Sun ‘n Fun Archive

Mudday Monday at SNF

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

AOPA Pilot creative director Mike Kline and I walked around the Sun ‘n Fun campground Monday morning to find a dozen airplanes sunk in the mud. We noticed small tents perched under their airplane’s wing while still tethered to submerged anchors, and their owners wringing out clothes, and collecting drifting coolers. Take a look at our video and an interview with folks who had left their Cessna 172 parked in what had been a prime spot a week earlier, only to find their 172’s wheel pants submerged in the murky pond that now covered their camping spot. They and other fly-in campers braved fire ant attacks to pull their winged chariots to higher and dryer ground.

Vans RV-12 is creating a swamp

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Vans RV12

What can a mud bog in the shape of an airplane tell you about a particular design?

So far, the amount of grass-stomping foot traffic around the Vans RV-12 has been so impressive that I’m convinced it’s going to be the best seller among Experimental LSAs–by far.

Visitors have surrounded the company’s two RV-12s since Sun ‘n Fun opened, and the green grass around them has been trampled to mud.

Richard Van Grunsven, the airplane’s gruff designer, said the company is doing a brisk business and expects to sell “a couple hundred” RV-12 kits this year. The RV-12 is the first Vans model to use a Rotax engine, and Van Grunsven said he’s convinced it offers the best value, reliability, and performance in its class. But builders–and potential builders–have been expressing interest in other engine options, such as the Continental 0-200 that Cessna is putting in its C162 SkyCatcher.

“People are always asking for something different,” Van Grunsven said. “Usually, it’s just an excuse not to do something they weren’t going to do anyway.”

Someone, anyone, fly to the Dominican Republic

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Politely the men approached each journalist sitting in the Sun ‘n Fun press room. “I am pleased to present you this brochure,” they said. It was obvious that their mission was extremely important to them, that the slightest frown might crush them, and I assured them this was the best brochure I had ever seen. Titled “Discover the Airports of the Dominican Republic,” it promises that “General Aviation Now Fee-Free By Presidential Decree 169-08.” The Sun’n Fun media staff tried to herd reporters to a press conference, but few rose from their seats. In my case, it was the deadline for Wednesday’s ePilot that kept me from going. So please, somebody, fly over there and visit. Or at least click on It will make the Dominican tourism officials very happy. And proud. (Fees at the country’s eight major international airports “will be minor in comparison to any other airports in the Caribbean,” the brochure promises, while “…fees at domestic airfields have been eliminated.” OK, so fees aren’t completely eliminated. Whatever. Just click and make someone happy.

Colorful airplanes brighten a gloomy opening day

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

If you looked down at the grass today at Sun ‘n Fun all you saw was mud. And if you looked up to the skies from 7:15 a.m. to about noon you saw dark gray clouds alternating with black ones. But if you looked hard enough, you also saw spots of color provided by the airplanes themselves. Here is what I found.

What was hot at Sun ‘n Fun?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

“What was hot at Sun ‘n Fun?” That was the question posed to Senior Editor Paul Richfield and myself by Cessna CEO Jack Pelton as we walked out of the Sun ‘n Fun grounds after the first day. I quickly answered that none of the news we covered today, Tuesday, was particularly hot. Probably Garmin’s new synthetic vision for the G1000 glass cockpit wins the prize as top news story of the day, with Jeppesen’s announcement of a complete legal weather briefing and flight plan filing ability available on your Smartphone or PDA running a close second. But then Pelton added, “I am trying to determine whether there is an economic slowdown due to the economy.” Nothing I saw at Sun ‘n Fun indicates a slowdown. The light sport airplane market is now crowded with more than 75 models, according to Dan Johnson, whom I personally regard as a fair and accurate judge of the light sport industry. At Van’s Aircraft company officials were taking orders for the first time on their Experimental Light Sport Aircraft kit, and they had about 16. (When the kit is ready to fly you’ll have about $65,000 invested.) Remember, this was the first day one of the show.  My best observation is that the aviation industry is not acting like there is a slowdown, and neither are the customers. But those observations are from someone who spent a good deal of the day sequestered in the Sun ‘n Fun Media Center all day.

