"Apart From That, Mrs. Lincoln, How Did You Like The
By Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. O'Brien
The show is over, and attendees, exhibitors, and us journos are
enroute or arrived at home (or next assignment). I have the usual
post-show combination of sunburn, sore feet, and head cold. And an
editor is on the line asking for a wrap-up. And my tax accountant
is holding on Line 2. And it's going to rain on my freshly waxed
Holy Schnikeys... am I already missing Sun n Fun?
What Was New and Cool?
The short answer -- less than we'd like. This is supposed to be
the big spring show where all the guys bring out the stuff they've
been working at all winter. I expect that a lot of airplane
designers and builders have new kitchens and rec rooms, or have
taken up restoring old Harleys, 'cause if the effort went into
planes it didn't get done in time for the show. That said, there's
always something worth seeing; here's a roundup.
--LSAs are still hot, hot, hot, and now we're starting to see
support services for the 30 or so LSA vendors that are out there --
one guy, Bob Perkins of Cardinal
Marketing, seemed to have a pretty good handle on the
industry, and was pitching his Louisville-MBA market savvy to
vendors at the show. Right now, the LSA makers and importers who
grab mind and market share are likely to survive, and the ones that
don't will fall by the wayside. It's a pity this has to be. There
are a lot of great products, not so many great business plans.
I'm no Bob Perkins, but I think the best path to success and
growth is to figure out how to reach outside the hermetically
sealed world of 600,000 aging pilots and draw in fresh blood from
other outdoor recreational activities.
There are many, many, many new Light Sport Aircraft, and most of
them appear to be safe, economical and sporty to fly. We also MAY
see a revolution in flight training as LSAs are used to train more
sport pilots and grow our flying ranks -- a lot of people plan and
hope to do this, anyway.
--Aerolab is an Italian company with
its first of three planned Sport Camper experimentals that evoke
the 1930s -- a low wing. Coming soon, a parasol and a biplane with
swept wings. Each is available with a Rotec radial or Walter Mikron
inverted inline engine for even more Roscoe Turner points. Look for
more on Aerolab and how a Euro-zone company can deliver a complete
kit for $40k US -- FOB New York.
--A new display area at the entrance of the show, an RV camping
area in prior years, held a lot of LSA vendors. An LSA corral would
be a great addition in this area, although it only held LSAs by
virtue of being overflow and holding last-minute registrants. It
also held Simple Green cleaner and the Embraer Phenom bizjet, the
latter of which is promised a space nearer its competition next
--Back to planes. Rob and I both flew the StingSport. He wants one bad. I just
want one. More later.
--Trends in certified aircraft continue: glass panels,
incremental improvements, rising prices. The new machines threaten
extended production of the old. Some potential Baron buyers will
pay less and get most of what the Baron in the vastly more
economical Diamond DA-42. Other potential Baron buyers will look at
the Eclipse and wonder why they're paying more money for
fifty-year-old technology. Who's left? The guys who just must have
Some of the also-rans among corporate jets are going to be
flushed out by newer, more efficient models like Cessna's Citation
"plus" series, or the upcoming Mustang VLJ.
--Turboprop twins are joining megabuck piston singles and twins
on the endangered species list. The buyer who might once have
bought a Conquest, and who now looks at a King Air 90 or 100, also
has to look at the PC-12 and perhaps the TBM 850. Each of those
planes has a niche it fits perfectly, but the singles get the nod
on economy. The price of fuel has almost doubled in the last few
years, reinforcing the strengths of the single.
--Modifications of discontinued aircraft give the latest
machines stiff competition. After looking at a Panther Navajo
offered for $979k on a 2000-hour airframe -- well, I won't say it
and beat up on poor Barons any more.
--Rob also spent some time with Ravin
Aircraft. Two words: Composite Comanche (above). If
you missed the elegant Piper speedster that was replaced by the
utilitarian Arrow, you can get another bite at the apple. Read his
--Gyro people keep trying to change the world, despite the
failures of their forebears as revolutionaries. Look for in-depth
reports on two sets of them, Larry Neal with his roadable Super Sky Cycle (above), now
available as a kit for $25k, and plans for yet greater things; and
Carter Aviation Technologies,
who are flying some of their high-tech juju in a single-seater
originally based on one of Larry's Butterfly Monarch kits (and
having fewer of Larry's parts every time they take a wrench to it).
The real news from Carter is new 2+2 Personal Air Vehicle
demonstrators, under construction to fly in 2007 -- this time with
aviation engines to eliminate the forced downtime of the
CarterCopter Technology Demonstrator program, plus three airframes
to eliminate the unforced downtime caused by in-progress
--Superior's new 400-cube
bored-and-stroked O-360 is just the thing for all you Tool Time
fans out there. There's never been a machine that couldn't be made
more entertaining by adding some cubic inches. It's your favorite
motor with forty more reasons to fall in love.
--We met a new engine converter who also makes his own props.
Why can he succeed building aero engines from Corvette motors when
so many have failed before? "The idea is too good to die." Watch
these pages for news as we play catch-em-up.
