My moment of truth is fast approaching. Will I succeed or fail to predict the future? I have been repeating my forecast that FAA will announce a draft of their newest regulation, called an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) at EAA’s big summer celebration of flight. I’m not betting the farm, though. I think it’s a fairly safe prediction. To win an increase in their budget a few years back, FAA agreed to complete a new regulation by December 31, 2023. That new reg is widely known as Mosaic; its full name is Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certification. Because FAA has said the agency needs 16 months to read every comment and adjust the final regulation language accordingly, seeing the future is simple math. Go back in time 16 months from the end-of-year deadline in 2023 and you end up at… yep! — AirVenture Oshkosh 2022. We will see if they meet their goal.
Phone: 425-527-9944Woodinville, WA 98072 - USA
AirVenture Day 2: LSA Sales Backlogged • Fun Fly Zone Relocation
Sales Running StrongPerhaps it's because Americans have been saving at a far-higher-than-usual pace in 2020 and into 2021. Perhaps it's what happens after eighteen sluggish months dominated by virus talk. Perhaps the industry has matured to such a state that more pilots have faith in the products; the LSA safety record has been "acceptable," FAA has often stated. Maybe it's simply a statement that it feels good to be getting back to normal. While EAA has signs at entry points recommending (but not mandating) face masks for unvaccinated visitors, few wore them, less than 5% use, I'd estimate. Of course, we are mostly outside, in the sunshine, with a breeze blowing. Everyone I've met outwardly celebrates a "normal" feel to the airshow. …and it's busy. I will not be surprised to hear some record numbers; fly-in airplane parking is close to using every available space. Whatever the explanations and many more are possible, it appears at least the larger, stronger Light-Sport Aircraft manufacturers are experiencing solid business. Several told me so straightforwardly. Some companies are taking orders for delivery well into 2022 — and this is not because they can't get enough computer chips (like the auto industry) or other supplies. They have enough orders in hand to cause this situation. ICON — Once-closely-watched Icon Aircraft is back at AirVenture with a large, impressive display — though far more conservative than a few years back and not right on the main walkway as they previously were. After a difficult company reorganization and subsequent personnel turnover, the company has added new staff, drawing experience from other manufacturers to rebuild their approach. Icon arrived on the scene with such gusto that they raised expectations to the moon. That's a high bar. When manufacturing costs proved higher than first expected, prices rose sharply to levels not seen among LSA. More recently, other brands have made their models more luxurious, added more advanced avionics, and powerful engines like Rotax's 915iS. This has brought their prices closer to Icon's though the A5 remains top of the price pyramid. New management is aware they have work ahead but fresh talent, adequate financing, and a resolve to move forward are a big help. Icon reported achieving Primary Category certification; this can help make sales into countries that do not use ASTM standards. VASHON — Another company reporting a full order book is West coast-based Vashon Aircraft. One area of success for the company closely associated with Dynon Avionics has been with flight school operators. That's why Vashon showed a full IFR Ranger at AirVenture 2021. Company owner John Torode acknowledged that this does not permit flight into IMC but can let Ranger be used for instrument instruction. Flight schools like the familiar, and very sturdy, construction of Ranger. They know its Continental engine. The flight school market is important for Vashon, complimenting a warm reception they've received from individual pilots. Vashon remains a relative bargain in the LSA field. Their booth buzzed with activity while I visited with John. SCALEBIRDS — Sam Watrous and his ScaleBirds team have been on a tear with their excellent scale replica light aircraft. These are Experimental Amateur Built aircraft but they've made a solid effort to make building go as easy as possible. The aircraft carefully replicate the original versions, so purists looking for that certain look can get it but in a much more affordable package than the original it mimics. Sam runs the enterprise with his son Scott and a group of support people that help them in the project. ScaleBirds was looking good in the revised North Aircraft Display area, colloquially referred to as the "Kit-Built Area." Most folks are attracted to bright polished aluminum surfaces. Certainly all that elbow grease pays off at big airshows like Oshkosh. And, speaking of area movements…
Changes AheadFUN FLY ZONE RELOCATION — It may be sign of success. Judging from a full contingent of vendors in the light plane area, with a few vendors reporting they could not get space until someone backed out, this area reflects the health of light aircraft and ultralights. As with the LSA purveyors up north on the field, the Fun Fly Zone airplane sellers are reporting solid activity in leads and sales. At least some vendors had been informed about and were therefore discussing a possible movement of the Fun Fly Zone, colloquially known as the "Ultralight Area," to a position further south on Wittman Field. Historically, this area has already moved considerably south. It was once much closer to the Vintage Aircraft area (near Theater in the Woods). Proposed with the new idea being discussed is a longer, better positioned runway. To their credit EAA and the Ultralight Area managers over the years have made the angular Ultralight Area strip work successfully. Yet to maneuver for short final, pilots must make a series of turns, all while staying well west of traffic on the main north/south runway. It is far from optimal even if good leadership and cooperative pilots have made the current runway work. This week, EAA is demonstrating once again that they know how to produce a great show so I'd expect they'll make the Fun Fly Zone relocation go well and look good.
