That's All Folks....

Well, another Sun 'n Fun airshow has gone by. As the traditional start of the season, this one was, at times, fraught and promising, often nail biting and reaffirming. It started, as you’ve certainly heard a thousand times, wet and muddy. By good luck, I elected to travel from the West Coast on Monday, missing the worst of the weather. The aftermath was there, however, in the form of soggy fields that would stiffen to amazingly odiferous clay, making it seem like we were out in the stockyards in the long walk from rental car to show grounds.

I would love to have flown myself in, but Delta got me back and forth for under $300, nonstop from Tampa. I couldn't fly the Sportsman to Phoenix and back, in fuel alone, for that sum. Still, I'm saving up for the trip to OSH this year.

Anyway, those nasty local conditions, as well as significant weather elsewhere in the country, helped thin the crowds on day one. (George Braly, of GAMI fame, one of the most fearless weather fliers I know, didn’t even make Lakeland for the nastiness between Ada, Oklahoma, and Florida. Likewise, Monty Barrett was weathered at home with his Cessna 195.) By the end of Tuesday, I was fearing that we’d had a perfect storm of red blotches on the radar, frighteningly high fuel prices and an underlying apathy that I’ve seen growing toward Sun 'n Fun over the last decade. Indeed, my first visit in 1990 made it seem like a true Oshkosh contender.

But then Wednesday saw the grass dry and the spirits lift. More fly-in traffic arrived, the booths were becoming more trafficked, and the general mood was one of hopeful optimism. (As opposed to hopeless optimism, and hopeful pessimism, I suppose.) I walked on site early past the LSA mall, still surprised at how many manufacturers there are. I remain convinced that once Cessna and Cirrus get rolling, there will be a shakeout of the smaller makers. It just stands to reason.

On the main grounds, the general feeling was that the industry had dodged a bullet, but there were still signs of wait-and-see. None of the major engine manufacturers, for example, had big news at the show. Superior’s XP-400 was still on display, as were the new aluminum cold-air intake systems that will replace the ill-starred Ryton experiment from a couple of years ago; Superior is, currently, shipping the new parts. Its world was rocked by the announcement late in the show that Thielert founder and CEO, Frank Thielert, had been ousted from the company along with the CFO. Remember that Superior is a wholly owned subsidiary of Thielert. Word at the show was also that Superior has had difficulty keeping up with demand for some of its aftermarket products, which are largely sourced from Austria.

Lycoming continues to push the Thunderbolt series, but I have yet to see one in the wild. The Williamsport company’s reps did corner me and suggest there were big announcements coming for Oshkosh. Similarly, Engine Components, Inc. hinted that some “exciting” news was in the wind for this summer, but I couldn’t tease much out of them. ECI’s president, Gary Garvins, did tell me the company has been working closely with Hartzell to do more prop vibration testing with long-stroke engines—the IOX-340 was announced two years ago—which hints at additional product along those lines.

Changes to the “51% Rule” were on everyone’s lips, none more so than the kit manufacturers. The industry received what amounts to a reprieve from the governor when the FAA announced, late in the show (and with no notice to the press...thanks!), that all currently approved kits—those that have previously been inspected by the FAA or its designees and found to have less than half the work completed—will be grandfathered under whatever new rules come about. The look of relief on the faces of, for example, Dick VanGrunsven and Lancair’s Joe Bartels told the story.

And to end the show, for me, I got a peek into the biggest, baddest, most gotta-have-it BBQ I've ever seen. Thank goodness I have an airplane to keep me busy, else I'd want to build one of these.

Plane-Power Keeps the Juice Flowing

There's nothing like meeting vendors face-to-face to get instantaneous answers to your questions about their products, and the aisles in the four large commercial buildings at Sun 'n Fun were chocked full of information seekers. I spent a bit of time with Stephen and Linda Klodd of Plane-Power, chatting about the latest innovations in powering up your flying machine.

What initially caught my eye was an elegant little voltage regulator, its flat-pack form factor about a quarter of the height of the traditional mechanical regulators.

Stephen explained that the regulator on display had several features that you just couldn't get before, such as reverse polarity protection should you accidentally reverse your battery terminals, user-switchable to either 14 or 28 volts systems, user-adjustable output voltage, and when used with another one (as with a twin), the two regulators will load share with just two conductors connecting them together. And, it's PMA approved for installation into certified aircraft. All for $169.

