AirVenture boosts LSA spirits and sales

SPLOG By DAN JOHNSON

In 2009 we’ve heard the surprising success of what many call “air shows” — those events where the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds and others perform over a weekend. Attendance has been very strong despite (or perhaps because of) the troubled economy.

As it turns out, the success of those shows is being mirrored by “our” air shows. Aviators tend to think of air shows differently because the ones we attend are more trade show than pure entertainment. Of these dedicated shows, AirVenture Oshkosh is widely considered the grandest and biggest.

This year’s AirVenture was a resounding success, with attendance up 12% even in this most financially uncertain of years.

At this summer’s blockbuster, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) had its strongest presentation ever, hosting a very popular LSA Mall, attracting a visit from the new FAA administrator (along with the NTSB administrator), and conducting several high level meetings.

LSA manufacturers reported a strong show. Several claimed multiple sales and nearly all reported very strong interest and numerous serious purchase inquiries. This is perhaps no wonder as AOPA reported that over the last year its carefully-logged incoming calls ask about LSA more often than any other topic.

RIGHT ON SCHEDULE

Even with the global aviation turmoil that engulfed the company (employment is off more than 50% at present), Cessna is staying the course with its LSA entry.

At several meetings with Cessna leaders at Oshkosh 2009, I consistently heard that a small number of SkyCatchers would be built in 2009, which means the big producer is right on schedule.

SkyCatcherNotably, SkyCatcher serial #1 will go to Rose Pelton, the charming wife of Cessna President, CEO and Chairman Jack Pelton. As LAMA founder Larry Burke and I visited with Rose during AirVenture, she expressed great enthusiasm about pursuing her Sport Pilot certificate once the new bird arrives.

A handful of SkyCatchers will be built this year by Shenyang Aircraft in China (under the watchful eyes of Cessna engineers) and delivered to Wichita for final assembly. Additional locations will be used for assembly as production grows.

The company has more than 1,000 orders for the LSA, so 2010 should be a solid year to observe the company’s progress.

VAN’S RV-12 IS LSA #99

The top-selling kit airplane producer, Van’s Aircraft of RV fame, secured an airworthiness certificate for its fully-built RV-12 Special-LSA on July 21. The next day, the company’s East Coast representative, Mitchell Lock, got an Experimental-LSA certificate for his RV-12.

EAA reports that 250 RV-12s are under construction around the world, so it looks like Van’s is ready to dominate the E-LSA community, which has been waiting to take off.

12s-1True, thousand of E-LSA are flying today — many more than S-LSA at present — but that’s because so many “fat ultralights” were converted to E-LSA status under FAA’s now-expired grandfather period.

Van’s reports that it will take 600-900 hours to complete an RV-12 to unpainted stage, so the rush of RVs into the LSA fleet may not be swift, but they’ll just keep coming.

Van’s website stated, “In the E-LSA category, there is no ‘51%’ rule, and no restriction on who may assist in building the airplane. This allows any amount of help, professional assistance or even a fully professional-built airplane.”

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, but meanwhile, the LSA community welcomes SLSA #99 and manufacturer #71.

e-SPYDER TAKES OFF

Part 103 continues to step from the shadow of LSA. We’ve had aviation’s simplest rule (worldwide!) for 27 years and, with few exceptions, most of those years saw Part 103 producers laboring in near-obscurity.

Now, however, a new flurry of activity has developed at the beautiful intersection of genuinely lightweight aircraft with electric power.

The very latest to roll into the spotlight is Flightstar’s e-Spyder, which took its first flight in July.

e-SpyderFlightstar’s e-Spyder is powered by twin lithium polymer battery packs developed by Yuneec, a Chinese company that’s also developing its own LSA. The battery packs are mounted on either side of the design’s robust main fuselage tube.

Electric motors are more user-friendly in nearly every way, but you have some learning to do. For example, experts advise never allowing lithium polymer batters to drain completely. Fortunately, the Yuneec controlling hardware provides warning systems to help you manage this task. Batteries last for at least 500 cycle charges and Yuneec officials say this equates to 250-plus hours of flying. That many hours would cost at least $2,500 in fuel alone, plus oil, overhaul costs, spark plugs and more.

For more on Sport Pilot, go to ByDanJohnson.com.

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