N399SB's first Sun-N-Fun...
I think 1992 was my first Sun-N-Fun airshow. Every year since that first sojourn I have looked forward to the April ritual of immersion into all things aeronautical. But something had always prevented me from sharing the total S-N-F experience......my airplane was not on the flight line.
Until this year.
Yep, 2000 was the best Sun-N-Fun yet for me! Our RV-6, N399SB, was among the RV throng that found its way to central Florida. The arrival process was adrenaline-rushed as promised, and the thrill of arriving on the RV flight line for the first time was so overwhelming we forgot to turn off the Lightspeed headsets with the resulting annihilation of two sets of batteries. This was the culmination of a 3.5 hr flight for my brother and me that included a stop in Perry, Florida, for fuel and a rambunctious crosswind landing. We had departed Decatur, Alabama, Saturday morning a few hours after the passage of a vigorous front that left behind blustery winds out of the northwest and a low ceiling. We flew south down the back of the front while being bounced at low altitudes by the 32 knot winds, and turned the corner through the southern end of the front just south of Dothan, Alabama. After a few miles of light rain showers, we had penetrated the system and the ceiling began to lift.
Two and a half hours after leaving the home port, we were in the vicinity of Perry-Foley listening to their malfunctioning AWOS which conveniently omitted wind information. Overflying the field didn't offer any wind info either since the FBO was deserted and no wind socks were visible from the air (turns out there were two socks on the field, but they were so tattered and faded that they were useless for airborne use). Since the wind had been pushing us from the northwest all morning, I elected to land on runway 30.
Big mistake. On the south side of the front the wind had come around from the southwest, so we ended up with a direct crosswind gusting to about 28 mph! The small flock of turkey vultures roosting at mid-runway should have been a tip-off that nobody had been foolhardy to use 30 for awhile (or maybe they were just finishing off the last pilot who tried to land on 30 that day....) and after an, ah, interesting arrival we barely avoided being impaled by irritated buzzards. Fortunately the self-serve fuel station was still operative even though it refused to give me a receipt. Needless to say, we weren't too impressed with the Perry airport.
However, our spirits were lifted as we realized we were only an hour from Mecca. The arrival procedures were reviewed as we neared Lakeland, ATIS was monitored, then we switched to Lake Parker approach. The genial controller was busily lining up aircraft over the powerplant as published, and we descended and fell into a line of about eight aircraft of various types. A Velocity was attempting to slow to approach speed, and after wobbling around awhile, the pilot hauled back on the stick, came over us and entered the higher, faster pattern. While this was happening, a Cessna 172, oblivious to the approach procedure and the insistent chiding of the controller, cut across Lake Parker and busted into the middle of the gaggle of aircraft. After the two leaders of our gaggle missed the strobe-lighted towers, we abandoned the remainder of the bunch and flew the approach as published along with the only other two pilots in our group who had apparently pre-read the procedures. The remainder of the arrival was uneventful and were were soon gracefully touching down as softly as a feather in front of millions of spectators.
As soon as were had been escorted to the RV parking area, we jumped out to the cheers of a throng of onlookers.......oops....getting a little carried away here.....and started running the awesome titanium Ti-Downs into the sandy Florida.........sand. Within minutes, the first of many, many RV Journal readers had discovered us and a remarkable process of putting names with faces had begun.
From mid-afternoon until sundown we enjoyed pleasant introductions and conversations with folks that previously had only been an email address. The RV community is huge in scope and heart, and becoming acquainted with new friends made this a fantastic Sun-N-Fun for the pilot of 399SB.
The RV community was saddened and stunned by the recent loss of Bill and Jeremy Benedict (Van's general manager and web site guru, respectively) and many of us wondered if Van's would even make an appearance at the show. However, the Van's tent was being prepared on Saturday even as the memorial service in Oregon was taking place simultaneously, and I heard that Van himself arrived Sunday via commercial air carrier. Several volunteers, including some local builders and the Orndorffs, assisted with the display.
