponder. For $3000 more or $82,900, you get the MGL Avionics Xtreme EMS EFIS and engine monitor pair, plus an iPad mini with ForeFlight for navigation.

The panel space may be tight, but the weight isn’t. The Trail version we flew had a claimed empty weight of 720 pounds, which is light by LSA standards, yielding a useful load of 580 pounds. (The Trail gross-weight limit is 1300 pounds, not the LSA standard of 1320 pounds.) 

That’s two 200-pounders, full fuel and an overnight bag. Not that there’s really space to carry much. There’s a Cub-style breadbox behind the rear seat. Considering the Trail’s generous useful load, the belly pod idea makes sense. That could turn it into a respectable outback airplane to rival the Kitfox. We won’t be surprised if EAB builders opt for the turbocharged 914 Rotax just for that reason, should it become an option.

Ergonomics, Flight Trial

As a tandem, the Trail’s cabin area isn’t exactly commodious, but it’s certainly wider and more comfortable than a J-3 Cub. Soloing is from the front seat, but to enter the rear, the front seat pivots forward. That’s helpful, but the door opening has an angled corner member that squats right in the middle of the ingress path. Bensinger says that will be eliminated in future models and that’s a good idea.

Once inside, visibility from the rear cockpit is typical tandem; acceptable, but not great. The windshield doesn’t have the usual downtubes so the view from the front is quite panoramic for a taildragger. During taxi, the view from the front is unobstructed, so no need for S-turns. Even from the back, it’s not bad and a cut above legacy taildraggers.

The Trail will have a full swiveling Matco tailwheel and Matco toebrakes—they’re optional for the rear seat—so ground handling is sure footed and precise, just as all modern LSA taildraggers seem to be. With a big rudder and strongish brakes, even a club-footed pilot will have margin against losing it in a groundloop.

Bounces, however, are another matter. We wouldn’t expect an airplane in this price class to be oleo-equipped and the Trail isn’t—just spring-aluminum legs bolted to the fuselage externally. There’s no traditional box structure for the gear. Any spring gear will give as good as it gets, so a wheelie with a too-high descent rate will yield a nice bounce. Timing is everything. So is airspeed.

In flying the airplane, Bensinger had suggested a speed of 70 MPH indicated on long final, but we didn’t sense that the airplane was comfortable there. It seemed to naturally settle into about 60 MPH  and 55 over the threshold yielded a nice, bounce-free three pointer. Wheelies will take practice, but that’s true of any taildragger, perhaps with the exception of the Great Lakes biplane we reviewed in the September 2014 issue. It has oleos with sufficient stroke to soak up the most embarrassing touchdowns.

The Trail version we flew had a two-blade wood prop that Bensinger described as over-pitched for the airplane. Perhaps so, but with two aboard, the Trail still managed a respectable climb and got itself to a 1000-foot pattern altitude by the mid downwind. For takeoff, the tail comes up easily and the airplane flies when it’s ready, without the need to tug it off the runway. Again, this is typical LSA performance. But then we’ve come to expect this from airplanes that are all about the same size, have similar wing sections and not only the same power, but the same engine, the 100-HP Rotax 912 ULS.

One thing Groppo may have paid more attention to is control forces and harmony. In some LSAs we’ve flown, the stick has zero breakout feel and light, almost dangerously so, control forces, especially in pitch. Groppo seems to have positioned the control pivot points to give the airplane a just-right, slightly heavier feel in roll and pitch.

It feels like a larger airplane and we think that’s a good thing. Too-light control forces invite over control, uncommanded excursions and PIOs on landing and takeoff. The Czech Sport Cruiser is notorious for this, in our estimation. Cruise speed? No surprise, just like every other airplane with the same power: about 100 MPH on 4.5 to 5 GPH. This will vary up or down by as the company sorts through the prop choices available for the engine.

And speaking of engines, there may be choices there, too. In Europe, the Trail is flown with the 80-HP Rotax 912 UL, but there’s also a Jabiru 2200 and Sauer option. U.S. models will likely get the 912 ULS and eventually the new 912 iS. “It’s just a matter of putting it on the airplane and running it through the ASTM process. I don’t see why not,” Bensinger explained.

What we would most like to see is the 912 iS Sport engine. With its improved induction, it offers more mid-range torque for shorter takeoffs and climbs. The Trail is no slouch with its cruise prop, but it’s always better to have more climb rate than less and to use less runway rather than more.

Conclusions

The Trail is, in the end, another contender among many. Its performance is respectable if not exceptional, but then that sentence can be attached to any of a dozen other similar light sport aircraft. It’s very much in the Cub tradition and, in our view, is best left as a taildragger and flown like the Cub it mimics. Why fuss with the aesthetics?

The Trail’s strong point is price and value. If it hews to that $82,000 price point, it will invoice as much as $30,000 or more under other Cub clone offerings, which makes it a lot of airplane for the money. Having said that, the LSA market seems to have defied expectations that droves of buyers would respond to simple, low-cost airframes. What they seem to want are simple airplanes festooned with every glass gadget available. We’ll see if Groppo can carve out a niche of buyers who really do want what the LSA concept originally promised.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

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At last week’s NBAA show in Orlando, I was having a little argument with myself in one of the press conferences. A staple of these things is what we used to call in the newspaper business “grip and grins.” The assembled people of import grip the certificate/plaque/award/trophy, face the camera and beam. Click. Two cols on page 9 the next morning.

