Lots of doubters expressed their opinions in the weeks and days before Mt. Vernon’s 12th running of this sector-specific event. Did it work? Were the naysayers right or wrong?
I will express one person’s opinion but reflect a number of comments I heard: “Thank goodness for Mt. Vernon airport manager Chris Collins and his contingent of orange-shirted volunteers who hosted this event,” making it another success.
To me, “success” means no accidents (none happened) and a decent turn-out that got pilots in new aircraft and vendors the sales that sustain them (both happened).
Summarizing Midwest 2020
In a typical year, Midwest attracts 1,500 or more pilots for the three days of event. My casual estimate is that 2020 was at least as strong as before and perhaps it was even up a bit. No one knows more. Midwest does not charge a fee to enter and more than one entry gate would make any effort to count heads futile. So, admittedly, I am guessing but having been to 11 of the 12 events (I missed one due to a hurricane in Florida where I live), I think it was at least the same and possibly better than earlier years.
That estimate is despite a crippled economy and a substantial share of the population that is so nervous about Covid that they will not venture out to an event like Midwest. Countering that were many who either braved the risk of exposure — while taking normal precautions, I hasten to add… I saw no one acting irresponsibly — or those who believe the country is emerging from isolation and fear.
Yet it wasn’t only attendees who could not or did not make the show. Six or seven committed vendors failed to appear. The reasons were varied.
Some were told by their home state authorities that if they left they might not be allowed back in the state (presumably without some caution like mandatory quarantine). While this may seem like government overreach to many, employees who would not be traveling also stated concerns about getting exposed by those who did travel. Hit with both worries, some companies backed out.
At least two vendors who wanted to attend could not get an FAA inspection in time. This was not them dragging their feet on the requirements; instead it is because FAA staffers are mostly hunkered down at home and agency personnel are not permitted to go out and do inspections. U.S. Customs inspectors were under similar constraints and so import processes have been greatly hampered.
At least two more companies experienced serious weather between home and the show although Midwest 2020 enjoyed nearly perfect conditions. Plenty of demo flights attest to this. Several vendors filled their demo schedules.
Add those vendors who had promised to attend to those that did and Midwest 2020 might have been a big year. Even without them, it was healthier than I first feared.
As the photos illustrate Midwest 2020 was a normal year even considering the drama this country has faced in recent months. However, one category of light aviation appears stronger than ever.
Part 103 and Single Seaters
If you’ve been following this website, you know I’ve already documented many examples of Part 103 ultralight aircraft (‘er, vehicles) doing better than I can remember for many years. Several producers of Part 103 flying machines are chock full of orders and seeking ways to deliver more without overburdening their enterprises. This is most encouraging to fans of affordable aviation.
We have also seen a growth in interest in single seat aircraft… (example: VX1 gyro) or maybe a better way to state it is: pilots see the economy of single seaters that are significantly more affordable than sophisticated LSA. However, this does not mean these are flimsy, throw-away aircraft.
Indeed, most producers today make highly airworthy aircraft that have enjoyed steady evolution and development that has made these entries very desirable. No longer are these the bare-bones, no-frills, underperforming aircraft of decades past.
Our biggest story of the year, by far (and we’ve had several good successes), featured the Aeromarine LSA Merlin Lite. This story positively electrified our readers and speaks to the emergence of Part 103 into a new league. This all-metal, fully-enclosed, full-featured Part 103 aircraft provided more interest at Midwest 2020.
Developer Chip Erwin brought not only his fascinating aircraft but six sets of bathroom scales. Although these are not certified scales — an effort with such scales will happen shortly when the aircraft is fully complete — we checked them for consistency and we used all six scales in rotating positions. Four complete weighings produced numbers from 271.6 to 274.1 pounds. Using the allowed calculation for a whole-airframe parachute system, a Part 103 can weigh 278 pounds, suggesting Merlin Lite should comfortably qualify. Of course, speeds will also have to conform but Chip is very confident about the airplane staying Part 103 compliant. The weighed aircraft was not a stripped-down version but had most of the equipment on board that everyone will want. I’ll make a video of these steps as soon as possible, given very strong interest.
The first attendance at Midwest by Tri-State Kites was a splash with seven different aircraft on display. This regional company, with several Part 103-capable Smithsilver aircraft, is likely to increase its footprint in American aviation.
We also saw Part 103 weight shift — Rev from Evolution Trikes (also having their best-year ever) — and powered parachutes from Infinity including their single place Challenger.
