Rapidly changing and diverse weather and rapidly changing and diverse aircraft — that describes this year’s U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Fla., held Jan. 20-23.
One day the sun shone and the wind blew. On another day the temperatures were near freezing and the wind blew. Then one day it rained so much that, for a few minutes at least, the flat ramp space of the former World War II bomber training base looked more like a water garden than an airport. But that’s Florida for you.
The show attracted people from all over the world who have an interest in Light Sport Aircraft. During the show they had the opportunity to see, fly and, in some cases, buy an LSA. Exhibitors included aircraft dealers, manufacturers and distributors, as well as sellers of avionics, aircraft parts and training opportunities. The theme for this year’s show was Salute to Veterans, with veterans receiving a discount on admission on Saturday.
One of the surprises of the show was the attendance of Piper Aircraft Co. Just a few days before the Expo got underway, Piper officials announced that the partnership with Czech Sport Aircraft had been terminated because of fundamental differences in business philosophies.
The low-wing aircraft with the bubble canopy is built in the Czech Republic. It is once again known as the Czech SportCruiser, rather than the PiperSport.
Visitors to the show aware of the split wanted to know why Piper was there. According to Jackie Carlon, Piper’s director of marketing, the company came to the Expo to demonstrate to their customers that the PiperSport isn’t an orphan.
“We will make sure our existing customers’ aircraft will be supported,” she said. “We love this market segment, but to be fair to our customers we have to focus on the transition; whether Piper will re-enter the LSA market again with another LSA has not been determined.”
Cessna’s Skycatcher was the first thing most people saw when they stepped onto the show grounds. It was surrounded by a crowd most of the time. People were particularly impressed by the control stick, which is mounted beneath the panel, and moves side to side as well as forward and back.
“It’s not quite a yoke, and not quite a stick,” a customer remarked, instigating a debate over what it should be called. Votes were evenly divided for calling it a stoke or a yick.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Skycatcher for many was the ease of maintenance. Access to the rear of the empennage where the control cables are, as well as the avionics, can be done by unsnapping a few fasteners.
For pilots looking for a Cub-inspired design, they had a chance to comparison shop as CubCrafters and Legend Cub (above) were both well represented. The Legend Cub on floats was particularly popular. Flight Design’s CTLS on amphibious floats was also a big draw.
For the pilot looking for more contact with the sky, there was the Excalibur, a high-wing pusher-prop. The kit sells for $23,000 which, according to owner Tom Karr, makes the Excalibur the lowest-price LSA on the market.
For customers in search of a ready-to-fly model, there was the Slipstream Ultra Sport, which is manufactured in Wisconsin and assembled in Florida.
Vintage-looking LSA also were represented, with the Warner Sportster on display again this year. In addition, there was a 75%-scale Storch, painted in military colors (pictured above).
New to the show this year was the Alto, an all-metal low-wing produced by Czech company Direct Fly Ltd. The airplane has cantilever wings with main and rear auxiliary spars. Because composite is used so heavily in the LSA world, many visitors had to run their hands along the surface of the Alto to make sure they were touching metal.
Another newcomer was the Tomark Aero Viper SD-4, a low-wing all metal design that was touted for its versatility as a recreational, get-around airplane, glider towing machine and even a basic trainer for the military.
The dates for next year’s show have not yet been determined.
For more information: Sport-Aviation-Expo.com