Archive for June, 2008

Light sports more than hold their own

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

In the past the AOPA ramp was dominated by the big players, the major manufacturers, during the annual June AOPA Fly-In. But today is different, and light sport aircraft manufacturers and flight schools are all over the very crowded ramp. Chesapeake Sport Pilot is a light sport flying school and rental business at Bay Bridge Airport across the Bay Bridge from Annapolis, Md. They had six light sport airplanes in their inventory today, but tomorrow, make that seven. They are getting a new Tecnam model to join several models in the fleet and already have some Sky Arrow aircraft. They have 55 students and 40 renters and are nice people to do business with if you live in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Annapolis area. Remos is here along with Fantasy Air, Jabiru, the Zodiac CH601, and Flight Design that makes the CT, the German-based best-selling light sport aircraft in the United States. That’s not to say they overshadow the big companies. Piper is here in force with a 6X and a Malibu Matrix. Cessna has several of its most popular GA models here and lots of representatives to handle the crowd. And Beechcraft has a Baron G58, a Bonanza A36 like the one AOPA owns except it is decades newer, and a King Air C90 GTi. Companies on the move include Liberty with an XL2 on the AOPA ramp and Quartz Mountain Aerospace with a QMA 11E (think Luscombe with a nosewheel). The gang’s all here–with important new members.

Sales are hot on the ramp

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Sorry for the continued reference to heat, but it’s hot in Frederick, Md., today, the day of the AOPA Fly-In. Maybe that is why there are actual sales taking place right at the show. People are making quick purchases to get out of the heat. If you are reading this after visiting AOPA today, do you remember the decked-out Diamond DA-40 XLS with synthetic vision? It’s sold, the one that burns only 9.5 gallons per hour yet goes 145-150 knots true airspeed. It was sold at the show but the dealer said it was sort of set up in advance. Two nice gentlemen who met on a Diamond Web site designed to bring group owners together just purchased the aircraft you drooled over for $363,193. Although theirs is a two-owner partnership, is designed to bring three owners together. Each (in a three-way deal) will pay $25,000 to $30,000, and each will then have an $800 per month payment and a new airplane. If that isn’t enough (do I sound like a salesman?) Diamond feels your financial pain and offers help with the first year of ownership. That is to say, if you are one of the next 30 Diamond customers, you’ll get $3,500 towards insurance the first year of ownership, free oil changes and a free annual inspection, $5,000 towards fuel, and $2,000 towards training. That’s only for the first year and only for 30 aircraft. Miss either one of those targets and you’ll miss out on the one-year-ownership-free (well, almost, you still have to hangar it, don’t you?). There. Hot news from a hot ramp, but I already covered the hot part.

Jet-A and Sales

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

The buzz on the turbine airplane static display sites is all about fuel prices. Are skyrocketing fuel prices affecting sales? You bet, says a Socata official standing by a TBM 850. “This burns 60 gph in cruise,” he said. “We’ve heard about a lot of Cessna Mustang buyers selling their delivery positions. We don’t have that problem … yes, the customer for a $3 million airplane isn’t as affected by fuel price escalations, but that may be changing. We’re seeing more prospects coming from light jets that burn 110 or more gallons per hour.”

At the Eclipse static display, representatives were also singing their product’s praises. “The Eclipse burns a lot less fuel than a Citation II, for example. A lot of people seriously interested in the Eclipse are downsizing. They’re retired, maybe have second homes, and don’t have to carry their kids and a lot of baggage around. So they don’t want a bigger cabin. They figure, ‘why should I pay for the hefty fuel burn when I fly a big, empty airplane around?’

Speaking of fuel issues, another one is beginning to crop up as the temperatures now reach the mid-nineties. Fuel is expanding in the tanks, causing fuel vents to drip raw gas on the ramp. Ah, summer in the mid-Atlantic.

Thielerts on tenuous flight status

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is on the AOPA ramp today with a Diamond DA-42 Diamond Twin Star powered by two Thielert diesel engines. The school has nine of them flying 16 hours a day each, and if you know the background on Thielert, you know the engine company is in bankruptcy in Germany. Diamond is hoping to certify its own diesel engine in Europe in two weeks, but it will take much longer for certification in the United States. Will Diamond end up buying Thielert? Don’t know, but that’s the rumor from the super-hot ramp at AOPA headquarters. You know how the heat can make people talk. There’s a plan, however, if diesel engine problems continue. Embry-Riddle has 10 Piper Seminoles scattered about the country, and they can all be called back to the flightline if necessary.

Gossip from the AOPA Fly-In

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

There’s news on the AOPA ramp today during the Fly-In, but what you really want is gossip. I have it for you. Item one: lawsuits. Sometimes they can be helpful, like when AOPA files one, and sometimes they are nuisances, like when they block general aviation activities. The LoPresti Fury folks had hoped, and still hope, to build the Fury in Belen (not Berlin), New Mexico. But a Berlin citizen, a fine one I am sure, didn’t like the idea of constructing a new runway that had nothing to do with the factory. His lawsuit blocks all construction, including the LoPresti Fury factory. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has at least two other cities, maybe three, that are willing to benefit from the economic stimulus an aircraft factory can bring, if the fine citizen of Belen (not Berlin) is successful in his so far year-long quest to stop progress at the airport. But this is a rant, and I’m not through. Item two: Want to know why Cessna so quickly changed the name Columbia to the Cessna 350 and the Cessna 400? There was on ongoing dispute over the name “Columbia” when Cessna bought the factory. That’s why priority number one was to eradicate everything with the name Columbia on it, where possible, so that there would be no further reason to associate the company with Columbia now that it is under Cessna’s leadership. There’s a Cessna (not a Columbia) on our ramp today that will indicate 150 knots at 25,000 feet, but will actually deliver a true airspeed of 235 knots. It’s priced at $620,000.

