July 20, 2012

Cessna SkyCatcher Light Sport Aircraft Experience

SkyCatcher_2.jpgEarlier this spring I learned that Cessna selected eight pilot interns to fly a fleet of SkyCatcher's around the country as part of the Discover Flying Challenge. My first thought was, what a great gig. After that I decided I needed to reach out to Cessna to find out when one would be in my area to check out this plane.

I learned that Zoe "Ozone" Cunningham had been given the Midwest territory and was busy logging a slew of hours flying SkyCatcher 2 throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Today she arrived back in the Chicago area enroute to Oshkosh and I was able to meet her at Chicago Executive for a few laps around the pattern in the Cessna 162 SkyCatcher.

The SkyCatcher is a Light Sport Aircraft certified aircraft which means it has some limitations on weight (1,320 lbs or less), speed (120 kts) and seating (two seats or less). The SkyCatcher was built to maximize its potential within the LSA guidelines. I learned that Zoe has been cruising at right around 115kts for much of her journey across the midwest. She has been doing this while burning just over 6 gallons and hour and she was quick to point out that is high since she is running a little hotter than normal since the engine is being broken in.

skycatcher_2_cockpit.jpgI was worried the SkyCatcher would be more tight then cozy but was pleased to learn it had plenty of room in the cockpit. I was told the cockpit is as wide if not wider than that of a Cessna 172. Inside, the cockpit is quite simple with only a few dials and switches in addition to the dual G300 glass panels. There are no back-up gauges but if one G300 panel falters it will flip data to the remaining screen.

We fired up the plane and took runway 6 for departure. The aircraft lept off the runway leaving three quarters of the runway as unnecessary as we climbed at 800 feet per minute up to pattern altitude. The aircraft has great sightlines with plenty of window space on the side and front of the plane. The SkyCatcher definitely had a sporty feel to it.

My only complaint about the SkyCatcher is the lack of a window that can be opened. One thing I always loved about Cessna aircraft was flying along with the windows open. The SkyCatcher's Gull Wing doors can be opened during taxi to keep the airplane cool but the doors are not allowed to be open during flight. So during a hot summer like we are experiencing, it could get hot in that cockpit. I guess I am getting spoiled by the air conditioner in the Piper Archer. Either way a small drawback on what otherwise is a fun plane.

Although not the right aircraft for carting a family around in I could see it being a fun plane for $100 Hamburgers and hops around the Midwest. It was fun to check it out up close and I look forward to getting in one again sometime soon.

You can learn more about the Discover SkyCatcher program on their website. Many of their aircraft are heading to Oshkosh for AirVenture as well.

May 3, 2010

Flight Feeds the Human Spirit

flightforhumanspirit_explorer9_2.jpgI was blessed to be surrounded by people in my life who fostered the understanding that one should always follow their dreams and that one can do anything they put their minds to. It was with that support that I sought my dream of learning to fly back in 2004.

So when I heard the story of Michael Combs, a pilot who is flying a Light Sport Aircraft to all 50 States to spread the message "it's never too late to follow your dreams", I knew I had to meet him. This afternoon he arrived in Chicago at Chicago Executive Airport.

I worked with my flight club, Windy City Flyers, who were kind enough to offer Combs hangar space for his stay. They also invited Combs to share his message with the Aviation Explorer Post 9, a group of 14-21 year olds interested in aviation. It was great hearing Combs sharing his message with these kids and encouraging them to continue to foster their love for aviation or whatever other dreams they might have.

Combs admitted that he had two options when coming up with his Flight for the Human Spirit. He could wait until it was completely funded but then he might never have made it off the ground. Instead he built a plan and after gaining some momentum and support he took to flight. Each day as he spreads his message he is receiving more and more support and sure enough things are coming together for his Flight for the Human Spirit.

I invite you to visit the Flight for the Human Spirit to track his adventure. You can support the flight by making a donation on the site as well.

April 4, 2010

Two Aviation Adventures to Follow this April

One of my favorite things about being a private pilot is heading out for a cross-country flight. This month there are two exciting aviation adventures in which pilots will be flying aircraft literally across the country. One interesting thing is that in both cases the pilots are flying cross-country in Remos GX Light Sport Aircraft.

A year ago I would have been surprised at the prospects of flying far from home in a Light Sport Aircraft. However, while at AirVenture in Oshkosh this past summer, I had the opportunity to fly the Remos GX and was pleasantly surprised by its performance.


The Flight for the Human Spirit

flighthumanspirit.jpgMichael Combs was not satisfied with dreaming of flying. However, a history of heart problems had kept him grounded until the advent of the Sport Pilot License. The Sport Pilot License does not require an FAA Medical Certificate, with that hurdle out of the way, he jumped at the opportunity and earned his license to fly.

