Sun ‘n Fun Archive

How are things?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Without a doubt, the economy is the top story of Sun ‘n Fun this year. How’s it going? Are people making it? How’s attendance? Which projects are on the chopping block? The conversations are consistent and predictable, only the players change.

But the answers are surprising. A few airplane manufacturers that we talked to said the show is fantastic. Some equipment and avionics sellers say they’re happy, or pleasantly surprised as they sometimes say. Cirrus yesterday even said domestic orders are up 2 percent from the same time last year. A popular financing broker said there’s capital, and the standards are pretty much the same as they always have been. Insurance prices are down, and even LSA seems to be taking hold.

So while most are still taking cover while the eyewall passes over, others seems to be approaching the outer rain bands. Is the progress for real and is it sustainable? Most say yes, even going so far to say that it was never that bad to begin with.

The skeptics say it was simply low expectations. Don’t expect any orders when you get here, and each one is special, they say. But others give clear examples of success that is undeniable. Maybe’s it’s the incredible weather, but people feel good.

The screamin’ sweeps

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Since everyone else is blogging on their rides back from Sun ‘n Fun, I feel obliged to discuss mine.

I had the great fortune of flying the sweepstakes airplane home and the bad misfortune of doing it with a headwind the entire way.

After showing off the airplane in Naples, Florida, on Monday afternoon (thanks Chris LeCroy for the grub and for organizing), I was off to the north. The plan was to stop in Gainesville, Fla. on Monday and make it the rest of the way Tuesday. Gainesville is a great airport. Of course, I’m partial given that I learned to fly there and still root for the Gators. The flight from Naples was beautiful. It was one of the late afternoon/early evening flights when everything is clicking. I took off over the shore and headed north among a scattered layer of puffy white. The sun was setting, the ride was smooth, and the music from my ipod was groovy. We live to fly for days like this.


Airshow gawkers–the horror!

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Some people make lousy airshow visitors. During our flight from Tampa to Wichita, Hawker Beechcraft’s Brady Stewart spun some shocking yarns about his experience standing duty with airplanes on display. Here’s a partial list of some of the things people have done to some VERY expensive airplanes:

Opening cowlings. Smoking near the wing tanks. Wanting their pictures taken in the cockpit, but getting stuck so that they couldn’t get turned around and properly seated (“one guy got his butt stuck in the control yoke”). Kids throwing toy gliders and frisbees into turbine intakes. Raising the gear handle (!!). Spinning the props to show how easy it is to move a free turbine engine (“the Wheel of Fortune” spin). Standing on the wings! (This trick is especially popular in Russia, where the (non-pilot) participants are usually drunk, I was told).

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the chart-topper: CHANGING A BABY’S DIAPER IN ONE OF THE AIRPLANE SEATS. No, I’m not making this up.

Shuttling with Hawker-Beechcraft

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

I was luckiest with my departrure from Sun ‘n Fun. I hitched a ride with Hawker Beech’s Trevor Blackmer, Brady Stewart, and two other HBC employees aboard a Premier IA and a King Air B200GT. The Premier flight took us to HBC’s service center at Tampa Intl. From there, it was on to Wichita in the B200. Like the C90GTi I recently flew (look for the full story in June’s AOPA Pilot) the B200 now has the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite.

The leg from Tampa to Little Rock was three hours–headwinds were large, maxing out at 117 knots at our cruise altitude of FL260. True airspeeds were 282 knots under warmish (-28 degrees C, or ISA +8 degrees) conditions.  The restaurant in the Little Rock FBO served what it calls “The World’s Greatest Aviation Burger,” and, yes, I ordered one up. This massive slab o’ beef overwhelmed me and, in a first, I walked away from half of this bovine artery-buster.

One more hour put us in Wichita. What a capable airplane! It flew seven and lotsa bags … to meet our weight limits all we had to do was trade 1,000 lbs of fuel for pax. Best of all, I got to learn more about the Pro Line 21.

Now I’m dreading the airline flight back to BWI–it’s an American flight, and it launches at 6:55 a.m. from ICT. Seven hours later, I’m home. That’s three hours more than the trip from TPA to ICT. I’ll take GA any time over the airlines.

Sunburned, tired, happy . . .

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

A few closing thoughts on an exhausting and invigorating week:

* Aircraft parking areas at Sun ‘n Fun were beginning to resemble used car lots. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “for sale” signs on so many airplanes in one place.

* Supersize that airplane! Bulbous, load-hauling airplanes abounded at SNF. The AirVan was my favorite of the Beaver derivatives. Too bad so many of them have nosewheels . . .

* My aviation roots are in aerobatics, and I’ll always be drawn to the precise, physically, and mentally demanding aviation niche. So it’s with surprise and reluctance that I point out the airshow’s aerobatic performances were painfully dull and monotonous. One unlimited monoplane performing gyroscopic maneuvers after another became mind-numbing, even for a guy like me who eats that stuff up. I can’t imagine how dull it must have been for people who aren’t necessarily drawn to akro.

