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Sun 'n Fun 2010: Enthusiasm Undampened

By Dave Higdon, EAA 465009

Lucky Star
Lucky Star, an ultralight powered by a 440 Kawasaki engine, flies over Paradise City at Sun ‘n Fun 2010.

Balloon launch
Dozens of hot-air balloons lift off  during the annual balloon launch Saturday morning.

Heritage flight
A US Air Force C-17 and an Army CV-2 Caribou fly in formation during the Heritage Flight on Sun ‘n Fun Friday.

April 22, 2010 — Amid reports of brisk business from vendors, more aircraft attending than a year ago, and the overall safety of the 36th annual event, Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In and Expo President John Burton remarked on closing day, “Overall we’ve had a great fly-in.”…despite a rainy, drizzling end to the six-day event.

Business Comes Back Stronger
With a couple of new airplanes to see among the light-sport and ultralight segments, a strong representation of factory aircraft, a host of new avionics and electronic gadgets for pilots, Sun ’n Fun 2010 seemed to draw out the buying instincts among pilots that seemed dormant the past couple of years.
 “It’s as if people are finished with declines and wanting to start buying those things they hesitated to buy a year ago,” one light-sport aircraft maker said privately. “They feel good about things growing once again and we’re seeing that change.”

Sun ’n Fun brought many other indicators reinforcing the signs of economic reversal – much to the relief of vendors.

Sporty’s Pilot Shop and Lockwood Aviation, Belite Aircraft and numerous LSA makers reported brisk business – or, at least, some business to justify their decision to exhibit.

“It’s been a busy show for us,” said Hal Shevers, Sporty’s chairman. “And this comes after a couple of years with lousy business.”

Phil Lockwood at Lockwood Aviation wasn’t yet sure how Sun ’n Fun stacked up on its own – “I’ve yet to add up the numbers,” he said closing-day afternoon – but he affirmed that the year so far bested the same period in 2009. “And it’s felt busier here this year,” he said.

Far fewer airplanes tied down at Sun ’n Fun sported “For Sale” banners this year than last, a couple of observers noted.

An investment in aviation’s future by donor James Ray culminated in the groundbreaking of a new $7.5 million aviation high school adjacent to the Florida Air Museum, plus money to furnish and equip the school for 500 students when it opens in August 2011.

Lots to See, Plenty to Buy
Avionics products seemed to come from all corners of the general aviation segment, as we reported earlier in the show. (Part 1Part 2)

Elsewhere, avionics products advanced as standard on new-production airplanes – such as American Legend Aircraft’s announcement of its Legend Smart Cub variant, equipped with the Garmin G3X glass display and PS Engineering’s little PM1200 intercom.

Belite Aircraft president James Weibe noted success in both sales and network development – and that conversation came before he learned his Belite ultralight won Grand Champion Ultralight on its first time at Sun ’n Fun. See the complete list of Sun ’n Fun aircraft award winners

According to Dan Johnson, chairman of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, LSA sales hovered near the 30 mark overall – “Even without taking into account the last two years, this kind of activity is huge for this segment,” he said.

And noting an industry “rule of thumb” that on-site sales typically match post-show sales, Johnson said, “If these folks get anywhere near matching sales here post-show, well, that’s an extraordinary start to the year that we didn’t see at Sebring.”

Up the scales of speed, weight, utility, and costs in the turboprop realm, Hawker Beechcraft chose Sun ’n Fun for the public debut of its King Air 350i twin, while Farnborough Aircraft from the United Kingdom introduced its single-turboprop Kestrel.

Word cycled through the show that recently dormant Mooney Aircraft may be ready to resume production of its speedy M20 variants.

At the opposite end of the power scale, flying edged closer to a shade of green on a couple of fronts: the daily all-electric flights of Randy Fishman’s Electraflyer-X and the demonstration of a piston twin with unmodified engines - one burning the new Swift Fuel - held out as promising for replacing 100LL in piston engines.

Sun ’n Fun 2011 comes a little earlier on the calendar - March 29-April 3.

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