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Even though the 2012 Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo (January 19 -22, 2012) event ended over a week ago, I only just made it back home from the trip this past Friday (and I didn't spend the week on the beach). Following is a brief summary of the trip as well as some commentary on the planes and cross-country flying:
This year's four day Sebring LSA Expo kept me out of the office for twelve days! The good news is that despite the weather we didn't miss the show and both airplanes performed flawlessly (and like I mentioned earlier, I was kept out of the office for 12 days)... but too bad the weather didn't cooperate.
Both of our airplanes, the STOL CH 750 and the Zenith CH 650, have modern Dynon SkyView glass panel displays with great features and technology, including synthetic vision, autopilot, etc. The STOL CH 750 also has a Garmin Aera 510 with XM satellite weather on the panel.
Even though modern technology brings us a lot of information, it does not prevent us from getting weathered in (the weather we encountered was not forecast). However, technology does make our lives easier both on the ground and in the air. We had cell phone reception everywhere (except on our side trip to the beach).
When flying into marginal weather, we call ahead to the ASOS / AWOS stations for real-time weather reports (I use the AOPA app on my iPhone to dial the stations directly.) The live XM satellite weather is useful on these longer cross country trips (but doesn't always depict cloud layers). On the ground, WiFi connections keep us in touch and productive (with our laptops and smart phones) even when grounded due to weather.
...to Farmington, Missouri. Reported winds above the surface were gusting to 60+ kts., too much for comfort. So we hung around the airport the rest of the day (we've been weathered in Farmington several times before so we felt like "regulars" hanging around the airport). Over the next twelve days, Roger and I had plenty of time to discuss business plans, new airplane designs, the economy, politics, dinner plans, and about everything else...
The next day we made it all the way... to Dyersburg, Tennessee... only 135 miles away, but at least we'd passed the Mississippi River and were in another state. We were following a solid line of storms (front) making its way east. Below is a view of the Mississippi River flowing south, then north, and then south again. You can see three states in the photo: Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee (and Arkansas is not far on the right)...
Our third day was way more productive as the storms had moved east: We covered more than 500 miles, stopping for lunch in historic Tuskegee, Alabama (below). The Zenith CH 650 is a great cross-country plane: I love the reclined seating (it's still comfortable after 3 hours) and the awesome visibility from the bubble canopy! There's also plenty of baggage space: Since I was flying by myself I didn't even need to use the two wing baggage lockers. Though slower, the CH 750 also performs well for cross-country flights - we've flown it (with two on board) to Sun'n Fun several times in years past.
Continuing our way south... This video clip by Roger shows some nice views from the CH 750 (and the installed Dynon SkyView on the panel) as we crossed into Georgia from Alabama (by Eufala):
A short refueling stop at the scenic Thomasville, Georgia airport:
Weather ahead forced us to spend the night in Perry, northern Florida. The Perry-Foley airport looked like the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) Expo had already begun with a dozen LSAs tied-down on the ramp for the night. The next morning we were surprised to find ice on our planes (in Florida!). Here I am de-icing the Zenith CH 650 with a garden hose so we could get to the Sebring LSA Expo already underway but still 200 nautical miles away!
Once in the air, we headed straight for Sebring and started to enjoy the Florida weather. Even though there was frost on the ground, we flew into warmer air as soon as we were airborne and landed it was in the mid-seventies when we landing at Sebring. This is some nice video footage of Roger flying the CH 750 with the Florida Gulf Coast in the background as we headed south:
We arrived at Sebring late morning as the expo was just getting underway.
We were busy at our booth, with a lot of interest in both the STOL CH 750 light sport utility kitplane and the low-wing Zenith CH 650. UL Power North America had one of their engines on display at the Zenith booth. After having flown one 1,000 miles to Sebring I was proud to be the only UL Power'd plane at the Expo among a sea of Rotax engines.
The Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo (as it's officially named) is a unique venue for both buyers and sellers of "sport aviation" products and services. It's a show for and about Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft. There is no airshow and no warbirds or other historical planes, and it's not really a fly-in (though you can fly in to attend). It's all about light sport aircraft and so are we, which is why we were proud to be a major sponsor of the event.
We headed for home late Monday morning (after some morning demo and media flights). Here's some nice video footage of the CH 650 that Roger filmed from the CH 750 starting over scenic Crystal River and then over the historic Suwannee River. Shooting air-to-air video was a lot easier with the autopilot (installed in the CH 750). It's difficult to hold a camera level and properly framed on an aircraft (in formation) while flying the aircraft at the same time:
We made it (back again) to Perry - Foley where more weather prevented us from moving farther north. Since we had the afternoon ahead of us, Roger and I visited the nearest beach, just 20 miles away in the airport car: We were to told that Keaton Beach was one of the smallest beaches in Florida (the hot dog stand was closed for the season, but the gas station was open):
We made it to Quincy, Florida (dodging rain clouds) and were happy to be able to continue through Alabama (where the weather was nicer). We refueled at Shelby Country Airport (south of Birmingham) and continued on to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, landing right before nightfall.
When flying cross country we always favor small airports (with fuel service) over larger ones: The smaller airports typically offer friendlier and better service, which is especially welcome if we're stuck there for a day or two...
A note about hotels: We generally stay at "mid-level" hotels such as Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express. These hotels often can send a car to pick us up at the airport (if an airport courtesy car is not available), and they serve a "full" breakfast and offer free high speed internet. Some brands, such as Hampton Inn and Drury Inn, also host a "managers reception" in the evening with complimentary adult beverages and food (typically appetizers). Fancier hotels charge extra for everything (like larger FBOs), and you generally "get what you pay for" at cheap hotels so you end up having to pay for cab rides and breakfast...
The next morning we flew to Sikeston, Missouri but couldn't continue on due to more rain, low ceilings, and icing conditions in central Missouri. This is the view from our hotel room the next morning (so we slept in) and then we lounged around the airport for the rest of the day, fasting so the we could dine at Lambert's later in the day. Lambert's Cafe is a famous southern eatery and "home of throwed rolls." They provide VIP treatment to pilots (including complimentary transportation to and from the airport).
The Zenith CH 650 is a significantly faster airplane than the CH 750. The CH 650 is a "cruiser" while the CH 750 is a STOL "sport utility" aircraft and since I was flying the faster new airplane (it's good to be boss sometimes) I flew most of the trip powered back. Both airplanes performed flawlessly during the entire trip. I was flying the CH 650 and I was cruising 1/3 faster than Roger in the STOL CH 750. I could throttle back to about 2,200 RPM to maintain 100 mph (and altitude) while burning less than 4 gph. Because of the weather (that was mainly ahead of us) there really wasn't much advantage in cruising faster (other than to burn more fuel).
I filmed this last video clip before finally arriving back home after 12 days on the road. I was waiting for Roger to catch up so I followed along the meandering Missouri River (the Big Muddy), enjoying the scenery and making note of good sand bars to return to in warmer weather. The Katy Trail runs between the river and the bluffs on the north side of the Missouri River. This is a unique state park that's made up of a 237 mile converted rail line (now a maintained trail) stretching across most of the state of Missouri, over half of which follows Lewis and Clark's path up the Missouri River, where you can ride or walk beneath towering river bluffs while eagles circle overhead. My wife and I love to ride our bikes on the trail (it's nearly as much fun as flying over it!).
Below are two maps of the trip, with the stops shown (this is not an actual GPS trail of the trip). By the way, NavMonster.com is our favorite trip planning website - it's quick and easy to use with a lot of useful information.