When government reports unemployment, GPD numbers, or crop yields, they release some information that is invariably changed. Despite best efforts, statistics are often improved later. With that fact in mind, following is our preliminary report for fully-built Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) in calendar year 2014. [Read more…]
As a new year begins, it seems a good time to attempt to measure how the light end of aviation is doing. As 2014 was the 10th anniversary for Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA), it is doubly useful.
We have various ways to assess growth in aviation … pilot starts, new certificates, new airplanes delivered, used aircraft sales, and magazine distributions (also reported at the end of the year), among other methods.
Let’s be direct and simply pronounce it a success. It only took a decade of hard work. I refer to the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, which this time of year signals the start of a new season of airshows. Every January — for 2015 the dates are Jan. 14-17 — Sebring Regional Airport (KSEF) in Florida hosts the event many simply know as the Sebring Expo.
But the original goal was not about running an event.
The airport authority and its local support group aimed to build up the enterprise of the airport that sits adjacent to — in fact, is owned by — the world-famous Sebring Raceway. When Mike Willingham took over management of the airport well over a decade ago, I recall a slightly shabby, eerily quiet airport that only seemed to bloom once a year during the 62-year-old “12 Hours of Sebring” race.
By any number of surveys, the P-51 Mustang is one of the most admired airplanes in the history of aviation. Even though that statement sounds bold — on the verge of exaggeration — most readers will surely agree.
Like most aviators, I’ve never flown in an original P-51, although I have flown in a light kit version called the 5151 and a closer-to-original-size S-51. The Loehle Aviation version was made entirely of wood and had a Rotax two-stroke engine. While it had the right basic shape, it was docile to fly … unlike the immensely powerful original, I’m told. The Stewart Aircraft iteration was bigger and bold, powered by a 450-horsepower Corvette engine.
However, while both were close-enough recreations of the original to be desirable, even a non-pilot could tell they were replicas. I see nothing wrong with that, but is it simply too challenging to make one that looks truly like the original? It turns out the answer is “no.” Someone finally did do so.
“Everything you need and not much else,” is the catchy tagline from aviation entrepreneur Chip Erwin.
With those words, he described the Italian Zigolo, which is based on a design by American Mike Sandlin. (In a sign of our global times, Erwin imports it to both USA and China.) One look at the aircraft and you can see what he is describing. Zigolo has everything you need to go aloft to have some aerial fun and, well … not much else.
A similarly simple but well packaged design is made here in the US of A but has recently made its way overseas to Germany and the European Union. Florida’s Aerolite 103 (Aerolite 120 in Europe to conform to its “120 Class”) also has all a pilot needs to see the countryside.
At AirVenture Oshkosh this year, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) mounted a very visible celebration of Light-Sport or Sport Pilot-eligible aircraft. The exhibit drew dense traffic throughout the week by offering a large cross section of the aircraft types and configurations available since the FAA loosened its control over the process of approving new aircraft for sale to the public. It was the 10th anniversary celebration of Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft (SP/LSA).
EAA’s collection of aircraft tells only part of the story of what might be expected in a second decade.
The word “legacy” is often used to refer to products that are dominant today but threatened by disruptive influences. Legacy airlines, for example, are today’s largest carriers but ones burdened with aircraft bought earlier and with labor contracts negotiated years ago. Legacy connotes power, but also vulnerability.
The same logic can be applied to general aviation. Cessna and Piper are certainly legacy manufacturers. Decades back both become larger corporations increasingly distant from the original work of Clyde Cessna or William Piper. Others have already succumbed to market forces or have materially changed. Think of Beechcraft or Mooney. Both are quite different organizations from what Walter Beech and Al Mooney once created.
All this reflects normal developments that happen over time. Legacies can be good, even great, but one fact is true: Legacy cannot stand still.
In 1989 something remarkable happened. You might remember the fall of the despised Berlin Wall that separated Germany. Certainly that was a remarkable event in human history, but it wasn’t the only noteworthy occurrence that year. Not far away in Wels, Austria, something else happened that, for pilots, was also important.
In 1989, Rotax Aircraft Engines introduced its 912 engine. [Read more…]
Many have now heard that the Light-Sport Aircraft industry achieved an impressive benchmark in its first decade. As the newest aviation segment approaches its 10th birthday in the summer of 2014, airplane designers have created and gained FAA acceptance for 134 models, a pace of more than one new design every month for 10 years running. No one has claimed a more active period in worldwide aviation since 1903 witnessed the Wrights making their first flights.
Yet even within this ocean-swell of engineering, flight testing, manufacturing and marketing, the industry is gearing up for a secondary wave.