Day 2 AirVenture began with “rain that went sideways,” according to one vendor. After a late night cranking out a report, I was grateful for an excuse to get another hour’s sleep. The overnight rain gave way to another beautiful, if hot, day in Oshkosh. Tuesday, I hiked up to the north side, where the main displays are located. Most of the higher end Light-Sport Aircraft are located in this high-traffic area. Several LSA companies have jockeyed for years to find what they consider to be the optimal location for their exhibit. Being near the main foot-traffic road is very alluring to vendors. In almost two decades of Light-Sport Aircraft (the then-new rule was announced at AirVenture 2004), LSA have integrated themselves into mainstream aircraft manufacturing …and not simply because of the aircraft offered. As late-night TV ads once said, “There’s more!” LAMA board of directors member Phil Solomon — active in the flight school business and a former importer of Tecnam — expressed that the sales of LSA and the growth and development of the industry is only one of its successes.
Flying Vashon Ranger Light-Sport Aircraft at Midwest LSA Expo 2020
New, and Moving Up SmartlyWe have fresh LSA and SP kit aircraft market statistics and after some research, I will report more fully on the 3Q20 numbers. However, we know one thing already: it appears Vashon's Ranger will be the best seller among Special, fully-built Light-Sport Aircraft for this unusual year. Covid complications be damned, Vashon is putting out about two aircraft a month and it appears momentum is building. Named for a small island in the Puget Sound region of Washington state near Seattle, Vashon Aircraft is a new producer in what seemed a crowded Special LSA space. Boss John Torode, also the founder of Dynon Avionics, felt Light-Sport Aircraft were more expensive than they needed to be. To help aviation grow, John employed his experience and funds to start a new airframe company. He made most of his fortune from a semiconductor company once headquartered in the same building in Woodinville, Washington that has been reconfigured into Vashon’s home base. John grew up flying light airplanes and after doing well in semiconductors, he turned his attention to bringing modern, affordable avionics into aviation. He started in LSA where onerous certification was not required. Since the successful D-10 EFIS in 2003 Dynon Avionics has greatly expanded their line and has more recently offered products for conventionally-certified aircraft. Today, more than 20,000 aircraft have Dynon avionics gear in their panels. While Vashon is colocated with Dynon in a Woodinville industrial park, Vashon maintains a separate corporate structure. Company employees of each defend the co-owned businesses as distinct from one another. Vashon produces structural components and puts fuselages and wings together in Woodinville but these sub-assemblies are then transported to a hangar at the Paine Field Airport (KPAE) in Everett. This is the same airfield where final assembly takes place at Boeing’s massive facility.
