One sure way to know if a show works is to observe vendor participation over a number of years. As this is my 14th year attending the Midwest LSA Expo, I can tell you 2023 represents a strong turnout. Companies come back year after year because it works to connect them with interested customers. Both sides end up with smiles. In this article, I will give you a glimpse of what you can see if you can attend on Friday and Saturday. For those that cannot come, this will provide some taste of what happens in Mount Vernon, Illinois in early September. Hopefully, you can come in 2024. Every image you see below shows that vendors did not just bring one airplane to test the market. In every case, these companies brought two, three, or even four aircraft to show. That’s very rare even at AirVenture or Sun ‘n Fun. What this illustrates is that the Midwest LSA Expo (about an hour’s drive east of St.
Magni USA LLC
Phone: 314-540-0367Ste. Genevieve, MO 63670 - USA
Fly Like An ArrowGetting right to the point, although this rakish design attracted a large video audience over the years, ArrowCopter failed in the marketplace. The company is no more. Why the product failed could hinge on any number of reasons but at least one early video review of ArrowCopter was not very complimentary, faulting both the company organization and its flight qualities. The reviewer liked ArrowCopter's speed, but he did not like the way it behaved at those speeds. Reviews like that can kill a fledgling design. Great detail is unnecessary since you cannot buy a new ArrowCopter and I know of no used ones for sale although at least two were sold into the United States (they appear in pictures). Still, it's worthwhile to look at some of its unique qualities. American gyroplane enthusiasts first saw ArrowCopter back in 2014, only three years after its maiden flight. If you were at Bensen Days that year and admired ArrowCopter, you may be aware you've seen nothing since. ArrowCopter's aerodynamically shaped landing gear strakes provide lift in horizontal flight, claimed some reviewers, and serve as fuel tanks. This design feature is one of several distinctive ideas that ArrowCopter designer Dietmar Fuchs incorporated. As ArrowCopter accelerated down the runway, pilots looked for 60 mph (52 knots) and 340 rotor rpm. At that point ArrowCopter is ready to launch. Climb out occurs at 60 mph while cruise speed is 99 mph (86 knots). ArrowCopter's never-exceed speed was 120 mph (104 knots). Non-gyroplane pilots may not find that particularly fast. Certainly, it is not compared to a fixed-wing, high-powered mLSA aircraft. As gyros go, though, that's fairly quick. It's smooth lines explain much. What you should know is that gyroplanes are some of the best aircraft in recreational aviation at performing well in stronger winds. This is true of all gyroplanes, not only ArrowCopter.
Market ChangesToday, ArrowCopter is gone but others have risen to carry on with striking designs and innovative ideas. Along the way, Rotax has continually raised the power output of its 9-series engines. The Austrian engine giant acknowledged that for several years in the mid- to late-2010s, gyroplane manufacturers were the single biggest segment buyers of 9-series engines. Gyroplanes were hot, hot, hot. Sadly, ArrowCopter missed the chance to grab many sales. Brands like Germany's AutoGyro rose quickly and sold large numbers of aircraft. They steadily refined these and produced several models that remain among the most popular designs on the market. Others like Magnigyro from Italy also flourished and also offered increasingly advanced models. More recently, side-by-side seating has made inroads into what had been exclusively tandem-seating aircraft. It's worth noting here that most of the earlier American gyro models were single place but it was a much earlier time. As the Europeans began selling faster, American producers like SilverLight reintroduced gyroplanes as a Made-in-American product. The Zephyr Hills, Florida manufacturer enjoyed a good early run as its Ranger arrived on the market. SilverLight later added a full enclosure for their model but it remains tandem seating. Side-by-side interactions included the Rotorvox also from Germany. This product somewhat emulated ArrowCopter by being spacious inside. Rotorvox has not made a big impact in the market but it was rather late to the party. As gyroplane sales cooled somewhat weaker producers lost out to the majors. A newer entry but one also full of innovations is the Niki I wrote about recently (link below). So, while our #3 aircraft subject has disappeared from the recreational aircraft scene, the market remains rich with gyroplanes, most of them quite handsome and clever. Now, with Mosaic proposing to finally allow factory-built gyroplanes, we may see a new renaissance in gyroplane adoption. Stay tuned as I work my way through the Top 50 aviation videos of the last decade. Can you guess what's next?
ARTICLE LINKS: With ArrowCopter gone, here are gyroplane producers in business today; list does not include all manufacturers with regrets to any missed products:
- Gyro Technic (single seat), all content on this website
- AutoGyro, Video Pilot Report
- Magnigyro, article on this website
- SilverLight, article on this website
- Rotorvox, article on this website
- Niki, or Niki Gyro, 2 articles on this website
- Hummingbird, article on this website
- Air Command (renewed product), article on this website
- Skyblazer, mention in this article
- Fusioncopter Nano, a Part 103 gyroplane covered in this article
- ELA Eclipse, contact information, plus video
MORE GYRO INFO:
A dozen years ago, fixed wing pilots thought very little about “gyrocopters” — as some people called them. Actually that word is a model name established by Igor Bensen, widely thought of as the father of this activity along with Juan de la Cierva of Spain, known for his pioneering autogyro work. The preferred term these days is “gyroplane.” Names aside, what pilots care about is having fun in the air and being able to afford a flying machine. When an aircraft also looks terrific, heads turn. From eleven years ago comes the #3 in our list of Top 50 Aircraft Videos. More than 450,000 views of this video show broad interest in ArrowCopter, quite the head turner in its day. Gyroplane interest grew quickly after European designers took the lead from American manufacturers. Think back to the days of Ken Brock’s gyro or the former Air Command (now under new management).
But Wait, Here's More…!
"We just completed our wrap up meeting this morning," reported airport manager, Chris. "We celebrated many highs and noted a few lows. There is always room for improvement."
As for metrics, Chris noted, "Visitors from 34 U.S. States attended (map). One gentleman [came] from The Bahamas."
