|Performers in Sun 'n Fun's 2012 air show included Michael Goulian in his custom-built Extra 330SC and Skip Stewart in Prometheus, a highly modified 400 hp Pitts biplane.|
Last year: tornados and wrecked airplanes. This year: sun. Way sun. What a glorious week. Temps in the '80s. Refreshing breezes everyday. Billowy cotton-ball clouds and only one minor afternoon thunderstorm. The USAF Thunderbirds flew their fabulous routine everyday; there was record attendance; Fifi, the Commemorative Air Force-restored Boeing B-29, flew several missions; and attendees enjoyed six full days of displays, air-show flying, a stirring night-fireworks air show, demo flights for potential customers and new products...lots of new products.
Sun 'n Fun's 38th annual event was held at Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport, as always. The expansive field, about an hour southwest of entertainment mecca Disney World, gets the ball rolling for pilots and aviation fans every year. In the wake of last year's devastating damage on the field, the event felt like a blessing. Several airframe exhibitors reported sales of aircraft, from a luxurious TBM 850 to many LSA models. The new Rotax 912 iS liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engine drew admiring looks from showgoers all week long. Thousands of flight operations were conducted without a major mishap.
|Unlimited National Aerobatic Champion and air show performer Rob Holland (inverted) flies his MXS-RH inverted over 21-year-old air show performer Kevin Coleman's Extra 300SHP.|
Many improvements to the grounds included an upgrade to Paradise City, the light-aircraft grass strip on the southeast corner of the airfield. The strip itself, where ultralight and LSA demo flights are conducted every day, was lengthened and dramatically improved for the show. Next year, flying will be allowed there all day, even during the air show. That will help vendors get enough demo time for prospective customers, as well as valuable display time for their wares. Youth aviation programs catered to the hundreds of kids who were bused in to the show grounds everyday from neighboring schools. All in all, it was another great gathering at Sun 'n Fun and a rousing start for the flying season. Fly safe!
Sporty's Pilot Shop has partnered with ForeFlight on a cool new ADS-B weather uplink product called the Stratus. It's U.S.-built by Appareo Systems. A completely portable, wire-free, subscription-free weather solution, the Stratus works in conjunction with the ForeFlight app for the iPad to provide ADS-B-based weather, Nexrad, Metars, TAS, Airmets, Sigmets, TFRS and pretty much everything that comes with ADS-B. The unit wirelessly transmits data to your in-cockpit iPad through the tablet's Wi-Fi connection. Data can be broadcast to more than one iPad in the cockpit, too. It's as simple as opening ForeFlight, linking it to the dash-mounted Stratus box and bingo: You've got all your weather info on touch screen. ADS-B national weather coverage is expected to be coast-to-coast—complete sometime in 2013. Stratus comes with an eight-hour battery, is free of entangling wires, the ADS-B antenna is built into the box, and it also includes WAAS GPS with one- to two-meter accuracy. Price: $799.
TBM 850 Elite
A prominent focal point in the main display area this year was a new TBM 850 turboprop single. In an age of dwindling sales of large, expensive aircraft, the good news for parent company Daher-Socata was the sale of an 850 at the show—the first time for the company at Sun 'n Fun. The luxurious (six adjustable leather seats) single-engine turboprop has a max cruise of 320 KTAS (at 26,000 feet) and range is as high as 1,585 nm. The stellar panel comes loaded with state-of-the-art avionics. Powerplant and major system displays are handled by the Garmin G1000 15-inch MFD. Also displayed are cabin pressurization, ETM (Engine Trend Monitoring) and much, much more. Daher-Socata has also extended its Exclusive Maintenance Program into 2012, which covers scheduled maintenance costs through the aircraft's fifth annual inspection or 1,000 total flight hours, whichever comes first. Base price: $3.2 million.
Curt LoPresti of LoPresti Aviation carries on the tradition of his pioneering aerodynamicist father Roy with a new streamlined cowl for the Cessna Cardinal 177RG. Like the company's other after-market mods, it's a real beauty. Beyond the beholder's eye, there are performance aesthetics as well for Cardinal owners who want more: reduced drag (14 mph faster!), fuel efficiency, lower engine temps, improved cooling air exit, SCRAM air boost, larger, hi-flow oil cooler; and it's roomy enough for the IO-390 engine version. All new baffles and baffle seals are included. "The cowling is computer developed," says LoPresti, "using computational fluid dynamics software to enhance the aerodynamics. All the tooling was cut by a CNC machine so the carbon fiber-based, epoxy-infused parts are perfect. We scanned the whole airplane and lofted it into 3D on the computer. The epoxy is fire resistant and the parts—a spinner is included—are made with infused layup technology. That's a new technique that makes a perfect laminate with no voids. It's light and stiff and...beautiful! It's the latest way to do composite parts." Price: $15,999, or $13,999 with commitment from a group of 10 owners.
Back in 2008, the Sky Arrow (#18 to achieve ASTM compliance), a tandem S-LSA with a long, flowing pod and boom design, ceased production. That didn't ground the sturdy pusher though: Jon Hansen of Hansen Air Group continued to service the S-LSA (which is also Part 23 certified), and helped Able Flight's program use it as a hand control-only trainer for student pilots with disabilities. "I had daily requests for Sky Arrows with special controls but I couldn't sell them because they weren't in production," says Hansen. "Now I can, and the new company will produce the all-hand control system, too. I figure we'll have 30% of airplanes that come to us from Italy with the special controls, which took five years to develop." Magnaghi Group of Italy's CEO Giorgio Iannotti made the announcement at Sun 'n Fun, with members of the design team and Hansen Air Group principals in attendance. Magnaghi is an Italian aerospace manufacturer with 600 employees. It will re-introduce the all-composite tandem aircraft at Oshkosh in July. Production will begin soon on the updated model. Upgrades include reduced weight, larger wing tanks for six-hour range, refined aerodynamics and state-of-the-art avionics. Price: To be announced.
