Sun ‘n Fun & LSAs

Andrew’s Foxbat – photo courtesy Mick Worthington

The following ‘comment’ was submitted by Andrew Murray – Foxbat owner in Western Australia – in response to my recent blog post about ‘Light Sport Aircraft – which is best?’. I think it is of enough interest to publish it as an item in its own right – thank you Andrew!

I am just back from Sun ‘n Fun in the US where I had the opportunity to inspect almost all of the latest offerings in the LSA (and also light GA aircraft) arena. I was also tickled pink to meet and speak with Yuriy Yakovlyev, designer of my cherished Foxbat of course !

It was great fun to look at all the aircraft now available and dream of having a stable of them to suit every whim. It would be a “stable” because, as you point out, everything is a compromise and nothing does everything. Choosing an LSA is, I think, a matter of choosing the “right” compromise. By this I mean the one that suits one’s own flying profile but also one that makes a good balance between the fundamental qualities you mention.

I can honestly say I visited only one stand where, if the vendor had said “I will here and now swap this aeroplane for your Foxbat” I would have said “yes” (and even then it would require some sober thought). That was the Carbon Cub stand – I would LOVE one of those but sadly they are twice the price of the Foxbat (at least).

[Andrew, I agree. I share my Tyabb hangar with Stephen Buckle, the Australian Cubcrafters agent, and have been able to fly a Carbon Cub several times. It’s a wonderful aircraft to fly but as you say, quite expensive.]

In your post you refer to a lot of individual features such as range, speed, load carrying capacity (which I think is one of the critical things) and so-on which inform a buying decision. We all go through this dissection analysis when forking out money for a plane but I wonder how much of it just rationalisation. Most of us buy an LSA for FUN.

What makes it fun ? For me the key things are:
1. Good visibility – if I am going to enjoy the sky and the view of the ground I want to see as much of it as I can.
2. The ability to get up high quickly – it makes me feel safe and see point 1 for the view.
3. The ability to fly low and slow safely – a lot of what I want to see is on the ground. That means a reliable engine and good low speed handling qualities.
4. Control harmony – it needs to feel nice to fly.
5. It has to look nice. Sounds odd but we spend far more time looking at our aeroplane from the outside than we do looking out of it from the inside. I don’t want an ugly aeroplane…no fun in that.

I think Yuriy and his team got the balance just right. At some point I want to buy a fast cross-country aeroplane and preferably one capable of mild aerobatics. That means probably an RV-7 or something like that – as I have a PPL I can go out of the LSA realm while my medical holds. When that time comes thiough, I REALLY hope I don’t have to sell the Foxbat (or at least not sell all of it) in order to afford the RV. That aeroplane will go more than 50% faster than the Foxbat so the speed does make a difference – distances beween flying friends can be large in WA.

[Again Andrew, I agree with the RV-7. I owned an RV-7A for a short while before someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. As a great handling, fast cruising aircraft – over 175 knots true at 7,500 feet – it takes a lot of beating. Foxbat owner Bo Hannington at Serpentine, WA, has that ideal combination – a Foxbat for his weekend pleasure flying and a quick RV-6 for cross-continent travel. Takes some beating.]

Sun ‘n Fun was awesome by the way – well worth the long trip. Friendly and diverse and no problem getting up close and personal with all kinds of aeroplanes. Among my favourites in the formal show were the twin Beech aerobatic display and the Aeroshell formation aerobatic team flying Harvards. The latter did a close formation (very close !) aerobatic display down to a couple of hundred feet – awesome in itself but get this: they then repeated it (a) at night (b) in and out of thick clouds of their own smoke (c) while trailing fireworks. Spine tingling but also incredibly beautiful and all to the sound track of those six radial engines. Some pics and videos on their Facebook page here:

Oh..and did I mention the jet assisted radial biplane? Something weird happens in the brain when that goes over the top sounding like a jet fighter!

Happy Flying!

NATFLY Easter 2015 is no more

NATFLY headerIn case you hadn’t heard, Recreational Aviation Australia (RA-Aus) has decided to postpone – to a yet undisclosed date and place – the 2015 Easter NATFLY event, which in recent years has taken place at Temora Airfield in New South Wales.

The October 2014 RA-Aus newsletter says: “The decision was made with a view to re-invigorating NATFLY to attract a wide and varied audience”. RA-Aus is expecting to make a further announcement in January 2015 and refer you to a link on their website for more information – but don’t bother, the link just takes you to the NATFLY 2014 site, with nothing about the RA-Aus decision to postpone/cancel next year’s event.

The announcement has been greeted with both joy and sadness in our home.

Joy because for the first time in over 20 years, we can enjoy the Easter holiday weekend like normal(?) people. Before coming to Australia 15 years ago (and attending every NATFLY since then) we used to take our hot-air balloon to a big Easter ballooning festival in southern England. Getting up at 4.00 in the morning for the dawn lift-off was not my forté but taking part in a mass departure of 50+ balloons did make up for the early start. But preparation, planning and attendance at these big events costs a lot of time and money. Because of job and other constraints, I was often separated from my partner at a holiday time when we would prefer to be together relaxing.

And sadness because I remember when NATFLY attracted 500 or more aircraft from every corner of Australia. I recall often meeting people who had flown to Narromine (the NATFLY location in those days) from Darwin, Perth, Cairns and all manner of other distant, and no doubt more exotic, locations. The club of which I was a member – the Gold Coast Sports Flying Club (GCSFC) based at Heck Field, just to the north of the Gold Coast, always flew several aircraft down – as many as eight, I recall one year. We didn’t necessarily fly together – some took close to six hours in the slower planes, and others maybe only four hours. But we all got together after arrival and walked round looking at all the planes and chatted to their happy owners.

But, alas, attendances at NATFLY (and for that matter Ausfly, a similar event) have decreased markedly in recent times.

Contrast this situation with ever increasing attendances at air shows & fly-ins overseas – Sun ‘n Fun (Florida, USA), EAA Airventure (Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA), The Flying Show (mainly British Microlight Aircraft Association, Shropshire, UK), the Light Aircraft Association Rally (various locations, UK), Blois Airshow (Blois, France) and last but not least, Aero-Expo (Friedrichshafen, Germany). Due to visitor and exhibitor demand, they have recently doubled the frequency of this last event to make it annual instead of bi-annual.

So, what’s happened to the joy of flying recreational and sport aircraft in Australia? Why don’t people attend NATFLY any more? (See my earlier post/report about the 2014 event). Have people fallen out of love with flying? Are the aeroplanes too expensive to buy or fly? What effect have all the shenanigans at RA-Aus had over the last few years? Is the heavy hand of CASA – rightly or wrongly – blamed for recent low turn-outs? Has Easter just become the wrong time to hold a fly-in event? Or is it something else?

We need to get our mojo back and start enjoying our national fly-in events again, whether RA-Aus, Ausfly or whatever!

PS – Here’s a date for your diary: the Australian International Airshow at Avalon Airport, south west of Melbourne, 24 February to 1 March 2015 inclusive. See you there!!??**