This may come as a surprise to some readers, but occasionally, I am mistaken. In error. Out to lunch. Wrong. This is one of those times.
For nearly 15 years I’ve been attending and writing about the US Sport Aviation Expo, which takes place each January in Sebring, Florida. It’s one of my favorite shows. It’s homey and friendly.
The crowds aren’t oppressive, nor is the heat, with it being January and all. In fact, there have been years where it’s downright cold by Florida standards. We think of 50° as a minor emergency, even in January. Chicagoans, on the other hand, strip down to shorts and T-shirts to bask in the glory of what they perceive to be an early summer.
In all the time I’ve been attending and writing about the US Sport Aviation Expo, I’ve gone into that week of aeronautical camaraderie with a preconceived notion. From my flip-flops to my hat I knew without any doubt that the US Sport Aviation Expo was unique because it was devoted to Light-Sport Aircraft. I knew it. I don’t know how, I just knew it.
I was wrong about that. Very wrong.
To be clear, the US Sport Aviation Expo is not, I repeat, not, a Light-Sport Aircraft specific show. The word, “light” doesn’t even appear in the name of the darned thing.
Being a decent human being at heart, and one who really does try to be accurate in what I write, I would and absolutely should apologize for this error. Certainly, I should bend a knee to the organizers and operators of the show. They do great work and here I have been out there in public unintentionally limiting the scope of their show for all these years.
I should also apologize to readers who have been led to believe that a trip south in January would reveal only a collection of aircraft with two seats, limited horsepower, a maximum weight of 1,320 pounds, and no helicopters at all.
This is entirely untrue.
In reality the US Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida (next scheduled to run from Jan. 23-26, 2019) covers the gamut of Sport Aviation, which includes, but is not limited to, LSA.
Tecnam Aircaft, the Italian manufacturer of a wide assortment of single and multi-engine aircraft, has a fantastic display at the Expo each year, as does Lockwood Aviation, the home of the much vaunted AirCam twin-engine experimental taildragger.
Now how did I miss that massively obvious clue?
How did this error come to be? I think it’s possible the pervasive misunderstanding of what the US Sport Aviation Expo was intended to be might have been colored by a massive change in aircraft certification that just happened to coincide with the birth of this wonderful show.
Right about the time Bob Wood and Mike Willingham began the discussions that would lead to the launch of the Expo, the FAA was taking a serious look at establishing a new category of aircraft known as Light-Sport Aircraft. This was a big move, cheered by many, denigrated by some, that made the pages of aviation magazines from coast to coast.
As with anything truly new and radically different, there was a great deal of ignorance about what LSAs really were, what a pilot could do with them, and whether they would be safe to fly. These are all reasonable questions.
Manufacturers did their best to promote LSAs to the new, potentially wider audience of pilots. Flight schools began to consider using LSAs to cut operating costs. And maintenance providers began to wonder how they would deal with aircraft that were to be built and maintained by a consensus standard, not the traditionally accepted Part 43.
Things were getting weird out there and many were pioneering new methods of showcasing the best side of this new category of aircraft, which ironically included many old aircraft, like the Aeronca Chief and Champ, the Piper J-3 Cub, the T-Craft, and others.
Right about that time, as the cacophony of LSA chatter was reaching its peak, the US Sport Aviation Expo held its inaugural event right there in Sebring, next to the famed race track.
So, the assumption that the US Sport Aviation Expo was an LSA show was an easy, if not totally erroneous, leap to make. And one that wasn’t corrected very strenuously by the crew running this new show. And why would they? Getting press is better than not getting press. Even if it’s wrong, it’s only a little bit wrong. That’s okay, right?
No, it’s not right.
Today we find ourselves a decade and a half down the road, with the vast majority of the aeronautically minded reading public still laboring under the inaccurate belief that the US Sport Aviation Expo is a Light-Sport Aircraft show. It is not. The whole LSA thing was just an assumption that went uncorrected too often for too long.
It’s time to get the story straight – finally.
This January I’ll be flying to Sebring in a yellow and black Cessna 152, as I have in years past. I’ll park it at the show, answer questions, teach classes, gawk at the aeronautical eye candy on the field, and chow down at the Runway Café, as I always do.
The big difference for me this year is I’ll stop scratching my head and wondering why I’m seeing multi-engine aircraft, and rotorcraft, and airplanes (like my Cessna 152) that aren’t LSAs at all. What I’d previously thought of as an LSA specific show never was. It was just a show. A Sport Aviation show. And a darned good one.
Now I know better. And so do you.
If you come to the Expo this year, look me up. I’ll be there. I’ve got an overdue apology to share with you.