The super-short summary of Sun ‘n Fun 2016: weather was beautiful; even the one night of rain gave way to a sunny day and all other days were as good as it gets. No accidents occurred to my awareness. Crowds were good if not record-setting. Airplanes were sold; I conservatively estimate about 30 sales of light aircraft, based on my inquiries. What’s not to love?
As with any such attempt to cover an event the size and breadth of Sun’n Fun, this article cannot include all deserving aircraft, with regrets to any not mentioned below. We also shot lots video that will follow as the editing can be done (photo).
This article is longer than I prefer but I have plenty to tell you and I was simply too engaged during the event to keep posting. So… let’s get going!
AIRPLANES (three-axis control) — Sun ‘n Fun drew all the wonderful light airplanes we love but a few were touting fresh news not previously reported.
One of the most significant developments was a Zenair of Canada collaboration with Alabama’s M-Squared Aircraft. They inked a deal for M-Squared to fully assemble the popular “Sky Jeep” CH 750 and deliver it as a fully-built Special LSA. Some years ago AMD and then Eastman built the popular STOL aircraft (as the 701, at that time) in a partnership with Zenair but it’s been a rather long time since you could buy a ready-to-fly 750. That will change by summer; M-Squared boss Paul Mather reported the first subassemblies are being manufactured now. He expects to build perhaps 10 in 2016, ramping up as demand suggests. This is a smart move by Paul who will continue to make his also-SLSA Breese 2 among other models.
I reported earlier that Progressive Aerodyne won Chinese CAAC approval for their Searey amphibian, without a doubt the most successful light seaplane. Given a (presently) small market for that populous country and with 11 aircraft already shipped, Searey may have bragging rights as the best-selling LSA in China. Congratulations to Adam Yang, Kerry Ritcher, and the Searey gang. Given Icon A5 pricing soaring past the $200,000 barrier, Searey is a relative bargain for an aircraft with more 500 already flying (most built as kits).
Jabiru North America (their new company name) boss Pete Krotje was pleased to announce the first Jabiru J170-D will appear at Oshkosh, sporting a value-oriented price tag below $100,000 for a surprisingly well equipped aircraft. It should work well in flight schools, he believes; I think individual pilots could flock to the model. Pete’s company will also debut new models of engines: their 81 horsepower 2210 four cylinder and 120 horsepower 3310 six cylinder.
We saw the first U.S. appearance of the handsome all-metal low wing Viper SD4 from Tomark Aero. Work is underway to gain SLSA acceptance though this may be some time off yet. They will reportedly also debut their high wing Skyper at Aero. I’ll be looking for it next week.
Flight Design USA had a “come-back” show, we heard, thanks to their new arrangement to buy completed SLSA versions of their popular CTLS from AeroJones Aviation of Taiwan. They said the first aircraft will soon be delivered to distributors. The company is offering their 202 model, all ready with ADS-B gear. However, in work with consultant John Hurst, they also announced an ADS-B Out solution for the 400 existing owners of CT-series LSA.
PART 103 (ultralights) — Although too many people mistakenly believe otherwise, the world of Part 103 fixed wing aircraft is alive and well. At Sun ‘n Fun, we did a video interview with Dennis Carley about his kit version of the hot-selling Aerolite 103. He’s doing that to offer shorter delivery times while he facility is working to capacity (about 50 aircraft per year). Kits will also allow non-103 customization some customers want.
We also did a video interview with Kolb Aircraft’s Bryan Melborn about his tricycle gear version of the Part 103 FireFly, dubbed the TriFly… and they don’t mean you have to try and fly it. They can build you one for around $25,000 or save you a bit with a kit you can customize. Kolb’s display TriFly had a Rotax 447 mounted; that engine is out of production but many are available in good condition and, yes!, Bryan said TriFly can make Part 103 with that engine.
Other news involving three-axis Part 103 aircraft invoke two well known brand names: Quicksilver and CGS Haw. Both are very longtime players in the light aircraft space and both have just gone through major organization changes.
Quicksilver sold all inventory and numerous fabrication tools — “several semi-trailers worth” — to Bever Borne’s Air-Tech Inc., operation in Reserve, Louisiana near New Orleans. Bever has been a Quicksilver man far longer than anyone at Quicksilver so he’s arguably the best choice to hold all the cards. However, the California company has reportedly also signed an agreement with Aero Adventure to manufacture kit versions of the line at their DeLand, Forida operation. We’ll watch to see how this plays out since the company restructured last summer.
Terry Short bought all the inventory, tooling, and rights to the CGS Hawk line. He had a booth space to talk to prospective clients but declined to do a video interview until he is better set up; the deal only transacted a couple months ago.
WEIGHT-SHIFT (trikes) — We saw several interesting new trikes at Sun ‘n Fun 2016. Among them was the P&M Aviation Pulsr that managed to score a Light Sport Innovation Award from the judges. Congratulations to representative Tony Castillo and the British design team lead by Bill Brooks. Pulsr manages to look fast sitting on the ground with its sweeping windscreen smoothly integrated to the aft carriage and engine cowl.
Evolution Trike, with the most colorful trike hardware on the planet, had a new Polini engine installation on their single seat, Part 103-capable Rev. This fascinating lightweight engine has gear drive and a clutch to make for a smooth-running single banger packing 35 horsepower. Between Rev and Revo, this Zephyr Hills, Florida company is always one I watch closely.