As Sales Manager Joseph Jones of VedaloHD aptly demonstrates in the photo, the new Stritanium Lombardy sunglasses frame is virtually indestructible. The super-lightweight headset-comfortable frame (18 grams) is made in Germany of surgical stainless steel infused with titanium, and it's indeed feather light. The design allows the no-screw-hinged temples to pop off when twisted past a certain point, and they snap easily back into place. Equally impressive are the quality lenses, in particular the copper-rose tint, with noticeably enhanced contrast and detail definition. Clouds pop out from the sky, depth perception is improved and perceived light levels in the cockpit are less compromised when in the soup or under cloud cover compared to more traditional smoke-tinted lenses. Also new is the ability to order EyePerform Digital HDRx prescription lenses that accommodate the wraparound style without distortion and retain all the qualities that make VedaloHD the choice of 75% of air-show stunt pilots: UVA and UVB blocking, non-polarized to avoid blocking out avionics screens and shatter resistant. Price: $150-300, depending on style (add $300 for prescription lenses).
Adventure iFly 720 GPS
One of the most revolutionary, popular and affordable portable avionics boxes out there is the iFly 700, a seven-inch, touch screen , moving map GPS that was the first to feature FAA sectional charts as a backdrop for route planning amidst tons of features. Now comes a significant upgrade: the new iFly 720 with yet another long list of powerful capabilities. Highlights include a dramatically improved, brighter, sunlight-readable screen that also displays details more crisply; iFly Streets for road navigation; dual-core processor and memory; Wi-Fi updating for fast and easy automatic data downloads (the iFly 700 uses USB); visual and audio warnings of nearby SUAs, TRFs and more—much more. We haven't even touched on the IFR Low Enroute charts, live weather, georeference plates and airport diagrams. Future software updates will include flight instruments, terrain depiction with vocal and sound proximity warnings for high terrain, and there's even a remote control for precise control in strong turbulence. The package includes pre-loaded SD card, 12V-28V DC adapters (cigarette style), 110V power adapter (optional battery packs required for aircraft without power plug), suction mount and two months of VFR/IFR updates. Price: $749.
Twenty-Five Years of Crazy Horse
Stallion 51 kicked off its year-long Silver Jubilee at Sun 'n Fun to celebrate 25 years of bringing the P-51 Mustang experience to the civilian world. President and Chief Pilot Lee Lauderback provides not just passive Mustang rides but instruction for those willing (and financially able!) to learn to fly the truly legendary WWII American fighter plane and other warbirds. The company Lauderback heads offers several services in historic aircraft, including the dual-control Mustang, Czech L-39 Albatros jet and the iconic North American T-6 Texan trainer. Checkouts and re-currency training, FAA Medical certification, aircraft sales and management of warbird aircraft are offered. During Sun 'n Fun, Lauderback flew his signature solo Mustang routine to kick off the night air show for Stallion 51 Day. He likens the company's operations to a classic fighter operation, with flight ops, a crew chief, briefing rooms and even a flight surgeon "There are fighter pilots out there today," he says, "who would give anything for my job!" Missions conducted from the Stallion 51's three big hangars at Kissimmee Gateway Airport include orientation flights, transition training, VFR unusual attitude training (UAT) and orientation.
Perhaps the biggest for LSA fans was the showcasing of the new Rotax 912 iS fuel-injected engine. Pipistrel already has its Virus SW flying the new engine in Europe. Flight Design is about to release its CTLSi. Tecnam's Phil Solomon announced he'll be offering the engine in all Tecnam's many models. Other airframe producers will likely follow suit, and for good reason: The 912 iS engine is a dramatic evolution that brings a noteworthy (21%) reduction in fuel burn, constant power at higher altitudes, multiple system redundancy and even smoother operation. The Rockwell Collins-designed ECU (Electronic Control Unit) adjusts fuel-air mixture to the optimum for each cylinder at every altitude and throttle setting. There are two injectors per cylinder, which increases fuel-spray dispersal uniformity and thus increases burn efficiency. The Virus SW with the new engine cruises at 147 knots and burns 3.95 gph! Those are real numbers, not estimates. Price: To be announced.
Vertical Power Backup EFIS
Here's a gadget any LSA pilot can get behind: the VP-400 system from Vertical Power. The avionics unit searches for the best runway in emergencies such as engine-out, EFIS failure, inadvertent flight into IMC or pilot incapacitation—and takes control to fly you there, automatically! In a threatening event, anyone aboard can push the red button on the panel and the VP-400's Runway Seeker technology calculates the best glide path to every runway within gliding range, then flies the airplane toward the threshold. Once there, the pilot disengages the system to manually land the disabled plane. If the pilot is incapacitated, the system attempts a survivable landing. Now there's an idea we can live with. Even if you're right over the airport, the VP-400 will circle the aircraft down at its best performance until it's time to fly the pattern. Intended as a backup unit for onboard EFIS systems, the VP-400's own solid-state gyros are independent of other instruments on board. There's an integrated WAAS GPS receiver too for accurate navigation. The unit includes the seven-inch high-res touch screen, built-in backup battery, GADAHRS and an ECB (electronic circuit breaker system). Price: $8,000 (VP-400 Duo, $11,000). Nav data subscription: $49/year.