So Far It's Slow, But Better Than Last Year
Driving up to the US Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida on
Thursday, we saw a plane in the sky.
"Ah, there's a plane. Good news!" and we looked for the other
planes that should have been in the pattern.
Except that there weren't any. "A plane, singular. Maybe it's
not such good news?" but as it turned out, we simply arrived during
a lull in the flying. Some of the lighter birds weren't flying
because of a stiff breeze, which we estimated at 10 gusting 16
knots (KSEF has no on-field weather). As the winds died down, more
aircraft of more varieties took to the air.
Some of them were instantly recognizable -- the silver-painted
prototype of the Sport Aircraft Works' Parrot, the sleek silhouette
of an Air Creation trike, or the squatty power-lifter look of an
AAI/Groen Brothers Sparrowhawk gyroplane.
And some of them required a little more brain stem thrashing to
assign a name to -- Is that one of those Tecnams from Italy? Is
that something like a Kitfox? (Something like, exactly, because
Kitfox never came back from bankruptcy court). Ah, there's one from
One thing that was clear was that a pretty good range of Light
Sport Aircraft were here at Sebring. There were other airplanes too
-- Bonanzas, a Cirrus, a PC-12, arriving. What's up with that? The
folks in those planes were coming to check Light Sport Aircraft
out, too. (And we spent an hour in a Saturn in stop and go,
construction-addled traffic enroute to Sebring. Ow).
There were a lot of airplanes. Most every LSA we've written
about before was here, and there were at least two new ones we
haven't written about yet. But there weren't a lot of people, and
as we circulated we independently got curious and began to ask
exhibitors how it was going.
Boiled down to a consensus, the crowds were small, so small you
could scarcely call them crowds. But some exhibitors said that
they'd been pretty good around noontime (before we got there) and
several that exhibited last year said that the crowds on the first
day of that inaugural Expo were smaller still than today's.
Several factors militated against heavy attendance. It was a
Thursday, and most folks are at work. This wasn't the original date
of the event -- it was supposed to take place in October, and was
hastily rescheduled due to hurricane Wilma (this is actually the
2005 event, the 2006 one will take place in October again. Got
Sebring is not exactly centrally located -- well, actually, it
is centrally located, adjacent to the Middle of Nowhere;
what it isn't is conveniently located. This problem was
compounded by the haphazard road work going on, on what seemed to
be all of the two-lane backcountry roads that lead to this
Why, it's so deep in Florida that you actually see orange
But that let the vendors treat the first day of the Expo pretty
much like a set-up day. It was a good day for the people who came
to fly; the exhibitors flying demos didn't have long wait times or
lines. It was a good day for serious buyers and tire-kickers alike,
because there was an excellent (from their point of view) customer
to expert ratio.
And most vendors, especially those with experience here from
last year, were very confident that things would pick up on the
weekend. "Saturday'll be the big day," was something we heard over
and over again.
Some Random Observations
* Today's crowd was not young. Median age was
probably on the dark side of fifty. Where are all the young people
we were going to attract to the sport with Sport Pilot? I come back
to the weekday/work thing. The AARP crowd can come in on Thursday,
as their wives have had them around the house way too much since
* Tom Peghiny, ever youthful, says he's glad to
have stepped down from the ASTM fixed-wing consensus standards
committee -- everyone says he did a great job chairing the
committee, but now he can concentrate on Flight Designs. Here's a
guy who's been in the sport since the first guy nailed a motor on a
hang-glider, and he's long overdue for greater success. Perhaps
he'll get there with the CT. There's a reason that's been in the
media so much -- it's so damned cute and friendly looking, you want
to rub its tummy and see if it rolls over for you.
When we think about the ASTM standards, we often forget the real
sacrifices that people like Tom and others (Greg Gremminger comes
to mind) made to establish those standards. The costs were many:
time away from family and business, money not earned, stress.
"Thanks" seems so insufficient.
* Al Waddill, VP Sales of Groen Brothers, told
us that they'd sold 110 Sparrowhawk kits, "but that counts modified
RAFs." As Aero-News readers ought to know, before the company
introduced the first Sparrowhawk, they made a "Stability and
Control Kit" for the RAF 2000 gyroplane, which converts the popular
Canadian machine to a more stable centerline thrust configuration
with a very large all-flying tail. Groen Brothers still sells the
Waddill, who's been selling gyroplanes off and on since a stint
as an Umbaugh 18 (later Air and Space 18A) dealer in 1962, believes
strongly that the kit makes the RAF safer. "If you're flying an
RAF, bring it to me. I'll install the stability and control kit at
cost -- we're not looking to make money off that kit, but we want
to make gyro flying safer.
Groen Brothers usually has some kind of show special. Here it
was a free set of doors if you bought at the show. Doors add $778
to the already $34,995 cost of the Sparrowhawk II.
* There remains a lot of complaining about the
typical $80,000 price of a fully-equipped, well-dressed SLSA.
(Special Light Sport Aircraft -- factory-built machine). Many
wannabe buyers expected to see these planes in the $35k
The irony, of course, is that there are light-sport
aircraft available for that price, or less; but the pilot with the
"2-seat ultralight" budget looks at the slick new European
speedsters and gets the jones for the $80,000 plane, and won't be
satisfied with the plane he can afford.
Here at the Expo, there are some planes that fit your budget and
some that fit your dreams... and the people who have made both fit
together are looking the happiest of all.
We'll have a LOT more to say about the Expo this week, so stay