Supply Chain Struggles, New Show Leadership
Going in to Sun ‘n Fun, it seemed likely that we would be doing a bit more legwork than we’ve necessarily had to in the past. That prediction definitely came to pass. According to several companies I spoke with, everything that’s available is selling, but continuing supply chain issues have meant that a lot of the innovation focus is going toward adapting existing products to make use of available resources rather than jumping into designing new stuff. In keeping with those comments, there were very few big, fancy new products at the show. On the plus side, the lack of overtly shiny objects gave me the opportunity to stop by quite a few exhibits that might have gotten lost under a pile of press conference another year.
One of the stops I made—and one of the highlights of Sun ‘n Fun for me this year—was attending the delivery of a new Tecnam P2012 to Alaska-based Kenai Aviation. It was wonderful to meet the family that owns and runs the company and hear them talk about what the aircraft will mean for their business and their community. Their passion for what they were doing and their excitement when they got the keys to their new aircraft were good reminders about how much an airplane can matter. It’s always a good day, and a good show, when I get to see that in person.
Finally, I had a chance to sit down briefly with Gene Conrad, the incoming president and CEO of Sun ‘n Fun and its parent organization, the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), toward the end of the show. Conrad reported that ACE and Sun ‘n Fun are on good footing with no major changes planned at the moment. At this stage, he didn’t have much in the way of specifics to share regarding upcoming plans beyond to look for some announcements later this summer. With Lites Leenhouts retiring after more than 10 years in the position, there’s a lot of interest in seeing how Conrad steers the show from here. Next year’s event will be an interesting benchmark, I think, for how he envisions Sun ‘n Fun’s place in the industry.
— Kate O’Connor
Inventories Low, Enthusiasm High
I’ve been doing this Sun ‘n Fun thing since 1990 and this year a choked supply chain and slow regulatory approvals made it different. While there was still plenty to see, major product announcements were few and far between. Heck, there weren’t even scheduled press conferences at press headquarters—which closed early every day. We knew going into the show that the majors didn’t have much new to talk about.
Still, AVweb Editor-in-Chief Kate O’Connor and I marveled at how many product videos we were able to string together by simply walking the show with eyes and ears open. It was easy partly because of the enthusiasm of vendors who made the best out of a difficult market that has no shortage of willing buyers, but instead a shortage of inventory. That includes airplanes, avionics and even consumables.
Mark Brown at Daher told me demand for the big Kodiak turboprop single is through the roof, and after flying one on floats a while back, it’s easy for me to see why. It’s a total package that has it going on, and now under the Daher brand, the rugged airplane is more refined than ever, with impressive fit and finish. Steve Kent at Textron told me the order book for the recently reintroduced turbo 182 Skylane is full as the company works through the type certification process. Oddly enough, Pilatus—always a big presence at the show—was a no-show. Maybe it didn’t need to be, with more inked deals for the PC-12 NGX than it can deliver. But little planes are doing well, too.
My friend Tom Peghini at Flight Design USA was showing off the production version of the F2 LSA, an airplane that’s apparently appealing to aging pilots stepping out of bigger and faster airplanes. With a beefed-up landing gear, sturdy handling and impressive ergos, the well-equipped F2 is a refreshing departure from the typical lightweight LSA.
On the avionics front, it was quiet. But kudos for Dynon for working to tame the installation complexity for kit builders (and also for shops and IAs) putting in the SkyView HDX and HDX Certified systems. Dynon’s new FastTrack hardware comes with the suite’s critical remote components ready to bolt onto prefab trays. Unbox it, screw the components into the nut plates and plug in the pre-made harnesses—a huge time saver with no guesswork. uAvionix has the space-based ADS-B requirement that’s back on the table for Canada covered, showing off the Diversity-ready tailBeaconX transponder. It showed up at Sun ‘n Fun with a fresh TSO and STC.
So now all eyes are on AirVenture 2022, and plenty of enthusiastic vendors told me they are hanging onto major announcements until then, while hoping that buyers keep their wallets open.
Then And Now
My first visit to Sun ’n Fun was in the late 1980s shortly after I joined the EAA editorial staff as editor of Vintage Airplane magazine and co-editor of Warbirds. I traveled from a snowy, windswept Oshkosh to sunny Florida, tagging along with EAA Editor-in-Chief Jack Cox, his wife (designated “Jack-wrangler”), Golda, and Mary Jones, editor of Experimenter magazine. One of my first articles for EAA’s flagship magazine Sport Aviation told the story of the owner-pilot of a vintage biplane who preferred flying barefoot. The lead photo was of his airplane parked all by itself one Florida-foggy morning next to a spreading oak tree on the Sun ‘n Fun grounds.
That was a long time ago.
Sun ‘n Fun 2022 still had the same morning mist, and there remains a distinct component of the spirit and porch-sitting camaraderie that I remember from more than three decades ago. There is no doubt that the influence of commercialism and industry politics has taken its toll on that spirit. But from my perspective, at least, it has not eliminated it—at least not yet.
I can’t say for sure how much the footprint of the show has expanded, or whether it’s my stamina that has flagged over time. But the carefree walkabout nature that I remember from the early days eluded me this year. So much to see; so many friends to spend time with; so many new acquaintances to make—and according to my fitness watch, 7.84 miles to walk in the hot sun on the first day.
I will say that I got an injection of that old-time jazzed excitement when I talked with the crew from Groton, Connecticut-based ScaleBirds with their 60-percent-size, radial-powered Curtiss P-36 replica. I found a young design-school graduate who married his love of aviation with solid engineering principles to develop what he described as “a sport plane made to look like a fighter,” rather than a scaled-down fighter shoehorned into sport-plane dimensions. With input from an experienced kitbuilder (his father) and similarly inspired engineers, ScaleBirds is putting in the hours, years and financial to develop affordable, build-friendly kits for all those frustrated World War II fighter-pilot wannabes out there.
Full disclosure—I fit that description to a T.
– Mark Phelps