Among three-axis LSA, I was able to do interviews with Tom Gutmann, Jr., of Airtime Aviation about his reaction to the new F2 model from Flight Design. Tom is a pilot with extensive experience in all Flight Design models. Short answer: he loves the new model.
I also interviewed Daniela Knoll of Aerosport about numerous changes to the affordably-priced Bushcat from SkyReach, available as a fully-built LSA or kit-built version — on tricycle or taildragger gear and with a float option.
Although a late arrival to this year’s event, I finally got a flight in the Vashon Ranger that has sold well since it was introduced just three years ago.
It was great to see the DirectFly Alto returning to America thanks to a display at Midwest 2020 (photo). We interviewed another operation making the CGS Hawk. Additionally, Airborne trikes made a return thanks to U.S. importer Mike Hudetz; it has been some time since we saw Mike and Airborne at Midwest LSA Expo.
I have more to report on all these aircraft; those articles and videos will follow in the weeks ahead.
Road Trip Experience
I have always flown to Midwest, either in an LSA or by airline. This year my wife, Randee, and I chose to drive, given numerous travel uncertainties. It allowed us to change plans right up until departure time.
This method also made for an intriguing study in how America is coping with Covid. Near the freeways, at gas stops or hotels where tourists and travelers were present, masking was nearly universal. Few appeared to ignore store signs demanding a face covering.
However, instead of racing up to Mt. Vernon, Illinois, we chose to wander through small towns along the way, for example, taking a tour of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording studio that produced dozens of Platinum Records such as Wilson Picket’s “Mustang Sally” and hosted music stars from The Rolling Stones to The Allman Brothers to Aretha Franklin.
A Tale of Two Countries… as soon as we got a few miles away from the tourist-oriented freeway stops, almost no one wore a mask. Unlike the strangers on the freeway, these people largely know each other. Before someone criticizes, I’m not saying they ignored caution but relied on common sense rules rather than political dictates. You may have a different opinion.
Next Up: 2021 Shows
Next up is the DeLand Showcase, now happening January 28-29-30, 2021. After that, we hope we can return to a full schedule. We plan to attend them all and hope you can, too. Meanwhile, keep returning here for the latest and greatest.
Finally, let me offer a personal word of thanks for your faithful visits to this website. Even with the weirdness around the world, 2020 is a record year for ByDanJohnson.com — and September, barely past the half way point, is already our most-visited month ever! I appreciate your loyalty and will do my best to keep you informed and smiling.
Robert Lobdell says
#1 — Can you give more information about Midwest? Where it is and when it is? I have never heard of it. From your article it looks like a small gathering of LSA dealers with minimal set up showing off their wears. Not as big as Sun ‘n Fun more casual, I’m guessing.
#2 — I have been looking for a “Silversmith Aircraft” since your last article but haven’t found one. I’m guessing I just not looking in the right place.
Dan Johnson says
Robert: You can find many links to Midwest LSA Expo in the article or in their left column banner but here is their contact info. As the article noted, this event is in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, about one hour’s drive east of St. Louis. It is always in the second week of September.
Yes, it is a small gathering but is not a “small gathering of LSA dealers.” Depending on other things, like weather or a virus pandemic, the event attracts 30-50 vendors of all sorts.
No, it is not as big as Sun ‘n Fun (which was cancelled for 2020) but it may be the best event of the year for taking a demo flight.
If you say you cannot find Smithsilver — like Quicksilver (except not that brand), …not “Silversmith” — perhaps you overlooked their contact info link in the article. I repeat it here for you.
Admittedly, Tri-State Kites website is very basic and it can be challenging to find what you want. You also see no specific reference to “Smithsilver” but believe me, they make variations on the theme.
Perhaps the best advice: simply call or email them (two links in this full-length article about Tri-State Kites).
bobbe hackett says
Damn, wish I had been there!
Dan Johnson says
Bobbe: I expect we will see you in 2021, then. ??
Thanks for being at the show. You do a great job keeping us updated.
Dan Johnson says
Ramiro: Thank you for your kind words.
Hollis Babb says
Thanks for the info. Interested in seeing the Merlin. Hope it will be in DeLand.
Dan Johnson says
Hollis: I am quite sure Merlin Lite will be in DeLand 2021!
Robert bevil says
Good info about planes on display at shows that I cannot attend! Will see you at DeLand! My next project is a motorglider!
Creighton King says
Thanks for the coverage.