Sun 'N Fun 2001: Hot Fun in the Sunshine

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Show us an EAA-related fly-in, and we'll show you some of the sleekest, best-designed aircraft in the world. Sun 'n Fun 2001 lives up to its billing and is evidence that the homebuilt industry has matured in both its designs and its quality control. It's also evidence that — once again — the private sector is far ahead of the government when it comes to recognizing and reacting to industry trends. Just as U.S. pilots bide their time awaiting the slow-moving Sport Pilot proposals to emerge from the federal bureaucracy, manufacturers who stand to benefit the most aren't in holding patterns. Some of those manufacturers, however, may be overseas. When one looks at the current trends in the homebuilt market, one must also look at the Sport Pilot proposals and contemplate how the market they may eventually create will be filled.

At the same time, newer and better products were introduced to the U.S. market by Honeywell, Meggitt and Jeppesen, among others. Other companies like Diamond and OMF received great news in the form of type certificates awarded by the FAA and still more presented updates to their various ongoing programs.

Trends, Sun 'N Fun 2001

The Dawn Of A New Age ... ?

RV7The perception of homebuilders and certainly homebuilt aircraft has evolved from the "crazy outsider" stages to the corporate giant phase and now we all stand to reap the benefits, hard won by an adventurous minority — minority, that is, until you step foot into Sun 'n Fun. In the beginning of the homebuilt movement, you could get plans for an airplane that would be built entirely from raw materials that you purchased and by your own hands. The design may have been wood and fabric, tube and fabric, foam and fiberglass. You might attach to the front end a VW engine that you sawed in half and  — after a few years labor — fly off in your new baby at 50 or 80 MPH. That hasn't changed, but today, the range of possibilities has increased substantially. Today, you can buy what looks like an almost-finished airframe, acquire professional builder's assistance, strap a turbine onto your craft and set out on a 1,000 mile cross-country at 250 KTAS. Still, the evolution goes farther. Cirrus Designs, Lancair International and Zenith are just a few of the "kitplane" manufacturers who've turned the corner by turning out finished "turn-key" products that (unlike some of their other products) actually come with their very own FAA type certificate and fly upon delivery. These new products have invigorated a stagnant general aviation market and from the mocking faces of good-ole Piper, Cessna and Beechcraft drivers, a new generation of expressions can be seen — and it's usually a bit greener. Still, there's more to the market shift than a more accepting public.

As healthy caution and fear of change finally gives way to common sense, pilots are waking from their conservative comas to a wider variety of (better) new aircraft that are available at lower prices than ever before. Folks are starting to wonder why they would spend a quarter million dollars on their father's spam can (now with leather interior!), when they can have an extra 30 KTAS and 200 miles' range, plus brand new aerodynamic and aesthetic styling, for $50,000 less ... with the same leather interior. What you may not know, is just how many companies based in European nations have been producing brand new light aircraft for quite some time — and just how soon they may be flooding into American markets. The key is the pending Sport Pilot proposal.

... As Sport Pilot Proposals Attract Attention ...

At three standing-room-only seminars this week at Sun 'n Fun, officials from the EAA and the FAA briefed pilots and ultralight flyers on the current status of the long-anticipated NPRM known as the Sport Pilot proposal. Bob Warner, an executive vice president of the EAA, gave the main presentation, while Sue Gardner, the FAA's point person on the proposal, was on hand to offer "hypothetical answers to hypothetical questions." And there were plenty of questions. The complicated proposal affects airmen, aircraft, maintenance and instruction. Warner made sure everyone had a copy of a brand-new brochure outlining the rules as they were "being discussed as of March 28, 2001." The caveat: "They are not final and may not accurately outline the rules that will be posted." Because, of course, before the rule can be posted it must undergo a review at the Department of Transportation, then the federal Office of Management and Budget, then go back to the FAA, then to the public for comment, and back to the FAA yet again, before a Final Rule can exist. Thus, the "hypotheticallness" of the entire enterprise. Regardless, interest in the proposal is so intense, and hopes for its impact are so high, that the EAA and FAA are working hard to keep everyone informed. Warner described the proposal as "really revolutionary, and getting the highest priority at the FAA." The time frame for the final rule was estimated at mid-2002, but many observers expect that to be wildly optimisitc, while not completely beyond the realm of plausibilty. The matter of instructors seemed a bit thorny and indefinite. Current ultralight instructors would be able to qualify as Sport Pilot instructors under a limited grandfather clause. They would have a lot to do, because Sport Pilots would need a logbook endorsement for each make and model of aircraft they want to fly. Owners would be able to get a repairman's certificate to inspect and maintain their own aircraft.

