Two days of nasty weather arrived at the worst possible time for the 2016 U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, forcing the closure of the show Jan. 22 and limiting the crowds—and the flying—on the final day, Jan. 23.
Just Aircraft pilot Harrison Smith was among the very few who braved winds gusting to 35 knots, taking one of the three SuperSTOL aircraft the company brought to Sebring up for a morning demonstration of how to hover a fixed-wing aircraft. He did not bring a customer along, and landed after a few minutes of playing in the wind when ATC asked him to “knock it off.”
The show opened for its twelfth year with high hopes of breaking a run of bad weather and reduced attendance that has kept the crowds down in recent years, but the hopes were dashed Jan. 22 by radar images of approaching convection that prompted airport management to shut down the show, leaving exhibitors, media, and would-be attendees to find other things to do in Sebring (much to the delight of local restaurants and coffee shops, no doubt). On Jan. 23, the final day of the show and, falling on a Saturday, the day when the largest crowds could be expected, the winds blew strong with gusts topping 35 knots. The showcase tent at the show’s center was declared unsafe, due to the wind, and evacuated. Later, the larger tent hosting dozens of exhibitors was also deemed unsafe to occupy. The low clouds, chilly temperatures, and whipping winds had already thinned the crowd.
Still, expo organizers put on a brave face, noting in a media release that presentations and exhibits on Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 drew strong attendance (including a Thursday morning Rusty Pilot Seminar by AOPA that drew a standing-room crowd of about 50), and the show built to showcase light sport and affordable aviation did get two days of nice weather. Expo Director Jana Filip did not immediately respond to a request for information about this year’s attendance.
Though challenged by weather problems in many of its recent years, the expo has been a mainstay on the calendars of manufacturers catering to the light sport and recreational flying markets. Dan Johnson, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, and the industry’s de facto cheerleader in chief, said that the show had put Sebring on the aviation map, and has been an important part of building an industry with sales that, in terms of aircraft sold, far outpaces the rest of general aviation. In 2015, more than 3,000 aircraft that fit a broad definition of “light sport” were sold worldwide, Johnson said, far outpacing unit sales of larger piston aircraft. In the U.S. market, light sport aircraft account for about 20 percent of GA sales, but “in the rest of the world, it’s just the opposite,” Johnson said.
A few new products and initiatives were announced at the show, including the ECO autopilot with envelope protection by TruTrak, which uses secondary servo tabs on control surfaces (similar to trim tabs) to control an aircraft and limit cost at the same time. Details of the $999 unit are available online.
Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast was on the minds of many with the 2020 deadline approaching. Dynon Avionics, which caters to the experimental and broader non-certified market, announced the SkyView SV-GPS-2020 GPS receiver and antenna, a key component of an ADS-B Out system, that retails for $590.
Flight Design has added ADS-B to its CTLSi models, on display near the center of the show grounds (and snugly tied down during the last two days of the show).
AutoGyro USA of Maryland conducted demonstration flights and announced plans to certify its model line under the Primary Category, starting with the Calidus.
AOPA staff greeted a handful of visitors to the AOPA tent and display Jan. 23, fielding questions about the Reimagined Cessna 152, but boxes of magazines brought to hand out to visitors found a new purpose: helping to hold down corners of the tent.