Welcome to a massive Newsletter No. 8, what can I say..... OSHKOSH !!!
The past few weeks have seen both myself and Phil from Canberra (the cursed one for our regular readers) over in Oshkosh - Wisconsin for the first showing of the Sting in the United States.
To say the response has been overwhelming would be an understatement. The plane was so well received by both the press and the general public that the aircraft's future in the US has been secured for many years to come. Our new XCOM 760 radio also had the honour of receiving the best product of show award; so overall we couldn't be happier. Please read on for a full report........ * Click on any of the images for a larger view
We arrived in Oshkosh three days before the official start of the event because we had so much to organise. Being our first trip to Oshkosh as exhibitors I guessed we would need every hour of those three days to find our site, pitch the tent, find our aircraft and get everything set-up.... How wrong could I be.
The EAA centre was so well organised that we were directed to the site in about 10 minutes. The tent and other equipment we had posted over months before turned up a few minutes later and a truck with our Sting rolled by about 1 hour after that. We had it all setup and ready in about 4 hours from arriving. Not what I expected but it gave us a few days to recover from jet lag, catch a movie and get all the latest news and gossip before the show started.
The Sting Arrives....
The next few days were eaten up as the public started turning up before the official start of the show and we spent many enjoyable hours talking with our new friends.
Ready for Action...... Day 1
Day one started the same as day 7 finished.... BUSY. It was rare for either Phil or myself to get a break, let alone lunch. We were kept busy from start to finish by the thousands of visitors who wanted information on the Sting and Star and the new XCOM radio. Following are the most asked questions which came from the visitors to our site.
Tell us about certification and registration in the USA and Canada ??
There are a number of ways to register the Sting and Star in the USA and it is made reasonably easy by the high levels of certification the aircraft has with its foreign Type Certificates.
Option 1. A normal aircraft.
The USA has a bilateral agreement with both the Czech Republic (where the aircraft is manufactured) and also with Germany. Germany is an ICAO nation and its airworthiness standards are internationally recognised throughout the other ICAO nations of which USA is one. We have started the paperwork approvals for having the aircraft accepted onto the USA register under these bilateral agreements. I expect the acceptance to be fairly straight forward as we have just completed the same process in Australia. Timing for acceptance is questionable depending on who in the FAA you talk to but I would expect approvals to be in place well before the end of this year. This may sound like a long time but delivery is currently at around 6 months from the factory.
Option 2. Experimental 51%.
We have a builder assist program in place where the purchaser can travel to the Czech Republic and spend up to 4 weeks working on their aircraft under the supervision and guidance of the aircraft manufacturers TL-Ultralight. The program allows for most of the major airframe work to be completed by the owner with the painting, engine, instrument fitout and test flying to be completed by the factory technicians. This option would qualify the builder for the Amateur Built 51% rule but the aircraft would not be Type Certified on completion.
Option 3. Sport Pilot.
Creating a lot of interest in Oshkosh was news of the new Sport Pilot program which is expected to be approved in the first quarter of next year according to the FAA and the EAA. Sport Pilot opens up the market for new aircraft like the Sting and the Star where a customer can purchase a factory built aircraft and operate it on a normal license which does not require a first class medical.
We need to make a few changes to the aircraft to fit the Sport Pilot rules as they currently stand and this includes the removal of the Woodcomp Constant Speed Propeller. The proposal bans the use of in flight adjustable propellers and there is also a limit for maximum speed in level flight of 115 knots.
The Sting obviously is well over this speed with the constant speed propeller but we are bringing out a new model called the STING SPORT which is manufactured to suit the Sport Pilot requirements. The Sting Sport will have a fixed pitch ground adjustable propeller which will be pitched and matched to a slightly reduced power output which will qualify the Sting at 115 knots to fit into the Sport Pilot category, The Star model will fit into the Sport Pilot category without any modification, powered by either the 80 or 100 HP Rotax engines matched to a fixed pitch propeller.
The Star model is almost overlooked by many customers who get drawn in by the Sting's aggressive looks and carbon fibre construction but the Star is worthy of more than casual attention. The Star is available in the USA for around $40,000 fully built with the 80 hp engine and basic instruments. Most kit aircraft are costing more than this and you still need to spend up to 3 years building them.
Can I be a dealer ???
After 10,000 requests a day at Oshkosh we have decided against appointing dealers in the USA for a number of reasons... firstly, it lifts the price because there is another mouth to feed..... It will also slow down support for our owners because there is a longer line of communication needed. Many have asked how we can support the US markets from Australia and it's really very simple - we have proven this with our international support for our other brand of aircraft, the X-Air.
Support is offered either over the phone or more commonly through the Internet. Being around the other side of the world has its benefits because when your working on you're plane or have the time to make contact it's generally late afternoon or early evening and that's when we are starting our day. Any questions can be answered immediately by phone or email and we also have the benefit of extensive product knowledge on the Sting and the Star aircraft from spending several months at the factory over the past 18 months. Any parts will be supplied direct from the manufacturer in the Czech Republic or directly from Australia. Most deliveries from either location on UPS or FedEx take less than 4 days so you're never far from help. The factory would prefer not to communicate direct with customers because of the language and communication barrier except in an emergency so it's all left to us.
