Sun ‘n Fun 2024: Innovation And Grit


It was good to be back in Lakeland for Sun ‘n Fun and even better to have been there for the 75-degree sunny days rather than the almost-annual deluge that showed up later in the week. As shows go, it was slow for news, but news certainly wasn’t absent. Moreover, it showed that the spirit of innovation and adventure among aviators and the companies that want to sell them stuff is alive. In that vein I offer three of the highlights that stood out for me. You are welcome to gently tell me what I missed in the comments.

DeltaHawk Diesel Seminoles

Probably the biggest news out of the show (although there’s a close second) was the announcement of a deal between DeltaHawk and Piper to test DeltaHawk’s innovative liquid-cooled 180-horsepower diesel engines on the Seminole twin. The major airframers have flirted with diesel power and Diamond has made a business out of it, but so far the engines have been mostly automotive adaptations.

DeltaHawk’s is a clean-sheet, scratch-built mill that’s been certified. The company is now waiting for a production certificate, and it looks like Piper might be looking at taking a run at Diamond’s dominance in light twins. If ever there was an example of innovation-meets-grit it’s DeltaHawk. They’ve been at this for almost 30 years and the payoff may be in sight.

Fuel News

General Aviation Modifications Inc. founder George Braly was at the show with Robert Emmett, an executive from Vitol Aviation, to announce that Vitol has made more than a million gallons of GAMI’s G100UL and is looking for customers for it. That, says Braly, makes it “commercially available” and theoretically triggers a clause in a legal agreement in California that will compel FBOs to start selling it.

Like everything else with the glacial transition to unleaded avgas, it probably won’t be that simple. When you consider that the total consumption of avgas in the U.S. is only equal to a day or two of autogas production, there seems to be an awful lot of intrigue about getting a universally accepted replacement for 100LL. Without going over ground pounded to dust in these columns and others, the announcement is another step in that process, one that is not universally welcomed.

But again, we have that innovation-meets-grit factor and it looks like Braly, who has invested a lot of his own money and most of his time over the past 15 years to deliver that fuel, may also be nearing the finish line. But keep the corks in the champagne. Lycoming issued some opinions on a related fuel issue involving its engines and Swift 94UL in University of North Dakota Piper Archers that could result in a rewrite of fuel specifications. We’ll get into that in more detail after my jet lag, prolonged by annoying and expensive flight delays, wears off a little.

The Night Show

I know it’s an odd topic for a news highlights column but it was just so damn spectacular I had to mention it. Night shows have only been around for about a decade or so but they have come a long way. From afterburner flames providing the main wow factor, they’ve become multimedia extravaganzas that are now the most popular events in major airshows.

But it’s not just showbiz. The Sun ‘n Fun shows (there are now two of them) included drones, fireworks, powered parachutes, oh, and afterburner flames. The integration of all those platforms and the development of technologies to create those spectacles must have spinoffs in the business side of the industry. And isn’t that what exhibitions like this are meant to do?

And that’s not mentioning the community involvement factor. Thousands of people with no connection to aviation were stunned by the display and it undoubtedly triggered some career plans in some people. And for the airshows that haven’t yet moved to a night show, take some lessons from SNF. It was great.

My Trip Home

It’s a long way home for me from Florida even when the travel gods are with me. Suffice to say the delays and a missed connection (resulting in a $300 layover in Toronto) were frustrating, but there was one priceless moment.

After my hotel stay in Toronto, I was on my final flight and wondering about the delayed pushback when the dreadful PA announcement from the fight deck blasted through the opening scenes of a Ted Lasso episode. There were “a couple of technical issues” with the state-of-the-art A220 that would otherwise be whisking me back to the wilds of British Columbia.

A few minutes later, a truck carrying two technicians pulled up in full view of seat 33F. They went over to the gear area out of my view but they didn’t have any tools or parts with them. I never saw them take anything from the truck or the airplane. One of them came into the cabin and was doing something near the flight attendant’s seat in the middle of the plane. A few minutes later, the captain announced the repairs were “at the stage where we have to power down the airplane.”

The APU wound down, the lights flickered off and in the ensuing silence I marveled at just how noisy a plane at the gate is. About 30 seconds later, the APU wound up, the lights came back on and Jason Sudeikis again twanged on to the very nice entertainment display. The captain came back on and said we’d be on our way in a few minutes after the paperwork was done. Indeed, a few minutes later, the empty-handed technicians got back in the truck and cleared the ramp, having just rebooted a $50 million computer with wings. We left about an hour late but at least we left.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. I don’t understand the push for unleaded aviation fuel. Unleaded was required in cars not because of pollution but because lead destroys catalytic converters. Airplanes don’t have catalytic converters.

    No one has traced lead pollution to aircraft, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the alternative octane boosters turn out to be even worse for the environment.