"We parked 107 itinerant aircraft," Chris continued. "We had 30 RV spots (with hook-ups to the power grid). Numerous people (including five at their aircraft) camped in tents. Our on-field restaurant (centrally located in the Koziara Terminal) was busy from dawn to well past dusk all three days."
"The most important metric may be the amount of demo rides given," Chris acknowledged. "I don’t have official records for this, but as one of the primary air traffic safety monitors I can attest several exhibitors were in the air at least six times each day. When the exhibitors are conducting demo flights, the Expo is doing what it is designed/supposed to do. Of course, mother nature has a lot to do with this year’s success as the Expo was blessed with 2.5 days of near perfect flying conditions."
Chris defined a goal: "The core foundational elements will always be unrestricted demo flights and exhibitor/attendee interaction. We always look forward to taking care of all visitors at Midwest LSA Expo. As was done this year, I am sure we will have a few more 'freebies' for everyone in 2023."I again caught up with Chris as he and his wife Tricia were on their way to the Illinois Public Airport Aviation Conference in Galena, Illinois up in the northwest corner of this geographically long U.S. state. "Late this week, I discovered another positive metric about this year’s Expo," reported Chris. "We sold 600 gallons of mogas at Expo 2022. That’s nearly double our normal sales volume. Now, 600 gallons isn’t a large number when it comes to fuel sales at an airport," Chris added (a few private jets can buy that much), "but it is significant when providing 6-8 gallons per fueling." One of the beauties of LSA, Sport Pilot kits, and ultralights is how little fuel they use but that is not a big plus for a major metro airport used to selling thousands of gallons of go-juice per month. Yet Chris and his team act like they're servicing a biz jet with their prompt service by fuel truck to onboard a few gallons per airplane.
Keep 'Em Flying!Another metric came compliments of flight-tracking website, FlightAware.com. "That site recorded nearly 40% increase on their arrival/departures data when compared to 2021," Chris explained. "The weekend after the Expo, a group of us visited Tri-State Kites," said Chris. "We ran into several people from across the country that attended both events. Proprietor Andy Alldredge told me he distributed over 150 business cards to interested people at Midwest!" That might not be a big quantity compared to Oshkosh, but at Midwest, vendors generally speak to pilots that are highly interested. With no airshow or warbirds or movie stars, attendees at Mt. Vernon are interested in the aircraft present. Simply, if they come, they're interested. After our exchange, Chris ended with… "This is so fun!" If you know Chris, you can probably visualize the smile on his face as he said that. It makes me smile, too. See you at Midwest LSA Expo 2023 — the 15th year of the event, when it will tie the Sebring Expo as the longest-running of these sector-specific shows.
Sun ‘n Fun does it. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh did it. Why not the smaller, sector-specific shows? Indeed, why not? I refer to reporting of show statistics when the event concludes. In modern vernacular, these are “metrics.” The likable and longtime manager of the Mt. Vernon, Illinois municipal airport, Chris Collins, has been forwarding some “metrics” from this year’s 14th annual event. Whatever you choose to call the numbers from an event, they provide useful information on how the show performed. One comment measurement is the number of airplanes sold or the quantity of interested pilots who expressed real interest. Trying to get hard information is like nailing Jello to a wall. We get tidbits and potential but hard facts are hard to assemble. A genuinely interested person ready to make a deal could experience problems right after the event. Some (understandably) need to check with their spouse; that sometimes alters a decision.
2020 and Covid Surviving or Thriving?Steve Best summarized, "Registrations grew by about 4% in 2020, down from 10% growth the year before." Many may be surprised. Registrations grew? …in 2020!? Indeed, they did, and that's without counting Part 103 ultralights that do not need to be registered with FAA. We'll have lots more on Part 103s in a couple months (the effort continues to contact all 57 producers currently identified). Other than Part 103 vehicles… "The market splits into three distinct categories," Steve began. He listed: "1️⃣ Zenair/Zenith, which registered* almost twice as many aircraft (86) as anyone else in 2020, followed by 2️⃣ the next four, each with over 40 registrations in 2020, and then 3️⃣ everyone else." Trailing the longtime leader of this segment was Van's and their RV-12 (we do not cover the other models Van's sells), followed by Kitfox, Rans, Sonex, and Just. "The leading registrations were almost all kit-built planes that can be flown by someone with a Sport Pilot certificate or using those privileges with a higher certificate — hence, "Sport Pilot kits." Van's Aircraft's RV-12 can be bought factory-built as an SLSA, but of the 54 RV12s registered in 2020, only 11 were RTFs." Builders completed their kit-built planes at a good pace in 2020. In the chart below, the red line shows factory-built aircraft, SLSAs and ELSAs. The brown line shows kit-built aircraft. Steve observed, "Historically, most of 'my' kind of aircraft have been factory-built but that’s no longer true. Now factory-built and kit-built are on par." Indeed kits have been rising faster since about 2015 — where from 2005 (when the first SLSA were accepted by FAA) through 2014, ready-to-fly aircraft were pulling away. Why is this true? Many reasons might explain but affordability is a key element and, no question about it, investing your labor reduces the cash outlay to have your own airplane. At the same time, the sophistication of Special LSA has risen over the years. Features such as bigger, more powerful engines, autopilot, big fancy panel displays, leather interiors, complex manufacturing with carbon fiber, and the cost of complying with ASTM standards has increased the cost of some SLSA beyond $200,000. At this price point, some readers note a recreational aircraft can cost more than your house (not in California or New England, perhaps, but in many U.S. regions this may be true). "Look at the slope of the lines," Steve advises. "The brown (kit) line is steeper, especially last year. That means two things: First, a lot of people finished their kit planes in 2020 – more than finished them in 2019 (so that’s how they spent their lockdown time). Secondly, people are buying more kits than factory-built aircraft. Of course, there’s a lag in the data*. Some of those 2020 completions represent purchases from years before. Still, the kit segment has overtaken the factory-built segment."