Briefly, the proposal aims to create a new Sport Pilot Certificate, that would be "affordable, safe, and appropriate" for the sport flyer. A driver's license would be acceptable medical certification, and about 20 hours would be plenty of training to pass the practical test. Ultralight experience could be credited toward flight time. Ultralight pilots who prefer to stay as they are would be free to continue operating under Part 103, which would remain in effect unchanged. Sport pilots would be restricted to day VFR flying, not for hire.

Warner said the industry has plenty of incentive to make radical changes — and make them soon — to make it easier, more attractive and more affordable for new enthusiasts to get involved in flying. By 2003, he said, the Young Eagles will have flown a million youngsters, representing a huge pool of prospective pilots and owners. Likewise, the intensive attention that aviation is expected to get as the U.S. celebrates the Centennial of Flight in 2003 "might inspire many people to try to fulfill their dream of flight." And Warner wants to be sure that when people get that urge, the way is clear for them to make it come true.

... Complying Aircraft Shine In The Distance (From Overseas) ...

The Sport Pilot regs, as the currently sit, would require eligible aircraft weigh no more than 1,232 pounds, seat two (maximum), stall at no faster than 45 knots, fly Day VFR only and not exceed 115 KTAS in level flight (with a logbook endorsement). Well, it just so happens that a booming economy, coupled with the ability to circumvent a huge portion of liability through use of the experimental category has led to a virtual explosion of experimental designs here in the states over the past two decades. Unfortunately, none of those aircraft have been available to pilots unwilling or unable to build. Hopefully, this is where the Sport Pilot regs will find their niche. By sheer volume and variety, a large number of those experimental aircraft will be eligible for certification under Sport Pilot guidelines. When asked if they'd be producing aircraft under the new rules, nearly every manufacturer of light kit aircraft we've asked here at Sun 'n Fun answered in the affirmative.

... And FAA Ties The Hands Of U.S. Sport Pilot Aircraft Hopefuls

However, if all the "ifs" do fall into place, many of those manufacturers may be starting out behind the curve. Europe has seen a similar design explosion over the past decade, but due to different regulations many of those designs are certified and sold as flying aircraft and that may put U.S. designers at a disadvantage. European general aviation markets often struggle against strictly regulated airspace and often face very high fuel prices (currently close to $6.00 per gallon of avgas in much of Europe) and surcharges for services is the rule, but in this case that may be an advantage. As a result of their general aviation environments, most European aviation enthusiasts don't need an aircraft that goes high and fast, they need an efficient aircraft that simply allows them to embrace the joy of flight within the confines of their system. It follows that most European designers and manufacturers have not only designed, but are already producing aircraft that fall within the limits of the Sport Pilot proposal. U.S. manufacturers have geared their production forces on producing and supporting kits — not flying aircraft.

In short, if the regs go through, we may see a virtual sea of aircraft — that were specifically designed to be economical and fun to fly — pour into the American market from established manufacturers around the world. Many could be available at prices near $100,000. This could have even established U.S. kit manufacturers interested in joining the ready-to-fly market, playing catch-up. Those "new" aircraft will have been flying safely and for several years in Europe and formerly unavailable in the U.S. due to strict and costly certification requirements. In this case, the slow wheels of bureaucracy could actually help U.S. kit manufacturers by giving them time to establish production plans. On the downside, kit company's looking to gear up for production could get slammed if the regulations are modified before becoming a final rule — and that will almost certainly be the case.

— Glenn Pew

Improbable Solutions

Born Here, Built Abroad — Sold Here: Symphony May Show The Way

The GlaStar kit may be on the rocks, but will anyone care when they find out they can now buy a factory-finished GlaStar? Monday, here at Sun 'n Fun, an aircraft called the Symphony, produced in Germany by OMF Aircraft and distributed here in the U.S. by AMD, was granted its FAA type certificate. Both too heavy and too fast to be considered for the Sport Pilot proposal, the Symphony has the distinct advantage of being available now but with higher performance. OMF had considered obtaining rights to the GlaStar kit, but was put off by legal wrangling and the potential need to provide customer support to a pre-disgruntled customer base. For all aesthetic and aerodynamic purposes, the Symphony is the GlaStar, a very popular kit originating with the Glasair series of aircraft and now, lost in the shuffle of asset acquisition and legal sparring following the economic demise of Stoddard-Hamiltion Inc. (the kit's former distributor). However, the Symphony is FAR Part 23 and JAR 23 approved.

