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Sebring Expo Finishes Strong

  • Sebring
    The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo adopted the nickname “The Affordable Aircraft Expo” this year.
  • Sebring
    A wide variety of lower-cost aircraft draws interested onlookers to the Sebring flightline.

January 21, 2015 - Last week’s 2015 U.S. Sport Aviation Expo at Sebring Regional Airport in Florida overcame early weather challenges to finish strong in the 11th annual event held January 14-17. Wednesday and Thursday’s clouds and low ceilings gave way to sunny skies, mild temperatures, and comfortable breezes on the weekend. As a result, the parking lot was full and the transient aircraft parking area was buzzing with activity.

Sebring is the established “go-to” show for light aircraft shoppers as visitors and exhibitors interact, arrange for demo flights, and have many chances to meet face to face.

“Sebring is a unique show,” Phil Lockwood, president of Lockwood Aviation, said. “Here those in attendance seem to be serious aircraft shoppers, and exhibitors all have the opportunity to interact with one another.”

Matthias Betsch, president of Germany’s Flight Design, and Paolo Pascale, president of Italy’s Tecnam Aircraft, said they attend Sebring because they can visit with their U.S. distributors as well as other suppliers from whom they purchase components.

“Lots of good conversations take place at Sebring,” Betsch said. “It’s important for me to be here.”

This year the Expo adopted the tagline “The Affordable Aircraft Expo” and expanded its focus to include a wide variety of aircraft including light-sport aircraft, homebuilts, refurbished production aircraft, and ultralights. According to organizers, 12 aircraft sales closed during the Expo, and many more are likely in the coming days.

EAA’s busy exhibit featured both the One Week Wonder Zenith CH 750 Cruzer built at AirVenture last year as well as a Piper Cub representing the 2015 EAA Aircraft Sweepstakes grand prize J-3, “The Perfect Cub.” Also present were representatives from EAA Insurance Solutions, EAA membership benefits, and fuselage building and rivet board activities.

Keynote speakers: AOPA’s Dave Hirschman called his recent experiences flying a Carbon Cub and an RV-12 LSA some of his most memorable flights in 2014 during his opening day keynote. Thursday’s well-attended panel discussion focused on various types of affordable aircraft and ways to keep aviation affordable. Jack Hodgson of the Uncontrolled Air Space podcast moderated with panelists Charlie Becker of EAA; Tom Bliss of AVweb; Dan Johnson, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association president; and Brittany Mikulka, AOPA.

Former astronaut Story Musgrave shared his space shuttle experiences Friday, while retired U.S. Air Force Col. Richard Graham flying the SR-71, in which he flew 68 missions/765.5 hours.

Other highlights:

  • Nearly 140 exhibitors, including 40 first-timers, covered the 21.5-acre exhibit area.
  • Aviators Hot Line offered would-be buyers a wide selection of aircraft in the Expo’s first Aircraft Sales Lot. The separate homebuilt parking area for private aircraft owners/builders was next door, and nearly full every day. Homebuilt owners were invited to display their aircraft in this special area and talk about their airplanes with visitors.
  • Sportair USA announced new airplane model names from its “Rename the Cub” contest. The 180-hp Savage Cub-S is now the Savage Outback while its Rotax-powered sibling Savage Cub is now the Savage Nomad. Contest winners - 1st prize: Antonio Speed; Titusville, Florida; iPad Air with Foreflight Mobile. 2nd prize: David Bardwell; Brunswick, Ohio; iPad Mini with Foreflight Mobile. 3rd prize: Rafael Cortes; Mayaguez, Puerto Rico; Foreflight Mobile or cash equivalent.
  • By late Saturday afternoon, most exhibitors overwhelmingly supported the new Wednesday through Saturday format. “We’ve had a great day today visiting with prospects, and we’re all leaving on a high note with a good feeling about the event. I think the new format is great,” Dan Weseman of Sport Performance Aviation LLC, manufacturer of the Panther aircraft, said.

Unfortunately, the joy of the event was shattered on Friday morning when an Aero Adventure Aventura crashed during the Exhibitors Showcase, taking the lives of Dennis Day and Jason Spinks. The staffs of the Expo and the Sebring Airport Authority extend their deepest sympathy to the victims’ families, friends, and colleagues. The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the accident.

Next year’s event is scheduled for January 20-23, 2016. View a photo gallery.

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