AOPA Fly-In is for kids!

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Seeing an airplane 35,000 feet above you is one thing. Getting a chance to climb inside a cockpit and see everything up close is a whole lot better. And the smallest visitors to AOPA’s eighteenth annual Fly-In and Open House are getting plenty of opportunities to climb into airplanes big and small, crawl under the wings, or fly a foam bird of their own.

This year’s Fly-In is introducing kids to a sky full of aviation. Not only can they see GA airplanes of every shape and size at our static display, but they can also check out gleaming model radio-controlled airplanes, see exactly how wide the wingspan of a glider is, and climb into the front seat of a weight-shift-control trike. Many of the kids who stopped by to check out the trikes on display stayed to meet Kiwi. She’s the 3-year-old parrot that belongs to Terri Sipantzi of Precision Windsports. She rode on Sipantzi’s shoulder as he explained the nuances of weight-shift-control aircraft to a fixed-wing pilot. “She enjoys the activity,” he said.

But speed is still an eye-catcher for many. Nine-year-old Cole Gibson, visiting Fly-in with his dad, Duane, and his younger brother, Owen, said he liked the Eclipse 400 best. “We saw that fly at Oshkosh last year,” Duane Gibson, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, said of Eclipse Aviation’s single-engine jet.

The Tower’s-eye View

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

“Aircraft leaving Runway 30, turn left on taxiway Delta, and follow the marshallers to parking.”

That’s perhaps the most common type of radio call I made during the the AOPA Fly-In. My duty was to serve in the ground control tower cab from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. This cab has some history to it. During World War II, when the Frederick airport was a military training field, the cab really was a control tower. Now it sits atop a squat building that houses the airport restaurant–the Airway Cafe.

I showed up a 7 sharp, and it was low IFR–200 feet vertical visibility, and the AWOS was broadcasting visibilities of 1/4 mile in fog. So my equipment–a VHF air band transceiver (for talking to arrivals), a Nextel phone (for calling the temporary FAA control tower across the field), and a portable transceiver (for talking to other AOPA staffers)–was pretty silent. There were two missed approaches, however. By 8:30 a.m. the fog burned off, and it was show time!

You get a real insight into the world of air traffic control doing this job. Incoming pilots call me up after leaving the runway, then I give them directions. Twins park at the ends of the hangars, Mooneys park in front of the Frederick Flight Center ramp, all turbine aircraft park on the Landmark ramp, and the rest park on the grass. Even though it’s fairly tame up in the cab, there’s no denying a touch of nervousness when each airplane calls you up. Working with me was Toni Mensching and John Collins from AOPA’s member services division.

I only screwed up once, and I think I got away with it without there being a federal case. I sent a display airplane–a Diamond TwinStar–to a visitor parking area. Realizing my mistake, I had him do a 180, and he followed a golf cart to his site.

Some times it got confusing. Marshallers also have transceivers, so sometimes they jump on ground control duty too. Other times incoming airplanes simply wouldn’t call up at all! Which is OK, as long as they spot the marshallers and follow directions to parking. You see a lot of pilots not wanting to taxi on the grass, but they shouldn’t worry. AOPA has checked out the grass areas and the surfaces are pretty bump-free. Low-slung airplanes–like Mooneys–get their own, well-rolled and maintained grass parking so they don’t have to fret about prop strikes.

In all, I worked about 20 airplanes. By the end of my tour temperatures were heading for the 90s, and more and more airplanes were on approaches to runways 30 and 23. Time to leave the relative cool and breezy tower cab and cruise the displays!

What’s Hot at AOPA Fly-In (Everything, Everyone)

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

With temperatures forecast to touch 100 degrees in Frederick today, AOPA Fly-In visitors seemed prepared.

The smell of SPF-50 wafted by as crowds dressed in sun hats, shades, and shorts started to arrive about 7:30 a.m.

A few early aircraft arrivals were stymied by low clouds and fog. The visibility at 7:30 a.m. was about a quarter-mile, and ceilings were down to 200 feet. I heard at least two single-engine piston planes attempt the ILS approach to Runway 23 and execute the missed approach. (OK, maybe it was the same plane twice.)

But the clouds parted by 8:30 a.m. and the forecast was VFR, but hot and hazy throughout the rest of the day.

My first assignment was dolling up the Sweepstakes Archer–and N208GG was getting plenty of attention.

AOPA members were full of questions about “their” airplane. The most common inquiries are:

1) Why black seats? (Because they look great.)

2) What are those sharp things on the leading edge? (Vortex generators.)

3) Do they work? (Yes. Stall speed is reduced about 4 kts.)

4) How do you like the Aspen Avionics PFD? (We love it.)

5) Do you have to get special training or a sign-off to fly with the PFD? (No.)

6) When can I pick it up? (January–and we’ll deliver it to you!)

Early arrival

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

AOPA staff member Brent Hart parks a Cessna 182 that was among the early arrivals to the AOPA Fly-In. Fog limited arrivals to IFR traffic.

Cirrus’ new panel

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Among the airplanes on display at the AOPA Fly-In is this Cirrus SR22 GTS with Cirrus’ optional Perspective avionics suite by Garmin. Editor in Chief Tom Haines explores the Cirrus Perspective in the July issue of AOPA Pilot, currently at the printer–look for it in your mailbox soon.