Special and Experimental Light-Sport AircraftAside from fixed-wing Sport Pilot Kits, Italian gyroplane maker Magni more than doubled its registrations. Among ready-to-fly (RTF) models, Scoda's Super Petrel amphibian had a breakout year. Yet all is not well. Icon sunk from 5th place to 15th, with just 13 registrations, down from 42 last year. AutoGyro’s numbers dropped 38%. "The largest gyroplane manufacturer in the world is reportedly undergoing a 'corporate restructuring,' Steve noted. We do not cover the Primary Aircraft category where some AutoGyro models may appear after they spent generously to achieve that certification with FAA. With the coming LSA regulation preparing (we believe) to allow SLSA gyroplanes, the advantage in having Primary Category approval is diminishing. Whatever the explanation, Italy-based Magni surged from well behind the market leader to race ahead in the American gyroplane market for 2020. LSA Seaplanes — a category all its own. Two companies stand out from the rest in 2020. Datastician Steve wrote, "Progressive Aerodyne's SeaRey is the leader among amphibians now that Icon has slipped." This must be particularly delicious for those working at the Tavares, Florida airplane manufacturer. SeaRey existed long before Icon Aircraft. Once solely a kit builder, after adding SLSA models Progressive has steadily marched forward, even during ownership and management changes. Searey's steady performance year in and year out wins the match against A5. These days, the two are priced dramatically differently and Searey remains a great value. Coming in 2021, however, is New Zealand's Vickers Wave that expect first flight this spring. Although presently a kit producer, Aero Adventure will being offering a fully-built model and its price point is sure to attract new buyers for this long-proven design. One statement is true for LSA seaplanes and all other recreational segments: The ease of market entry compared to conventionally-certified "legacy" airplanes is sure to keep developers on their toes, demanding they continually make their aircraft more desirable. Brazil's Scoda Aeronautica's Super Petrel LS has joined the leaders with a breakout year in 2020. See video below.
Alternative Aircraft Trikes/Gyroplanes/Powered ParachutesFixed wing, three axis aircraft have dominated Light-Sport Aircraft since the start. However, what I term "alternative aircraft" (anything not a fixed wing three axis model) have long made up about a quarter of the total and this remains true. In this new year, I suspect we will find that Part 103 ultralights will factor in significantly. Among these lightest powered, wheeled aircraft, fixed wing, three axis will be the lion's share but alternative aircraft represent a percentage you cannot ignore. My expectation is that unit sales of Part 103 fixed wing and alternative models may exceed the total of SLSA/ELSA models sold. They are less costly by a wide margin — in some cases only one-tenth the cost of a deluxe Special LSA. Reviewing the charts and tables accompanying this report, Steve noted, "Except for Magni, gyroplane registrations were down. This hot segment seems to have cooled a bit in 2020." I would add that this could change a lot once the new regulation is announced and ready-to-fly gyroplanes can be sold by any company that earns FAA acceptance via ASTM industry consensus standards. "Trike registrations were flat overall," Steve said. However, he added, "Evolution Trikes had a big comeback in 2020. Interestingly, they registered only one of their high-end Revo trikes. Fortunately, Larry Mednick branched out into the mid-sized RevoLT and the single-seat RevX. The latter is like a high-performance ultralight, so perhaps its numbers are a side-effect of the boom in ultralight sales this year." Evolution also makes a Part 103 model called Rev that also experienced a robust year in 2020, Larry reported. "Powered parachutes (PPCs) recovered from 2019, but Powrachute brand may soon be the only company in the segment," Steve wrote. The Michigan producer — which also manufactures components for Evolution Trikes — nearly doubled its registrations from 2019 to 2020. Six Chuter came back from zero in 2019 but their numbers are small. Some other PPC producers have models that show up nowhere. SkyRunner and it's gnarly, large, and "twin-engined" combo powered parachute and ground vehicle made several sales to the U.S. government and military. These units require no FAA registration so do not appear in our tabulations. No other powered parachute make emerged into the statistics opening the door for new entrants.
• • • • • • •That's our look at affordable aircraft in 2020. Building a kit can be a largely solo activity and sport aircraft are flown solo most of the time. Therefore 2020 was not the horrid year it was for someone working in hospitality, restaurants, gyms, churches, or other "non-essential" activities. If you're one of many who kept flying in 2020, good for you! Enjoy your aerial freedom!
Scoda's Super Petrel is one producer that had a stellar 2020. The following beautifully-done video offers a quick glance at production and shipment of this unusual bi-plane LSA seaplane. https://vimeo.com/440801166
* Registrations are not sales or deliveries. Kit-built aircraft are rarely registered in the same year they were delivered so kit registrations in 2020 may not reflect 2020 sales, which could have been lower or higher. Special and Experimental LSA of any kind are likely to be registered the same year they were manufactured. Over time, registrations and deliveries tend to align.
Everyone knows 2020 was arguably the most unusual year in anyone’s recollection. In such a time of global upheaval, how did the light aircraft industry fare? This report took a bit more time as the effort to begin counting Part 103 ultralights altered our view of the FAA aircraft registration data. Most of you may prefer this simpler report, but the data hounds among readers can drill all the way down to the last aircraft on Tableau Public. As always, my sincerest thanks goes to our premier datastician Steve Beste. His work is the primary resource for this report. While I deeply appreciated the work done for years by former data guy (and personal friend), Jan Fridrich, Steve’s career in databases gave him skills that few others possess. Since he’s also “one of us” — a trike owner and pilot — Steve understands what we hope to achieve better than data experts outside affordable aviation.
