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Hundreds visit AOPA Aviator Showcase

Among the more unusual aircraft was the VL3 Evolution, a two-place European carbon-fiber sport airplane. David Pauly, the Midwest salesman from Alion Aviation, flew it from Wichita, Kansas, to Fort Worth for the event. The yellow-and-white airplane was surrounded most of the day by those curious to learn more.

Pauly said the 141-horsepower Rotax 915iS-powered airplane has a high-speed cruise of some 200 knots true airspeed on about 9 gallons per hours. At the lower end, the airplane stalls at just 34 knots indicated airspeed thanks to split flaps that can be deployed to as much as 55 degrees. The VL3 can also be purchased with a 115-hp Rotax 914UL turbocharged engine or a 100-hp Rotax 912UL, all capable of burning high-octane unleaded auto gas. In addition, the fixed-gear model with a ground-adjustable propeller can be built as an SLSA-approved model at the factory in the Czech Republic. The higher horsepower models with retractable gear can be built as experimental airplanes if the builder goes to the factory and completes a quick-build option.

Pauly said the airplane with its carbon-fiber pushrod flight controls and stick is a joy to fly and very responsive. Prices vary from $230,000 for the low-end airplane to about $330,000 for the highest performance model with an IFR panel. Look for more on the VL3 in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot magazine.

While the VL3 is sporty and fast, Vashon Aircraft was at the showcase with its Ranger, a rugged LSA built as a trainer and light backcountry flier. Kurt Robertson from Vashon said the company has more than 50 of the all-metal high-wing models in the field. Several are in use at flight schools, including the one on display at the show. However, most are in the hands of individuals who are enjoying them in the backcountry. With a cruise speed of around 110 knots, the Ranger is no competition for the VL3 in cruise, but with its ability to take off in just 315 feet and land in 475 feet, it can go places many others can’t. For those who want an IFR platform, Vashon now offers an IFR-equipped version for $160,000. With that, a flight school can train sport pilots and those headed for private, commercial, and ATP certificates. Lesser equipped models can be had for $128,000 or $135,000.

Dog is My CoPilot pilot Dr. Brent Blue worked to educate showcase attendees about the group's mission. Photo by Nicholas Peterman.

Dr. Brent Blue is another pilot more interested in utility than speed. The Cessna Caravan he flies is owned by the Dog is My Copilot organization. The nonprofit flies dogs from shelters in the Southwest to forever homes in the Northwest. Blue is one of six pilots who flies the Caravan, which has carried as many as 120 dogs at once. He was leaving the day after the showcase to fly 85 dogs north.

“They are pretty quiet once you take off,” he said. “The sound just puts them to sleep. The smell, though, sometimes that can get you.” The flights are typically no more than four to six hours. Driving the dogs that far can often be a three-day event, requiring a lot of care for the canines along the way. Blue brought the airplane to the event to showcase the utility of GA airplanes and to shine a spotlight on the organization’s goal of reducing euthanasia rates in overcrowded shelters. To date, the group has flown some 20,000 dogs to new homes.

Inside the exhibit hall, pilots could learn about everything from new avionics to ways to buy and insure their airplanes. John Rutter was busy showing the latest features of the Seattle Avionics FlyQ electronic flight bag. The company was recently merged with Rocket Route and Aircraft Performance Group when it was acquired by AFV Partners in 2020. In addition to expanding the number of countries where it provides navigation data, Seattle Avionics is busying building out new features for FlyQ, including a full Android version of its electronic flight bag, which will be out next year.

Just off the exhibit hall floor, showcase attendees could participate in a series of seminars throughout the day, all designed to educate pilots about buying, upgrading, and maintaining their airplanes.

AOPA designed the Aviator Showcase events for 2021 to be scalable in a year when the uncertainty of COVID-19 mandates made planning events a challenge.

“We are happy with the results and our feedback from members and exhibitors is that they like the smaller one-day events focused on buying and upgrading airplanes,” said Elizabeth O’Connell, senior manager of events. AOPA will announce its 2022 events plan in the coming weeks.

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