Flying RangerRanger's doors swing open wide. Its cantilevered wings offer no lift strut obstruction to entry. The cabin is spacious like most LSA. Put it all together and this large, squarish cockpit can accommodate some good-sized occupants. To accommodate pilots of different height, Ranger's rudders adjust, but this must be done before takeoff as it employs a pin-lock system (nearby photo). Ranger has a listed empty weight of 875 pounds before adding options. That leaves a useful load of 445 pounds. With fuel tanks full of 28.1 gallons or 169 pounds, payload drops to 276 pounds. Fortunately lots of flying is done locally so half tanks are still plenty and would provide a payload of 361 pounds or a couple occupants at 180 pounds each. (Of course, this may change when FAA issues its new regulation in 2023.) With half tanks and no baggage, demo pilot Kurt Robertson and I probably flew below the gross weight limit. We could have flown for better than three hours. Vashon chose the 100 horsepower Continental O-200 engine that Americans know so well. It burns 5.5 gallons an hour in economy cruise, which is where most pilot may fly unless going cross country. Topped off full, a solo pilot could fly for better than five hours. In our flight, I saw speeds above 110 knots at a low altitude of 2,500-3,500 feet above ground. At cross country altitude, it was clear, Ranger will run close to the LSA speed limit of 120 knots so a lone pilot could travel as much as 600 nautical miles non-stop. Taxiing Ranger uses a castoring nosewheel. This means steering with brakes at low speeds, so both seat are fitted with directional foot pedals, which allow for very tight turns. Castor steering takes a bit of familiarization but ramp maneuverability is unparalleled. Flight controls involve dual joysticks and a center-mounted throttle. Takeoff was simple and straightforward. After liftoff, Ranger's rate of climb varied between 600-800 fpm to 3,500 where we practiced some stalls. Fuel burn during best rate of climb appears to be north of seven gallons an hour, about the same as a Rotax 912iS. Kurt reported he routinely sees 118 knots at altitude and burns 6-6.5 gallons an hour at this higher cruise speed. Flaps are electrically actuated with a button — one push for 20 degrees; another push deploys flaps to 40 degrees. We used one notch for takeoff and either one, both, or none for landing. Immediately, Ranger felt somewhat different from many LSA. First, the Continental emits a familiar growl to the Rotax 9-series' whine. Secondly, the heft of Ranger gives it a heavier feel, actually surprisingly like a Cessna 172. In flight, Ranger is very well behaved, no wonder as this model shares some designer heritage with the Van's series that are highly revered for great flight qualities. You need only minimal rudder entering and exiting turns. Joystick pressures are fingertip-light (photo). In stalls, the LSA can be called docile with no evil bones I could uncover despite fairly steep stall entries. Recovering from a full-stick-aft stall showed no steep break or wing drop. Ranger exhibits very modest pitch change when flaps are deployed up or down. In slow flight or on approach to landing, Ranger was very stable and my landing was quite good even for a first-ever effort. At Kurt's advice I held 65 knots down low, then slowing slightly.
Construction & InteriorRanger is built with all-metal construction although the main landing gear is a composite structure. Its cantilevered high wing with no lift-strut combines with a broad windscreen to offer an expansive view. Cockpit width is stated as 47 inches, broad compared to most GA aircraft but about standard for LSA; it was roomy for Kurt and me. One neat trick: remove the seat cushions and you can fold both seats nearly flat allowing you to camp overnight in Ranger. It measures a generous 78 inches from the aft bulkhead to the joysticks. The large space aft of the seats can hold up to 100 pounds. While most loading won't tolerate that much baggage weight, the space is large enough for sleeping bags, tents, fishing poles, and other (lighter weight) outdoor gear. Buy All-American? — The western U.S. company boasts that its Special LSA is fully American. "Ranger R7 is designed, engineered, tested, and manufactured at the Vashon Aircraft factory headquarters near Seattle, Washington, and is assembled at its Paine Field assembly and delivery center (on the same airfield as Boeing's wide body airliner factory)," said Vashon. Avionics are made by Dynon Avionics in Woodinville, Washington and the powerplant is built by Continental Aerospace Technology in Mobile, Alabama. The fully loaded demo Ranger Kurt and I flew had autopilot and two SkyView HDX screens. The introductory pricing has risen slightly but those on a budget can be well served by the base Glacier model that lists for $119,500 and includes a Dynon 10-inch SkyView HDX EFIS with two-axis autopilot, 2020-compliant ADS-B Out, and all the standard features you'd expect. Ranger also comes with a three-year warranty. Unfortunately, the under-$100,000 price tag of three years ago has disappeared. Exterior Treatment — The "Founders Design" with the Washington state scene (photos) adds $9,500 to the base price. A version with the back half looking similar and the front fuselage in white is only $2,500. A treatment on just the top half of the vertical stabilizer is included in the price. If six figures aren't in your checkbook the company observed, "Vashon Aircraft is proud to collaborate with AOPA Finance to offer our customers competitive financing options for their Ranger purchase." Check all Vashon Ranger's specifications on this dedicated page.
Thank goodness for the Midwest LSA Expo. As the one and only airshow (other than some small local gatherings) since Copperstate/Buckeye back in February, Midwest 2020 was a breath of fresh air… literally for those of us who attended (quite a few did). From my view — and to some extent for all the readers of this website — the single most valuable aspect of Midwest LSA Expo is the great ease with which one can take one or more demo flights. For me in particular, this is a unmatched opportunity to go aloft in an aircraft so I can write about it. Regretfully, my video partner Videoman Dave was not allowed by U.S. authorities to enter the country from Canada, so we did not get to capture Video Pilot Reports where several aircraft get fitted with Dave’s collection of seven Garmin VIRB cameras. Instead, my flight experience in Flight Design’s F2 and Vashon’s Ranger lack some of the wonderful video Dave assembles into the popular video on his YouTube channel.