    • Other than boosting octane, lead has no benefit to engines or people. There are no safe levels of lead exposure. Yes, the amount of airborne lead from aviation exhaust (which goes far beyond local airports) is much, much less than decades ago when cars used it. But there’s also the production and delivery exposure as well. And, currently, there’s only ONE company in the entire world making tetraethyl lead for avgas. And if (or when) that company stops making it, either by breaking down, going out of business, or sabotage, what then?

      But forget all that – lead (outside the octane boost) is harmful to engines. When lead is added to gasoline, more additives are put in to keep the lead from harming the engine. Even so, more additives are needed (like TCP) to keep lead out. Lead contaminates oil and spark plugs, reducing the effectiveness and life of both. Removing lead (and associated additives) will allow oil to work better and for longer. Engines (and spark plugs) will last longer.

      Ever notice how modern cars routinely go 100,000 miles without a tune-up? Or 10,000 miles between oil changes? A large part of that is from removing lead. Sure, modern engines are built better and to higher tolerances; electronic ignition produces hotter, longer sparks; computerized fuel injection is far more efficient. But all those advances only work well with unleaded gas. Ignoring the catalytic converter, a modern car running on leaded gasoline wouldn’t last anywhere near as long. Conversely, and older car running on a steady diet of unleaded gasoline needs fewer tune-ups. My ‘68 Skylark has gone tens of thousands of miles on the same plugs.

      So, even if you don’t think (or care) about the environmental impact of lead, think personally – unleaded avgas means your oil will stay cleaner and last longer. The spark plugs won’t foul as often. Combustion chambers and valve guides will stay cleaner. In short, your engine will last longer, cost less to run, and be more reliable.

    • When I learned to fly, the C150’s engine was constantly fouling on the lead. That’s because Cessna (and Continental) thought the lead would be removed from the fuel shortly.

      You don’t see many C150s anymore. But we’re still dealing with lead fouling in all our engines. It really is long past time that stopped.

      I agree, finding new additives to get to 100 octane is likely to just introduce new substances that will become the source of new problems – whether environmental objections or melting all our seals and composite fuel tanks. Better to go with 94 octane unleaded, and be done with it. Yes, that will be a problem for the few planes that can’t operate on 94 octane but I’d bet that would be an easier problem to solve than the problem of finding the unobtainium that will replace lead in 100 octane.

  2. KPSCHOER, you are misinformed. Lead in the exhaust from automobiles was a problem for catalytic converters AND human health. Lead remains one of the most serious environmental and public health problems in the world today. Millions of kids are impaired from getting lead into their bodies, and the damage lasts a lifetime (neurological impairment). Beginning in the 80’s the reduction in blood lead values in Americans paralleled the trend line in reducing airborne lead following the elimination of leaded auto fuel.

    Because the amount of avgas consumed is so much less than auto gas, the reduction in health problems won’t be as dramatic as eliminating lead from auto gas (and from homes, the main source of lead exposure in the US), but if we can eliminate a serious health problem and have a better or equivalent fuel, I’m all for it.

    • jspiperflyer except for one inconvenient fact: every single study trying to trace lead contamination to GA has come up with ZERO. Tests of neighborhoods near airports, test of soil, tests of groundwater, tests of blood in children, every single time has come up with zero contamination. The people who buy houses near airports and then complain of airport noise have seized upon “lead contamination, think of the children” as their weapon of choice to get the airports shut down, but every study they have commissioned (and subsequently buried) shows the same thing: no lead contamination. They still go ahead claiming they need to shut down the airports due to lead, but they conveniently omit the fact that their OWN studies show no contamination whatsoever.

      Simply stated, at the levels of use by GA, lead is not a problem, environmentally speaking. So that’s not the reason we need to get rid of lead. The main reason we need to get rid of lead is that it’s not good for the airplanes. Fouled plugs, short oil lifetime (clogged with lead deposits), lead all over the engine and airframe – with the exception of its intended purpose as an octane enhancer, lead is not good for our airplanes.

    • We can eliminate lead, so we should. That doesn’t make it a crisis all of a sudden. If you really believe it’s a real environmental threat, then please support a complete house cleaning and reformation of the institution responsible. The government has made the problem persist this long, and needs to now bear the cost of the fix.
      Instead of supporting market based solutions, the FAA leaders are trying to leverage the desire to eliminate lead into career boosts for themselves. And, after having not done their duty in service to pilots, owners, passengers, and the country, they are still perfectly willing to risk us and our wallets to avoid risk to their jobs.
      The only thing more shameful is the lack of willingness to face up to the reality that our “leaders” are terrible, and we need to do something to replace them instead of going along and hoping it works out.

  3. Mr. Niles,
    Am I correct in assuming your routing home was Florida-YYZ-YVR ? What a dog-leg and what a terrific waste of your time ! Maybe next time you should pay a few more $$ (US or Canadian) for a more direct routing and spend your precious time more wisely.

