In the near future, we’ll present fuller stories of some of the following short bits from Oshkosh 2012. With UltralightMews, we shot videos on most of the following, too, so watch for those as we can post them. Enjoy!
CESSNA & PRIMARY CATEGORY Early on in the week, Cessna announced they would transition their LSA Skycatcher to Primary Aircraft status. That requires a Type Certificate and FAA production approval but the Wichita giant can do this handily even if will add some cost. More on in a later article. However, here’s a way Cessna can recapture some 80 orders from Europeans cancelled earlier this year. On a more fun note, it was a pleasure to meet all nine of their youthful ambassadors that worked in the Discover Flying Challenge program. We shot a video featuring each participant and we’ll post that as soon as possible. (In the near future, we’ll feature a brief review of Primary Category versus LSA.)
AHOY, AKOYA! Lisa gave a first-ever U.S. showing of their dreamy Akoya seaplane. I got to climb inside it to discover that the example at Oshkosh was the one and only flying prototype. If they can build a test article this pretty, I can’t wait to see the final version. With its sea wings — front and back I discovered — Akoya spurns the usual chine-edged hull for a smoothly rounded fuselage. Videos show the unusual configuration is quite effective. They invited me to come fly and see for myself and I’ll try that in early 2013.
ELECTRIC AIRWAYS Randall Fishman of Electric Aircraft showed his superb ULS, a sleek single place ultralight-style motorglider that can make Part 103, he says. At $59,000, this is the most expensive Part 103 ultralight vehicle ever but it is also by far the most sophisticated. The soaring crowd will see that price tag as an incredible bargain and I expect he’ll sell a few. I hope I didn’t drool on it when I shot photos; it is gorgeous and represents his fourth generation all-electric aircraft. In another corner of the Lightplane area was last year’s electric charmer, the eLazair, returning with even better hardware that allows an hour flight after a one hour charge! Now they plan to supply all the drive components where last year they said it was just an example to demonstrate electric flight.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PART 103! Speaking of Part 103, aviation’s most free segment celebrated its 30th anniversary, slightly before the official September date. If you thought the category went away, the truth is you drifted not the aircraft. Several examples are available as brand-new aircraft and one reason you may have felt it disappeared is because serious accidents, fatalities in particular, are very rare. Let’s review: you still need no pilot license (none!), no N-number, no airworthiness certificate, no medical, and you can buy one ready-to-fly. In our heavily-regulated society — aviation most definitely included — this near-total freedom is simply remarkable. Every line of the regulations for this charming class of airplanes can be printed on the front and back of a single page of standard office paper. A standout example is the Aerolite 103, selling nicely equipped (electric starting, flaps, brakes, partial enclosure, and more) for $15,000 factory-built and ready-to-fly.
QUICKSILVER RISING Quicksilver, now called Quicksilver Aeronautics, made a splashy return with displays in the Lightplane area as well as the LSA Mall. The company announced plans to pursue Special LSA status (and ELSA) while retaining kits as Experimental Amateur Built. They’re already well underway with the work and we might see a new SLSA by Sebring if all goes well. It’s also worth noting this company was the very first to earn FAA approval for their GT 500 two seater as a Primary Aircraft… way back in 1993. Their U.S. sales boss, Todd Ellefson took the chance in a press conference to welcome Cessna to their exclusive club (currently also including Rans and their S-7 Courier).
SHOW SUCCESS Pipistrel had a spectacular show reporting 10 paid orders — the “best Oshkosh ever,” they said — split about half for their new $89,000 Alpha (including freight and prep) plus selected other models from their wide line. The Slovenian company with production facilities in Italy has already delivered 10 of the just-finished Alpha Trainer models and goes home flush with new orders. At Oshkosh, the company was able to resolve some questions and earned airworthiness certificates for the new model, making it #126 on our SLSA List. While I didn’t ask all companies, I know Flight Design logged several sales and so did Evektor. Though plenty of exhibit spaces were empty around the grounds — and even more unbelievably inside the four giant halls — many companies were upbeat about the quality of visitors and felt they gathered many good leads.
SKY ARROW IS BACK! New Sky Arrow producer, Magnaghi Aeronautica, brought their first production example as they rev up the assembly line. This company took over from the now-bankrupt developer and is blending this manufacturing in with their substantial aerospace business. Importer Jon Hansen was all smiles as folks recognized the return of a great flying LSA (that also has Part 23 approval, by the way!). As a very important side note, Sky Arrow has helped more of Able Flight disabled scholarship winners earn their Sport Pilot wings than any other model.
