The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in October 2004 was the first event to focus exclusively on Light-Sport Aircraft.
ou never get a second chance to make a first impression. With that in mind, you might ask how visitors regarded the first U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, held in Sebring, Florida, from October 28-31, 2004. The Expo was the first of its kind aiming at the new Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) segment, and it was a focused event, featuring only LSAs and ultralights. Is that two strikes against it or two good reasons for it to succeed?
From what I could see, those who attended the Sebring event were satisfied. Set aside for the moment reports elsewhere that the show was sparsely attended. It was the first of its kind. And as word of mouth is accepted to be the best marketing tool for shows, the attendance figures should present no surprise. The vendors were satisfied, and visitors also seemed to feel good about the selection of aircraft, the availability and ease of demo flights and the wide array of educational forums.
At the Show
The four EAA forum tents were well attended with a good many speakers reporting most seats filled. Personnel from the FAA and EAA gave talks on the new Sport Pilot rule from various perspectives, and vendors gave listeners details of their aircraft or services. Topics also included fractional ownership of LSAs (yes, just like the bizjet owners), insurance, powerplant maintenance, building or repair advice, aircraft design advice, appropriate weather for flying, weight-shift aircraft, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) services to producers, networks of places to fly LSAs, LSA business opportunities for CFIs and FBOs, and business marketing services. In short, if you wanted to know more about Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft, the Sebring forums were an excellent way to bulk up your knowledge.
While the Expo was going on, the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) held its first ever symposium for general aviation CFIs and FBOs. With nearly 50 persons attending, NAFI held two mornings of meeting room lectures by various experts including aviation educators John and Martha King, former SkyStar President Ed Downs, insurance expert Bob Mackey, EAA ultralight chair-person Carla Larsh and others. Each day in the afternoon, attendees went to the Expo where arrangements had been made to allow them to take flights in LSAs that interested them. Nearly all took flights as desired after the first day, and most went back for more on day two. Sebring was judged so successful that NAFI Executive Director Rusty Sachs said the organization was planning additional symposia to be conducted elsewhere.
Demo Flight Delights
Perhaps the main attraction of Sebring was the chance for potential customers to fly with vendors in their aircraft. Several vendors reported steady action throughout the event. After Thursday and Friday (with a big Saturday to follow), air operations personnel reported about 500 flights taken, so final numbers surely exceeded 1000 flights. Assuming attendance guesses were right, between one in three and one in five visitors took a flight.
Instead of encountering the long walks found at some events, visitors to the Sebring Expo found displays concentrated enough that they could stroll the grounds and see all the planes and services in a shorter time. The smaller venue also made it much easier to move a plane from its exhibit space down a taxiway (using the engine rather than walking it) to the flightline. Many aircraft used the Runway 14/32, while others joined the general aviation pattern on Runway 18/36. Powered parachutes and others used a grassy area to the west of the Runway 14/32. These options meant more demo flights were taken to the satisfaction of those who came hoping to do precisely that kind of evaluation flying.
Demo flights in LSAs at Sebring were not the once-around-the-patch hops common at major airshows. Given the open surroundings and cooperation of the airport, flights were commonly 20 minutes or longer, and visiting pilots could get a good sense for the handling and performance of an aircraft. Kudos must go to the vendors and volunteer staff for facilitating these flights.
Despite the steady flying at an airport simultaneously serving normal GA operations, Sebring Chairman Bob Woods was especially pleased that the Expo was incident free. “We had no ground accidents, no air accidents, and everything went smoothly and safely,” he said.
