Sun ‘n Fun The Day Before


One of my least favorite things to do in covering shows like Sun ‘n Fun is flying airplanes. Yeah, no kidding. The reason is that shows are just too hectic. The demo period is often compressed to less than an hour and if I get a lousy, rushed video out of the experience, I’m doing a solid. But that’s the reality of modern journalism, I’m sad to say.

So what did I do Monday? I flew an airplane at Sun ‘n Fun. But adhering to my new rule that will probably last until I’m up against the next tight deadline, I took a half day to get the job done right. Harrison Smith of Just Aircraft and I spent the full morning charging around between Plant City and South Lakeland in the company’s new, Titan-powered 180-HP SuperSTOL XL. I got enough landings and takeoffs at both airports to get a real feel for this unique experimental. As you can see in the video, the SuperSTOL is a design uncompromised to do one thing well: short takeoffs and landings and, if that’s your thing, stooging around at 500 feet at helicopter speeds.

The SuperSTOL has all the hardware to do this and that makes it unique to fly. It has retractable slats that pop out on their own when the angle of attack gets high enough and a pair of barn-door-sized Fowler flaps that add a ton of lift and drag. It has two other unique things: spoilers in front of the ailerons and landing gear with about a foot of compliant travel. These two things taken together mean that it has unusually crisp roll control at anything above taxi speeds and with all that gear travel, you can slam it onto the runway like a dead bug and it stays put without a hint of a bounce. I can’t think of any other taildraggers that perform like that and in retrospect, I’m sorry I didn’t try a wheel landing.

As you’ll see in the video, the airplane is happy to be manhandled–practically abused–and because it has a locking tailwheel, it’s far less likely to bite back. Smith encouraged me to land the airplane tailwheel first, followed by cramming the mains onto the runway. Sounds awful; works great. It’s altogether one of the most forgiving and fun taildraggers I’ve ever flown. It’s a little too heavy to be either an E- or S-LSA so if you want one, you’ll have to build it. But if landing in a parking lot is your idea of a good time, the SuperSTOL is just the airplane for the job. Check it out this week at Lakeland.

What’s Cooking? A Light Meal

Judging by the press conference schedule, we’re not expecting the mother lode of new products at Sun ‘n Fun this year, although there’s some activity in gyroplanes and light sport. Garmin is stepping on the gas with a torrent of new stuff, including a new portable GPS I reviewed in this video and they’re also showing the new G5 gyro for experimentals and LSAs, plus a line of new transponders with wireless and ADS-B capability. Dyon will be showing a new EFIS system, again for experimentals and LSAs, and Avidyne will unveil its own cockpit wireless products.

If there’s any pronounced trend in avionics, connectivity seems to be it. If owners aren’t absolutely demanding iPads that talk to transponders and ADS-B receivers and panel navigators, these companies seem determined to provide same. All of this is making my colleague, Larry Anglisano, editor of Aviation Consumer, a little nuts. In fact, we’re both going a little nuts trying to keep up with all the wireless and ADS-B options. Even with the chart matrix in front of me, I get a little confused. I can imagine how buyers wanting to install this gear must feel. But if you want to see it in person before pushing the button, Sun ‘n Fun is the place to be this week. More later.

Great Debate

Dan Johnson, head of LAMA, invited me to participate in a panel discussion on Wednesday, a reprise of a program he did at the Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring in January. He calls it the Great Debate and has invited other journalists including Robert Goyer of Plane & Pilot, Pia Bergqvist of Flying and Ben Sclair of General Aviation News to discuss salient issues of the day. (A tip of the hat here to Robert for mentioning my blog about Icon in a Facebook posting last week.)

The debate will be held Wednesday at 1 p.m. down in Paradise City. If you simply can’t get enough of my outgassing in this space, feel free to attend. Security will be light, so you can probably sneak through that bag of rotten tomatoes you’ve been saving for a worthy occasion. There are two other debates, one on engines on opening day and a third on avionics.

While you’re down in Paradise City, there are some LSAs worth checking out including one that isn’t really an LSA at all, the ELA Eclipse 10, a Spanish autogyro being brought into the U.S. by Rob Rollison of Aerotrek. As I’ve reported before, autogyros in the U.S. live in a kind of regulatory backwater. The light sport rule doesn’t have a slot for them, but if flown in the experimental category under the 1320-pound weight minimum, you don’t need a medical to fly one. Go figure. It’s too bad they can’t find a spot in the U.S. They’re crazy popular in Europe and I think they’d find buyers here, too. Read more about these in Dan Johnson’s preview of light sport for Sun ‘n Fun.