Avidyne’s summer surprises

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Avidyne’s Tuesday unveiling of the new FMS900W flight management system is the first of four major announcements the company plans to make between now and the end of the year.

Dan Schwinn, Avidyne’s president, told me the next big unveiling–slated for EAA AirVenture (Oshkosh) this summer–is likely to be “E2,” the long-awaited follow-on to the Entegra glass cockpit that I’ve come to call the [Garmin] G1000 killer.

The big question now, is whether Avidyne will launch this new system with synthetic vision, to match the SVS now available on the G1000. “We could debut it with SVS, now that Garmin’s shown its hand,” he said.

Avidyne expects to offer E2 in various display sizes and feature packages, with each tailored to specific aircraft classes. As far as the new FMS product is concerned, it is likely to be generic to the displays, with a remote keypad optional.

“Whether someone opts for the remote keypad will be a function of aircraft configuration,” Schwinn said. “It will be a matter of available space, weight and balance, and pilot preference.”

As for the remaining surprises coming from Boston-based Avidyne, we’ll just have to see.

Sweeps Archer attracts SNF crowds

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

One highlight of AOPA’s presence at the 2008 Sun ‘n Fun fly-in is the “Get Your Glass” Archer, this year’s sweepstakes airplane. I spent three hours with the airplane this morning, talking to members about it and related issues. Some have already come to regard the airplane as “theirs,” while others regaled me with detailed knowledge of the various Archer variants. Members were very interested in every detail of the aircraft’s restoration, from the panel to the seats and other interior furnishings, to the aircraft’s exquisite paint job. Many commented that we seemed to be farther along with the Archer now, than we were with the Sweepstakes Cardinal last year. Certainly this is true. While I’ve studied up on the Archer, I was clearly no match for some members’ questions. The toughest one of all? “How come I never win the airplane?” My answer: “You didn’t get our call?”

Sun ‘n Fun: Initial reports

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Today, Monday, was set up day over at Lakeland Linder Airport for this year’s iteration of the Sun ‘n Fun fly-in and convention. Unlike other trade shows, this one’s more outside than inside, so exhibitors have to take weather into account while building their stands and various displays.

Weather has been a factor. Torrential rains pounded Lakeland for most of Sunday, giving the airport a serene maritime feel. The roughly half a dozen airplane campers had chosen a low spot for their campsite, and by morning the tents appeared to be floating on the surface of a pond. One Styrofoam cooler was, in fact, floating. Flocks of migratory waterfowl took advantage of the situation, swooping down to the marshy surface in their search for food.

My search for food was less bucolic. I bought a slice of pizza for four bucks and grabbed some beef jerky and a bottle of water off one of the tables in the AOPA’s big yellow tent. There, we worked individually and in teams to construct all the displays and other resources. I got busy with a bunch of small projects, like helping to unpack and build the stand-up sign frames used to tell members about activities at the AOPA tent. We also borrowed a tow bar from Piper to help us reposition the sweepstakes Archer so it wouldn’t sink in the mud.

With work at the tent completed, Al Marsh and I set out to make a movie over at the Commemorative Air Force display. We waited for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds to land (F-16s are pretty noisy), and then Al interviewed the pilot of the world’s only flying Curtiss Helldiver—a World War II naval attack aircraft. Tonight, we’re off to the Texas Cattle Company, a Lakeland steakhouse, for our celebratory setup dinner.

Looks like the weather is finally breaking, although it is hot and humid. Around 2:00 p.m. the sun came out in earnest and the light general aviation airplanes began to arrive. My guess is the ramp and campground will fill quickly once the front is completely gone in a few hours. If the rest of the show goes as smoothly as setup, this will be a good one.