Broad View of MarketAs Steve notes from his study of the current data, "Overall, registrations are down 11% year-to-date from what they were at this time a year ago." Total registrations declined rom 387 to 344 aircraft of all types. This still speaks to a year with around 700 aircraft registered. However, Steve further observed, "The decrease is all in ready-to-fly aircraft. Kit registrations have actually increased a bit." He continued, "This data is consistent with a [statement] that says that people [may be] buying fewer new aircraft this year, but kit builders are continuing to work on their projects. Indeed, they're completing slightly more projects than they were last year." Considering recent events, he added, "This is just what you'd expect for a time of economic downturn and quarantines." Looking at the big picture for overall numbers, when comparing the first half of 2020 to the first half of 2019, we see total registrations are down by 11%, almost identical to GAMA's first quarter 2020 figures. Piston GA aircraft deliveries were down 11.7%; their second quarter info should be out before long and we can wonder if they will take a harder turn south. However, an interesting aspect to the story is that kit-built light aircraft registrations are up for 2020, from 207 last year to 217, both representing 6-month totals, an increase of 4.8%. Please remember that registrations — especially for kit-built aircraft — represents completions of kits not sales of kits. The two are displaced by 1-3 years or more of work to take a kit from assembly to flight. The suffering comes as Light-Sport Aircraft kits and fully built models were down from 180 in last year's first half compared to 127 this year, a reduction of 29%.
Most Notable: IconOne well-known company heads our list of most-changed …and unfortunately, not for the best. You guessed it: Icon Aircraft and their handsome, if troubled, A5 LSA seaplane. After two relatively steady years of registering around 50 aircraft a year, enough to rise near the top of the fully-built Special LSA segment, Icon's 2020 registrations plummeted from 44 in 2019 to 6 so far in 2020. Do please remember that these numbers are for the first half of 2020, a very difficult time, and with any luck, the last half of this weird year may improve. As if Icon was not facing strong headwinds, it just got more turbulent as Aero News-Net reported. Original founder and visionary, Kirk Hawkins — described by the company as being "on sabbatical leave" — is suing the Chinese company that is the primary stockholder of the California builder with extensive operations in Mexico. The last Chief Operating Officer has resigned and been replaced by another but the company is struggling to right the ship. Their aircraft is the most expensive, by far, in the LSA industry. They have two large facilities and more than 300 personnel on the payroll (although two thirds are in Mexico where wages are surely much lower than in California). That much overhead and payroll cannot be sustained with a dozen aircraft a year so Icon's new leader certainly has his work cut out for him. As Steve discovered, "Icon registrations have dropped off a cliff, from 44 in 2019 to six so far in 2020." No question this is the biggest change in light aviation prompting Steve to ask, "What is going on there?"
Good News Leaders
Gyroplanes Go "Inside"Combing the database thoroughly, Steve added a closing thought: "Looking elsewhere, I see that among gyroplanes, the enclosed side-by-side models are [now] favored over the tandem and open models, that is, AutoGyro's Cavalon is their top model, as is the M-24 Orion for Magni. Thanks a million to Steve Beste and his efforts to keep us all informed. Please go visit Tableau Public for much more information, which you can shape and change at will — see the blue boxes at the left of your screen, especially the bottom two that may be most helpful, plus the tabs across the top.
Our fastest-with-the-mostest partner tracks the health and performance of the light aircraft industry and is once again punctual. Datastician Steve Beste has proven his capabilities to collect the registration data quickly, accurately, and with an insider’s viewpoint. Steve is a trike pilot, so he is “one of us.” In his former life he was a database expert in the tech field explaining his great facility with these systems. Here we are reporting facts for the period of April, May, and June 2020. Given the spectacular upheaval around the world, I’m happy to see the recreational aircraft industry holding its own fairly well. Reporting for the companies making larger, heavier aircraft, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association also reported sales are down. I cannot imagine anyone is surprised. If I was reporting numbers for the restaurant, bar, hotel, airline, theater, sports, or concert industries it would be an ugly bloodbath. This report is far less glum and beaten-down than those enterprises.
Rotax Meets a Need with 915iSTrue to form as you might expect, Rotax followed through on a question I asked 15 months back. As reported in this review of the 915iS and 912iS the company’s top man strongly hinted at a fixed pitch version of this engine. Thomas Uhr has since moved up higher in the organization but at a journalist event last year, he answered a questions about fixed pitch on the 915 engine. He did not then answer directly but said, "Every engine Rotax has produced has been able to use a fixed pitch prop. Take from that statement what you will." Sure enough, the new powerful engine from the Austrian company will be available for used with fixed or ground adjustable prop by fall of this year. Good on Rotax and the well-spoken Mr. Uhr. Some countries allow constant speed or in-flight adjustable props but not the USA. FAA specified no in-flight adjustment in the current regulation. We believe this will change with the new reg (recent report) but that could be some years in the future. Until then, only fixed pitch can be used on American Light-Sport Aircraft. Rotax is enjoying good success with the 915iS fuel injected, turbocharged, intercooler power plant. More than 400 engines are now flying on aircraft and the number of airframe producers using the new engine continues to grow. More about Rotax success. The 915iS is also an important engine for the larger, up to four seat, aircraft to come in the LSA world as well as on kit-built aircraft and some models preparing for approval under the new version of Part 23 certification (that will use industry consensus standards modeled significantly after the LSA set of standards).
High from Low (wings, that is)Two leading companies exclusively using low wings will be introducing high wing models in the near future. One is a trade secret for now, but another was announced at Oshkosh. What's interesting here is that both companies have exclusively made low wing models in various configuration. Neither has made a high wing. One of these is also planning the new, powerful Rotax 915iS engine (though both producers are using that power plant in one of the low wing models. For more on the entry from South Africa's The Airplane Factory Sling TSi High Wing, see the video below. What's interesting is that this entry offer more seats and more capabilities. For the immediate future, Sling TSi High Wing will have to be kit built but as you read here, FAA will allow four seaters as basic Light-Sport Aircraft. Once again, TAF founder Mike Blythe is ahead of the game. He was the first producer I personally observed getting excited about what he could do with the 141-horsepower Rotax 915iS. Barely a couple years after I saw his mind working, he not only built the low wing Sling TSi but the new model promptly flew around the world, literally. I expect to see a plan for the high wing TSi to also make the globe-girdling flight.