The OMF Symphony 160 incorporates a steel-tube fuselage, aluminum wings and tail, Lycoming 0-320 power, straps it all under a high-wing and cruises at 130 KTAS for close to 520 NM and stalls at only 46 knots. The production aircraft did originate as the GlaStar, but through the course of seeking certification the aircraft developed some distinct engineering differences. Among the major changes: The production aircraft's fuselage is structurally formed by steel tube alone, where the kit aircraft used it's composite shell for structure in the tail section — including the vertical fin. Yet, the production aircraft managed little or no weight gain in the fuselage by reducing the number of plies in the now non-structural composite fuselage shell. The production vehicle also has beefed up landing gear — spring steel — to help adapt the aircraft for its aspired market: the training industry in the U.S., greener private pilots and those who need a sturdy affordable mount. More major structural changes are inside the wing — e.g. the wing does not fold on the Symphony (it does on the GlaStar) and may have gained a pound or two. Still, at about 1,200 lbs. empty and 1,960 pounds at maximum gross, the aircraft retains nearly identical performance characteristics and there are seven factory finished aircraft flying in Europe to prove it, with seven more set for delivery. The aircraft is offered at the show for $120,000 and for ten percent down, OMF claims they'll deliver (the first order, at least) inside two months — VFR equipped, with a KX 135A GPS/COM ... and a leather interior. Although, we did see an amateur-built GlaStar for sale on the flight line for a no-haggle price of $165,000, if you'd prefer that. OMF hopes to increase to 50 aircraft per year and is simply waiting for the market to offer the challenge.

...As Domestic Aircraft Get Ready For ... Import?

The evolution of the GlaStar — from U.S. kit to European turn-key — has become popular over the years, and may have an impact on how aircraft are produced and distributed if the Sport Pilot regulations pass. Both Rans Aircraft and Zenith Aircraft Company produce several time-tested and respected aircraft that will become eligible for certification under Sport Pilot rules. Rans aircraft range from ultralights, to light experimental aircraft and — you guessed it — nearly all of their designs (some 13) meet Sport Pilot requirements. Zenith produces the extremely popular CH 701 light utility bush plane as well as the Zodiac CH 601 and others. Both companies are also examples of highly-successful American experimental aircraft kit manufacturers that also sell kits which are then shipped overseas where they are assembled and sold as finished light aircraft. Well more than 30 percent of Rans' sales are shipped overseas and Zenith recently announced the sale of 85 aircraft to the Indian air force. India's purchase will be assembled by Czech Aircraft Works, which also happens to produce completed GlaStars for purchase in Europe. What all this means is that channels for the production of "Sport Pilot ready" aircraft are already in place in Europe. It will be up to the U.S. to either continue using proven resources overseas or catch up by creating manufacturing facilities here in the states to compete with established facilities already working abroad. Whatever happens, it seems you can thank the EAA for its diligence in pushing the Sport Pilot proposal along and the FAA for making sure the U.S. for entering the game so late and so handicapped.

Whatever happens, there's more to come. Watch this space.

— Glenn Pew

New Avionics Roundup

Honeywell Joins Electronic HSI Fray...

Honeywell Bendix/King KI 825Honeywell's Bendix/King unit announced this week at Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland, Fla., that it will soon be doing battle in the electronic horizontal situation indicator (EHSI) market for the small business and owner-flown GA aircraft against products like the Sandel SN3308. The Bendix/King KI 825 is a 3-inch ATI-format HSI unit designed to readily interface with the "most common systems found in general aviation aircraft," according to the company, and will be priced at $11,950. Available in late 2001, the KI 825 incorporates LCD display technology — instead of the backlit display used in the Sandel unit — to provide "the sharpest, most readable display in general aviation," according to Honeywell's Dan Barks. Among the product's features are a moving map display and the ability to integrate traffic information, as well as traditional heading and navigation capability. In addition to its compatibility with existing directional gyros, the KI 825 is also designed to work and play well with other avionics in Honeywell's lineup, including the KLN89/B, KLN90/A/B and KLN94 GPS navigators, the KX165 nav/comm and the KCS 305 compass system. It will also display traffic information available from the company's KTA870, KMH880 and the CAS66A units. The KI 825 can also be used with Bendix/King's integrated hazard avoidance system (IHAS) product line. How the new EHSI will compare to the wildly-popular Sandel unit in functionality and compatibility remains an unanswered question.