We may consider appointing state agencies in the future but for the moment we are really interested in getting some aircraft affordably flying in the USA.
Can I put a Jabiru engine in her ??
We have been asked this several hundred times over the Oshkosh event and the simple answer is yes..... But, why would you.
The 2.2 Jabiru is underpowered for the aircraft at around 65 hp..... I know the sales brochure says 80hp, but it's not. The 3.3 engine is advertised at 120 hp and would suit the aircraft but it's not certified. The 2.2 is the only certified engine and, being underpowered, the aircraft wouldn't perform to its capability. The uncertified 3.3 could be used in a 51% build but the aircraft range has been designed around the successful, certified Rotax 80, 100 and 115 hp engines.
How does she fly ??
Easy question for us because we know the aircraft but for a new plane in a new market there must be lots of doubts. We were very privileged to have interest from the International and US media throughout the event and Phil flew a couple of Photographic missions for the magazines, I also had the pleasure of taking Dan Johnson up flying.
Dan is a nice guy with experience flying over 300 different aircraft. He has published stories, which appear monthly in Ultralight Flying, Kitplanes, EAA Experimenter, General Aviation News, Hang Gliding, Fly & Glide (Germany), and Volare (Italy) ...and other titles on a non-monthly basis. He is respected as one of the most experienced and unbiased reviewers in the industry.
It was my pleasure and a great experience to spend a couple of hours with him in the Sting to the South West of Oshkosh.... He really knows his stuff and I learnt a lot from his flying and the way he tests an aircraft. I was really interested in his comments on the plane.... We knew it was a good one but without the experience to compare to hundreds of others you sometimes wondered if it was really that good or you were just becoming familiar and one with the plane. Well my beliefs in the aircraft were reinforced during our debrief after the test and we were delighted to be given a very big thumbs up !! Dan has advised that both Kitplanes and EAA's Experimenter are both interested in running articles on the Sting so we will have to wait with baited breath for their release......
Of further interest: Dan Johnson is starting his own web site http://www.ByDanJohnson.com The site will offer hundreds of pilot reports, thousands of airplane photos, and unique interactive features to help buyers of light aircraft select the right plane for them (PlaneFinder / SpecCheck / PlaneView / Pros & Cons). The site is still being built but you may sign up now to be notified when the site goes live.
It cant be all from me.... here is a quick report from Phil......
Oshkosh is one of the most amazing displays of organisation that I have ever encountered. I found it extraordinary that, with so many aircraft movements, few if any accidents or incidents were seen. I highly commend the EAA on their ability to bring the airshow together in such a professional manner.
Flying during the Oshkosh airshow is an experience that one will never forget. NOTAMs detail the unique procedures for entry into and departure from the Oshkosh airspace but it is not until you actually use those procedures that you realise the thought that must have gone into the preparations and planning.
During the airshow, aircraft simply start engines and begin to taxi. At each taxiway, ground marshallers marshall the aircraft to the appropriate runway. A sign in the cockpit window indicates the type of flight, VFR or IFR, and the marshallers direct the aircraft accordingly. Aircraft are directed based on type and/or callsign and no read-back of any radio calls is required.
Our flying at Oshkosh consisted of a number of early morning flights. The Sting had to be at the stand from 9:00 am each morning so each flight had to be conducted prior to that time. The first flight was a test flight to ensure that the aircraft as ready for a close formation photo shoot - we didn't want any unexpected events to occur while in close formation. Michael, along with local guide Mario, conducted a short flight to 'prove' the plane and that was our first introduction to the 'limited radio' procedures.
As the rain showers and low cloud continued, we fought to maintain visual contact with the aircraft in front and finally made our way via Fisk back to Oshkosh for a smooth touchdown. I was pleased with clocking up 1.7 hours of flying since I had little opportunity to fly since the accident back in February.
On the way back we encountered a few more rain squalls but Bill felt confident enough to maintain the controls. We approached final on runway 36 and could not identify the two aircraft in front who were hidden in the squall so I got on the radio and requested a short final approach, on the left side of 36 - the first radio call I had made all day! We were granted a straight in approach so Bill brought us in low to maintain visual and lined us up for touchdown. As we approached on short final, we were unexpectedly hit by a squall with a 30 knot crosswind gust which forced us over the grass on the left side of the runway. I quickly grasped the controls and with the agility of the Sting managed to position ourselves back on the left side of the strip for a very fast, flapless approach and touchdown at 70 knots. I guess that military training does pay off sometimes. After a congratulatory cheer from the controller for our recovery, we were guided off the runway and into the hands of the ground marshallers.
Another failed attempt due to bad weather to get Bill checked out on the Sting meant that either Michael or I had to deliver the Sting to Little Rock, Arkansas. As Michael had hired the car, and the insurance did not cover me, I was the bunny who had the task of navigating the countryside in search of North Little Rock airfield, some 700 miles south of Oshkosh.
