Backcountry Advocates Take Their Message To Tampa »

"This is what every pilot is dreaming of, when they go to the airport to learn to fly," said John McKenna, as he watched one slide after another of beautiful wilderness views scroll by on the wall of his group's new display at AOPA Aviation Summit in Tampa this week. McKenna is one the pilots who helped to launch a new nonprofit group, the Recreational Aviation Foundation , to protect access to backcountry landing strips on public lands. This is their first appearance at the AOPA show, and they went all out, with the constant flow of alluring photos, a tent, and a mock campfire set up under some virtual trees to get visitors thinking about just how much they always wanted to get out and explore. The setting reflects the origins of the group, which began with a bunch of pilots sitting around a campfire, and wondering who was going to protect their backcountry access. "And we realized, if it's not us, who's it going to be?" said McKenna. "And if not now, when?" Already the group has a number of successes under its belt, including an agreement to maintain three public-access landing strips in Death Valley that were in danger of being shut down by the National Park Service, and the construction of a new strip on national forest land in Montana. And the group has some new ideas in the works, too. More

Virtual AOPA Summit Features Online Live Video And Meetups »

Everyone can participate in this week's AOPA Summit in Tampa via the Internet, with a slew of new online features being tried out for the first time. Folks with interests in common can meet up via , or use the meet-up function to connect with live people at the show. David Allen, webmaster for, a social media site for pilots and aviation enthusiasts, is working with AOPA to help engage the pilot community. "We've had such a great time, and we're learning stuff," he said on Friday morning. Several people stopped by to meet up with Walter Fricke, who later in the day would be accepting AOPA's Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award for his work providing GA transportation for wounded veterans. "AOPA is trying to bring the show to the virtual audience, and to bring that audience to the show," Allen said. More

SR-71 Pilot Visits Tampa »

The SR-71 Blackbird was one of the most distinctive and powerful aircraft ever built, and one of the select group of pilots who flew it visited AOPA Summit in Tampa this week to tell the story of the airplane and its place in history. Brian Shul, a retired Air Force pilot, has written a book about his experiences with the airplane, and came to Tampa to talk about it. "It was a fantastic airplane," he said, between talking to visitors who stopped by his booth to view the special-edition book, illustrated with unique photos from Shul's personal collection, on sale for about $400. The Blackbird was a wonderful airplane to fly, he said. "It would always give you more speed when you needed it," he said. It was purely a spy plane, with no weapons on board. The pilot's defense was speed and altitude. The fastest he ever flew in the jet was over Mach 3, Shul said, once when he was being shot at. The SR-71 could cruise at 85,000 to 90,000 feet. Its entire crew was one pilot and a navigator in the back, both encased in astronaut-style spacesuits. More

Women's Wing Debuts At AOPA Summit »

Many aviation advocacy groups share a goal to work toward diversifying the pilot population, and in an effort to encourage more women to consider aviation careers, Women in Aviation International teamed up with AOPA this week to create a Women's Wing for the Aviation Summit in Tampa. "We offered seminars and mini-forums about careers, about following your passion, and exploring why would a person want to learn to fly," said Amy Laboda, editor in chief of WAI's Aviation for Women magazine. The group also hosted a breakfast for women pilots and book signings with aerobatic pilot Patty Wagstaff and Susan Butler, author of East to the Dawn , one of the books that inspired the new Amelia Earhart movie. A Frasca Piper Warrior simulator and a flight instructor were stationed in the Wing to offer a chance to any women who wanted to give it a try. The space also provided a meeting place for women to meet other women in aviation, or to ask questions about careers and flight training. More

From Hollywood To Tampa: Joe Shepherd's Lockheed Electra »

