Measuring growth in LSA

The Rotax BRP Factory in Austria

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.

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Phantom’s one man aircraft factory

With New Engine

By BILL WILSON

The phone rings at Phantom Aeronautics in Three Rivers, Michigan. A customer is calling the kit aircraft company with a request. There is a very good chance he or she is also asking about the new 4-cycle engine Phantom is in the midst of testing.

The milling machines, lathes, inventory control and office functions at the factory grind to a halt and the entire focus of all personnel is directed toward handling the caller’s problem. Talk about customer service! Even better is that the caller is guaranteed to be talking to the one person who can answer all questions from personal experience.

That’s because there is only one person in the factory and he is no phantom. Jim Bennett is real and he knows every nut and bolt in the kit he produces, where it goes and what it does. Jim is a one man airplane factory.

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Sebring’s sweet success story

Tecnam_P2008

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.

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Plastic Fantastic P-51

SW51_profile

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.

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Two airplanes (almost) anyone can afford

Aerolite

“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.

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The next decade of LSA innovation

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.

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