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Mon, Jun 06, 2005

AOPA 2005 Fly-In... FDK Looks SO Good In The Sunshine!

ANN Chronicles the Sights At The AOPA Fly-In

Ya gotta pity poor Phil Boyer... for the last several years, the Annual AOPA Fly-In has not only been rained out but a few of them boasted more snorkel sales than E-6Bs. The day before this year's event, the weather was wet, lotsa rain and scud was in the area and it was a crap shoot as whether the WX would clear in time for the fun to begin... without having to tread water.

Phil was worried.

But... the weather started clearing shortly after sun-up and while there was a fair amount of IFR scuz to battle, the faithful made the effort to show up... in great numbers for the annual one-day AOPA HQ shindig. AOPA tells us that more than 5,000 pilots, future pilots, and their families and friends turned out for AOPA's Fifteenth Annual Fly-In and Open House on Saturday. Phil's mood improved... as the weather did likewise.

Better yet, some 250 aircraft braved the vagaries of the Washington area's restricted, confusing airspace to take advantage of the conditions and a temporary control tower to land at Frederick Municipal Airport for the event... while thousands more arrived by car.

AOPA's 2005 Prize-plane, a beautifully updated Commander 112A, got stuck at a nearby airport for a few hours, in rain and fog, but got to the fly-in as soon as they could get a clearance. The Red/White/Blue Commander was a major draw... and a spectacular example of what can be done to update an elder airframe -- gorgeous!

Face it... it ain't a fly-in anymore without scads of Cirri on the ramp. Even though the Cirrus bunch were gathering some 1000 miles to the west at Cirrus Design HQ for their annual get-together and composite love-fest, quite a few SR20s and SR22s were in residence and a few folks reportedly took the plunge and started the process of ordering their own right on the grounds.

For under $200K, you can get a glass panel-equipped Symphony of your very own.. setting the most aggressive price-point in the field for TAA's (Technologically Advanced Aircraft). Mind you, if you need more than two seats, (Note: with the exception of Cessna's venerable Skyhawk, which we've been admonished to recall is ALSO priced under $200K -- but with four seats) you're out of luck without ponying up the better part of another $100K... but for many missions, the speedy little 160 HP Symphony does just what the flight surgeon ordered... cruises nearly 150 mph, boasts 700 pounds of useful load and is just plain fun to fly. Serial production and deliveries are getting back up to speed as we speak... and we couldn't be more pleased. This is a fun little bird.

NO aircraft is getting more buzz right now than the SLEEK new Diamond DA42... the first of which are expected to start showing up in the US using Lycoming engines and later with Thielert Diesel-power. Garmin G1000 equipped, the four seat DA42 is the first all-new twin to show up on American shores in a LONG time. The Lycoming version is known to be quite the hot-rod, with exceptional single-engine capability, but the diesel is going to set standards for economy of operation that no twin can hope to match without serious effort. ANN expects to offer an aggressive flight test shortly.

If there is a big crowd at the main event tent... one of two people is speaking -- AOPA Boss Phil Boyer or aero-humorist/educator Rod Machado. Rod does something amazing in his well-attended seminars... he not only uses humor to great effect, he manages to weave in solid aero-educational data and tools that not only leaves one with a big sloppy grin on their face, but well-educated and more knowledgeable than when they started. Rod is a master at keeping audiences entertained... but he's also one of the most effective instructors we've ever met. If you get a chance to hear Rod speak, DO NOT miss it. Highly recommended.

One of the other SRO events at at the AOPA Fly-In was Phil Boyer's informal chat with membership... principally about the state of the Washington ADIZ and associated issues. Phil, obviously still reeling from the fallout of the Washington ADIZ incursion that SO embarrassed the GA industry, started with a photo of downtown Washington DC... asking all those in attendance to look it over (with a number of WELL-KNOWN DC landmarks highly visible) to let him know if they could not plainly recognize where they (in the photo) would have been if they saw such a sight from their cockpits... While he was trying to be polite, he was plainly not impressed with pilot Jim Schaeffer's explanations about not knowing where he was when he blundered into prohibited territory and set-back local GA access issues significantly.

Phil also had some fun with the over-reaction and hype surrounding the DC ADIZ transgression. While a GA pilot clearly screwed up, the system DID work, even though small aircraft like a Cessna 150 make for a ridiculously inefficient weapons system. Unfortunately; public sensitivity to all manner of aviation threats since 9/11 has produced a great deal of over-reaction and little sense in how our nation's aviation security has been administered. Phil admitted the Schaeffer incident has set back attempts, on their part, to start dismantling portions of the ADIZ by weeks... or months. Darn.

While AOPA would normally be very pleased to see local media interest in their Fly-In, this year's increased interest came about for all the wrong reasons... as local media outlets continued to beat the Washington ADIZ incursion story to death. AOPA has been unusually effective in conducting damage control after this major screw-up.

One of the best reasons to attend the AOPA Fly-In has little to do with the outside exhibits... but revolves around the chance to wander the halls of AOPA HQ and visit EVERY major office and department in the building... getting an up-close and personal look at the many functions the organization undertakes and to meet the staff that handles those tasks. Here, AOPA's Chief medical trouble-shooter (a staggeringly valuable and effective function that AOPA undertakes on behalf of its membership), Gray Crump, holds court and answers one of hundreds of questions he's asked each week about collective and individual medical concerns.

A young couple checks out a Lancair cockpit... I was pleased and impressed with how many couples were trying out airplanes TOGETHER and talking about what the airplane would do for them, as a family. VERY cool trend, that. Lancair, like a number of the slicker GA operators, has a mobile showroom that moves around the country with a "try-it-before-you-fly-it" cockpit mock-up and a sales force that is ready with solid answers to the common questions potential buyers have as they consider an aircraft purchase. Is it working? Apparently, yes... GA sales activity continues to look good.

One of the "elder statesmen"of the GA world, New Piper Aircraft, displayed a roomy six-place Piper 6X... complete with the new Avidyne glass panel system. We didn't think it was possible for a panel to dwarf the huge Avidyne displays, but the monstrous panel of the 6X actually leaves plenty of room for more toys (HDTV, anyone?). The Avidyne installation has injected even greater interest and utility into an airframe that has withstood the test of time surprisingly well. There are few solid fixed gear six-place offerings at the moment, but the 6X and the Turbo-Charged 6XT are near the top of our list.

That's just a few of the many cool things we saw this weekend... but if you don't want  to miss the next opportunity to enjoy such an event, mark your calendars NOW for next year's AOPA Fly-In... Saturday, June 3, 2006. This has become one of our favorite one-day events and remains an excellent chance to see what GA's most dynamic Alphabet Association is all about.

FMI: www.aopa.org

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