I lost the argument with myself. I finally unassed my seat and snapped a photo of Cirrus receiving its type certificate for the SF50 jet soon to be delivered to customers. What the heck, a $250 million piece of parchment deserves a few pixels on my iPhone. I actually used the photo in this video.

We had already covered the news, so I was just sitting in on the press conference as a seat warmer. But as the presentation unfolded—basically an update on the SV50 program and coming production—it occurred to me that what I was watching was the result of a painful lesson Cirrus learned during the early 2000s. The company learned that just equipping an airplane with a parachute and other safety features doesn’t de facto make it “safe.” If the pilot isn’t integrated into the aircraft’s operation with a thoughtful training doctrine, pilots will find a way to defeat the best efforts of the engineers and designers. And pilots did.

The Cirrus SRXX safety record was, for many years, barely average and the fatal rate was worse than average. But recently, Cirrus, in conjunction with an active and devoted owner group, got serious about analyzing accident causes and devising training programs to suit the airplanes’ unique needs and use patterns. The accident rate has plummeted and the rolling 12-month fatal accident rate, since 2014, has been less than half the GA rate of about 1.2/100,000 hours. Some of that is due to rising fleet numbers and hours but most of it is more likely due to the simulator-based scenario training new pilots are getting and that many are doing recurently.   

The point is that Cirrus has clearly learned from this experience and although the SF50 will have a parachute, the airplane won’t be pushed into the field without a rigorous training program for pilot/owners beginning with a basic skill assessment a year ahead of accepting delivery, then a deep dive into training six months before delivery. The initial training is a 10-day cycle. That’s not atypical of new jet and turboprop aircraft, but it looks to me like Cirrus’ execution of it is more vertical than other companies. It will exercise strong oversight of the training as part of a single-point-of-contact ownership program that basically covers everything related to the airplane, from product support to training and maintenance.

I can’t see how Cirrus could do this any other way based on the company’s experience with the SR series. Still, it was nice to see that they appear to have thought through the entire process with few details left untended. We don’t see that very often in business, must less the business of airplanes. We’ll see how it works out when deliveries begin next year.

As I said, the SF50 will have the CAPS. At the press conference, Cirrus said this system has been credited with 70 “saves” in a fleet numbering 6500 aircraft or about 1 percent of the fleet. You can decide whether it has been efficacious in the Cirrus safety record, but I would say that it has been, even if it took awhile to get there. I would expect a different equation in the jet because its deployment envelope is smaller by dint of speed. And that’s where the training comes in. The doctrine of “pull early, pull often” will need to be tailored for a faster, more sophisticated airplane. And despite the automation, which the SF50 has in spades, pilots will have to perform to a different set of standards than they do in a slower piston airplane.  

The press conference discussion gave me the impression that Cirrus is ready for this or soon will be. Now the question is: will the pilots be?

This Just In

One thing I'd like to see the newly elected President Trump do is to reexamine and eliminate these ridiculous presidential and VIP TFRs. If the election was supposedly in reaction to the elites running amuck, this is a good place to start. This one popped up Wednesday and it effectively closes the Hudson River VFR corridor. It's a classic example of silly administrative overreach that's similar to overbroad gun legislation.

The TFR is too small to be any good if it could be any good at all and the sole effect of it is to deny law-abiding pilots access to the corridor. Let's get rid of the stupid things.

Veterans Day

How could I forget? I didn't. I'm always a day behind the calendar. Today is Veterans Day; the 11th hour of the 11th day that officially marks the sacrifice of so many who have served. It's customary to thank a veteran for his or her service. I'm not so sure the casual thanks reserved for this day is the best idea. In this essay author Matt Richtel describes it as the equilvilant of "I haven't thought about this until now." Thanks rendered, duty done. "Patriotic gloss," says Tim O'Brien, Vietnam vet and the author of The Things they Carried

So what's the alternative? I think newly elected Illionois Senator Tammy Duckworth, a grievously wounded Iraq veteran, recently said it best. She said she wanted to be in the Senate to remind people who have never seen the inside of a barracks, much less a crap filled trench 5000 miles from home, that this is what you're asking us to do. Just so you know. And she certainly does.

Maybe the better thing to say is, "next time, I'll pay more attention before we send you to war."

Lightspeed recently introduced its Tango noise-cancelling headset. The new product is wireless, so there's no hard connection between the headset and the panel. AVweb's Elaine Kauh gave the Tango a wring out and here's her video report.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

It was a tough call this week, but for sheer photographic excellence in composition and capturing the moment, Mike Bargman, of Geneva, Illinois edged out other contenders. Great shot, Mike. Get those submissions coming in and click through to see the rest from this week.

The successful aviator needs more than the ability to look good behind overpriced sunglasses. Great pilots know the regulations and how to apply them in all weather, day or night, but especially while acing this quiz. (Includes results from last month's reader survey.)

Click here to take the quiz.

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