In the rush of coverage of Vintage Ultralights and other late-breaking stories such as the Blackwing speed record, I had to set aside a few news items. Here’s a catch-up… I am pleased to serve a need for news during a month when we should have been covering Sun ‘n Fun and Aero Friedrichshafen. As everyone knows, those events are now rescheduled for 2021, both as a result of the global lockdown that has affected hundreds of other events. You hardly need any more coverage of the coronavirus craziness so let’s get to aviation news and take a small break from these worldwide events. But first… Oshkosh — Go or No/Go? It has become one of the most-asked question in aviation. Will the big summer celebration of flight happen or go the way of every other airshow this year?
Oshkosh — Go or No/Go?It has become one of the most-asked question in aviation. Will the big summer celebration of flight happen or go the way of every other airshow this year? Several sources close to EAA leadership have said a decision will come in early May, however, it doesn't take a genius to figure that. EAA is grappling with matters such as when hundreds of tents or thousands of portable bathrooms must be ordered, or finalizing the call to a not-small army of volunteers to begin the trek to Wisconsin. Such major plans must be started well in advance of the event slated for July 20-26th. If you back-calendar from when EAA needs those tents and so much more to be ready I think you get to a date that is fast approaching. Cancelling a show is frightening stuff for show producers (EAA, Sun ‘n Fun, Aero, etc.), especially when the event represents a substantial share of their annual budget (a lot for Sun ‘n Fun and Aero; somewhat less so for EAA). Other than their accountants and top leadership, few know the hard facts but it is clear these events bring in plenty of the dough needed to run the enterprises that organize the shows. I have heard all sorts of comments, such as "AirVenture accounts for upwards of 60% of the EAA's annual income." Honestly, I doubt that for EAA but for Sun 'n Fun and Aero, the percentage could even be higher. Oh, my! I hope for the best for all these vital events but I’m concerned.
So Long Airbus E-FanI reported some months ago about Kitty Hawk's Flyer going down despite funding from billionaire Larry Page. This month, we see another high-profile departure from electrically-powered aircraft by an even bigger company, Airbus, which partnered with Rolls Royce and Siemens… three of the largest corporations in Europe. After a very public launch of the E-Fan X project in 2017, this month "Airbus and Rolls Royce have jointly decided to bring the E-Fan X demonstrator to an end," said Vittadini. "As with all ground-breaking R&T projects, it’s our duty to constantly evaluate and reprioritize them to ensure alignment with our ambitions. These decisions are not always easy." Her counterpart at Rolls Royce is CTO, Paul Stein, who wrote, "[The E-Fan project] involved creating a hybrid-electric power generation system … comprised of a gas turbine driving a 2.5MW generator and 3000V power electronics and an electric propulsion unit." Stein continued, "As with all such leading-edge programs, we constantly evaluate the best way forward and it has become clear to both parties that the actual requirement to carry out a test flight with all the elements integrated is not critical at this time. As an aircraft, E-Fan X was always designed to be a demonstrator only and never for actual use as a product in service." However, that's not what they said earlier. In 2015 Flying magazine wrote, "VoltAir SAS in France [is] to build a family of plug-in and hybrid-electric light airplanes." Then-editor Stephen Pope gave details, "VoltAir's immediate aim is to build a factory in the south of France and begin producing the E-Fan line of small airplanes, beginning with a two-seat trainer called the E-Fan 2.0, powered entirely by batteries and electric motors and slated to reach the market in 2018. A follow-on, hybrid-electric four-seater called the E-Fan 4.0 targeted primarily at buyers in the United States will emerge soon after and is projected to go on sale in 2019." Airbus Group enlisted Daher, of TBM 900 turboprop fame, to produce the E-Fan 2.0 and 4.0 models at a new factory in Pau, France. It once looked so alive, but obviously, these goals were never reached and now E-Fan will retire to a museum somewhere, I suppose.