    • Actually, it was Orlando-Toronto-Kelowna and the most direct flight available taking the least amount of time normally. All flights through the U.S. had longer layover times and when I learned the Orlando-Toronto domino had fallen I tried to get other flights but was told by the Orlando agents that they couldn’t do that for me. I did my part:)

  4. “The captain announced the repairs were “at the stage where we have to power down the airplane.” ”

    So they brought a couple of techs out to reboot the plane? Nice.

    • Nah. They brought out the technicians to 1) determine that a reboot was the solution and 2) sign the logbook.

  5. Have Time To Spare? Go By Air….

    I had to connect through Chicago (ORD) twice last week and all four flights were late one by 4 hours. Two of those flights because the Pilots arrived on late flights. Also, I think a burger and beer cost about $300 these days inside airport security.

  6. The trains run on time, didn’t that used to be a thing, govt promised to make the trains run on time?
    I would like to see a statistic on the number of delayed flights.
    The airline “system” we built in 60 years is an amazing feat of human ingenuity and despite our complaints about it, it does a remarkable job of moving us around, an ability never before seen in human existence.
    My point is if you don’t like the airlines job of moving you ,,,,,, take the train.
    It only takes a few min to realize why we invented airplanes.

    • It’s easy to fix all the delayed flights. Just redefine what qualifies as “delayed.”

      Oh, wait, the airlines already did that!

    • I simply started driving again. Since the airlines will not take my dog anymore, and airports are not convenient, and ground transport is taxed by both governments and insurers, it just makes more sense.
      Frankly, I think the system has regressed over the last 20 years to its lowest point since before price deregulation (which is what I call it to avoid the incorrect perception that airlines are somehow not over regulated).

      • A valid opinion and perception. On my last half dozen flights not one was on time and several caused my wife and I to rebook. It is becoming a game of tolerance for passengers with slipping schedules, cramped seating and additional charges for most anything. Flying has become nasty and the air carriers less than appealing. On shorter flights the air travel desire is gone, and on longer flights the concept is really off-putting. I really wonder if it can change before societal pressures put an end to air travel.

  7. As for maintenece at the gate, I came back to the US from then West Germany in ’72 on a Pan Am 747 flight from Frankfurt (Rhein-Main as we called it) on Army leave and the mechanics had a stand by engine #2 and one of them took out some part and tossed it down on the ramp. When he did the woman behind me screamed. They started up and we eventually made it to the US with no problems. The plane didn’t have many on it so they folded up the armrests in a center aisle and let me sleep with a pillow and blanket.

  8. It’s Deja Vu all over again in the saga of aviation fuels. Mogas – 91+AKI lead-free, ethanol-free has been a safe, inexpensive, FAA-approved fuel for nearly a half century. It is available at thousands of sellers (see and at nearly all fuel terminals, since crap (ethanol) may not be pumped through oil pipelines.

  9. There’s a war on lead, I get it. But as Scott has pointed out, there’s no evidence that aviation fuel is causing a problem. And I’d still like to know the details of octane boosters they’re using as substitutes. It’s possible that they’re even worse.

  10. I don’t understand the number of people who want to keep 100LL because they don’t think it’s a health hazard. Do they not care about their engines working better?

  11. The health hazards of 100LL lead in the environment are trivial and ignorable but the damage it does to our engines is evident every oil change and annual cleaning of the spark plugs.

    With that said there are serious questions about unleaded fuel damaging our engines as well, just differently, as per the UND issues with valve recession.

  12. At the gate, reboot. We used to say “make it dark”. Rarely had to do it on the A330. The 767, we would push the switch three times, then consider maintenance lol. AC also has/had Embraer – Every Mechanical Breakdown Requires An Electrical Reset. Huge respect for the mind that put that together!

  13. Amazing how many people post about lead in avgas who don’t know what they are talking about. All made up opinions. Lead lubricates valves and guides. And there have been many documented cases where damage has occurred, especially in newly overhauled and new engines during the break in period, when operated on lead free fuel. And these health hazards exist only in the minds of the left wingers.

    • While the comment does acknowledge some correct technical aspects about lead in aviation fuel and its potential impact on engines, it is crucial to emphasize that it also contains a significant and dangerous factual inaccuracy concerning the health impacts of lead.

      To assert that concerns about lead’s toxicity are purely ideologically driven and exist only in the minds of “left-wingers” is not only false but dangerously misleading. This disregards the vast body of scientific evidence and the global health consensus that lead is a potent neurotoxin, posing serious health risks to humans, particularly children.

      Such claims undermine public understanding of a critical health issue and should not be taken lightly. The dangers of lead exposure are well-documented, widely recognized, and are a matter of public health, not political opinion.