LAMA’s Dual AwardFor only the second time, the association awarded two persons their highest honor, the Presidents Award for Outstanding Individual. A few years ago, a rare tie produced a dual award. This year, voting for the 28th year of the LAMA award, resulted in another dual award. Hundreds of members of the business community for light aircraft offered nominations. The person with the most such wins; it's a very simple system to recognize hardworking, creative people who helped move light aviation forward. One of this years winners was Kerry Ritcher. With his father, Wayne, Kerry founded three aviation companies. He started manufacturing aircraft in 1977 and his enterprises have produced a total of more than 3,000 aircraft, continuing to the present. His best known design is the SeaRey from Progressive Aerodyne based in Tavares, Florida. A Private Pilot with over 12,000 hours, Kerry has designed a dozen varied aircraft including Hi-Nuski; Cobra; King Cobra; Sea Wolf; Carrera; Carrera 180; Buccaneer SX; Catalina; Colibri; SeaRey; Stingray; and, SeaRey LSX/LS. The latter are in active production by the company he founded. The second awardee is also a LAMA board of directors member. Scott Severen started flying hang gliders in 1973 and has since been active in several aviation enterprises. He also assisted many organizations supporting light aviation including the U.S. Ultralight Association; the Airpark Owners and Operators Association; the EAA Ultralight & Light-Sport Aircraft Council, and the LAMA board. In 2004, Scott joined IndUS Aviation, and was instrumental in the effort to be the first American designed aircraft to earn SLSA certification. Severen presently owns and operates US Sport Planes, involved in LSA sales, brokerage, factory authorized maintenance and major structural repairs in Denton, Texas. In 2018, he took over as the North American representative for the Jabiru line of Light-Sport Aircraft. Scott is a private pilot and has accumulated over 2,000 hours in numerous types of aircraft.
Part 103 Success StoryMore than one fixed wing producer of conforming Part 103 aircraft expressed strong, continuing interest in these lightest flyers. Kolb and U-fly-It are both so busy building their 103 models that they are not focused on two seaters. Aerolite does not have a two-seat model and no plans for one. Kolb has the Mark III but the action is in their Part 103 models, said Kolb boss, Bryan Melborn. The good news continues… The arrival of Badland's Part 103 entry F-series in five variations adds to such popular choices as Kolb's Firefly, U-Fly-It's Aerolite 103, Just's True 103 (still in development), models from Team Aircraft and Fisher Flying Products. This listing of Part 103 prospects is not meant to be exhaustive and leaves out players like Evolution's Rev trike or Infinity's Challenger 103 powered parachute plus others. The point being, Part 103 appears not only to be surviving but thriving! Oshkosh even had an entrepreneur that has organized to provide support to Canada's Lazair. Watch for a video on this interesting development and see the nearby image if you are not familiar with this once-popular ultralight aircraft. Especially while most LSA run well into six figures, Part 103 pilots enjoy the greatest freedom in aviation. The simple rule has been unchanged since 1982 and allows flight in an ultralight vechile without a pilot certificate, N-numbers, or aviation medical. A producer can sell you a ready to fly model without getting FAA approval. As with LSA, ultralights overcame early issues to become solid members of the aviation fleet. Other countries have similar regulations.
Coolest Rig Seen At OshkoshIf you’re a good, red-blooded American pilot, I don’t see how you could not love this setup. Your luxurious motor home towing your Corvette and your Aerotrek A240 in a custom-built trailer that you can handle by yourself. I hope I didn’t drool on it as I looked it over. Built for recreation, this highly-customized trailer is towed behind the owner’s motorhome. It can hold his Aerotrek A240, requiring the tricycle gear model so as to fit the owners Corvette underneath. A clever system of ramps and winches allows him to load the aircraft and the car with no assistance. Both sides also open up to make it easier to stow the airplane ramps once the aircraft is secured and to allow proper tie-down of the Corvette. As a former Corvette owner, a former motorhome owner, and a lover of the Aerotrek aircraft, this setup looked to be about as close to aviation heaven as mere mortals can get. So, this apparatus gets my award for the Coolest Rig seen at the show.
Watch here as The Airplane Factory founder, Mike Blythe introduces the Sling TSi High Wing…https://youtu.be/I9I7_ZBUDC4
* The number 642,000 introduces different counting methods. I understand this number to mean the number of people passing through the gates, however, one person entering for several days is counted each day. Taken to task a few years ago, Sun 'n Fun now reportedly counts discreet individuals so the Florida show seems to have smaller numbers. Oshkosh is clearly a good deal larger but not as much as their reported numbers make it appear. Either counting method can be defended but this is comparing apples to oranges. And whatever the numbers, our glimpses of Oshkosh while zipping around doing videos and gathering story material strongly suggested great attendance in 2019.
The weeklong celebration of flight known around the planet as “Oshkosh” is now history. Although EAA was challenged by inclement weather before the show and as it opened, the weather gods smiled on the event and provided a wonderful week with all the action you can imagine. EAA announced attendance numbers identifying solid growth over last year, to 642,000 attendees*. That’s a ways from the 800,000 back a couple decades but is solid growth from recent years. Especially as EAA had to work hard to overcome weather issues before the event, the organization is to be commended for handling a huge number of details with professionalism. The week of Oshkosh brought outstanding weather and only brief periods of rain. Those of us from hot states enjoyed the mild temperatures and beautiful cloud-dappled blue skies (photos). So, after getting back in the saddle after an intense week, here are a few stories of interest.
