The 14th running of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo vigorously launched the 2018 season of airshows. The show ran Jan. 24-27, 2018, at Sebring Regional Airport (KSEF).
The central Florida airport — directly adjacent to the famous Sebring Raceway — hosts the annual event and lucked out with an opening day of gorgeous weather of clear blue skies and modest breezes in the high 70s. More than 100 vendors exhibited and plenty of shiny new aircraft were available to examine.
Throughout the four-day event, I observed good foot traffic. Every morning the parking lot was on its way to a good fill by 8:30 a.m.
These sector-specific shows rarely seem crowded compared to the big shows, but that’s actually a great thing if you want to talk to an aircraft designer or take a demo flight. At times numerous aircraft were surrounded by visitors and, overall, Sebring looked healthy.
Many vendors reported sales right from the start of Sebring 2018. Perhaps these buyers had already decided to act and just wanted one more look or to ask one more question.
Non-airframe equipment vendors also reported a solid response to Mike Willingham, the airport director and man in charge of the event.
We saw a rare sighting of an Icon A5 on display, with another on a lake doing demo flights. The California company has, in recent years, limited its airshow appearances to a splashy big tent at Oshkosh.
It was good to see the team from the factory’s flight school and operation in Tampa, Florida, make a showing.
Scott Severen as US Sport Planes made his first appearance as the new man handling sales nationally for Jabiru, focused on the company’s J230-D and J170-D models. Scott has played many important roles in light aviation and he’s a veteran choice to take over from Pete Krotje and his Shelbyville, Tennessee, team as Pete slides gracefully into a well-deserved retirement.
Aeropilot USA boss Deon Lombard reported a solid first year with six deliveries of the L600 and several more in the works. He added a dealer in the east, while he handles sales in the west from his California base.
From what I could see, interest is growing for this handsome 80%-scale 182 lookalike done in composite.
Many visitors looked over the four-stroke HKS-powered Merlin Chip Erwin brought on behalf of his Aeromarine-LSA company based in the Tampa area. The bargain-priced aircraft clearly fills a need even while being a single seater.
Day two of the year’s first show was a bit cooler and windier, but still a fine day as evidenced by crowds that were as good or better than the first day, not even counting a large contingent of ROTC candidates visiting the event.
Zenith continued to garner lots of attention for its supersized SuperDuty CH-750 variant. Larger wings (6′ more span) and tail feathers are mated to a common 750 fuselage, with construction time reduced through higher tech.
SuperDuty is powered by an Aero Sport Power IO-375 producing 205 horsepower. The show example was a three seater that grosses at 1,900 pounds. An 1,100 pounds empty weight results in an 800-pound useful load.
This is the model with the distinctive Unpanel instrument system that works like a swivel-mounted flat screen TV in your living room (but better because it’s in your airplane).
Aeroprakt USA displayed an A22LS model that has been selling well. This is a Ukraine design featuring expanses of clear plastic that deliver massive visibility. The show model had tundra tires with rather unique “footwear” as its tricycle gear used surfaces closer to fenders than wheel pants.
They won’t provide any drag reduction, but will help keep mud or debris splatter off the wings and fuselage. The exhibited A-22 also had sliding windows useful for aerial photography.
AutoGyro USA is now a regular at airshows as the clear European market leader showed its line of models, including the very handsome Cavalon done in a brilliant blue.
This model is rare in gyroplanes by offering two-place side-by-side seating. Despite the full enclosure, visibility is broad thanks to wide swaths of artfully curved clear plastic.
John Williams of Titan Aircraft reported that after making more than 800 of his Tornado light kits in various configurations, his Ohio company is now focused on the T-51 Mustang replica.
Starting with a 100-hp Rotax 912, T-51 has evolved all the way up to a 400-hp Corvette engine that produces 4,000 fpm climb rates, yet manages to burn only 10-12 gallons an hour at cruise. Around 200 have been sold and more than 100 are flying.
Indoor displays benefitted from those seeking to get out of the wind for a time. At Duc Hélices propellers, we learned about the company’s super-easy prop pitch adjustment allowing the owner to fine tune the blades for specific performance.
Using a special allen wrench in a single motion, changes can be made to all three blades in half-degree increments as desired. The French company plans a U.S. facility in the next year to better serve a growing customer base in America.
Beringer debuted a new wheel for aircraft doing bush duty using big Alaska tires. As always the hardware is gorgeous from this best-in-class French company supported by a U.S. operation. A special brake unit augments the split hub wheel, which allows fitting of the tire without jamming a tire iron against the wheel edge. Airframe builders keen on the new wheel include Just Aircraft, CubCrafters, Rans, American Legend, and more.
Although a somewhat unpredictable time of year, weather at Sebring was good this year, although fairly windy on a couple of the days. However, plenty of flying still occurred and the gyroplanes in particular appeared to have no problem with the conditions.
Even the Ford Trimotor — one of two flying examples remaining, according to the local EAA chapter — flew steadily, ceasing operations only on one afternoon.
A strong year ahead
If the rest of the year goes like U.S. Sport Aviation Expo 2018, I predict a strong year for LSA and light kit aircraft sales. Vendors were smiling by the end of the show and a good many customers are now anticipating a shiny new aircraft in their hangars.
Based on my unscientific survey of vendors, I would estimate at least 15 aircraft sales and possibly several more as I did not pose the question to every vendor.
Of course, airshow promises don’t always materialize, but regardless of the precise number, it was amply clear that Sebring — and similar focused-venue shows that confine themselves to LSA, light kits, and ultralight — still offer their magic in putting customers and sellers together.
Several vendors told airport executive Mike Willingham about having “pages” of solid leads. Even non-LSA exhibitors such as Cirrus reported they found good prospects at the show.
While vendors form these observations, the fact is that buyers are still flocking to the many great choices in this segment of affordable aviation.
BasicMed and More
By another view, the push by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) for BasicMed appears to have hardly affected Light-Sport Aircraft interest. In fact, BasicMed may be helping.
While new opportunities now exist for older pilots to keep flying their older GA airplanes, BasicMed comes with enough hoops to jump through that some are electing to continue using their driver’s license paired with their existing pilot certificate to fly Light-Sport Aircraft.
Putting a finer point on it, I believe the reaction of many pilots at events such as Sebring’s Expo demonstrates that brand-new, affordable, high-tech, roomy, and well-performing LSA hold genuine appeal.
Sebring is the granddaddy of these LSA, light kit, and ultralight shows. It has spawned similar events like the Midwest LSA Expo and the DeLand Showcase. It also has inspired shows like Copperstate and Arlington to keep a focus on more affordable, recreational aircraft.
Such sector-specific events are no challenge to the majors such as SUN ‘n FUN (starting in only two months) and AirVenture Oshkosh, but they have definitely won a place in the airshow circuit.
The number of exhibitors at Sebring, the volume of attendees and the seriousness of these pilots about buying, plus the range of aircraft options — in both types and cost — is but one part of the success story that is Light-Sport and experimental amateur built aircraft.
By most measures, Sebring #14 was declared a success by a majority of attendees and vendors interviewed.
Let the season of flying begin!