Plane-Power also had lightweight alternators (Experimental aircraft only) on display in 60- and 70-amp varieties. Priced at $459 and $479 respectively, these units are another cost effective way to significantly increase the electrical power available in your airplane with minimal investment. And, these units come with all necessary hardware, mount, and even a new wiring harness to finish off your upgrade.

Finally, I took a look at the slick little alternator designed for the venerable Continental O-200. With a full 50 amps of output power, this gear-driven unit not only greatly upgrades the old generators originally used by Continental, but will save significant weight as well. It also allows for a greatly simplified electrical system, as the voltage regulation is internal. Not quite yet available for certified aircraft, Plane-Power is expecting the FAA's blessing in short order.

It occurred to me that Plane-Power is doing for alternators what SkyTek did for starters, and upon sharing that observation with Stephen and Linda, they heartily concurred. More information about the full Plane-Power line-up can be had at plane-power.com.

What's That Banging? Metal Being Shaped

On my way to the Zenith 701 sheet metal project, I was waylaid by the constant and very loud sound of sheet metal getting the heck pounded out of it. One of the instructors, Jake Hunsinger of Mansfield, Ohio, invited me in to join the fun.

Using the Tuck Puck method, developed by Carey Culpepper last April, the participants set a flat, round piece of sheet metal on a concave puck base, machined from UHMW plastic. (It's available for $30 from TuckPuck.com, as is the $26 instructional DVD.) Also, the TuckPuck can be used to stretch the metal instead of a shotbag. This method is also described on the MetalMeet website.

Hunsinger was introduced to metal shaping in October of 2006, and quickly got involved in the online MetalMeet.com community. While metalshapers work on other applications such as classic cars, aircraft components such as wheel pants and scoops can be shaped as well.

The rudimentary shaping that I did started with deburring a round piece of sheet metal (away from the flat file's tang, thank you very much). Once my chances of slicing my hand open with the sharp edges were eliminated, we centered the metal over the puck, and with a long, rounded plastic mallet, I pounded away around the interior circle, drawn on with a Sharpie. A few good whacks resulted in a "tuck" or a "flute" at the outside edge of the metal, which was then stretched and flattened with the long plastic mallet with a rounded end. Round and round I went, until I had a rough bowl-shaped piece of metal where a disc once was.

The real use of the skills became apparent when Hunsinger showed me the wood form for a pair of wheel pants that would be shaped at the workshop. A paper pattern for that part was laid over the wood form, with orienting arrows and reminders to ensure the piece is shaped properly.

Because my bowl was pretty lumpy and uneven, it was time to smooth it out in the English wheel, this one featuring a rounded lower wheel. I was impressed with the emphasis on personal safety during this workshop experience. Not being of large stature, I received quite a bit of advice on which mallet would be easiest for me to handle. There were also a lot of careful eyes on my work on the English wheel, most of it advice on how not to smash my thumbs between the upper and lower wheels.

This was just a quick taste of metal-shaping, and I expect to have a more in-depth experience at AirVenture 2008. Besides, I need another bowl for the matched set.

As Things Wind Down...

As Sun 'n Fun concludes, it comes home that the week has seen a lot of aviating, hangar flying, buying, selling and wishing. Even those for whom flying is a some-day dream, the allure of aviation holds sway. Here are some reminders of what the week was like.







If It's Not One Thing...

It's another, and in the business of showing and selling aircraft, neatness counts. Early on in this year's Sun 'n Fun adventure, rain-soaked grounds served as the nemesis of vendors and campers. As the week progressed, what was once mud turned to dust, necessitating morning rituals like this one. No word on whether he does windows, but we're not asking.

Teaching Homebuilding Skills

Many a homebuilder has heard the admonition from the uninitiated about how they love the idea of assembling their own plane, if only they possessed the skills necessary.

Here at Sun 'n Fun anyone interested can receive free instruction in the skills needed for pretty much any aspect of aircraft construction, such as building a wood aircraft, which volunteer instructor Dick Navratil (top photo) is providing here.

Of course, depending on the project, the skills needed may include welding, fabric covering, composite construction of basic electrical systems and avionics, as Paul Edlund is doing in the bottom photo.

And we can't forget metal-working skills, as metal airframes are among the most common to kit-building projects. For those skills, Burl Nelson and Jim Hoak help convert the unenlightened into competent shapers of metal, including bending, forming and riveting as they're showing Dave Lautenschlager by assembling the rudder of a Zenith STOL 701 in the center shot.

Regardless of the discipline taught, the volunteer teachers possess the experience required to pass on their knowledge to those hungry to fly a machine of their own making.