The sound of screaming IO-540s made me think about the late Chris Smisson and the beauty, grace, and finesse that he showed flying his Zlin with Ray Charles singing “American the Beautiful” in the background. We miss you, old friend.

* Thanks to Brady and Trevor from Hawker-Beechcraft for letting me stow away in their King Air for the trip to SNF–but it was the hat that saved me. My neck and ears were getting lobsterized by the scorching sun, so I pickup up a floppy, wide-brimmed hat at the H-B tent about halfway through the show. It sure was goofy looking, but it was a lifesaver. I stopped by the H-B booth a couple days after the University of Kansas won the NCAA basketball championship, and the folks from Wichita were still celebrating . . .

* Aspen’s “Evolution” PFD and Garmin’s “Synthetic Vision Technology” were the biggest hits of the show, and major developments that I’m convinced will improve general aviation safety. So here’s the question: How long do you think it will take Garmin (or some other innovative firm) to put synthetic vision in a portable GPS? VistaNav is getting close, but I’m talking about SVT on something the size of a Garmin 496. This is a pure guess, but I’ll bet that we’re be able to buy synthetic vision hand-helds in 2010 for $5,000 each . . .


Tales of two rides

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Early? With all of the delays and cancellations at American Airlines, just being on time would do, but the Southwest 737 bus dropped me off 25 minutes early at Albuquerque last evening. Two more stops for the bus before the West Coast. The flight attendant quipped upon landing, reminding us we were nearly a half hour early: “Next time we’re late, we’ll just call it even, OK?” At least they don’t take themselves too seriously at Southwest.

The smooth airline flight was a stark contrast to my return flight from Sun ‘n Fun on Saturday in my Bonanza. With copilots and senior editors Paul Richifield and Dave Hirschman on board we blitzed northward Saturday morning, enjoying a 15-knot tailwind most of the morning. After refueling at Florence, North Carolina, we could see by the XM Weather datalink on the Garmin 530 that our plan to fly near the coast to Richmond, fly up the Chesapeake, and hang a left across Baltimore to Frederick wouldn’t cut it. The strong storms had already reached Richmond–the top end of a cold front stretching all the way to Louisiana.

Instead, we found a thin weak area in the line near Greensboro and headed northwest. We punched through just barely in IMC and with only a little light rain. Popping out the back side of the front, we turned northeastward toward Lynchburg, Virginia, and watched groundspeeds climb over 200 knots–about a 30-knot push.

But soon the bumps–big bumps–kicked in. We climbed from 7,000 feet to 9,000 feet to 11,000 feet to just barely make it on top of the scattered clouds. Groundspeed jumped to 231 knots, but alas ATC asked to immediately start our descent, nudging us down 2,000 feet at a time through the roily air. At times I had the power so far back to keep the airplane below maneuvering speed that the gear horn was about to go off.

But soon, we were under the clouds and enjoyed a relatively smooth few miles back into Frederick in time to have part of the weekend to ponder the wonders of Sun ‘n Fun and the most fun part–getting there and back by GA.

Read AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg’s eJournal describing his flight back to headquarters.

Sensenich ground adjustable prop for LSA market

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Sensenich Propeller Manufacturing, Inc introduced its first ground adjustable propeller to hit the market in more than 50 years at Sun ‘n Fun. Unlike the ground adjustable propellers of yesteryear–where the pilot attempted to align marks on each blade with marks on the hub–the Sensenich prop uses steel cartridges that are pushed into a slot in the hub, locking each blade into the angle specified on the cartridge.

The new Sensenich cartridge system allows the pilot to select whether the blades are set to flat pitch (high rpm) to shorten take off runs or for coarse pitch (low rpm) to increase cruise speeds.

The blades are of hollow composite construction and feature a bonded metal leading edge. This construction technique–also known as internal pressure molding–lessens the overall weight of the propeller system. The weight of the propeller for the O-200 is 17 pounds.

These design features are also being implemented on propellers designed for the Continental IO-240 and the Lycoming O-235 engines, which are slated for release later in 2008. Retail price for the propellers is $3,195. A video of the pitch change process is available on the Sensenich Web site.

Common questions

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Some of the questions about AOPA’s sweepstakes airplane are the same from year to year, regardless of the make and model in question. Associate Editor Ian Twombly (shown hard at work in photo), who is documenting this year’s Get Your Glass Sweepstakes project for AOPA Pilot and AOPA Online, is the target for many of these questions–but all the AOPA Pilot’s editors attending shows like Sun ‘n Fun get their share.

Those most frequently asked are: (more…)

Thank you

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Thank you cool-space. Standing in front of you just made my day.

Pitching their products

Friday, April 11th, 2008

If nothing else, Sun ‘n Fun and other shows throughout the year are a great place for me to meet the fledgling entrepreneur. Thus far I’ve spoken to three different pilots (and members) who are working on the next big thing in aviation. The most amazing part–each is trying to break into a flooded section of the industry.

But I give these folks a huge amount of credit. Good product or bad, they have poured their heart and soul (and money) into these products. In most cases, they simply have a love affair with aviation and they hope to make a little cash in the process. What’s better than doing what you love and getting paid for it, after all?