...Meggitt Rolls Out Its S-TEC 55X Autopilot, Makes Organizational Changes

S-TEC 55X autopilotLast year at Sun 'n Fun, Meggitt PLC announced its acquisition of the popular S-TEC company and its line of autopilots and avionics. This year, the company is implementing its integration plans and rolling out the new and long-awaited 55X autopilot, an update of the S-TEC 55 unit. The 55X is a full-function autopilot for the retrofit market — one of S-TEC's strong suits — and includes numerous new or advanced features. Among them are incorporation of S-TEC's popular GPSS, or GPS Steering, device which reads roll steering information via the ARINC-429 serial data output available from many popular GPS navigators, most notably the line from Garmin International. The 55X also incorporates a high-contrast, black-on-silver LCD display for its control unit, which is designed for mounting in a center stack, as well as use of that same display technology in the autopilot's remote annunciator and altitude selector/alerter. Additional improvements to the 55X over the 55 include new algorithms in the unit's NAV and glideslope couplers as well as its heading mode. These changes allow the autopilot to intercept and track navigation signals with "new authority," according to the company and automatically adjust the unit's gain to enhance smoothness. An additional altitude hold circuit was incorporated to help eliminate altitude loss in turns. The 55X is already STC'd for a wide variety of aircraft, with more expected soon. The unit's base price is $12,995.

Other news from Meggitt include continued strong sales of its MAGIC line of integrated, flat-panel EFIS displays. The MAGIC line, which consists of primary flight, nav data, air data/heading reference/attitude and engine instrument displays, was certified last year and is standard equipment on the New Piper Meridian single-engine turboprop. So far, the equipment has been installed on 40-45 Meridians and Meggitt has shipped about 100 full systems. STCs for other aircraft are forthcoming, with the popular Twin Commander series first in line — approvals are expected by September at the 2001 edition of the National Business Aviation Association convention.

Meggitt is also working to complete the integration of S-TEC and other facilities into its product development and management structure, with the company's marketing Director, Ken Paul, telling attendees that products for upper-end general aviation aircraft will continue to be developed in the United Kingdom, Meggitt's home, while more traditional "steam" gauges will reside at the company's facility in New Hampshire. Essentially, the UK and New Hampshire facilities will concentrate on OEM applications and sales to new aircraft manufacturers while the S-TEC facility in Mineral Wells, Texas, will continue its work on the retrofit market.

Diamond's DA-40 Star Gets FAA Type Certificate, JAA IFR Approval

DA-40 Star TC presentationThe champagne was flowing amid wide smiles under the Diamond Aircraft tent Monday at Sun 'n Fun as AVweb's (and now Diamond's, too) Favorite Aviation Agency stopped by to drop off a small packet of paper. The paper, though seemingly insignificant, was the company's long-awaited Type Certificate for its newest model, the DA-40 Star, an all-new, four-seat single. Diamond threw a small celebration at its tent near the Sun 'n Fun flight line and company executives labeled the Type Certificate's receipt as THE significant milestone in the young company's history. Diamond Aircraft's Chairman, Christian Dries, received the DA-40 Type Certificate from Acting Deputy Administrator Monte Belger, representing Administrator Jane Garvey, who was forced to cancel her planned appearance at Sun 'n Fun thanks to pressing ICAO business. The DA-40 Type Certificate was awarded to Diamond just three scant years after the type's concept was developed. The same day, elsewhere, the European Joint Aviation Authority granted Diamond certification to operate the DA-40 under IFR, signaling the emergence of the Star as a very real contender in the owner-flown and rental market for lightweight four-seaters.

The DA-40 Star is an all-composite design providing buyers of its safe and popular two-seat Katana singles with a well-designed step-up path to a fuel-efficient and easy-to-fly cross country cruiser designed to compete directly against the Cessna 172 and New Piper's Warrior III and Archer III, among others. As of Monday, Diamond indicated it had some 80 firm orders for the DA-40 — the first two production aircraft were en route to the company's London, Ontario, manufacturing facility — and that its production would soon be meeting demand. Short-term plans call for two aircraft to be delivered every two weeks but that, by 2002, DA-40s destined for the North American market will be produced in Canada, while European models will be assembled in Austria. Eventually, Diamond expects to build some 160 DA-40s a year in Canada and 65 a year in Austria. The Diamond DA-40 Star retails for $187,900, IFR equipped.

