The annual recreational aviation show in central Florida had one major problem that no one could escape, but customers and vendors turned into well stirred lemonade.
The Sebring Sport Aviation Expo wrapped up last week in Central Florida, and it was in some ways the weirdest show I’ve attended, and as you might imagine, I’ve been to a few such gatherings. It was windy for the last three days of the show; consequently, there was little flying being done. On Wednesday, apparently, the weather was fine and there were a lot of planes in the air, but as luck would have it, I got there on Thursday morning, and from that point on, it was too windy to fly.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. This was my third Sport Aviation Expo but my first windy one. But I was reminded that I did a couple of stints of January training in Lakeland, another Central Florida city known for its own airshow, Sun ‘n Fun, and I got knocked around for days at a time. By “windy” I don’t mean a pleasant breeze but near gale force winds. In the Piper Arrows I was training in, that wasn’t a showstopper—they handle the winds pretty well—but it played havoc with my ground reference maneuvers.
With Light Sport Aircraft, it’s a different story. Designed to have really slow stall speeds, because the FAA mandates it, LSA struggle with gusty conditions. Again, the conditions at Sebring were beyond gusty, with winds blowing in the low 20s Thursday through Saturday and reaching up in the 30 with peak gusts from time to time. And there was little reprieve in the early morning and late afternoon. It was blowing pretty good 24 hours a day.
You’d think that the vendors, who come to the show to sell planes, would have been sorely disappointed, but such was not the case at all. The folks I spoke with were happy with the event, and a couple actually said it had been a terrific show for them.
This goes to confirming something I’d often wondered, whether the flying at an airshow aimed at pilots (and not gen-pop spectators) was a big attraction. I wonder even more now. I guess the distinction is between a trade show and an airshow and figuring out why spectators are attending. I go because it’s my job and my passion to report on personal aviation. But if I weren’t a journalist, what would be the draw for me? That’s easy. The products (including the airplanes) and the chance to see them up close and personal and interact with the folks who sell them.
This is not to say that I don’t like to watch the rare planes, warbirds and airshow acts at AirVenture or Sun ‘n Fun. I do enjoy them tremendously. But at Sport Aviation Expo, the organizers were smart when they named it. It’s all about showing cool stuff to the people. That’s what an expo is. And while it’s not as much without the flying, it was still a lot of fun and I’m more psyched for next year’s show than ever before.