M24 OrionItalian company Magni Gyro calls their M24 Orion model an "enclosed side-by-side two-seat factory built gyroplane." Currently in the USA, all models of Magni gyroplanes must be built as kits but until the new regulation arrives, dealers in the USA are prepared to assist this relatively modest effort. Orion is structurally based on a "chrome-alloy aeronautical 4130 steel that is TIG welded," said Magni. The fully enclosed model has a carbon fiber fuselage, undercarriage, wheel pants, and rudder. Integral fuel tank manufactured in epoxy resin reinforced with fiberglass hold 21.5 gallons, a fuel capacity that allows flights of up to four hours at a cruise speed of 75 to 95 mph. In this article you can read about a flight from Texas to Cuba by a pair of Magni gyros, proving the range capability of these flying machines. Power on M24 Orion comes from a turbo Rotax 914 providing 115 horsepower from the four cylinder, four stroke, water-cooled engine fitted with a mechanical rotor blade pre-rotator. Orion's three-blade carbon fibre propeller can be optimized by ground adjustable pitch. Magnin goes beyond some gyro producers — the company makes its own 28-foot diameter, two-bladed rotor from composite materials. Orion's instrument panel is equipped with rotor revolution counter, altimeter, air-speed indicator, vertical compass, a digital engine monitoring system, and fuel level gauge. Additional, optional instrumentation can be added as desired. For controls, Orion offers full dual joystick and pedals for each occupant. Standard equipment includes electric trim. M24 Orion is attractive and roomy inside. For carriage, Orion is equipped with three easily-accessed baggage compartments. Its cabin heating system combined with full enclosure allows M24 to remain comfortable even on cold winter days. From either seat the view is enormous, a key benefit of gyroplanes without nearby wing structure to block your view. Orion would definitely be more comfortable for long flights or in chilly weather but the open cockpit M16 Trainer or M22 Voyager models deliver an even more expansive view. Combined with a gyroplane's unique handling and performance, these machines make wonderful viewing platforms.
Magni's "Plus" SeriesIn the last year, Magni Gyro introduced use of the new Rotax 915iS turbocharged 141 horsepower, fuel injection-powered engine. Models with the most powerful Rotax yet are designated by the suffix, "Plus." "An innovative and avant-garde choice," Magni said, "[915iS] brings to the whole range a considerable increase in cruising and climbing performance, with fuel consumption comparable to the Rotax 914." One of Magni's American customers, identified only as M.B., wrote the company to say, “As the proud owner of the first Magni M16 Plus in the USA, I can tell you the performance is like none other. Takeoff, climb and speed performance exceeded my expectations. This gyroplane has incredible power reserve, more than enough for every aspect of flight. Takeoffs are breathtaking, cruise is smooth and landings are gentle. The Magni M16 Plus is an incredible flying machine!” One final comment of worthy note: In late 2016, the Magni Gyro factory in Besnate, Italy produced the company’s 1,000th gyroplane. See lots of video experiences in Magni gyros at this link. — Come along for a flight as we perform a Video Pilot Report in an M16 Magni gyroplane with representative and expert gyro pilot, Greg Gremminger. You will clearly see a series of interesting in-flight maneuvers. https://youtu.be/dOcua9uyFfo
For more than 15 years one class of Light-Sport Aircraft has been held down in America even while it has been burgeoning in other parts of the world. The class is LSA gyroplanes, for a decade and half prevented from selling a fully-built model in the USA. How well is the category doing in other parts of the world? The answer draws on reports from dominant engine producer, Rotax Aircraft Engines, which has reported for years that the class of aircraft buying the most engines has been gyroplanes. Considering the many fixed wing designs also use that engine brand, Rotax’s statement carries tremendous weight. The story about why gyroplanes were denied the full privileges of Special LSA — and therefore have to be built as Experimental Amateur Built (EAB) kits in America — is a long, sad story …but it is one that appears to be ending, thank goodness! As described in this recent article about FAA’s plans for revised regulation of LSA (as well as other non-LSA segments), the leash around the neck of gyroplane producers is set for release.
Welcoming Steve Beste"I'm a retired computer guy and trike pilot who loves databases," Steve told me. He used his special set of skills to download FAA's aircraft registration database to compile statistics on gyroplane registrations, focused on the new European-style gyroplanes. As you can see, AutoGyro is the clear market leader at 52% with 163 aircraft of 312 gyroplanes registered with FAA. The German builder is trailed by Magni in the #2 slot at 18% with 56 registrations. A new American manufacturer, SilverLight Aviation, has quickly tied Spanish producer ELA for third at 8% with 26 aircraft registered for each. After that it trails off more quickly as Steve's chart shows. More details about other brands will be chronicled in an article to follow. For 2018 through July 23rd, Magni shows its strength by slightly beating AutoGyro U.S. registrations. As always, note that confirmed sales and registrations may not match precisely. In addition, much more of 2018 remains. In slightly more than half a year, gyroplanes registered 58 aircraft putting them on track to exceed 100 for the year. To offer perspective, this figure is approaching half as many as SLSA fixed wing registrations in recent full years. So far this year, Magni has 15 registrations to AutoGyro's 14 for 26% and 24% shares totaling half of total U.S. gyroplane registrations. SilverLight has registered 8 aircraft in 2018 for a 14% yearly share of 2018 to date. A less well recognized U.S. producer, Tango, is having a respectable year, with 9 registrations accounting for 16% in 2018 so far. Tango is trailed by ELA with 6 registrations (10%), Australia's Titanium and Italy's Brako tied at 3 for 5% each. One interesting point: only Tango and Brako offer a single place gyroplane; all others are two place machines.