Midwest Light-Sport Aircraft Expo — What to See at 2020’s Last Airshow
Rare and/or New AircraftMC-01 by Montaer — We almost didn't see it. Insurance has been getting harder to find and more costly. That's true for all aircraft but the situation is especially challenging for a new design (even if it significantly resembles an earlier design). However, Gregg Ellsworth and AIR (Aviation Insurance Resources) came to the rescue so now importer Ed Ricks of Montaer USA has a good chance to get this all-new design to Midwest 2020. When you look at the image of MC-01, some of us see the Paradise P1NG. No surprise, as the designer once worked with Paradise. While the new model bears a close resemblance to the earlier SLSA, that one has largely disappeared from the U.S. market, so Montaer is filling a void. Paradise, and now Montaer, have long offered a yoke control with a voluminous three-door cabin. It makes people think Cessna 150 but larger (and it performs substantially better). The first U.S. delivery will also have hand controls, a choice available to offer assistance to some pilots. Merlin Lite by Aeromarine LSA — If you know Merlin, you should be asking, "…Lite?" Wasn't it already light? Ah, that is Merlin PSA. This is Merlin Lite …and yes, it is lighter, if you can believe that. Proprietor Chip Erwin of Aeromarine LSA is one of those can't-sit-still people and he's taking his early success with Merlin PSA even further with a lighter-yet, lower-cost-yet model powered by the Polini Thor engine that tens of thousands of powered paragliders use. The good news is you don't have to run this one off the ground. I'll have more on this, possibly before Midwest 2020 because this model is literally hot off the factory floor. Put this in perspective. Merlin PSA, also a single seater, is an all-metal, fully enclosed, well-equipped aircraft that you can assemble for around $35,000. Options and choice of engine can increase the base but it is easily one of the great bargains in aviation. A 60-horsepower four-stroke V-Twin engine will make the "bigger" Merlin soar into the sky, but just for fun, come see Merlin Lite at Midwest 2020. SmithSilver by Tri-State Kite — Owner Mark Smith's enterprise is "the nation's leading source of quality aftermarket parts for the complete line of the Quicksilver ultralight aircraft, and has been in business more than 33 years" he expressed. Mark has become a guru of the Quicksilver type, has made numerous components for them, and will have something called SmithSilver at Midwest 2020. I'm as curious as you and look forward to checking it out. BTW, are you puzzled by Mark's business name …specifically "Kites?" When hang gliders were a lot simpler than today's sophisticated models, they were often called "kites," a term that followed even earlier boat-towed rigs that literally had to be tethered like a kite. Even the first hang gliders were more than a mere kite but the name was quick and easy, and it stuck. Mark's time in the business goes back far enough that his business name could reflect that …even if today it sounds a bit odd for an aircraft company. Read for yourself Mark Smith's history of design ideas for the Quicksilver aircraft. Sparrow by Carlson — This oldie but goodie has not been seen for some time but thanks to the people behind the MiniMax series of affordable aircraft, the Sparrow is returning to the market. Lots of readers remember this once-popular model. Following the death of Ernie Carlson a few years back, the brand fell out of sight for most buyers even though Ernie's wife, Mary, kept the business running. Now with help from David Cooper of Team MiniMax (and some partners), the single place Carlson Sparrow will be returning to the market, with plans for the two-place in their mind but still on a back burner. This project is still new but come to Midwest 2020 and ask questions. F2 by Flight Design — I have reported this impressive new top-end Special LSA before but for most Americans, this will be their first viewing. I saw it in Aero 2019 but it had not flown then. It's all wrung out and approved now and I look forward to a flight in the bigger, better model. After Midwest 2020, F2 will go home with Tom and Tom Gutmann of Airtime Aviation, the world's largest dealer/distributor for Flight Design aircraft. As winter follows in a few months, Airtime's base in Oklahoma makes sense versus Flight Design USA in Connecticut. This is the first F2 in America so they're sharing the treasure. Vashon Ranger — While it's not brand new, Ranger R7 is new enough that many LSA enthusiasts have yet to see one and Vashon Aircraft has never displayed at Midwest before. The brand has done respectably well as our industry reports, as seen on Tableau Public, demonstrate. After their first deliveries in 2017, Washington-based Vashon has grown rapidly, thanks to a familiar construction at a good price (starts just below $100,000 fully built and reasonably well equipped). Through the first half of 2020, the company had already almost matched all of 2019, so despite the virus, more Rangers are taking to the sky. You should check this one out in person, but I'll be angling for a flight in the new design so we expect to report more and capture video. SD-1 (kit) By SD Planes —Readers of this website like affordable aircraft and the SD Planes single place kit is surely a great value in light aircraft. Construction is significantly wood. If you don't already know, building from wood is achievable by most, much less challenging that kits that involve welding or composite work. Check this video for more about building the airplane and for a look at the two seat model from the same designer. SD-1 is a modest project, not only from the build effort but you can keep the base price below $20,000, an amount the importer said includes the engine. If you simply can't see yourself building a single seater — no matter how much fun it might be — U.S. rep John Vining has the SD-2 Sportmaster. Both share the same ease of construction. VL3 by JMB Aircraft — This spring, we had a contest going on between three speedy European aircraft: Sweden's striking Blackwing, Switzerland's super-sleek Risen, and JMB Aircraft's VL3. Of these, only one will be at Midwest 2020: VL3. You already know this airplane under the marketing name Gobosh. It was sold as a fixed gear, fixed pitch prop Special LSA. In Europe, where no speed limit applies to what they then and still call "microlights" or European ultralights, companies like those mentioned above seek the highest speed they can achieve. All use the Rotax engine, so it becomes about airframe smoothness, wing efficiency, and getting as lean as possible, hence retractable gear. For now in the U.S., such aircraft must be built as kits but in 2023, such models will become LSA (or maybe Light Personal Aircraft, depending on what FAA eventually decides about a possible new category). Fusion 212 by Magnus — Did you wonder if this handsome aircraft disappeared? That's understandable because we haven't seen it for a short time (and, of course, not this unusual year). I did a flight in Fusion and you can check it out in this video. What could be better? You could attend Midwest 2020 and fly it yourself. At minimum, you can talk to the representatives, ask questions, and closely examine the all-composite aircraft built in Hungary but represented by Magnus USA. This list is not inclusive of all players but you can check the Midwest 2020 program to see all expected exhibitors.
Who Won't Be Present?I understand a few cannot be present and while I certainly respect their decision not to take chances, well… darn it! I'll miss these folks. Rob Rollison the proprietor of the very successful Aerotrek line has elected not to go. He cited concerns about the virus and how that can affect a show that is already modestly attended. Such things matter to vendors swayed by high traffic at shows like Sun 'n Fun or Oshkosh, but an individual pilot actually benefits from a smaller number of attendees. Although the company appears on the site layout, apparently Rans has elected not to attend after many years of doing so. This is just that kind of year, I guess. Two other aircraft are not quite ready yet. These include two entries from Deon Lombard's Aeropilot USA distributorship. He is expecting the first M-8 Eagle, rebadged as L600 Eagle to provide continuity for the earlier Aeropilot Legend/L600 Deon formerly represented (he still owns the dealership for several more months but will then switch to the L600 Eagle; I will report more on that later). In addition, Deon is bringing in from South Africa the sleek composite RV-like Whisper kit-built aircraft. Perhaps at DeLand in January or certainly by Sun 'n Fun 2021, both aircraft should be available for your inspection. Deon will have the InnovAviation FX1 we saw at Midwest 2019 (here's our video on that model). He'll also have a very special opportunity for one buyer of the same aircraft I flew. Come and see for yourself. However, while we regret missing a couple regulars, I'm pleased those who show should (fingers crossed) have plenty to look at and I expect to make several reports from the event — the last of the year since DeLand Showcase has pushed into 2021 (January 28-29-30). Travel safely and I hope to see you in Mt. Vernon!
To help you psych' up for Midwest 2020, here's a few videos assembled by Videoman Dave. He's putting up lots before this event — go to his YouTube channel to see many more. https://youtu.be/oSpq6vZ4skQ https://youtu.be/mMV824eEbRk https://youtu.be/eq0FfmDvNtE https://youtu.be/P25dFK_RCY8
I hope you can attend 2020’s Midwest LSA Expo — the last airshow in 2020. If you cannot attend, rest assured your trusty reporter will be onsite and gathering all the info on the coolest aircraft I can find. What will be available? Well, if I am honest, we will have to see when we arrive to be certain. In these virus-impacted times, things have a lousy way of changing at the last minute, however… Those who attend should see a few aircraft that few Americans have seen before. Here’s a quick take, not forgetting the statement about how arrivals can be altered beyond the wishes of any particular vendor. Rare and/or New Aircraft MC-01 by Montaer — We almost didn’t see it. Insurance has been getting harder to find and more costly. That’s true for all aircraft but the situation is especially challenging for a new design (even if it significantly resembles an earlier design).