New Aircraft and Familiar Names
There were many notable Light-Sport aircraft introduced at Sebring. Here’s a sampling of them:
IndUS Aviation’s Thorpedo, with its six-cylinder Jabiru powerplant, is based on the Thorp T-211. In fact, the company sells a Part 23-certified T-211 with a Continental powerplant but recently fitted the Jabiru 3300. The additional 20 hp made for a strong performer in this enjoyable aircraft. Aspects of the Thorp’s design, developed in the 1940s, eventually showed up in the prolific Piper Cherokee series. (www.indusav.com; 877/GO-INDUS)
An interesting aircraft was on display as a result of company officials of Opus Aircraft buying the design rights from England. The ARV Super 2 tried the U.S. market once before, but that Minnesota-based effort never got off the ground. Opus Aircraft has set up operations at the Rockingham County Airport in Stoneville, North Carolina. (336/573-3779)
Stellar Aircraft flew its AstraTrike, which is powered by the air-cooled, four-stroke, twin-cylinder HKS 700E engine. Developer Allistair Wilson has long been a trike enthusiast, though he flies all manner of fixed-wing aircraft. After his British supplier, Pegasus, pulled out of the U.S. market following a lawsuit, Wilson chose to create his own trike. Available at present with a Rotax 503 or the HKS, the trike is a well-engineered design that incorporates the numerous changes desired by a trike expert. Some may think LSAs are becoming too expensive, but the Astra trikes are priced from $15,995-$19,995, the latter with the four-stroke engine. (www.astratrike.com; 812/384-4760)
AveoTech has a new deal with German designer Wolfgang Dallach, creator of the Fascination. The latter airplane is too speedy for the LSA rule, though the retractable-gear version will be sold as an Experimental/Amateur-Built kit. A fixed-gear, fixed-pitch prop model, AveoSport WD, has been prepared for the U.S. market. Denton, Texas-based AveoTech has become a partner with Dallach and will represent his designs, among others. AveoTech also has a line of instruments and accessories. (www.aveousa.com; 210/568-3795)
Florida resident Jack Harper (once a rep for the Dallach company mentioned above) showed and repeatedly flew his Lil’ Breezy B-Model, which vaguely resembles the more famous Breezy but is done in ultralight style. (www.harperaircraft.com; 904/778-0021)
A new company, Reliant Paracraft Aerosports, showed its new powered parachute, which resembles one formerly marketed as the Destiny Fusion. The new rig features a cockpit enclosure and an open look quite different from many powered parachutes, most of which have structural tubing around the occupants. The Florida-based outfit bills its aircraft as the “ultimate off-road vehicle,” and Harley-Davidson fans will surely recognize the logo. (www.flyawaytoday.com; 239/283-2103)
Many stalwarts of the industry exhibited at the inaugural Expo, and their names are recognizable. Rollison Light-Sport Aircraft displayed its top-of-the-line Remos G-3 Mirage and a more modestly priced EuroFox. Rollison has ceased importing the Ikarus-Comco C42, and that job has now been taken over by a British company. (www.rlsa.us; 812/384-4972)
Flightstar brought both of its American-designed models plus the CT2K import. The latter model is a sleek, high-end LSA. As the American representative for the HKS four-stroke engine, Flightstar-related company HPower is well positioned to take advantage of the new LSA regulations. (www.fly-flightstar.com; 860/875-8185)
Interplane showed its attractively priced SkyBoy, which at $29,900 ready-to-fly is one of the LSA segment’s great bargains. No wonder a good number have already been sold. U.S. importer Ralph Mandarino, a former auto executive, also owns the factory in the Czech Republic. (www.interplaneaircraft.com; 313/882-3400)
North Carolina-based B Bar D Aviation brought not one but three of its attractive Fantasy Air Allegro 2000 imports. Company pilots flew a good number of interested parties, and proprietor Doug Hempstead said there was excellent interest from Sebring visitors. (www.bbardaviation.com; 336/449-7770)
Evektor, the Czech producer of the SportStar and EuroStar, was present for the ASTM meetings that kicked off the Florida event. Weather prevented their aircraft from arriving until Saturday evening, but even at that U.S. sales rep Jeff Conrad was pleased at the response. (www.sportaircraftinternational.com; 830/896-8910)
Hummel Aviation boss Terry Hallet brought an UltraCruiser Plus, which well-known competition pilot John Jacob kept flying throughout the event. This UltraCruiser was designed by Morry Hummel (of Hummelbird fame) after he recovered from a serious accident at an advanced age. (www.flyhummel.com; 419/636-6700)
Kappa 77 USA showed its stylish Kappa 77 from the Czech Republic. The staggered seating, all-metal LSA was flown to Florida from Pennsylvania by affable proprietor Ed Miller. (www.flykp5.com; 570/977-1125)
Hansen Aero brought two very different aircraft, both designed and built in Italy. For years this Georgia-based company has offered the tandem-seat Sky Arrow and the Tecnam line of aircraft including the P-96 Golf. (www.hansenaero.com; 770/427-6311)