--Turtle-Pac ferry tanks (in your
experimental with no permit required!) extend your range 10 or more
gallons worth. And leave room for the extra Gatorade bottle you're
gonna need. This Aussie company is fascinating and we'll have a
follow-up on them; the story of how Laszlo Torok went from
shipwrecked sailor to gas-tank guru makes good reading.
--Arctic Air portable A/C
finally gives you something to strap in the back seat of a Cherokee
140. Now if the pilot's sweating, it's only because of that
obstacle on the departure end.
Where Was Everybody?
Rick Rousos at the Lakeland Ledger reports that numbers were
down early in the week, but up at the end. Hello? Did we go to the
same show? Friday and Saturday had what you could call crowds, but
thanks perhaps to overcast skies that took a long time to burn off,
Sunday gave you plenty of elbow room at show center.
Sun n Fun didn't release any numbers this year. Vendors and
exhibitors gave us, rather than the usual scattershot of opinions,
a general consensus that numbers were down. But there was a
minority that felt that the show was meeting expectations. (Low
expectations?) New vendors generally seemed pleased -- Aerolab, for
instance, didn't much care where attendance was compared to last
year; they had a lot of interest in their kit and showed it to more
people than they can in most events at home in Europe.
The weather was really wonderful for most of the show, too, not
unbearably hot, and there was no rain during show hours, although
Saturday night treated campers to a frontal passage, complete with
electrical storm, power outages, tent washouts, etc.
One telling metric -- I hurt my back and chose to use a handicap
cart on two days (I reserved it for the week, just in case).
Normally, those carts sell out by 10:30 or 11 on every day of the
show. Unlike every other year, I never saw the vendor go to zero
carts -- not once.
There were some weather systems here and there around the
country, but those are common every year, and seldom delay visitors
more than a couple of days. What is new this year, and what
certainly may have cut attendance by aviators, is high fuel costs
everywhere. When you're looking at a $1,500 trip for Avgas alone,
flying in loses some of its pizzazz, and the sparse camping and
general aviation parking bore that out.
Was it lack of interest? Even we weren't immune -- we had three
contributors cancel on us in the run-up to the show, leaving
us to cover the whole show with staff writers, who ran ragged
getting you the information and now have to make sense of it and
write it up. (Not that we're complaining -- this might be a fun
hobby if we couldn't get paid).
The ultralight area, Paradise City, was also sparsely attended.
The vendors were there, most of them -- in this business, if you
miss a show the rumour mill is sizing you up for Chapter 11 by Day
Two -- but they lose a lot by having to shut down for the afternoon
during the show. They can't even go to the planes to get something
or it's a safety violation -- but they still land and take off over
the heads of spectators entering the main gate.
Choppertown made the Paradise City area look like Grand Central
in rush hour. There were four helicopter vendors, one helicopter
accessory vendor, one gyro vendor, and Carter was told they had to
buy an exhibit space or they couldn't terminate their "Future
Flight One" VSTOL demo flight at Sun n Fun.
The vendors that do attend and the ones that don't come across
as aggrieved. A couple of years ago Sun n Fun execs made the trek
to Bensen Days to ask, "why don't you guys come to our show
anymore?" They got an earful, and promised changes. If changes
occurred, they were for the worse. One good thing is that exhibit
spaces are inexpensive (10' x 10', $475) relative to the other
areas, but then, that's because nobody goes there. For one thing,
most of the signs at show center don't mention Choppertown, and
there is zero visible effort to promote the site. To get there you
need to go past all kinds of aircraft parking, with little or no
indication that there's anything down there worth going to see.
We didn't get to the seaplane base this year. It's usually a
very positive vibe -- AND I wanted to see the LSA Aero Gannet
seaplane that we just missed at Sebring -- but you can only be in
one place at a time. Like Choppertown, the seaplanes are one of the
things you just about have to know about before you go, because
you're unlikely to see a mention near show center.
It's an ill wind that blows no good, and in this case, there was
some benefit to be had from the low numbers. It was generally easy
to photograph even popular displays without anthills of people
swarming over them. When there were lines at all at concessions,
they were short; there were plenty of good airshow vantage points
to be had, even once the show got going.
Who Deserves To Be Called Hero?
The volunteers. Like every fly-in, this one
lives and dies on the strengths and weaknesses of its unpaid foot
soldiers, and since the guns fell still in 1918 there has never
been such an imbalance between the stumbling of the generals and
the magnificence of the doughboys (and, in this case, girls). The
media center crew were wonderful, the exhibitor relations crew
great, the "Raiders" -- who patrol the grounds in Gators ruthlessly
hunting down trash -- were an inspiration. I spent a pleasant 20
minutes talking to a "Security" fellow who'd been assigned to open
and close a roadway with a rope, depending on whether the
approaching person or vehicle was authorized or not.
They do it for free camping (the price, four days' being on-call
for volunteer duty -- some work all four days, some fewer). As my
rope-handling friend said, "you can see the exhibits better after
hours, anyway." Apparently I'm not the only one who appreciates the
volunteers, for several told me they could scarcely pass an
exhibitor's booth without being offered a cold drink or some other
refreshment, not to mention a kind word.
Occasionally you run into a power-drunk volunteer at such an
event. If there were any this year, I didn't run into 'em. Just
nice guys working hard, or at least doing their duty, with a Boy
Scout Oath's worth of good character traits.
What Was A Drag?
If you came to Lakeland to see warbirds, you were in the wrong
place at the wrong time.
"They ask so much," a volunteer told Aero-News. "They want to
have fuel, they want to have cars provided to them, they want to
have thirty passes for all their friends." If what he says is true,
it seems the problem could be solved by negotiation between the
well-heeled warbird owners and the equally well-heeled Sun n Fun
executives. But not being all that well-heeled, we don't travel in
But coming on the heels of an Oshkosh that saw three-ship B-17
formations, multiple B-25s flying, mass Harvard formations, and
rare jets... to see these all missing from Sun 'n Fun was a
disappointment. Yes, it's an important type, but it's hard to get
excited about an O-2. When I was a kid the undertaker in town had
one -- well, a Skymaster anyway.
The airshow also had its limits, but at least there was some
high point every day. But without the draw of the Blue Angels or
Thunderbirds, an airshow in fairly-remote Lakeland isn't going to
draw many folks from the local area. Not for $30 per adult -- it's
a rotten entertainment value if you're not airplane freaks like
There's no entertainment to speak of for the
non-airplane-freaks. My parents, who are both licensed pilots that
don't fly any more, visited on one day. Mom has no interest in
planes any more, and there was really nothing for her to do but
park in the shade and read. This made Dad so antsy with worry that
he couldn't really enjoy the show, and the one thing he really
wanted to see -- Ultralights flying -- he missed, because he could
only come in the afternoon, and the layout of the field and the
waiver says that the ultralights can land over the heads of John Q.
and Jane Public, but they can't fly when the show is on lest they
bumble into an aerobatic ace.
Too many things are being done the way they've always been done,
because that's what has always been done.
And Now, A Few Words On Safety
The best possible news -- this year there was no fatality or
serious injury on scene. There were a couple of incidents of
operator headspace and timing that could have been much worse --
but everybody who came to Lakeland Linder under the power of his or
her own beating little heart left the same way, and that's a win
for the community.
That said, the outcome was due to luck, particularly in the 23-car holocaust and the Dova Skylark's ski-jump launch out of the
display area. Sun n Fun volunteers pointed out that
the displayer of that aircraft violated a clear, written rule that
all a/c on display must have cold ignitions (disconnected at
battery). The next day, they were circulating with the language
printed in bold letters on yellow paper -- a day too late. This
disconnection has been done "on the honor system" till now, but
going forward exhibitors might have to be inspected (putting
another task on the backs of the volunteers...).
At least one more incident caused substantial damage to an
aircraft and a ground vehicle -- tens of thousands of dollars'
worth. This incident was apparently not mentioned in the show
wrapup by Sun n Fun President John Burton, according to a Lakeland
Ledger report. Burton made much out of the "fact" that the only
incidents were the Skylark LSA crash and the parking-lot fire that
destroyed 23 vehicles -- the second fire in three years.
The accident he left out occurred when a T-6 taxied into a Gator
(which would have been messy, but more one-sided, if it had been
the handbag-material reptile -- unfortunately for the T-6 owner, it
was the more stoutly constructed John Deere vehicle).
In addition, there were the usual rash of "show-bound"
accidents, including two which resulted in serious injuries to
familiar faces in the industry. Y'know, guys, everybody cuts you
some slack if you don't show up till Wednesday... and now the news
comes in of race plane Relentless going down on the way home
(fortunately, with no loss of life).
So the bottom line is, the show was safe, but largely by luck.
We all welcome good luck, but as a long term strategy it has its
To Sum Up -- Quote Of The Show
"It's a pretty good regional fly-in." - Aero-News
Associate Editor (and SnF "newbie") Rob Finfrock
For all we didn't like, it's a week among aircraft and aircraft
people, and the worst one ever would still be great. Could this
show get better? Sure. Lots of room for improvement. Are there
better shows? Absolutely. If you have to pick one of Airventure or
Sun n Fun, it has to be Oshkosh; like this year's slogan says,
"You've Got To Be There!" At one time, the organizers of Sun n Fun
thought they could rival and surpass the EAA show, but that was
then and this is now -- the trend line is in the opposite
direction. Don't forget Arlington and Copperstate as alternatives
that may be closer to you West-of-the-Mississippians; and specialty
shows for LSAs (Sebring), Warbirds (Reading), and rotorcraft
(Mentone and Bensen Days) are growing.
I like having shows all round the year -- and all round the
nation. So I hope that Sun n Fun can capture the excitement -- or
that something more exciting replaces it. Just before Tax Day is no
time for ennui.