New GRT Replacement InstrumentFor many years, one instrument could be found on all types of light, inexpensive aircraft. For example, nearly every powered parachute has the monochrome GRT engine monitor system. It has been a worthy element on many light aircraft, its modest $400 cost helping pilots stay aware of their engine's performance. Many other aircraft types also used the instrument. Thousands have been sold yet the original is showing its age in an era of iPhones used as avionics devices. Now, a new midwestern company has something new and fresh… This report is sufficiently early in the new product's development that I can't offer much detail, but you can see from the nearby image that is similar to the older model but features color and enhanced readability. At present the colorful EMS appears to be a panel hole-for-hole swap allowing owners of the older model to easily upgrade to the newer system. Proprietor Kyle Sulek promised to keep me informed as he pushes toward market launch. He is presently targeting release at Oshkosh, but that depends on the event progressing. Fingers crossed…
Sling Pilot Academy Steams OnwardWhile flight schools have been battered by lockdown orders, they have not been standing still. One clear success story is The Airplane Factory USA's venture into flight instruction. This west coast bunch did not tiptoe in gently; they cannonballed into the action; it appears to be working and well! Even during the lockdown, Sling Pilot Academy (SPA) is forging ahead. Leader Matt Liknaitzky said, "Our pilot academy is still operating on a skeleton crew. Our flight load is down about half. About half of our students and CFIs are still flying. We are doing all our ground school via Zoom. In the fairly short time SPA has been operating they have attracted 40 full-time students. Matt added that SPA has 15 Certified Flight Instructors and he amazed me adding, "We’re doing upwards of 1,000 hours of flight instruction every month!" "We operate 9 Slings, which we use for Private, Instrument, Commercial, CFI, CFII ratings." To address additional ratings, SPA also uses a pair of Tecnam P2006T twins for Commercial Multi and MEI ratings. This activity of airplane sales representatives or manufacturers also running flight school operations seems a new trend. Given the great need for pilot training, I expect we'll see more of this. Cessna found out decades ago that if you started flying in a Cessna 150, you tended to buy Cessna later. Will Sling (and the other brands pursuing flight training) make the same discovery? Only time can tell.
First Quarter 2020 Market SharesThrough the first two months of the year, few of us uttered the word "coronavirus." That ended abruptly when the stock market crashed on March 12th, 2020. While the following information covers only one quarter of the year and while it does not reflect much of the pandemic effects, we nonetheless found a few tidbits of interest. For the data hounds among you, we invite you to visit our market share and airplane registration database website called Tableau Public. In the first quarter of 2020, deliveries of Light-Sport Aircraft — either SLSA or ELSA — and Sport Pilot-eligible kits were up nicely over 2019 and 2018. If we extrapolate to the whole year, the industry may deliver 776 aircraft in 2020, up from 665 in 2019, a 17% gain, which was up from 635 or 5% from 2017. Though the industry appears to be in a reasonable growth mode, the virus lockdown is likely to affect the second quarter. A noteworthy point is that among all aircraft in this sector, the top five brands registering aircraft remain kit builders with one of those companies stronger in fully-built versus EAB kits. The top five are Zenith, Kitfox, Van's, Sonex, and Rans, in rank order. Van's is more vigorous in ready-to-fly models, at 14 of their 15 aircraft registered in 2020 being LSA, although 13 of the 14 were ELSA and only one was a SLSA model. None of the others recorded any LSA; they were all kits …but remember, these are registrations, not sales, deliveries, or completions. Among Special (fully-built) LSA registrations, Pipistrel lead the first quarter numbers with 9 aircraft, followed by Tecnam with 7 and The Airplane Factory's Sling with 5 units. We saw a five-way tie for the next rank at 4 units for each Aeropro/Aerotrek, Aeroprakt, Icon, Scoda (Super Petrel), and Vashon. Overall, the LSA segment (both SLSA and ELSA and exclusive of kit-built aircraft) was up 16% over 2019 when the numbers are annualized. By this measurement, it was a good start to the year and we will see how the industry faired in the more turbulent second quarter when we report again on July 1st, 2020. It's a Wrap …except for a parting comment from our wonderful "datastician" Steve Beste, "I think the term 'social distancing' is a misnomer. Physical distancing is what we're actually doing. Socially, I've been in closer touch with my family and friends… as we all check in on each other." Here at ByDanJohnson.com we wish you all the best getting through this weird period. Here's a fun ultralight airshow video to lighten your day.