As I sit down to write this morning the thermometer is nudging its way toward 80°. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the breeze is slight enough to be refreshing without mussing even the most carefully coiffed hairstyle. Welcome to central Florida. This is winter at its finest.
I mention this meteorological trivia because at this exact moment it is well below freezing in Chicago, Cincinnati is frigid, New York is brisk, and I’m not even going to mention the forecast for Minneapolis/St. Paul. It’s too cold for a resident of the Sunshine State to ponder. All of which adds up to very little general aviation activity happening in the northern climes, while an abundance of snowbirds and locals find a way to get into the air today down south.
General aviation activity is so prevalent here during this otherwise inclement time of the year, in only a matter of days the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo will get underway in Sebring, Florida.
A decade removed from its initial gathering, the Expo has become one of the great success stories in the general aviation market.
It’s not so much an airshow or fly-in as it is a product show. Think of it as an auto-mall for the aeronautically minded. It’s an opportunity to show off the wares of a multitude of manufacturers, distributors, and retailers who all have a link to Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) or Sport Pilots.
If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s an event not to be missed. If you’re not, it’s still pretty darned good.
I have been a fan of LSA for most of my life. Long enough in fact that my affection for the category precedes the FAA’s recognition of it.
Many of the airplanes I admired from afar as a kid have come to fall under the LSA banner at this point. Piper, Aeronca, Taylorcraft, Luscombe, and other manufacturers of basic, light aircraft opened the door to thousands upon thousands of pilots from the 1930s through the 1970s, and continue to offer much of the same utility and cost-efficiency as they ever did. They just have the option of operating under a somewhat relaxed set of rules designed specifically for a new official category.
From a pilot’s perspective that’s pretty good stuff. LSA open the door to Sport Pilots, and whether you’re just learning the difference between a stabilator and an elevator or you’ve spent the last couple decades in the cockpit of a multi-engine transport category machine, Sport Pilot offers an opportunity to fly with a minimum of fuss and bother while retaining all the adventure and joy flight has to offer.
Perhaps the great benefit of the LSA initiative is the innovation is has brought about in the industry. From the heartland of Kansas comes the RANS line of aircraft, while the amphibs produced by Progressive Aerodyne originate just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away in Tavares, Florida. Flight Design and Czech Sport Aircraft come from the other side of the Atlantic, making the Sebring event a truly international affair.
The category that once described a small number of decidedly light, spare aircraft now includes a dizzying array of aircraft that extend well beyond the confines of the airplane class. There is little wonder why this explosion of opportunity has occurred. Any time you can bundle the exhilaration of flying with a lower cost while retaining the adventure component – you’re going to draw a crowd. Sebring’s U.S. Sport Aviation Expo has shown that to be true year after year.
One of the truly unique attributes of the Sebring show is that airplanes sell there. Potential buyers flock to Sebring to kick the tires, sit in the cockpit, put their hands on the controls, and maybe even go for a demonstration flight over the vast green expanse surrounding the airport. Unlike many fly-ins where those demo flights have to be sandwiched in between time slots assigned to aerial performers, at the Expo the demo flights are the main show. Aerial performers come in a distant second to the opportunity to put a pilot into the Sport Aircraft they came to see and fly.
Come for the weather. Come for the history (Sebring was a B-17 training base during World War II and the tower still remains in place). Come for the famous racetrack that sits just across the parking lot from the FBO. Come for the aircraft or come to visit the people. Whatever the reason, just come.
If not this year, then next, or the year after. Sport Pilot is with us to stay, and LSA have been with us since the earliest days of powered flight. Now that we’ve got a good solid handle of the regulatory aspects of the pilot certificate and the aircraft category, this might be the perfect time to consider Light Sport as a part of your flying life, or your flying future.
I’ll be there, for sure. And you can bet I’ll be considering the alternatives just as seriously as anyone else on the grounds that day.
But if you come, be prepared. The current forecast anticipates temperatures only making it up into the mid-70s, with night time lows dipping down into the brutal chill of the upper 40s.
I hope I can take the strain.