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

The Aero site right at Friedrichshafen's airport is a massive complex of 11 huge halls, each "the size of a basketball gymnasium," says Dan, "and every one pretty much filled wall to wall with aircraft." Each hall has huge doors. Even the big aircraft can taxi up, shut down and be towed to their display space inside. "You get everything from gyroplanes to jets. There's an entire hall dedicated just to RC model aircraft, which have little presence at U.S. air shows. And get this: Between every hall are restrooms and a restaurant!

"But here's why Aero is so important," Dan continues. "The majority of light-sport aircraft sold here and worldwide come from Europe. And Aero is the place to see what's coming down the pipeline."

The setting is classic southern Germany eye candy: Across the Bodensee (aka Lake Constance), the Swiss Alps vault into the sky. Storybook-beautiful Austria and Liechtenstein are just down the lake. "It's also a great place for family or friends who aren't aviation enthusiasts," Dan adds.

Friedrichshafen is the historical birthplace (1900) of Germany's massive Zeppelin dirigibles that sailed the world's skies in the 1930s. There's a big Zepp museum there. You can even buy a ride on a modern airship!

Not every aircraft or innovation at Aero will make it to the U.S. or world market. Selling isn't even the primary motivation for many exhibitors. Of course, visitors do see the latest versions of aircraft that sell in the U.S. But there are one-off versions of wild ideas you'll never see here. They're brought out to showcase and share the creative genius of designers and builders. "It's similar to Oshkosh's Federal Pavilion and NASA's display building. You get to see all these cool futuristic ideas people are working on," Dan says.

Aero's halls are organized by aircraft types. You're likely to stumble across things you've never seen or heard of, sometimes from unexpected places such as Iran.

Electric flight is always big at Aero. Right inside the main gate, there's an entire outdoor display of electric and solar-powered aircraft. Evektor introduced its prototype EPOS solely as a proof-of-concept design, yet 10 people offered to buy it on the spot. Eric Raymond displayed his two-seat sailplane-derived solar cell-powered Sunseeker Duo sailplane to get funding for a major flight this year.

A few more of Dan's highlights: "Peter Funk [designer/producer of the FK aircraft line, including the FK12 Comet LSA aerobatic biplane, FK51 Mustang and several other distinguished aircraft] is the Steve Jobs of sport aviation; he's always pulling a surprise out of his hat." Joining the Mustang was Funk's other magician's rabbit: a gorgeous replica of the vintage 1930s Bücker131 Jungmann stunt biplane, dubbed the FK131. It will be produced by his FK-Lightplanes Germany.


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