Much More Data to Follow!Steve Beste and I have been discussing him providing database research to allow this website to continue providing LSA Market Share Info. Many visitors have written to ask; indeed, we are way behind on this effort. The delay is ending. After Steve gets time to study the previous work and methods, he has proposed some wonderful improvements. About the special skills he can offer, Steve wrote, "I'm a retired computer guy and trike pilot who loves databases." Well, that certainly sounds perfect to me. "I'm also the president of Flying Club 1, which was the original USUA Chapter 1," Steve added. "Regarding the FAA database, I'd very much like to reach beyond just [fixed wing] airplanes, partly because I'm a trike pilot, myself. I think that's entirely possible." Given this background, his obvious enthusiasm for this work, and the keen interest of many in light aviation, I am exceedingly pleased to welcome Steve to this website. "[However, FAA's] data is not clean," Steve observed. I am well aware of this problem. Uncertainty about data accuracy of "alternative" LSA is why we have reported fixed wing Special LSA, only offering guesses for weight shift trikes, powered parachutes, gyroplanes, motorgliders, and more. However, we hope that will now change and our market share reporting will be more inclusive. Hurray! Problems in FAA's database is not caused by incompetent clerks. Agency personnel must sort through inconsistently-reported aircraft. If, as Steve pointed out in one example, the registered name of the aircraft is slightly different, it won't show up on a casual investigation. He added, "There's no end of that kind of thing …just so we know the limitations on this exercise. But with that understanding, I love this kind of thing, I have the skills to do it, and would be honored to support your good work for the sport." All such reporting will be available on the home page when fresh and catalogued on its own space found by this link. Wonderful, simply wonderful! Please welcome Steve Beste as a new contributor to ByDanJohnson.com!
UPDATE September 26, 2018 — In the article above, I inadvertently suggested SilverLight and their American Ranger gyroplane was the first or only U.S. producer of such aircraft. That is not what I intended but some readers viewed it that way. Allow me to bring your attention to two other producers.
Sport Copter & Rotor Flight DynamicsBased in Oregon, Sport Copter is a long established, second-generation family business started in 1958. Chuck Vanek was one of the early pioneers of gyroplane design and development beginning his work in 1957. Chuck's son Jim Vanek took over the business and revamped the Vancraft designs. He said his "award-winning, world’s-first, two-place gyroplane took the prestigious Charles Lindbergh award at the Oshkosh airshow in 1985." The company also reports his Sport Copter II design was voted as one of the Top Ten Best Designs at AirVenture in 2011. An airshow performer, Jim said he wrote the parameters and guidelines for gyroplane looping for the FAA in 1998 after performing the world’s first loop in a conventional gyroplane, in 1997. The company's website reports, "He is the only gyro pilot in the world that holds an International Council of Air Shows card for gyroplane looping and rolling." Don't even think about trying this yourself, however. Rotor Flight Dynamics, founded and run by Ernie Boyette, produces a two place and single variations of their Dominator line. Sold as kit aircraft, the two-place model can be powered by Hirth four-cylinder engines, Subaru/AutoFlight EA-81, or the 115-horsepower Rotax 914 Turbo. The company said, "We offer 22 thru 28 foot rotor blades of our own design with a lift capability from ultralight thru 1,200 pounds gross weight." They added, "We are the only manufacturer that test flies all blade sets prior to shipping." For export, Rotor Flight will fully build their aircraft but in the USA, FAA will only permit them to deliver kits, the same as all gyroplane producers. As with all the modern gyroplanes, Rotor Flight uses a substantial tailplane. "The Dominator [series of one and two-place machines] incorporate the Tall Tail design for stability." Asked how their product differs, the company's website states, "What makes the Dominator so unique is its high profile design. It sits up very high off the ground."
Updated September 26, 2018 — This article has been updated to include more producers. See at bottom. —DJ Over many years, you have found LSA market share information on this website. Many have found this of interest …from businesses learning more about their market; to customers doing careful investigation before paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new aircraft; to government fulfilling its task of regulating industry; to insurance companies assessing risk of providing their product; and many other actors in the blockbuster movie that is light, recreational aviation. I will have more to say about the broader LSA market share reports below but now I want to present the best information I have seen for Light-Sport Aircraft Gyroplanes. …uh, except for one problem. No such aircraft category exists, SLSA gyroplanes, that is. FAA has denied fully-built Special LSA status to rotary winged aircraft such as gyroplanes.
More Video Pilot ReportsAlthough weather all around Mt. Vernon foiled the arrival of several paid vendors, the airport itself has been flyable nearly all of both days so far. Saturday, the 8th is the third and concluding day. Vendors in attendance logged steady demo flights to prospective customers. I've written that Midwest LSA Expo is our very best location to do Video Pilot Reports (VPRs) and the same applies to getting a demo flight before you complete an order for a new aircraft. The show and Mt. Vernon airport are extremely good at providing this opportunity. I'll present reports ASAP but time is precious, so I'll just say now that we've now logged four VPRs. On opening day we did the Aeroprakt A32 Vixxen and Rans Aircraft's S-21 Outbound. Today, we captured the AeroEast Discovery 600 and a 914-powered Magni M-16 Gyroplane. Tomorrow, we hope to repeat. It takes a few hours to mount all the cameras, do a series of recorded landings and fly-bys, go evaluate the aircraft for an hour or so, and then record a video recap of the flight and the aircraft. Getting two of these done is an honest day's work. (…then the editing starts — many more hours). At dinner tonight we discussed the 10th year of Midwest LSA Expo with airport manager and Expo leader, Chris Collins. While he's frustrated about the weather east and west Mt. Vernon and those who could not fly in because of it, those that did display gave a steady stream of demo flights and we captured video we hope you will like. I'm calling it a winner. Keep watching Videoman Dave's You Tube channel as these VPRs are uploaded for your viewing entertainment and education.
More Images of the SW21 Jet DedicationAirport manager Chris Collins forwarded more photos of the ceremony dedicating the SW21 Jet to the Mt. Vernon airport. Of the one with Jon Hansen reverently touching the main support for the aircraft he donated to the airport, Chris said, "I love this shot!"
