A rearrangement of displays and layout has made the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, more visitor-friendly, and the weekend forecast, while not perfect, is a marked improvement over recent years. The thirteenth edition of the show that focuses primarily on light sport aircraft and flying for fun also has embraced unmanned aviation, with drone pilots racing for cash prizes.
The show opened Jan. 25 with morning fog giving way to bright sunshine, a marked improvement from the wind and rain of 2016 that drastically curtailed both show hours and attendance. Exhibits and displays have been arranged around the main terminal of Sebring Regional Airport, with attendees funneling past the airport restaurant and kiosks set up to market aviation products.
Show officials hope better weather will boost attendance, with an expected total of 27,000 by the end of the event on Jan. 28. About 130 exhibitors were lined up and awaiting arrivals as the show kicked off. The Expo's diverse offerings included exhibits, events, and attractions geared to draw a wide audience. Regional high school students were welcomed to the new Youth Aviation Zone, designed to spark interest in science, technology, engineering, and math; another new audience, drone operators, were invited to take in drone exhibits and races organized by Urban Drones. Race pilots were drawn by a $20,000 prize purse including a $10,000 prize to be awarded after the drone racing finals on Jan. 28. Another $5,000 drone racing prize purse is up for grabs in a Hobbico-sponsored event on Jan. 28, and daily demonstrations including hands-on drone flying opportunities will be conducted in Hangar 44, closer to the rest of the action than last year’s drone zone.
The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo has become truly multi-modal, with local auto dealers collaborating to offer test drives on the iconic Sebring Raceway track adjacent to the terminal through Jan. 27, with street test drives on Jan. 28. Details on those options are available online.
For all of that, the expo remains primarily a manned aviation event, the first general aviation show on the calendar with a particular emphasis on light sport aircraft. AOPA staff involved with the You Can Fly initiative (Beckett among them) welcomed visitors to a static display and conducted seminars including Beckett’s Rusty Pilots presentation and another on Jan. 26: the “Maximum Fun, Minimum Cost, Flying Club” seminar.
Most pilots who have stopped flying because of cost, time, or regulations, plan to get back into flying. AOPA created the Rusty Pilots program to lower the barrier to re-entry and provide lapsed pilots a way to return to flying in a matter of hours. Rusty Pilots seminars are hosted across the country and satisfy the ground portion of the flight review. More than 45 percent of those who attended a Rusty Pilots seminar in 2016 reported completing their flight review.
Flying clubs are a familiar model that can address many of the issues GA faces—affordability, access to aircraft, and camaraderie. AOPA’s Flying Club Network is free to join and offers a free scheduling software, a premium listing in the AOPA Flying Club Finder, a resource library, exclusive insurance rates, access to networking events, and more.