Was 2013 the best EAA AirVenture Oshkosh ever? In one way obvious to every attendee, this year’s event was superlative: Wisconsin’s weather was nearly perfect.
Each day of the event was blessed with mild temperatures, mostly clear skies, and a comforting breeze. EAA officials surely thanked their lucky stars, having endured last year’s blistering heat and prior years of rain or airplane-tossing wind. I hasten to add this year’s event was also one of the safest, for which all are thankful.
Airframe and avionics vendors reported good sales and this heartbeat offers a valid judgment of the general health of the aviation industry. For now, paralyzing economic uncertainty appears to be drifting into the background, although angst over the invoice FAA presented to EAA for control tower services clouds a more positive outlook. EAA Chairman Jack Pelton vowed to fight this anvil dropped on the organization’s financial toes at the occasion of its biggest revenue generator.
Aside from the political battle, the overall impression from the week was upbeat: Attendance again exceeded a half million, the exhibitor count set a record, and despite a complete lack of any military aerial demonstration, blue skies backdropped numerous exciting spectacles further bedazzled by two night airshows climaxing with some of the best firework pyrotechnics any of us have seen.
Bravo, EAA and its army of volunteers who make the entire extravaganza work with remarkable smoothness.
From the perspective of the light sport or recreational side of aviation, 2013’s earlier business activity improvement appears sustainable despite only a slow upward creep in sales spottily distributed among selected sellers. Better forward slowly than backward, say most entrepreneurs.
Indeed, as the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) documented during a press conference, the light-sport and light kit-built aircraft market continues its growth. It now amounts to 5% of the U.S. single engine piston fleet. Given that this newest aircraft sector has logged only eight years since the first aircraft were accepted by FAA, the 132 models presently available have demonstrated an energetic track record any aircraft segment would love to boast. Due to this flood of designs, pilot customers considering one of these modern aircraft enjoy a broad choice of aircraft descriptions.
A sample of highlights include SkyCraft’s SD-1 MiniSport (pictured above), which aims to be the first-ever SLSA single seater able to demonstrate compliance to ASTM standards — and it addresses the cost factor squarely with a well-equipped and fully built price tag of less than $55,000. Zlin showed its 180-hp Cub-S that joins CubCrafters in offering exceptionally potent (but permissible) SLSA models. Tecnam revealed a deluxe turbo-Rotax-powered P2008 that delivers a thrilling climb even at altitude. ICON Aircraft effectively enlarged the category with its announcement of an FAA exemption allowing it to exploit 1,680 pounds, up 250 from the current weight limit of 1,430 pounds. While not all competitors were pleased with the FAA’s decision, many see the exemption as an opportunity for further accommodation by the government regulator. Some are hoping that the grant of ICON’s weight request could foretell constructive movements in an exemption to allow electric propulsion in LSA.
ELECTRIC AIRPLANES ARRIVE
One particularly bright spark showcased electric airplanes as two light aircraft companies announced projects that put such flying machines on or near the market. While not forgetting pioneer electric aircraft projects that continue to develop, many electro-enthusiasts warmly received GreenWing’s full-blown entry to the pure-electric airplane market with the eSpyder. The newly formed California company associated with Shanghai-based propulsion system manufacturer, Yuneec, put its handsome single seater on sale in the U.S. and in Europe (where the model has won approval under German airworthiness and can be sold ready to fly).
The company reported collecting a number of orders for the $39,900 American kit. This machine is fully battery powered and able to fly more than one hour. The purchase price essentially prepays 1,000 or more hours of flying, when compared to fuel, oil, and overhaul costs for a gasoline powerplant. Recharging the batteries costs a mere $1.60 per hour, reports the company.
Also at the show, Quicksilver Aeronautics reported completing work on its new Special LSA project, the Sport 2S, followed by a surprise announcement unveiling a new partnership with Tangent Aviation to manufacture and market the EMG Electric Motor Glider. The collaboration is with Brian Carpenter, well known for his and Carol Carpenter’s Rainbow Aviation, which has trained hundreds of LSA and Rotax mechanics. EMG has been a long-brewing electric project and the link with Quicksilver should hasten the new flying machine to the manufacturer’s worldwide dealer network.
Far more visible in the sky than winged rocket man Yves Rossi were first flights at Oshkosh by Terrafugia’s roadable aircraft called Transition, high-school-age Breezer pilots (who flew all the way from Lakeland, Florida), Just Aircraft’s stunning SuperSTOL, Mark Bierele’s more powerful-than-ever electric eGull, and a formation flying performance by a pair of pure-electric eSpyders.
Another fascinating development is the emergence of four seater aircraft from the LSA ecosystem. The Airplane Factory’s Sling 4 kit flew all the way from South Africa as the newest entry, joining designed-for-certification projects from Flight Design (C4), Tecnam (P2010), Pipistrel (Panthera), and Evektor (Cobra), with more to follow. Using the innovative trail blazing done by the LSA F37 committee of standards body ASTM, such larger aircraft may use a rewritten rule set that, according to FAA’s “Half the [certification] cost; twice the safety” mantra, could sharply reduce the cost of such four-seat aircraft. Any pilot can appreciate modern-technology, fuel-efficient aircraft at more affordable prices.
In closing the event, two noteworthy awards were announced. Sportair USA’s Bill Canino was the 23rd recipient of the LAMA Outstanding Individual as voted by his peers in the industry. Rotax Aircraft Engines was honored with the 53rd August Raspet award for its outstanding contributions to the advancement of light aircraft design presented by EAA’s Charlie Becker, with executive Christian Mundliger accepting on behalf of the company. Congratulations to both winners.