Tiny and superlight — and quickly foldable to fit in your sedan or light truck — are the operative terms for the Aeros Nano Trike (ANT), made especially for hang glider pilots who no longer want to run their take-offs or landings. This highly successful producer of competition-winning hang glider wings is helping their customers fly longer more comfortably. The Ukraine company is represented in the USA by SilverLight Aviation.
GYROPLANES — Rotax Aircraft Engines, the dominant player, by far, supplying powerplants to the light aircraft field around the world, has in recent years said they sell more 912 engines to gyroplane producers than any other aircraft segment. Between Germany’s AutoGyro (which has delivered around 2,000 units) to Italy’s Magni (900 units) to Spain’s ELA (700 units) and all other builders (about 500 units), this class is exploding… although in the USA, one can only say it is growing because owners have to build their aircraft from kit as FAA never completed the goal of allowing a Special LSA version.
The agency’s sluggishness to remedy this situation, despite years-long efforts by industry, brought segment leader AutoGyro to pursue Primary Category approval, a significantly-costlier and more complicated process than following ASTM guidelines (standards for gyros have been done for years). As reward, the company will be able to sell fully-built gyroplanes to Americans, though that approval may not carry over to other countries.
SilverLight made a public debut with their brand-new American Ranger AR-1. Developer Abid Farooqui, with whom we shot a video interview, said he went from concept drawings to completed aircraft in barely over nine months. Having given birth, SilverLight has created the first American gyroplane in the modern European style… all “Made in the USA!” (except for rotor blades, from France). SilverLight is an unusual light plane supplier representing a fixed wing aircraft, weight shift trikes (both by Hungarian builder Apollo), and their new gyroplane. Abid is also a well qualified engineer and ASTM expert who has helped several other companies. Impressive!
Speaking of impressive, people practically drooled over the very sleek ELA Eclipse 10 gyroplane being offered by Rob Rollison’s Indiana-based Aerotrek. We’ve seen their open cockpit gyroplanes before but Eclipse 10 made its American debut at Sun ‘n Fun 2016. Only a handful are flying though the Spanish builder has a solid track record with earlier models.
POWERPLANTS — What goes up… must have an engine to do so. We looked at several, interviewing several officials.
Market leader Rotax, represented by Aircraft Engines Manager Marc Becker reported the new 915 iS engine debuted at AirVenture 2015 has more than 50 flying hours and some thousands of hours logged on the dynamometer in their factory test cells. The engine is highly awaited by many in the LSA field and Marc noted several dozen airframes are working with the design now. The 915 iS features the fuel injection of its 912 iS sibling but adds a 5:1 turbo that will deliver a high percentage of power up to 20,000 feet or more. So potent is it that an intercooler is needed and the new equipment needs planning by airframe builders. The company is consistent in saying the new engine will be available, all certified and ASTM approved by the latter half of 2017.
Continental’s super-powerful, 180-horsepower Titan line is finding increasing support. CubCrafters started the parade but is now followed by Zlin’s Savage Outback, American Legend, Kitfox Aircraft, Just Aircraft, Rans, and Vickers for the Wave seaplane LSA. Continental bought developer ECi last year and all signs are full speed ahead for this powerplant with a surprisingly good power-to-weight ratio. The company did a public tear-down and rebuild of a Titan engine in their display… twice. We mounted a camera set for time-lapse imagery to record the whole process. We think you may enjoy this when ready.
Belgium’s UL Power is another company with growing acceptance, with more airframe companies giving one of their models a try. U.S. representative Robert Helms — who enjoys referring to himself as a “recovering lawyer” since he ditched the suit to pursue something more gratifying — took time away from his display to moderate three of LAMA’s panels (see below) and participate in one of them. Robert reported that the Belgium-based creator of these high-tech engines (even featuring FADEC) is working to meet ASTM standards that could one day result in engines being factory installed on SLSA.
In the One-More-Thing department made famous by former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, work by Aircraft Spruce deserves a mention. The company is geared up to address homebuilders who want to speed the building of panels. The publisher of a giant 1,000-page+ catalog has a division of their company that custom builds wiring harnesses making the addition of a wide variety of avionics faster, easier, and more accurate than many kit builders might manage on their own. We did a video on this subject; watch for it in the weeks ahead.
DEBATES — I’ll end this rather lengthy recap with something that kicked off the event and ran the first four days. I refer to the “Great Debates in Paradise City.” In its big tent in the light plane area of Sun ‘n Fun 2016 — made possible with generous support from Aviators Hot Line — LAMA hosted four debates.
The first on Tuesday featuring engines for light aircraft, including Continental Motors and their Titan line, UL Power, Rotax Aircraft Engines, and Jabiru; next on Wednesday, a debate between four top aviation journalists including writers for General Aviation News, Flying magazine, Plane & Pilot magazine, and AVweb; on Thursday, LAMA collected four leading avionics producers including MGL, Dynon, TruTrak, and Levil; and concluding on Friday were all the best-selling iPad and Android apps featuring ForeFlight, Seattle Avionics’ FlyQ, WingX Pro, and Garmin’s Pilot.
A sincere thanks to all 16 panelists for taking time out of their busy days to participate and to the Flying Musicians Association for arranging professional-grade public address equipment to make it work.
All four debates were captured by Videoman Dave for his YouTube channel. In the way of the Internet, all these are freely available, but I encourage you to support his efforts by subscribing annually or get a great deal on hisLifetime offer.
Tomorrow, I blast off for southern Germany and the Aero Friedrichshafen show, where I hope to make more frequent posts about cool aircraft and gear I find in Europe.