Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Light-Sport Chronicles: Europe’s Disneyland For Airplanes

One Yank’s take on Europe’s premier aircraft show...and why we should care

For many sport aviation-industry watchers at this year's Aero trade show—it's the annual European bash right after our Sun 'n Fun—the star attraction was Peter Funk's magnificent FK51 Mustang. This knockout stunner (see my Buyer's Guide in this issue) drew crowds with its all-composite replication of the original North American P-51's shiny aluminum skin, right down to 100,000 simulated rivets and screws, including indentations for every single one. (Did squadrons of forest elves pull 24-hour shifts pressing rivet heads into molds?)

I lead with the 70% scale Mustang because it epitomizes Aero, which you can think of as Europe's aviation Disneyland. Here's where you see the latest conventional and electric aircraft prototypes and model updates, new power systems and airframe construction methods, avionics advances and so much more.

I've never been, but I felt this important gathering gives us a sharp and clear focus on advances in flight we often don't see Stateside for years—if ever. So I asked my pal Dan Johnson, light-aircraft expert and purveyor of the superb website, to be our Aero 2013 tour guide.

Let's start with Dan's industry-seasoned view on why we Yanks should pay attention to Aero. After all, don't we already have our own Sebring, Sun 'n Fun, Oshkosh and regional aviation gatherings? "This is Europe's most important air show," he begins. "I've been to 10 of them. That first visit, the largest plane I saw was a Cessna 206. Now, they have jets and GA displays everywhere—but Aero has firm roots as a recreational aircraft event. They call it 'sport flying' in Europe, and it's always been driven by the sailplane community."

After World War II, the victorious Allies prohibited Germany's pilots from flying powered aircraft, so sailplane flight grew widely popular, as it had after World War I. To this day, soaring remains a vital mainstay of German civilian flight. Here at home, the general aviation-to-sport aircraft ratio is roughly 80% to 20%, which includes all sailplanes and homebuilts. In Europe, it's just the opposite: 80% sport to 20% GA!

"We sometimes think of sport flying as a U.S. phenomenon," Dan continues, "But we're only one of several active and developing markets that include Australia, Brazil, Europe, China and India."


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