I finally got to the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, this year. I had two distinct impressions of the event — known by most as the Sebring LSA Expo — and, by extension, the state of the LSA industry. Perhaps it was because I hung out with two very different friends over two days — one con, one a believer.
I arrived on Friday a few hours after the fatal accident of an Aventura amphibian from Aero Adventures, which cast a pall on a (finally) bright and sunny day. Talk was going around. Observers (including the tower) had reportedly seen flutter in the accident aircraft’s left elevator during a low-speed fly-by. People said it might have been damaged on the ground when the plane briefly tipped up on its nose, then slammed down hard on its tail. Another experienced show veteran, however, called it just a slow flight demonstration gone wrong.
In any case, crowds were light — and that’s putting it kindly. Overcast, cool temps and some rain had dampened the mid-week days. But I began to wonder if more than bad weather was at play. Had the economy or consumer confidence changed again? Is everyone waiting for the elimination of the third class medical?
My critical friend looked with disdain at some of Sebring’s offerings, including the one-offs of home-grown engineering. After all, he and I were products of the mass production era of certificated aircraft from established manufacturers.
Yes, some aircraft just looked rough. One or two looked simply comical. But there’s always a story – and an innovator who believes in his idea.
My friend showed me a case in point, what appeared to be three hot tubs on display without their bottoms. From the one completed vehicle, I immediately recognized a clone of the 1950s Hiller Flying Platform.
Looking to improve soldier mobility, the Army unfortunately found Hiller’s weight-shift platform too slow to survive the battlefield. Those behind this new flying platform take the argument from there, envisioning uses that need this intuitive mobility, but not the lateral speed.
Talking to Richard Simpson of Flying Platform of Placid Lakes, Florida, I learned that a very distinguished mathematician had determined the optimum curve of his “wing,” that is, the curve at the top of the circular skirt. Moreover, his single engine was driving two propellers through a new combining gearbox. The old Hiller had used two engines driving two propellers independently — a recipe, he said, for doom after a single engine failure. (The props are necessarily counter-rotating for torque.)
Backers sounded less than nutty when listing potential users for this unusual flyer. First out of their mouths was “car dealers” followed by others who would put the platform to work in promotion and advertising. (One partner is developing an electric sign that rings the outside of the skirt.) Hunting, cattle herding, wildlife surveys, fish and game patrol, and many other uses were envisioned.
There have been some taxi tests; flight trials await final tweaks. Flying Platform advises that optimum operating altitudes max out about telephone pole-high. Flight above 60 feet should require a ballistic parachute system, they say. Any takers?
Beyond the extreme, Sebring’s new “affordable aircraft” sales corral had only about 10 used airplanes on display. Indoor exhibits were mostly those familiar at every such show. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) did have its “152 Reimagined” at the entry gate, while the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) had its “One Week Wonder” from last year’s Oshkosh. The Brazilian composite Super Petrel biplane amphib was there and drew compliments.
So was the refurbished, diesel-powered Cessna 172 being marketed by Art Spengler of Premier Aircraft Sales in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s not a cheap airplane but that single power lever was appealing. Its hourly consumption of Jet-A will be attractive where avgas is prohibitive. This product line will probably serve overseas markets.
I had been ready for a little skepticism about Sebring and found it my first day. That Friday that should have been the first day of a big, bright weekend, but it wasn’t.
It’s still a young show. LSAs haven’t yet conquered the world. And Sebring is near the center of remote inland Florida at the south end of old-time tourist towns and attractions along U.S. 27. While Legoland (nee Cypress Gardens) has boomed at the north end of the 27 corridor, Sebring is a l-o-n-g 65 miles and many traffic lights south of Central Florida’s “main street,” Interstate 4. Good hotels and restaurants are a little thin when there’s a crowd in town.
Now that I’ve talked it down, read Part II of this discussion to see what was good at Sebring on Saturday… and what could get better.
© 2015 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved