WACO Classic and L-3 Communications
WACO Classic General Manager
Patrick Horgan and Phil Boyer
For AOPA President Phil Boyer, one of the privileges of his frequent trips around the country (besides talking to AOPA members) is the chance to see some of the exciting things going on in the aviation industry.
On this trip, he dropped in on two vibrant companies, that while at opposite ends of the scale in size, both showed a strong dedication to general aviation's roots and the future.
There couldn't be much greater contrast between WACO Classic Aircraft Corporation in Battle Creek, Michigan, and the avionics division of electronics giant L-3 Communications in Grand Rapids.
"In Battle Creek, I saw a company that has returned to the basics of GA, but with a very modern twist," said Boyer. The 45 employees of WACO Classic lovingly build a brand-new, truly classic aircraft. And while the aircraft is based on the 1935 Waco YMF-5 biplane, this is also an advanced-technology aircraft. Most go out the door with sophisticated avionics, including moving-map GPS, traffic alert systems, and even autopilots.
Another modern technology, now available as an option, is a fuel injection system for the Jacobs R755 radial engine. Easier starts, lower fuel consumption, increased power, and practical elimination of carburetor ice are some of the advantages. They certainly didn't have that in 1935. (For more, see " A Super Waco.")
It was almost a Buck Rogers leap to go from an aircraft of the barnstorming era to the world of computer chips and display technologies.
In Grand Rapids, Boyer got a peak at what's in store for GA from L-3.
L-3 Communications is an international giant, with expertise in everything from surveillance to electronics. The company has been in the high-end avionics market for years, with products geared to the airlines and the military.
It increased its presence in the GA market when it acquired the Goodrich Skywatch® and Stormscope® products. More avionics products for GA are in development. The company also makes multifunction displays for GA, standby attitude indicators, and directional gyros.
"I was sworn to secrecy," said Boyer, "but this is truly a company that understands today and tomorrow's GA cockpit needs, and there is no question we're going to see some exciting new products from L-3. At the very least, new entrants increase competition and that can only benefit the pilot consumer."
General aviation pilots in the Midwest this week said that while additional punishment for violating Washington, D.C.'s flight restricted zone (FRZ) is probably necessary, the sanctions proposed in some congressional legislation are way too tough. These pilots also expressed extreme disappointment over the pending roadblocks to flight service station modernization.
AOPA President Phil Boyer held three Pilot Town Meetings this week, exchanging views with GA fliers in Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Indianapolis.
And pilots saw a special message from Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich. 3rd District), who had some very pointed words on Congress and GA security. "The biggest security issue facing Congress is not aviation," he said. "I know that's heresy around here, but I'm much more worried about port security and central city security." (Rep. Ehler taped the message prior to the London bomb attacks. You can see the complete video.)
Boyer presented recent survey data showing that 65 percent of AOPA members believe that recent ADIZ violations have threatened their freedom to fly. Not surprisingly, 96 percent of pilots in Washington, D.C., and the adjoining states of Maryland and Virginia think the actions of a very few have seriously threatened the rights of many.
And one-half of members nationwide think that AOPA should support strict penalties, including criminal charges and substantial fines, for pilots who recklessly fly too close to the Capitol and the White House.
But the Midwestern pilots told Boyer that they think the current legislative proposals go too far. Some of those laws would impose $100,000 fines, confiscate the aircraft, and suspend a pilot's certificate for five years.
Many pilots have pointed out that because many aircraft are leaseback rentals or club-owned, confiscation would penalize people who had nothing to do with the incursion or the pilot flying the airplane.
A fine of $5,000 to $10,000 and loss of certificate for one to two years was a better fit for the crime, in the opinion of many pilots attending the Midwest Pilot Town Meetings.
These pilots also expressed disappointment that FSS modernization could be delayed because of legislation that would block the outsourcing contract with Lockheed-Martin, or because of the appeal filed by one of the losing bidders, FAA employees teamed with Harris Corp.
"Pilots understand the need for a twenty-first-century FSS system and the need to significantly reduce the costs of providing that service," said Boyer. "They understand that ultimately a few hundred people might lose jobs but have a hard time trading that off for the needs of more than 600,000 pilots."
Boyer also struck down a rumor that apparently is being spread by a few disgruntled FSS employees. "I don't personally have any stock in Lockheed-Martin. The only reason AOPA supports this contract is because after more than five years of study, including our own detailed investigations into the FSS system, we are convinced that this is the right thing at the right time for the benefit of GA pilots." (In fact, AOPA's ethics code prohibits any association employee from having an interest in a company with activities in the general aviation sector.)
July 15, 2005