By Mary Jones and Marino Boric
“May you live in interesting times.” Jack Hodgson quoted that Chinese saying when he opened an industry panel discussion on Thursday afternoon at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, and that saying proved to be the theme for the rest of Expo 2016.
Following a successful opening day on Wednesday, Jan. 20, Thursday was exactly the kind of day that Expo organizers and exhibitors dream of when planning for the event. The weather was awesome and exhibitors were busy answering questions and giving demo flights to a good-sized crowd of interested visitors.
AOPA Ambassador Jamie Beckett kicked off the show on Thursday morning, presenting a Rusty Pilot Seminar to a standing-room only crowd of more than 50 people. That was followed by a presentation of the movie “Flying Again.” Saturday morning saw a repeat of those programs.
Thursday’s forums were filled with folks excited to gather more aviation information, and about 50 people listened to the industry panel discussion that took place during the keynote speaker slot on Thursday afternoon.
Participants included Jack Hodgson, of the Uncontrolled Airspace Podcast (UCAP) team, who served as moderator; Charlie Becker, EAA communities manager; Paul Dye, editor-in-chief of Kitplanes magazines; Dan Johnson, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association; and Les Smith, AOPA’s senior director of Pilot Community Development.
The group discussed a variety of challenges facing the aviation community, including the importance of the community “selling” aviation to others, the need to keep the instructor pipeline filled with good instructors, keeping user fees at bay, the issues surrounding the third-class medical certificate and the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, the concerns about homebuilt aircraft owned by non-homebuilders, and the appropriateness of the pilot training syllabus that was written after World War II and designed to “wash out” pilots rather than encourage them to keep training.
Unfortunately, Friday’s weather forecast wasn’t as accommodating as Thursdays and included the prospect of severe weather, so Sebring Airport Executive Director Mike Willingham elected to close the show for the day to prevent anyone from being put into a dangerous situation.
The show opened again on Saturday morning despite a passing cold front presenting some challenging wind conditions for exhibitors and visitors alike. Probably the only people happy with the wind were the folks from Just Aircraft, who took the opportunity to demonstrate the flying qualities of its STOL aircraft.
On Saturday afternoon, the UCAP team of Jeb Burnside, Dave Higdon, and Jack Hodgson was set to record a “live” podcast at the Expo. But, just before they were to go on stage in the Aviators Hot Line Showcase Tent, the tent was declared unsafe, evacuated, and closed for the rest of the day because of the high winds, which were blowing steadily at 25 to 30 mph, with gusts to 40 mph and higher. The UCAP presentation was moved to one of the forum hangars, and the show was able to go on as planned. They covered a wide range of general aviation topics in their typical lively, spirited conversational style.
Later in the day, concerns over the integrity of the Indoor Exhibit tent also arose, resulting in Willingham choosing to close that tent as well for safety reasons.
Despite all these unusual challenges, however, there were several new product announcements over the course of the long weekend:
- Dynon Avionics announced the availability of its 2020-compliant ADS-B Out position source for U.S. customers, the SV-GPS-2020 GPS Receiver with a new antenna. It also has a software update to Version 14, which has 30 improvement and capability upgrades, including checklists, an aircraft glide ring, autopilot go-around mode, and improved engine status indicators for the Rotax 912iS engine.
- AutoGyro USA revealed it is in the process of obtaining Primary Category approval for its Calidus model autogyro, and eventually all of its product line. It expects to earn the approval by the end of 2016. FAA conformity tests for the German factory are completed, and the primary category production assembly and flight testing approval is imminent, according to the company. Its Cavalon model currently has a full type certificate.
- Belite introduced a new instrument line that combines many functions. The instruments are sunlight readable, with full-color, high-contrast LCD screens. An unusual feature is that the instruments will display recent history of information, which could be recorded and displayed on a computer for flight/problem analysis. The new units offer single or double fuel tank displays or airspeed, altitude and VSI displays ranging from 20 to 200 mph. The units will operate off a typical 9-volt battery. Pricing is in the $200 range.
- Flight Design debuted its CTLSi 2020 Edition with ADS-B NextGen compliance with the Dynon SV261 Model. The airplanes will be manufactured in Taiwan in addition to Flight Design’s European facility.
- TruTrak displayed its ECO autopilot with automatic envelope protection (AEP) at the special intro price of $999. AEP will monitor bank and pitch angles and move the aircraft back inside its envelope when presets are exceeded. It is using commercially available servos attached directly to the control surfaces.
- Garmin featured several G3X touchscreens in 7- and 10-inch displays and hinted at big announcements coming at SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo in April.
- Beringer introduced its Alaskan Landing Gear for light-sport bush planes. The gear features oleo pneumatic shocks with 12 inches of vertical travel for high energy dissipation.
- DUC Helices exhibited its carbon-fiber propeller line at the Expo for the first time and introduced its new LBT System that is specially designed for pusher configurations, such as autogyros. The foot of the blades is coated with a proprietary material able to absorb harmonics and vibrations that are specific for pusher configurations.
- merican Legend Aircraft introduced its new Super Legend HP, powered with the 180-hp Titan engine, joining other Cub-like manufacturers in adding a “big and beefy” engine to is offerings.
- Jabiru USA reported that modernized versions of its 2200 and 3300 engines will be available later this year. They will be identified as the 2210 and 3310 models and, while they will look like the old engines, they will be fitted with new cast aluminum cylinder heads, coated cylinders, and intake lines. Power output will remain the same, but reliability should be higher with lower maintenance requirements.
- Rotax announced that the first 915iS engine mockups will be delivered to its 20 launch customers in mid-summer 2016 and the first production engines will be delivered by mid-2017. The 915iS is based on the 912iS engine but delivers 135 hp up to 15,000 feet. The engine is turbo-charged and intercooled.
- Swift Fuels in collaboration with World Fuel Services and Volo Aviation brought a fuel truck to the Sebring Expo containing unleaded 94-MON avgas. It was being sold for $3.95 a gallon. The fuel has been flown in various light-sport aircraft for the past two years. The fuel is designed for aircraft with lower octane requirements (i.e. those that are designed for avgas below the 100 motor octane level). Swift Fuels officials said it has demonstrated that the unleaded 94-MON avgas can be flown in up to 55% of the U.S. fleet. The fuel will continue to be available for sale at Sebring by Volo Aviation.
Sebring Expo 2016 was definitely an “interesting experience,” and Expo Director Jana Filip offered her thanks to exhibitors, vendors, visitors, and volunteers alike for their patience and understanding.
“We were definitely presented with some unusual circumstances, and I greatly appreciate everyone’s positive, ‘can-do’ attitude to keep things going as well as possible,” she said. “We had the makings for a great show, but weather etc., conspired against us.”
The exact dates for the 2017 Expo have not yet been set, she added.