As we close out 2022 (as I am writing this) and reflect on a year that showed both immense promise—people continue to build and fly homebuilts with vigor and engagement—and deep frustrations thanks to continued issues with supply and increasing prices, it’s reasonable to shake it off and look ahead. I’m not going to sit here and tell you what will happen as the 2023 flying season gets seriously underway mainly because I don’t know. I have suspicions, sure, but each of the last three years has resolutely defied accurate prognostication. I’m finally learning my lessons.
I will, however, shimmy out on the limb and say that we will finally see some movement in the avionics market. It’s been mostly stagnant over the last couple of years as the manufacturers, big and small, grapple with the challenge of just putting product on the shelf. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: The good companies resist introducing hot new products when their current customers are holding pitchforks downstairs in the lobby demanding delivery of the items they’ve already paid for. Some, like Advanced Flight Systems, took the opportunity of soon-to-be-obsolete parts and upgraded their product lines, a smart move with more than a little future-proofing involved. But others have been quiet.
I hope to see news from Garmin and Dynon in 2023. Rumors are swirling of a new EFIS from Garmin that would, I’m guessing, add capabilities and benefit from improvements in screen design and resolution compared to where the G3X Touch lives now. Dynon has been more than hinting at a replacement for the D10A small-format EFIS, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that product in 2023.
Getting away from avionics for a moment, I’m hoping this is the year Rotax introduces the rumored 916, another long-awaited new product that would take the fight to Lycoming and others in the 180-hp category. (Plus it’s the name of one of the most iconic Ducati motorcycles.) Just a few years ago, I would have said Rotax was in for a pitched battle in this category. But with the painful combination of long lead times and, let’s just say it, breathtaking prices on factory-new engines from the legacy companies, there’s probably no better time for Rotax to step forward. The 912 series is well proven and the turbocharged, fully electronic 915 iS is finding a home in everything from the Sling High Wing utility airplane to the awesomely desirable ScaleWings SW-51 replica that’s on this month’s cover. Now what’s left is for a major kit manufacturer to take it on as a development project for a midsized airplane. Who is in for a lightweight RV-15 with a Rotax 916 on the nose?
In years past, we could hope for some of these announcements to show up at Sun ’n Fun in April—actually very late March for the 2023 show. Not long after my somewhat critical review of the show from last year (“Dispatches from Florida,” July 2022), I got a call from new SNF leader Gene Conrad. I fully expected a military-grade dressing down, but he was honest about where the event had gone and sounded gung-ho about getting it back on track. “We’ve lost touch about why we’re here,” he told me, suggesting that the show would continue forward with a focus on the educational efforts it puts forth. (I have zero qualms with that. Filling the pipeline with young pilots and mechanics and enthusiasts is crucial to our survival.)
But he also said that there will be changes to the way the show is prepared. “You can’t unpack it in January and have a high-level event,” he said, which suggests that the show was likely to be put away after each year’s event and go into hibernation until 3–4 months before coming back to life. He’s right—there’s no way to maintain momentum and refine your product when it’s off most of the year. Conrad also commented on the placement of the homebuilt section that was so far away from show center in 2022. “When it was out front,” he said, “it was convenient but it was too close to the aerobatic box and had to be vacated during performances.” He noted that rumors of changes to the layout of the airport and the impact on the show were “8 to 10 years out, if not longer.”
“Running this show is a year-round job,” he said, and it was clear he planned to be firmly hands-on for the 2023 show. He mentioned my comment about the press venues and said, “We didn’t focus on that [in 2022 and] we relied on a contractor to put it together. But that’s part of our long-range plan.”
In summing up, Conrad committed to putting more capital into the event and ensuring that Sun ’n Fun “executes at a high level.” I left the conversation hopeful. Conrad and his team have a lot of work ahead of them—and he knows it. As this is written, Sun ’n Fun 2023 is a little more than 100 days away. I’ve booked my kinda-crazy-expensive airline tickets—Florida is a hella-long flight in a GlaStar—and am looking forward to seeing the progress in Lakeland come March.