ADS-B ANYONE? Dynon showed their new ADS-B box for just $995. Way down from what we once though might be $20,000 per aircraft, the avionics leader offers a remotely-mounted device that interacts with their gorgeous SkyView glass screens and provides airborne traffic and subscription-free weather. Other companies also offered low-cost ADS-B solutions including a portable, panel-top Garmin ADS-B as did Dual Electronics. Grand Rapids also announced a unit so ADS-B, previously affordable only by bizjet owners, is now available for everyman pilots.
SPEED CRUISIN’ Doc Baily and Reiner Tauren gave Oshkosh attendees their first look at the B.O.T. Aircraft Speed Cruiser. Reiner took this project over from the original designer, made some 60 improvements big and small and was testing the market for yet another LSA model. (FAA officials and I compared notes and we see another 30-40 models in various stages of development!) Speed Cruiser is not yet approved under the ASTM standards but work is underway.
REACH FOR THE SKY SkyReach showed their new BushCat, another super value LSA for less than $60,000, decked out in a striking zebra graphic scheme. The company has taken over from Rainbow Aircraft and will continue selling the even-less-expensive Cheetah. This company offers LSA bargains that some folks believe aren’t available.
LAW ENFORCERS We saw at least three examples of working LSA in the sense of law enforcement usage (the only commercial use permitted beyond flight instruction and rental and only possible for exempt public-service organizations like police or border patrols, etc.). Flight Design’s CTLS has been shown before with wing mounted cameras, but we also saw high-tech installations on Tecnam Eaglet and the World Aircraft Sentinal, the latter with a completely different approach from Near Earth Observation Systems, Ltd (NEOS) that represents terrific capability at bargain prices.
912 iS SIGHTINGS Americans got their first view of the slick Arrow Copter gyroplane at the Rotax BRP display. Along with the twin-engined AirCam and another example in the Pipistrel display, this European gyroplane featured the new 912 iS fuel-injected engine that is generating many orders. Rotax boss Christian Mundigler reported shipping nearly 200 of the new powerplants just since the spring launch.
MAINLINE ATTENTION GA mainstays, Sensenich props and Wipline floats both announced LSA products in a continuing endorsement of the importance of the new aviation category. It was just eight years ago at Oshkosh that FAA announced the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft rules and the industry has since output close to 3,000 aircraft in a dizzying 126 models from 89 manufacturers.
INTRODUCING ION To most eyes, the Ion Aircraft being developed in Saint Paul, Minnesota looked like a new appearance but “a, not the” Steve Martin and his partner Steve Schultz report work on a second flying prototype. If all goes well they expect to enter production, soon, though they may run into the FAA first article inspection machinery (see below). The airplane has a unusual “U-tail” they call it, and they see some advantages.
DIGITAL CIRCUIT BREAKERS? Vertical Power patiently explained their electronic circuit breaker concept to me… again, and I get it now. A few producers (World Aircraft, The Airplane Factory, SportCruiser, and more) are using their VPX box now to simplify their cockpits while adding capabilities and versatility. After routing most electric system through the behind-the-panel device, other systems can employ the greater control. As if to prove the point convincingly, Vertical Power teamed up with X-Plane developer Austin Meyer to create the “Runway Seeker,” a clever system that can fly an airplane with a failed powerplant to a safe runway, actually guiding the homebuilt or LSA to a point near final approach. Runway Seeker will adjust flaps and flying speed to optimize a safe engine-out landing at the most appropriate airfield. Much as I believe in airframe parachutes (and Runway Seeker doesn’t change my mind), developer Marc Ausman has created a most useful escape system. He reports the spouses of airplane owners are very keen on it; it makes them feel safer flying in their family airplane.
FAA WATCHING CLOSER
FAA is increasing their visitation of LSA producers operating under ASTM acceptance. The agency plans to visit all active producers. But a newer directive is to be released perhaps in September for FAA to perform compliance verifications before any new LSA model can gain an airworthiness certificate. Such first article inspections will bump back the list of companies to be audited.
THE WEEK THAT WAS Taken as a whole, the reports from sellers were positive, more upbeat than last year. Many commented on the empty exhibit spaces even as they said the buyers were better qualified, so quantity isn’t everything. Safety at the show was also worth a smile. We love going to these shows and we really love going home afterward. The 12-hour outdoor days are intense but we wouldn’t miss Oshkosh for the world. Watch for more in-depth coverage to follow.