Sun ‘n Fun: Redbird Flies


Redbird Takes Flight
At the Piper booth Wednesday morning, Jerry Gregoire of Redbird Simulation took delivery of a new Seminole painted in the company’s swirling red livery. As you’ve probably read, Redbird has an intriguing project underway in San Marcos, Texas to basically re-invent flight training by basing it heavily on flight simulation.Gregoire said Redbird has graduated about 20 students from the program and early indications are that it takes fewer hours and fewer dollars to earn the private in this type of program than it does grinding out all of the training in an airplane. In a podcast interview we did with him after the Seminole acceptance, he said from zero to private costs $9500, with about 33 hours in the airplane and 50 in the sim. While ten grand is hardly what I would call cheap, Gregoire says it’s just a little more than half of the national average of $17,000 for the private.I’d like to see a little more data on this, but I suspect the potential is there to drive costs down further or to simply make the training more effective because Redbird is carefully collecting biometric data to gain a clearer understanding not just of what students are learning, but how. They plan to use their new Seminole as a flying laboratory to collect data on how this innovative new training approach is working. Gregoire, by the way, is one of the straightest shooters in GA that I’ve encountered and this program is truly innovative. We’ll see if it has legs. Meanwhile, if you’re at the show, get over and see the Redbird booth. They’ve got one of their sims set up.What Customer Service?
I ran into former AOPA prez Phil Boyer early Wednesday morning, happily stalking the grounds like the lucky tourist he has become. Our conversation evolved to a discussion of how various FBOs handle the customer experience. Many do this well, but many, well, you know the story.Boyer mentioned the Cutter FBOs in the southwest, where he pulled into one and was given concierge service. “I wasn’t flying a jet and they don’t know me from Adam,” he said. As I do, he makes a point to buy courtesy fuel, at least, to support this kind of welcome customer care.My personal favorite story is Showalter Flying Service at Orlando Executive. A few years ago, I flew our Mooney up there to cover NBAA, figuring I’d be parked in the hinterlands and would have to drag my stuff across the ramp to the ground transportation.Nope. In the middle of this crazy busy show, they pulled me right up in front of the FBO door, tossed out a red carpet and helped me unload the airplane. They then towed the Mooney to a tiedown and reversed the process when I left. I can’t recall if they had a ramp fee, but if they did, it was well worth it for than kind of service. Our should I say common courtesy?I wish my home airport, Venice, Florida, would emulate it. Companies frequently fly in to show airplanes for flight trials or for interviews and video work. Even though there’s a vast open and usually unoccupied expanse of concrete right next to the FBO, my colleagues are usually parked as far from the door as possible. I know why they do this. They’re keeping the ramp open for the bizjets that arrive and buy bags of gas. I get that. Those airplane pay more and should get more. But given the size of the ramp, it sure seems like even a humble little piston aircraft deserves a little corner of it.Suggestion Box
From my personal list of things to improve at Sun ‘n Fun, the lead item is to move the media center back closer to the show grounds. For many years, it has been in the Seaplane Pilots Association building at the far eastern edge of the display area. This year, it’s in the Davis Center at the far west edge of the grounds. It’s a long hike from anywhere.Here’s the problem with this: I don’t mind the 10-minute walk; I like the exercise. But if you have to do it three or four times a day, you’ve spent an hour-and-half just walking and that’s time not spent not talking to vendors, seeing demonstrations and kicking over stones to see what’s really going on at the show. Yesterday, for instance, I really wanted to interview Harrison Schmitt, as I am a dedicated student of the Apollo program. But I had other commitments in the main show area and simply couldn’t move far enough fast enough to do both. Mary Grady made it, but the event was poorly attended. We missed at least one or two other press conferences for this reason.When we cover these shows with daily wall-to-wall feeds, we do so at great expense and we feel we have a duty both to the Sun ‘n Fun organization and the companies who also (expensively) participate. We like to see and cover as many of them as we can and these companies depend on that press coverage to justify the time and expense of coming here. It just works a lot better if press conferences and the media center are centrally located.Share a Ride
Speaking of walking, I see a lot of golf carts whizzing around the grounds with just a driver. Here’s another suggestion: If you’re driving one, stop and give someone a ride. In the spirit of conserving the earth’s dwindling hydrocarbons, every golf cart should be fully occupied. (And yes, that includes you FAA staffers who motor around in government-plated cars and who get private parking spots while the rest of slog from distant lots. How about helping out once in awhile?)Ride-sharing is our long-standing policy at AirVenture, where we always offer lifts in our golf cart. You meet interesting people, you learn things and you help people out-all good things. (That’s how I met Cliff Robertson many years ago.) So a tip of the editorial hat to Mallory Player who gave us a golf-cart lift to the media center last night after a long, tiring day. She works in one of the hangars, selling The Claw tiedown.Rotax Flies
I ran into Pipistrel’s Tine Tomazic on the way into the grounds this morning. Shortly after we left Slovenia two weeks ago, Pipistrel got the Virus SW flying with Rotax’s new 914 iS. (Rotax has been flying it it in a couple of test beds for three years.)Does the thing deliver on Rotax’s claim of of 20 percent better fuel economy? Seems to, says Tomazic. Pipistrel tested it by putting a jug of gas on the seat and flying off that source for a timed period and measuring the consumption. I’ll be checking with other manufacturers to see if they achieve similar results. Rotax has a booth here, so you can check out the engine in the flesh.Turbine Talk
On the subject of fuel efficiency, reader David Bonorden wrote to say that he’s skeptical of the practicality of the Diemech turbine we covered in Monday’s edition:

The math: The recommended 260-HP IO-540 for the RV-10 is making 169 HP while cruising at 65 percent and at a typical leaned Lycoming BSFC of .45 is burning about 12.7 GPH, giving you 4.7 hrs of no-reserve endurance. At $6 for 100LL, that $76 /hr fuel costs.Now, per the specs published by Diemech, this engine runs at a BSFC of .82 lb/hp/hr. At the same 169-HP cruise condition, that’s 21 GPH of Jet A and 2.9 hrs of fuel (no reserve) for a standard RV-10 tank. At $5.50 for Jet A, that’s $115/hr for fuel, a 52 percent increase.

All that’s true and illuminates the harsh fact that turbine engines just aren’t as efficient as piston engines and the smaller the turbines are, the less efficient they are. Over in Europe, Austro engine is capitalizing on this efficiency Delta. It’s marketing its Austro AE300 as an APU powerplant. It’s a lot heavier than an equivalent turbine powerplant, but it’s so much more efficient so Austro thinks it can make the case for the swap. In a world dominated by tight petroleum supplies, the math may just work in their favor.