I was impressed by the professionalism of the briefing staff and felt a lot more comfortable flying across a foreign nation after spending ten minutes talking to the staff about the procedures and expected conditions enroute. After the briefing, Michael and I prepared the Sting. After a short warm up, I gave the taxi call and headed to Basling Aviation for fuel. The traffic departing Oshkosh was tremendous and after a full half hour waiting for a clearance to taxi, I was off.
My take-off had to be arrested since all of the other aircraft were quickly falling away in front of me and, with the large number of aircraft around, I didn't want to be caught out in a close quarters situation so I reduced power to about 50% at 200 feet and continued a gradual ascent at the rate of the Cessna and Baron in front. As I made the left turn from 27 to head south, I quickly overtook the other two aircraft in front whom appeared to be cruising at about 100 knots. It was a beautiful day and I trimmed the Sting for straight and level flight, 120 knots at 4500' and sat back with my hands off the controls to admire the view.
Again, the first few hours were pleasant, warm and cosy with clear skies and beautiful views. About an hour and a half from Little Rock however I began to encounter the foreboding weather that I had been briefed about that morning. The cloud started to close and the rain began to fall. I dropped down to 2000' and cautiously headed south, avoiding the thunderheads growing above. The cloud became thicker and dropped to the deck and I began hopping from airfield to airfield with the intention of stopping as soon as the next field was unreachable. I was lucky enough to keep to the west of the worst weather and found my way to Little Rock about half an hour after the planned arrival.
As I approached Little Rock, I was again surprised by the lack of radio calls made by pilots in the US. Right beside North Little Rock is a National Guard airfield with a number of helicopters operating. As I avoided the restricted areas and finally turned east for my final approach to North Little Rock, a Blackhawk and an Iroquios helicopter flew past at about 100 feet below me. I don't know whether they saw me or whether they just ignored me but it was then that I started to think that the lack of radio calls in the US must cause some near misses, especially given the bad weather regularly encountered across the nation.
I finally joined the circuit and landed after 6 and a half hours flying. I rang Bill and surprisingly, he was on his way to the airport within minutes. He was keen to get airborne so after a couple of cold drinks, we took to the skies for his second check ride. After 14 landings I was confident that Bill had finally mastered the Sting and we called it a night and headed for home.
I spent the next 10 minutes being scanned and going through my backpack, my only piece of luggage for the trip. Now I was wishing I hadn't waited until last as I saw them close the doors to the walkway to the aircraft. Finally they finished and allowed me to leave so I rushed down the walkway to board. Phew, I just made it !
The Hostess began her speech. "Ladies and gentlemen, please make it look like you are giving me your attention as I brief you on the safety precautions of this aircraft which I hope that we won't need". Hmmmmm, not the normal intro to the safety talk. "If the cabin should lose pressure I will be sitting in my seat crying and masks will fall from the ceiling. Pull on the mask firmly, place it over your nose and mouth and breath like this ..." She then proceeded to make heavy breathing sounds over the intercom. "Yes It was me who rang your house last night and no I won't promise never to do it again. For those of you who are travelling with small children ...... I'm sorry...... "say goodbye to them now"
This was the strangest safety brief I had ever heard, but nonetheless, it was entertaining.
As we taxied in after landing, the hostess again came onto the intercom. "Thankyou for flying SouthWest. I'm sure that you found it enjoyable; and I'm sure that you won't find a cheaper, less frills airline with hosts more attractive anywhere in the US anyway."
Ah, it's good to be back in Chicago.
Featuring in the EAA Airventure Today Newspaper was a fantastic report on the Sting which drew the crowds to our stand...
A Funny Story......
A guy came up to us near the end of the show and said 'how much for your plane'. We had to politely tell him that it was already sold and awaiting delivery for the new owner but he kept persisting.....
'I don't care if it's sold - I want it !!'
This went on for a few minutes with his insistance that "I will give you more than the other guy paid". Again politely explained it was sold and that we wouldn't dump the original purchaser....
Anyway he reached into his pocket and said "last chance..... This is an offer you wont refuse" but we again shook our heads. He then proceeded to pull out a $1,000,000 note...... And said
'You've just missed your big chance'.......
After a brief inspection we realised it was fake and he had his details printed on the back as a business card !! It brought a nice smile to everyone in the group and this is really the atmosphere of Oshkosh... no barriers between visitors. Everyone is there with a common interest and a good humour and I guess that's why the event is so successful.
By the way, it was Ric Lee of Mountain High Oxygen Systems who was flashing the cash....
I was happy to report the successful completion of some world records in the last newsletter. Well we might be in trouble with them....... Seems I didn't fully understand the ambiguous rules and I may have been overweight for the attempt.
It really depends what section you read but a two place aircraft flown with only one person looks like having a MTOW of only 300 kgs for a world record attempt. If it's flown with two people then you're allowed 450 kgs.... We are waiting for clarification of these rules from the controlling body, the FAI and we are not really put off by their preliminary decision as they still qualify as Australian records. We will have to find a second person, load her up to 450 kgs and go and set them again !! More fun so I am not complaining, but I cant understand how you can have a two seater ultralight aircraft and be only 300 kgs one up ???.
Until next time....... Have fun and fly safe.