Mayor SpeaksIn the second Mt. Vernon Mayor John Lewis makes a few remarks while brothers Jon and Ron Hansen wear their trademark broad smiles. In the lower image, Chris identified all the parties that helped make this unusual light aircraft display possible.
Display CrewStanding left to right are: Fabricators Addison and Brad Sharp, Airport Board Vice Chairman Mike Ancona, Airport Administrative Assistant Sheila Jolly-Scrivner, Ron Hansen, Jon Hansen, Airport Board Treasurer Eddie Lee, Airport Board Chairman Gary Chesney, City Manager Mary Ellen Bechtel, Assistant City Manager Nathan McKenna, and Mayor John Lewis. Chris Collins is seated in front.
This article was updated with additional photos; see at bottom. Midwest LSA Expo held a special ceremony to honor two men in their donation of a beautiful LSA-like aircraft now permanently displayed on an striking pedestal near the airport entrance. Lots of airports have military aircraft mounted on pedestals. Even AirVenture, base of the homebuilders, has military fighters on raised displays — including the famous “jet-on-a-stick” near the show entrance. These displays honor a warbird heritage but those aircraft aren’t what most members fly. Enter Light-Sport Aircraft. While some have gotten deluxe far beyond the original concept — with prices to match — many affordable aircraft still make up the category of Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralight aircraft. These aircraft are what “real” people fly. Midwest LSA Expo has now reached its 10th birthday, staying focused on showcasing this sector of aircraft. So, perhaps it is fitting that today they had a ceremony honoring a donation of a futuristic jet LSA design (technically “LSA-like”).
Rights of PassageAlthough governments have eased the permissions required, the task is still rather daunting. John enlisted the aid of AirRally.com, a Canadian company that handled the effort of assuring the right steps were taken. The group had a tight schedule. Their special visas required they fly over on May 19th with mandatory return on the 22nd. Those were the assigned travel days and weather could not be an excuse for delays. “We flew at 85 knots but fought a 30-knot headwind,” recalled John Craparo. The 100 nautical mile trip plus maneuvering for traffic would consume more than two hours and the majority of their fuel supply. Therefore obtaining fuel in Cuba was a must. “We wondered if 100LL fuel or any alternative was available as, unlike the fixed wing airplanes, we lacked sufficient fuel to make the round trip.” John and the gyro team discussed the task beforehand and elected to go. Yet they didn’t know about the headwind or the air traffic control experience when they made this decision. The straight line distance was only about 100 nautical miles but with ATC vectoring, it was closer to 130 nautical. “We were told we had to cross the ADIZ by 10 AM or turn around and go back,” John noted, adding another pressure point to the plan. Crossing that much water is a serious matter. They prepared. Each aircraft had two GPS units, dual radios. life vests, personal locators, Spot trackers, flare guns, and even a knife to attempt fending off any sharks or other predators. Gyroplanes are not designed to carry a lot of baggage, so after the safety gear, “we packed very light,” explained John. “We had two pairs of underwear, socks, and shorts. We planned to do laundry on the island.”
Arriving Over CubaOther than the headwind, the crossing was uneventful, but remember, the controllers had never handled a VFR flight so vectoring and being directed into clouds resulted. “We had five or 10 minutes of uncertainty with ATC after advising them we could not do IFR flight,” John clarified. Like controllers around the world, the Cubans spoke English but the pair of gyroplanes had to work things out in the air. John’s Magni got on the ground first and successfully, but after waiting anxiously, still had no word about the other M16 gyroplane. “They had been put in a holding pattern and were ignored for a time,” related John. It was only minutes but, given the situation, seemed like hours. After pleading their fuel predicament to Cuban controllers, they were finally given clearance to land. “When the second gyroplane shut down, 1.5 gallons — 15 to 20 minutes‘ worth — of fuel remained, exclaimed John! John recorded his time from engine start in Marathon, Florida to shutdown in Havana at 2.5 hours. To compare, with calm winds on the return to America, the flight was only 1.5 hours. These Rotax engines burn between four to six gallons per hour depending on the power setting, so two and half hours equates to 12-15 gallons used. With 19 total on board, a return flight was not possible. The second gyro, delayed longer by Cuban ATC, consumed more of their supply. Being safe on the ground is good but clearly the gyro team needed to negotiate some fuel and only Jet A was commonly supplied on the airport. After lengthy discussions — including the possibility of siphoning fuel from one or more of the GA airplanes who were not fuel challenged — a solution was found with help from the AirRally people. A fuel truck was procured and the gyroplanes were fueled with what was described as 100 octane fuel at a modest price. “All things considered it seemed a good value,” John said. Payment had to be in cash; credit cards are not used in Cuba. John and partners were prepared, thanks to their own study and advice from AirRally.com. “We ran the engines for a time after uploading the fuel,” John indicated, but the fuel turned out to be good and the flight home went without incident. The experience in Cuba was excellent and interesting, according to the flight of seven. Friendship 4 will no doubt replay the trip in their minds for years to come, especially the rather tense arrival. "Thanks to everyone who cheered us on," finished John.
This article has been modified since originally posted. —DJ These days you can go to Cuba. You can even fly to the island nation. Yet one thing no one has been doing… is flying VFR to Cuba. According to John Craparo, this was the first time in at least 60 years. They were also the first-ever gyroplanes to arrive in Havana. John was joined by his three gyro friends — Dayton Dabbs, Mike Baker, and Jonathan Prickett — in a pair of Magni Gyro tandem two seaters, both M16 models. The gyroplanes were accompanied by two SportCruiser LSA, a pair of Bonanzas, and a Cirrus SR20. For the faster, fixed wing aircraft the 100-mile crossing was not a major challenge. However, any water crossing where you fly out of sight of land in a single engine airplane will earn your rapt attention. It was a bigger deal yet to cross an expanse of ocean in open cockpit gyroplanes flying less than 100 miles an hour with 19 gallons of fuel on board.