When the filmmakers at Fox Searchlight needed a Lockheed Electra for their movie about Amelia Earhart, it took only a couple of phone calls to lead them to Joe Shepherd, a retired airline pilot with a beauty of an Electra gleaming in his custom-built hangar in Fayatteville, Ga. "There were 130 of these that were built, and 23 now on the registry," he said on Wednesday, as he rested in the shade beneath a shiny wing at AOPA Summit's flight line, at Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa. Of those 23, as far he knows, about a dozen are flying, and maybe five have been brought up to prime condition like his. He spent about 20 hours flying it for the Amelia movie, which opened in theaters on Oct. 23. "We worked long hours, dawn till dark," he said. "It was an incredible amount of work, but we had a wonderful time." You can get a close look at Shepherd's handiwork and hear more of his story, coming up soon in an AVweb video. More

Cessna CEO's Wife Gets First Skycatcher »

The first owner of a Cessna Skycatcher won't have far to turn if she has a complaint. Cessna announced at AOPA Summit that Rose Pelton, wife of Cessna CEO Jack Pelton will get the first 162. "When I first saw the Skycatcher mockup at Oshkosh in 2007, I knew that was the aircraft I wanted to learn to fly in," Pelton said. "I couldn't be more excited to own the first Skycatcher." Mrs. Pelton will get her Skycatcher later this year and although the aircraft is an LSA, she'll be going after her private pilot certificate. The aircraft received ASTM certification earlier this year and production has begun at the contractor's factory in China but the Skycatcher has had a more difficult development than many Cessna designs and two aircraft crashed during spin testing. More

Kenya Wildlife Service Gets Husky »

The folks with the Lindbergh Foundation have been working for a few years now to provide support to the pilots of the Kenya Wildlife Service, who fly under extreme conditions in their effort to protect wild animals from poachers, and on Thursday at AOPA Summit, Foundation chairman Larry Williams announced the group will donate a brand-new Aviat Husky to the effort. The Foundation has been working with Patty Wagstaff and John and Martha King to provide training to the pilots. "They have a fleet of about seven airplanes and a couple of helicopters, and each of them has crashed at least three times," said Williams. The pilots have minimal training. They are often shot at and operate from rough runways with no lighting. "It's very challenging conditions," Williams said. More

AOPA Prize Plane A Remos LSA »

The LSA sector may still be young and wet behind the ears compared to the industry stalwarts, but on Thursday at AOPA Aviation Summit, AOPA got on board with the LSA movement, choosing an LSA as their annual Sweepstakes airplane for the first time ever. The shiny new Remos GX LSA is a carbon-fiber airplane with a 100-hp Rotax engine and wings that fold back for trailering. For the next year, AOPA will fly it around to local events to promote their own membership drive and to celebrate light sport aviation. "We plan to get out and have fun with it," said AOPA President Craig Fuller at the unveiling in the exhibit hall, complete with drum roll and a dramatic opening of the curtain. At next year's Summit, in Long Beach, the winner of the airplane will be announced. More

Cirrus Jet In Capital Crunch, But Progressing »

Undertaking the development of a light jet is a project "not for the faint of heart," Cirrus CEO Brent Wouters said at AOPA's Aviation Summit on Thursday, but he assured the press who had gathered for his update that Cirrus is up to the task. "We are making progress," he said. The team working on the Vision Jet is smaller than it was, and progress is less dramatic now that they are out of the flight-test phase and focused on detailed internal and structural design. He said the project is "capital constrained," and unless new investment is found soon, it's "highly unlikely" that a timeline for deliveries in 2012 will be possible, and he declined to project a new date. "Progress will depend entirely on access to capital," he said. "We're working hard to find that capital, but it's just not available today." Wouter also announced that Avidyne's Entegra Release 9 integrated flight deck system is now available as a factory-installed option on selected new SR20 and SR22 aircraft. More

Avidyne Announces New Products »

Avidyne Corp. announced a new EX600 Multi-Function Display for GA airplanes and helicopters, at AOPA Aviation Summit in Tampa on Thursday. The new model features a larger display and the addition of Map Planning, a highly-requested feature, according to Avidyne, which makes it more user-friendly. The MFD can be used in aircraft that have never had an MFD or as an upgrade to an early-generation MFD. "We continue to refine our display technology and incorporate the features and functions that pilots care about most, and with the EX600 we have made the very best radar-replacement MFD even better." Pricing starts at $9,990. More