Since holding court at 399SB occupied most of my Sun-N-Fun, I only made one quick stop at the Van's tent, and business seemed to be quite brisk. There were the usual drool residues on the planes parked outside the tent, and wild-eyed pedestrians could be seen emerging from the tent with brochures tightly clutched in their fists. This infatuation with RV aircraft is a pitiful affliction to witness, especially among those who have yet to order the emp kit.........
The RV6/6A/9A forum was held Tuesday morning for the usual overflowing crowd (this must be very disheartening for the other kit manufacturers.......(snicker)....) by Van and Ken Scott, who admirably filled the position normally occupied by Bill Benedict. Van opened the forum with a warm and sensitive tribute to Bill and Jeremy, and the moment served to sooth the raw emotions many of us felt at this time. A show of hands revealed that many in the audience had been hosted by Bill on their first RV flight, and the fact that Van was willing and able to present the tribute and forum at such a difficult time was a resounding testimonial to this man's inner strength and commitment to the RV community. This was made even more obvious by the overwhelming ovation he received following the tribute as he handed the forum off to Ken Scott.
What follows is a synopsis of the forum according to notes I hastily scribbled as the forum progressed. The forum followed customary form by beginning with a brief history of the RV aircraft and current sales numbers.
> Old Blue, the original factory RV-6A demonstrator, now has accumulated over 2600 flight hours with no structural glitches, in spite of thousands of people crawling in and out of it at airshows.
> 6000 RV-6/6A kits have been delivered, and about 1300 are flying.
> 1400 RV8 kits have been sold and about 100 are flying.
> The CAD designed and pre-punched RV-9A kits will allow future firewall forward and wiring packages.
The following demonstrates that the old adage "There are no dumb questions...." is no longer true. After a lengthy discussion by Van of the design background of the RV-9A (new, longer wing on RV-6 fuse, slower stall and cruise speed, nose gear for easy ground handling) a hapless fellow on the front row raised his hand and asked, "Have you considered offering a faster, clip-wing, tail-dragger version of the RV-9A?" Needless to say, the entire tent erupted in laughter, and Ken Scott, bless his heart, deadpanned his answer, "Yes, in 1986, and we call it the RV-6". This resulted in more peals of laughter and served to break the somewhat somber tone of the forum up to this point.
> Van's is getting serious about a four-place aircraft. A poll was taken by asking who would be interested in a high-wing, Cessna 180 type of aircraft. Only about a half dozen hand went up. Then Ken asked how many would be interested in a fixed gear Mooney type of airframe. Nearly everybody in the tent eagerly waved both hands! Needless to say, the results of the poll were conclusive.
> The crosswind capabilities of the RV-9A should be very good due to the large and strong rudder, and can be more aggressively slipped than the RV-6.
> The usual question about alternate engines came up and Van indicated that he has still not seen anything that offers superior price/performance to the Lycomings. The LOM was mentioned, but it is an old design that just hasn't proven to be more capable than the Lycs.
> Will there be a pre-punched RV-6 fuse kit? Maybe.
> What about a pre-built canopy? No, since there are too many variables in each individual airframe.
> The new RV-6/6A kits are now shipping with the RV-8 vertical stab and rudder.
> Build time for the standard RV-9A kit should be about 25-30% less than the RV-6.
At this point, the top of the hour had arrived, and even though Van was given additional time for his forum, I left since we were to depart shortly for north Alabama due to weather concerns.
I would loved to have stayed a couple more days because every time I stood by the plane, RV Journal readers stopped to introduce themselves. But weather was developing in Tennessee and we needed to beat it home. Mark Spry (RV-4), Robin Hunt (RV-8), fellow DCU RV'ers, and I launched, flew .9 hrs to Cross City, Florida, to refuel pilots and planes, then flew 2.4 hours back to Decatur, Alabama. Sun-N-Fun 2000 was indeed lots of sun, and great fun, and plans are being made for the trip to Oshkosh.
See you there,
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The Finish Kit