Quicksilver Manufacturing was represented by its local dealer, Floatplanes and Amphibians. This Sebring-based company specializes in adding floats to the Quicksilver line and also represents other brands such as AirBorne trikes. (www.floatplanesandamphibs.com; 863/655-3770)
Powrachute powered parachutes is one of the industry’s leading producers of these fun-to-fly aircraft, which are eligible under the LSA category. Powrachute leads with new product design and have proved their abilities by fitting a T-58 jet engine to one chassis as a dramatic marketing maneuver. (www.powrachute.com; 620/429-1397)
An early import to gain a solid American following is the Sky Ranger. Designed in France and built in the Ukraine, the Sky Ranger is now being represented by Doug Koenigsberg, based in Hedgesville, West Virginia. (www.skyrangeraircraft.com; 304/754-6010)
SportAir USA showed its attractive StingSport aircraft and flew numerous demo flights during the event. This mostly carbon fiber design turns heads everywhere it flies. It is imported and represented by Bill Canino of Little Rock, Arkansas. (www.sportair-usa.com; 501/228-7777)
Sportsplanes.com representative Josh Foss is rapidly setting up a network of centers around the country to handle fully built and other aircraft from Zenith Aircraft and other brands. His centers will be of help to traveling pilots needing services. (www.sport planes.com; 801/420-6176)
Jabiru USA showed its broad product line including the popular engines from Australia, but also the Jabiru J400 and the shapely Esquale import from Spain. This Wisconsin company was to move to Tennessee at the end of 2004. (www.usjabiru.com; 800/522-4781)
Aero Adventure is the producer of the popular Aventura line of boat-hull ultralights, among other designs, but this Florida company also makes a line of interesting ground vehicles. (www.sea-plane.com; 321/635-8005).
While Spectrum Aircraft’s twin-engine models don’t qualify as LSAs (the rules limit them to one engine), the Sebring-based company has several other eligible models all designed and built in the Ukraine. These include the A-20 Varlet, a two-seat,100-hp pusher design featuring a cantilever wing. (www.spectrumaircraft.com; 863/655-9299)
Buckeye Aviation is one of the original producers of powered parachutes and has thousands flying. The company is still at the forefront of innovation with new fairings for the regular line and an interesting Aerial ATV that performs well in the air or on the ground. (www.buckeyeaviation.com; 574/892-5460)
Another trike company showing at Sebring was Air Creation, the weight-shift aircraft builder from France. For a professional product, interested parties hardly needed to look further. The company’s U.S. sales rep, John Kemmeries of Arizona, is also a part owner of the French company. (www.aircreation.net; 623/566-8068)
Major American kit-aircraft producer RANS was present with a Coyote—which sold the first day, no surprise at $48,500 ready to fly—and the S-7 Courier. Owner Randy Schlitter said he should have brought more planes as he saw the sales potential of Sebring. (www.rans.com; 785/625-6346)
Even a couple of “heavy iron” aircraft were on display at the event. A new Symphony 160 was available for purchase, and twin Part 23-certified Alarus models (based on Chris Heintz’s Zenair line) from Aircraft Manufacturing and Development were exhibited. In addition, Sebring’s long ramps were full of GA aircraft of all kinds, many of which had flown in to visit the Expo.
There were also engines of note. You heard people talking about Florida-based William Wynne’s 100-hp Corvair engine conversion installed in a Zenair 601 or “ZenVair” (www.flycorvair.com). Visitors could examine engine conversions involving such famous names as Harley-Davidson (www.hog-air.com; 888/782-7676) and BMW. Yet despite such well-known brands, Rotax continues to command the LSA powerplant market. Its largest U.S. representative, Lockwood Aviation Supply, is based at Sebring (www.lock wood-aviation.com; 800/527-6829).
Even More Sebring?
Nearly everyone agreed the layout was good and the organization was remarkable for a first-year event. But next year, the power generators should be located farther from places where people need to converse. Also, vendors who were assigned to a grassy area to the east didn’t see the traffic they might have had visitors not been blocked by an active taxiway. When no airplanes were passing, visitors were free to cross, but the safety ropes were up often enough to discourage many.
ring organizers are surveying vendors to find out how they can improve the event. With a conviction to please exhibitors and visitors and a can-do attitude, Sebring seems sure to become a regular part of the American aviation airshow scene. The first U.S. Sport Aviation Expo was successful enough that dates have already been set for 2005; visitors should plan on October 27-30. I suggest making reservations for exhibit space or hotel rooms early.
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