The easy way vs. the hard way

Monday, April 7th, 2008

SNF Arrival Timeline

How a 270-Knot General Aviation Turboprop Beats A 550-Knot Airliner

by Dave Hirschman and Paul Richfield

Dave’s Turbo-Prop Day April 6, 2008:
Paul’s Airliner Day April 6, 2008:
Sleeping soundly Wake up at 4:47 a.m., out the door by 6:00 a.m.
Still sleeping soundly Drive to work, park the car, move luggage into building to keep it out of the rain, get coffee from machine upstairs. Get into co-worker’s SUV for ride to airport, driver runs upstairs to make copies.
Turn away from sunlight peeking in-between the curtains and pull covers over my head. 6:45 a.m.: We finally leave, and head right to a gas station to top off the SUV.
Still sleeping. Back on the highway, it’s already almost 7:00; our departure on AirTran from Baltimore is scheduled for 8:55.
Wake up at 7:30 a.m. 7:33 a.m.: Arrive at BWI daily parking garage, find a spot on the fourth level. Take elevator down to first level, learn that shuttle buses leave from second level. Get back on elevator, go up to second level.
Shower and shave by 8. 7:41 a.m.: Shuttle bus arrives; picks up our party of three, plus around 18 other people and their luggage. Bus creeps methodically toward the terminal, arriving at 7:56.Curbside check-in packed; head for AirTran check-in inside. I’m number 34 in line. I show the attendant a boarding pass I printed the night before; this confuses him but he checks my bag anyway.
Play Wii with my 8-year-old son until 9. 8:14 a.m.: Head for security gate; learn that the line snakes its way down approximately 175 yards or hallways and corridors, with roughly 1,500 people in line ahead of me. Finally get to the front of the line, remove hat, jacket, shoes, belt watch, pocket change and keys, pull laptop out of bag, divide all of this between two plastic bins. Walk through X-ray machine. Attendant asks for my ticket; guess I left it in one of the bins. We find it, I am allowed to go.
Eat a bowl of granola with wife, son and 11-year-old daughter (the kids have toaster waffles). Pack a rucksack (including a Swiss army knife that’s been grounded since 9/11) and am ready to go out the door at 10 a.m. 8:43 a.m.: Arrive at gate D21. They’re already boarding other zones. I get on the Boeing 717, take seat 19C, an aisle seat on the left. The airplane is packed; a family of five, including three boys under age seven occupy the row ahead of me. Lots of kicking, screaming, and inter-parental drama. Clearly, this is not a flight that caters to business travelers. We take off, climb up to FL340. It’s 2.5 hours to Tampa with light chop for most of the flight. Cabin and flight crews very chatty on the PA; lots of advisories, warnings, welcomes, expressions of gratitude, and stern recriminations to head off unacceptable behavior. No, we shouldn’t activate our personal electronic devices, or get out of our seats unless the captain deems it safe. Yes, we should enjoy our stay in Tampa, and fly AirTran again.
Son asks if I have time for a game of checkers. Why not? He nearly takes me out with a triple jump, but my treachery prevails by 10:15.
Hugs all around. I arrive in my car at FDK at 10:30, drop my bags by the plane and park in the AOPA lot 100 yards away.
Trevor and Brady, the Hawker-Beech crew, arrive at 10:45 and fire up their King Air 90.
We’re off the ground and heading south at 11:02.
Our TAS at 24,000 feet is about 270 knots, but we’ve got a 30-knot headwind for most of the flight. I eat a Snickers bar and drink a bottle of water from the galley. The sky is clear above a low undercast until the Georgia-Florida border. Brady weaves around some heavy rain during the descent, but we break out in time for a landing in VMC on Runway 9 Right. Total flight time: 3 hours 40 minutes. 11:35 a.m.: We arrive in Tampa and stop ten feet short of the gate. More warnings to stay seated or else. Airplane lurches forward the remaining 10 feet, seatbelt sign pings off.
  11:50 a.m.: Finally get off the airplane, head for baggage claim. After 20 minutes the bags appear. Get in line for rental car. Get rental car, hit the road for Lakeland, around 35 miles away.
We unload the plane at the Landmark FBO a quarter mile from the Hilton Garden Hotel where most of the AOPA staff is staying. I gather up a few display items that will go in the AOPA tent and walk to the lobby where I encounter my friend and alter ego, Paul Richfield, who arrived at the hotel at the same time. 2:40 p.m. Arrive at hotel. See Dave Hirschman in the lobby. Mission elapsed time? Seven hours, 53 minutes.