NOTE: For more on Diamond's DA-40 Star, be sure to check Dave Higdon's Pilot Report, part of AVweb's recent, four-part "Plastic Planes" series.


Bohannon's Best — Bruce Beat Time-To-Climb Record, We Think...

It's too early. It's unofficial. But it might be over. Bruce Bohannon's quest for the time-to-climb world-record in the Exxon Flying Tiger took him 01:21:43, takeoff to touchdown. The unofficial, uncorrected altitude he reached? A bone chilling, skin-numbing 34,150 feet MSL. Bohannon also sought the record for sustained level flight, at a scant 50 feet lower. Not bad for a normally-aspirated piston single. The attempt isn't official — yet. The results go to the National Aeronautic Association, then to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, which has the ultimate responsibility to certify the record. It could take a month or so.

NOTE: AVweb's Dave Higdon spent some quality time watching Bohannon's extensive preparations for high-altitude, unpressurized flight in a piston single. Be sure to check Dave's midweek article on balloons, booms and Bruce.

Jeppesen Releases New Version Of FliteStar and FliteMap Planning Software

Jeppesen FlightStar 8.2 screenshotOne of the industry's most popular flight planning software packages just got an upgrade. Jeppesen's FliteStar/FliteMap is now in Version 8.3 and includes several new features designed to enhance the product and provide improved usability for international users, according to the company. Major new features include worldwide graphical weather overlays, enhanced security, ICAO flight plan export and Australian flight plan and notification forms. Other enhancements in Version 8.3: Addition of top-of-climb and top-of-descent fields; the ability to print route profile and navigation log information from the software's Trip Kit option; two new vector chart themes — European VFR and Atlas — have been added and a "Nearest Airport/Emergency" button has been added to FliteMap. The release also includes the introduction of FliteMAP VFR for Europe and the U.S.

Avidyne Drops Prices On FlightMax FSDs

Avidyne FlightMax 850 FSDPutting an Avidyne flight situation display (FSD) into your aircraft just got a bit easier, thanks to some across-the-board retail price cuts the company announced this week at Sun 'n Fun. The company's popular FlightMax series of FSDs display data from various sensors simultaneously, including weather radar, traffic and lightning, as well as navigation data from their own Jeppesen databases and from the aircraft's GPS equipment. The price cuts announced this week are significant in some cases: The FlightMax 750 and 650 are both priced at $10,995 now, down from $14,995 and $13,995, respectively. Additionally, optional equipment like EGPWS and TCAS I interfaces saw a 50% price cut. The company also announced pricing on the FlightMax 850 ($17,995) and the FlightMax 450 ($9,995). All of the FlightMax FSDs can be interfaced with either B.F. Goodrich or Ryan TCAD traffic avoidance equipment as well as with the WX-500 Stormscope.

Airwolf Earns STC for P&W Engine Oil Filters

Airwolf, the add-on oil filter people, announced this week that the company had received a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) from the FAA for its remote-mounted oil filter systems on the full line of Pratt & Whitney radial engines used on bush, agriculture and warbird aircraft around the world. The filter system, dubbed "Gorilla" by Airwolf, filters some 20 gallons of oil each minute, is installed on the radial engine mount and uses an easy-to-change spin-on filter, according to the company. Airwolf says it is working on STCs for radial engines from other manufacturers including Jacobs, Wright and Warner, but that the filter system should be eligible for installation under the Field Approval process in the meantime.

PDC's Newest Aircraft Performance Monitor

PDC 100PDC Technologies, which makes a portable aircraft performance calculator, is bringing out a new model of its venerable PDC-100 unit that features a remote temperature sensor. The PDC-100R improves on the company's original model by allowing pilots and aircraft owners to use the remote temperature sensor to obtain more accurate, real-time temperature data to improve the unit's density altitude and performance calculations. Additionally, the company obtained ISO 9001 of the patented new product. Both the earlier PDC-100 and the later version calculate density altitude, ground roll, best rate of climb and preferred flight levels by sampling the temperature and absolute pressure 50 times per second. The user simply inputs the aircraft type and enters wind speed. The results are given on a large, backlit LCD display. The lightweight, portable unit — it's about the size of a small GPS navigator — can be affixed to an aircraft's window or instrument panel using the supplied suction cups.