• Australian Flying editor Steve Hitchen. (Kevin Hanrahan)
    Australian Flying editor Steve Hitchen. (Kevin Hanrahan)

– Steve Hitchen

National fly-ins in Australia encompassing both recreational aviation and GA have left behind them a string of broken hearts. Since the SAAA first had a crack with Ausfly 2012, there have been several editions of a national fly-in, be it Ausfly, OzKosh or AirVenture Australia. All of them struggled to gain a fanatical following a'la Oshkosh. RAAus is having another go next week with Fly'n for Fun at Parkes. And of course some in the industry are already branding it Natfly by another name after the now-defunct national recreational fly-in. It's not an epithet that I am buying into. Firstly, Natfly was branded as recreational only, but Fly'n for Fun is targeting all aviation including GA. Secondly, Fly'n for Fun has the financial backing of AMDA Foundation as a way of supporting both recreational and general aviation. That's the role that AMDA envisages for themselves. So this is a new formula that is already on a solid footing financially. How it will be received by the GA community is very different thing. National fly-ins in Australia have not failed because of poor attendance by aviators or commercial companies; politics is what has continually poisoned them. The "them and us" attitude has worked against us all, and it is time it was laid to rest permanently. With Ausfly still slated for Narromine in September, there is a risk that divisiveness will perpetuate because Fly'n for Fun could be seen to be "ours" and Ausfly "theirs" or the other way around. I'm not buying into that either. With one being held in Autumn and the other in Spring, I see both as reasons for pilots to get their gear up and fly. Both Fly'n for Fun and Ausfly need to be made "ours".

After overhwelming input and consultation feedback over the 760-kg weight limit for RAAus, CASA has launched further consultation on the maximum stall speed. It was OK to grant the extra 160 kg on the MTOW, but by keeping the maximum stall speed at a rigid 45 knots, the advantages of the new weight were negated. Physics and aerodynamics dictate that if you increase the weight (or apparent weight) of the aircraft, the speed registering on the ASI will be higher when the wing reaches the critical angle-of-attack ... or something to that effect that I am sure the aerodynamicists in this world could explain better. The two go hand-in-hand, but CASA changed only one. Now they are looking at the other, which is the only thing they could reasonably do. That's music to the ears of aircraft designers and home-builders who were stymied by the existing limits. It will open-up RAAus' Group G aircraft to things like Cessna 150s, which have a book stall speed of 46 knots. It also means home-builders can take advantage of the higher MTOW and build aircraft that have safety and strength as the focus rather than weight. CASA's default position appears to be to remove the stall speed restriction, so barring any seriously negative feedback from this consultation, it should go ahead. If it doesn't, you may as well kill the MTOW increase because it won't have enough impact to be valuable.

RAAus' Group G may (and I say that with a mini-skip full of reservations) benefit from another momentous shift in thinking coming from the USA: a complete overhaul of the standards covering Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). At the moment, the ASTM standards govern the definition of an LSA and have done so for 10 years. Now there is a re-think happening in the US about whether restrictions like fixed gear and top speed are really needed. Docility is the key focus of the LSA category, and provided the aircraft remains docile, who cares if the gear is fixed or retractable? Included in the list of potential changes is an MTOW of 760 kg. If it happens, it means that manufacturers can build stronger and more capable aircraft and certify them in the simpler LSA category. It opens the door for new two-seat designs with useful loads over 350 kg that are powered by Rotax 915 engines ... and all without a need for a full type certificate, which can cost $5-10 million to get. This would be general and recreational aviation unshackled. But at the moment, none of this is carved in stone tablets. Rumours persist that the FAA will make the announcement mid-year and there is a lot of talk about it, so the weight of evidence in favour of a new definition of LSA is fairly strong.

Next week you won't be getting the weekly newsletter on Friday 1 April, but rather the following Monday. I am hoping I'll be able to bring you some feedback on Fly'n for Fun, which is happening over that weekend. I apologise to those in the industry who tell me they know it's Friday only because LMH arrives in their inboxes!

May your gauges always be in the green,



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