Now Michael is on a mission to spread the simple message that "It is never to late to follow your dreams." His goal is reach 20 million people with this message. What better way to do it than by continuing to follow his dream of flying. So Michael will depart on Tuesday from Salina, Kansas in a Remos GX Light Sport Aircraft on a journey to all fifty states, covering 19,400 miles enroute and visiting 135 cities.

One of the airports Combs will stop at is my home base, Chicago Executive Airport, just outside of Chicago. I was able to get support for his mission from my flight club, Windy City Flyers, who will be supplying a hangar for his aircraft during his visit. If you are in Chicago and would like to meet Combs, visit the Chicago Aviation Meetup Group as I am organizing a meet and greet for when he arrives.

You can follow the Combs's adventure and check-out his route on his website. If you use Twitter be sure to follow him (@combscoach) and the Flight for Human Spirit Mission Control (@fhsmissionctrl).

AOPA Road and Runway Rally
rally_homepage_banner2.jpgThe second adventure is AOPA's Road and Runway Rally. Two teams will depart from AOPA headquarters in Frederick, MD this Saturday, one in a Smart Car and the other in a Remos GX, enroute to Lakeland, FL home of the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In. As they make their way south they will compete in a variety of challenges, meeting in St. Augustine, FL to swap vehicles and continue to Lakeland.

Team Orville is made up by Alyssa J. Miller (@ajmalay), AOPA Director of eMedia & Wired.com Correspondent Jason Paur (@jasonpaur). Their competitors on Team Wilbur are Flight Training Deputy Editor Ian J. Twombly (@ijtwombly) and Motor Week Associate Producer Steven Chupnick (@motorweek).

You can follow this adventure on the Road and Runway Rally website, blog or twitter (#Fun2Fly)

As for my aviation adventures ... I hope to back in the sky before the end of the week, Mother Nature providing.

August 2, 2009

Better Understanding the Value of the Sport Pilot & LSA Movement

iconaircraft.jpgDespite the Sport Pilot License being around for nearly as long as I have been flying, I have to admit that I have paid little attention to it or the growth in Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) options. Sure it is a common topic in magazines and aviation websites but having earned my license through the traditional Private Pilot process I often flipped or clicked past those articles having little interest in learning about the Sport Pilot License. It was an article in Plane & Pilot written by Kirk Hawkins, Founder & CEO of Icon Aircraft, which opened my eyes to the value of both this new license and category of planes. I will point out that I understand his point of view is not unbiased, but he makes an excellent case for the role light sport aircraft in conjunction with the Sport Pilot license can play in helping to rebuild the pilot population.

We all know that the pilot population in America continues to move backwards rather than forward. At the same time Pilots have needed to get more active through organizations or direct contact with their representatives to protect our interests in General Aviation. What we need now more than anything are more young and passionate pilots that get the bug for aviation and become staunch supporters of aviation for years to come. Having to fight the United States Government to stomp out user fees and tighter restriction on General Aviation the aviation manufacturer's and organizations and the general public have been focusing on the fact that General Aviation serves America and provides functional benefits to pilots and aviation communities. In that communication though we have lost the ability to excite some of those that are looking to fly for the fun and adventure of it, likely the spark that got most of us into flying.

Hawkins writes "In our quest for more speed, range and payload and fancier glass cockpits--we seem to have forgotten what brought us to aviation in the first place--the freedom, the fun and the adventure of flying! How many of us can remember zooming around the house at age seven, holding a plastic airplane over our heads while making airplane noises? Well, I bet none of us were thinking, 'Boy, I could really save some time getting to grandma's house, and think of the TSA lines I'll be avoiding!'"

Learning to fly five years ago in Cincinnati, OH the rates were very reasonable and I earned my license for just under $5,000. If I were to start today in Chicago where instructors charge more and access to lower cost airplanes is harder to come by I would need to budget closer to $10,000 to earn a Private Pilot certificate. If I had not learned to fly when I did the price today would likely have kept me on the wrong side of the airport fence.

RemosGX.jpgWhat the Sport Pilot License does is makes learning to fly more accessible. Cutting the hours needed to earn a license in half from forty hours down to just 20 hours. This new path to an aviation license can save a student as much as $3,000 - $5,000 greatly lowering the barrier to entry for learning to fly. Couple that with new Light Sport Aircraft that burn less fuel, rent at lower rates and can be purchased new for what many traditional aircraft cost many years after taking their first flight and this new movement makes flying financially more accessible, especially in the current economic conditions.

Hawkins references a great quote from Orville Wright "The exhilaration of flying is too keen, the pleasure is too great, for it not to be a sport." I learned this weekend while having my first experience behind the stick of a Light Sport Aircraft how much fun flying one of these sporty little planes can be.

Stay tuned for a review of a flight in the Remos GX, my first experience in a Light Sport Aircraft. Until then check out Bringing the Sport back to Flying by Kirk Hawkins. Also, please don't be like I was and scoff at the Sport Pilot License or the Light Sport Aircraft associated to them. They may just be what the industry needs to bring growth back to General Aviation.