Tuesday, November 10, 2009

AOPA Summit 2009

I made the trek down to Tampa last week to attend the first-ever AOPA Summit. While I've been to plenty of conferences for work before, this was the first time I've ever ventured off to one for fun. Just about everyone would probably agree that it's no Oshkosh but I still had a great time soaking up all things aviation for three days. There were plenty of highlights and I'm going to do my best to share them below in a somewhat organized fashion. But before I do that, a few general thoughts.

Downtown Tampa

There really is something special about the pilot community as a whole, even if you can't put your finger on any specific thing. I feel privledged to be a part of it and have enjoyed meeting so many great people over the past few years. As many of you know - or know me from - I spend a decent amount of time on the AOPA Forums. In spending time on any online community like that, you come to know people even if you've never met face to face. So it's great to attend an event like this where many of these folks come together. I had the opportunity to spend some time with MartyB again (I flew up to Wapakoneta for BBQ with him last month) along with meeting Dr. Bruce, Cap'n Ron, and Lou Betti for the first time. In addition, one of Ron's former students ran into us when we were out having a beer and I ended up going out to dinner with him and his friend and talking plenty of flying.

Every modern aviator knows John and Martha!

I was also fortunate to spend a couple minutes talking to John & Martha King (if you fly, you know who they are) after their seminar on Saturday. Having seen them on video I don't know how many times, I can say that they're exactly the same in person - helpful, great educators, and passionate about aviation. On top of that, I ran into Rod Machado later that day and had a nice five minute conversation with him about his Private Pilot Handbook (which I used and highly recommend, it's a great training resource) and my own experience flying. He was just as kind and funny as I would have expected and it was an honor to be able to tell him in person just how much I've enjoyed his work.

Looking out over the water from the Convention Center

Sunset on Thursday evening

As far as the event itself was concerned, the Tampa Convention Center was a pretty good location. Easy to get to (I stayed by the airport and took a local bus in every day - saved a TON of money buy doing it that way) and a very clean, nice facility. The only negative was their obscene food prices - I realize you get overcharged in any place like that, but it was insane. An apple danish and a bottle of Vitamin Water cost me $8.50! Needless to say, that's the only time I ate in there. Peter O. Knight Airport was a good choice for a local airport to hold the Airportfest part of the Summit. It would have been nice if the GA parking for folks that flew in was accessible from the static display area; other than that, there was ample space and lots to see. Without further adieu, here's the nitty gritty...

  • Max Trescott, Night Flying - This was the first seminar I attended and Max provided lots of good tips for flying at night. I don't do much flying past sunset since I can't land back at Stewart solo (airport rule, and a logical one since it's unlit) so I'm always trying to learn more about it on the ground. Max is also a fellow blogger whose site I frequent so I was glad to be able to introduce myself and spend a couple minutes talking with him after the presentation.
  • Doug Ritter, 406 MHz ELTs & PLBs - Lots of great knowledge here by one of the foremost experts in survival. He explained the technology behind today's digital PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) and ELTs (Emergency Locator Transmitters) and also gave in-depth information about the models currently available. Oh, and I won an ELT worth around $1K (per the MSRP) as a door prize so that was nice! ;-) Seeing as I don't own an airplane, I now have a brand-new EBC 406AP available if anyone's interested.
  • Beyond the $100 Hamburger: Public Benefit Flying - Another great seminar about all the ways pilots can take part in volunteer work. From organizations like Pilots N Paws and Veterans Airlift Command to discussions about offering to take local news reporters and politicians up in the air, I gathered a lot of useful information. I really would love to get more involved in these sort of things so hopefully I can act on some of the ideas and figure out ways to start volunteering.
  • Eat Well, Fly Well with Montel Williams - I never had known Montel's story before, just knew him from the tv show like most of us. Turns out he achieved many significant firsts (one of 4 out of 100 original cadets, if I recall correctly) early on in his life. He has nearly graduated into service as a fighter pilot before him and 100 other cadets accidentally received a 50x dose of the polio vaccination and he went blind in one eye. It was a very inspiring talk about how we can remain in control of who we want to be and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Caught a nice, shiny Cirrus arriving at Peter O. Knight

  • Rod Machado, Aviation Humor - Aside from his textbooks, Rod's well-known for his funny aviation writing and talks. I've seen videos online before but this was the first time I saw him in person and he certainly didn't disappoint. Sure, it only makes sense to us pilots, but had the whole room in tears a few times as he recounted some hilarious stories.
  • GA at the Movies luncheon - This was a separate event from the Summit and required an extra ticket, but I think it was worth it. We had a delicious three-course lunch and I ended up meeting some other pilots at my table (one from North Dakota, another from the Netherlands) and take part in the requisite hangar flying. The program included a short speech from Rep. Vernon Ehlers, one of the founders of the General Aviation Caucus in the House, along with clips and discussion with people involved in two aviation movies - A Pilot's Story and Amelia. It really was an enjoyable time and I learned a few new things to boot.
  • Brian Shul, Speed of Life - This was downright incredible, honestly worth the trip to Tampa in and of itself. Brian's a former SR-71 pilot who has, in his own words, lived two lives - the second beginning after he was badly burned and nearly died following a T-28 crash in the 70s. In later years, he wrote what is considered to be the best book ever written about the magnificent spyplane - Sled Driver. He gave one of the most inspiring talks I've ever had the pleasure to attend and his rare collection of Blackbird photographs (the world's largest set) shown on the screen was just icing on the cake. If you ever have the opportunity to see Brian speak, don't let it pass you by!
  • Tips from Controllers - More useful piloting information, especially for a lowly VFR guy like myself. I love learning everything I can about ATC and sessions like these - where all sorts of questions are posed by other pilots in the audience - provide so much value and insight into that side of the microphone.
The Lockheed Electra used in the filming of the movie Amelia

This might be my favorite shot of all...

What a beautiful aircraft - need I say more?

Now that's a nice 182 on floats

  • John & Martha King, Risk Management - So as I said above, pretty much every pilot knows the Kings. Their status as aviation educators is legendary and you either love or hate their corny humor. For the record, I'm in the love camp. Anyway, this was an excellent seminar about how we can all work to manage risks every flight since failure in doing so is the cause of most aircraft accidents. They capped the hour off with a story about a terrifying flight many years ago where they almost lost their own lives due to not managing risks properly. I won't give it away for those who haven't heard them tell the story, but this is another one of those things I highly recommend you attend if you ever have the opportunity.
The next three sections go into detail about some of the other things I managed to do at the Summit. I spent about 4 hours total at Airportfest, looking at the aircraft on display and talking with the manufacturers. I'll also talk about the vendors I spent some in-depth time with as well as the ones I missed. Same goes for the seminars I wasn't able to attend; often times two or more seminars I was interested in were scheduled at exactly the same time.

There were upwards of 100 aircraft on static display

This little 3/4 scale Mustang was very cool

There's the Piper Jet in the middle

  • Cessna 162 Skycatcher - Not going to lie, I'm not a big fan. I didn't give it a thorough evaluation but in peering inside and around the outside the whole thing just felt a little cheap to me. It just didn't have the look and feel of something I can imagine spending $112,000 on. For that kind of money, there's lots of other LSAa (Light Sport Aircraft) out there.
  • Remos Aircraft - Speaking of other LSAs, they have some very well-built aircraft that are hard not to like. Again, I didn't fly in one or actually sit inside, but man was the fit and finish top-notch. Seeing as how one is the AOPA Sweepstakes plane for 2010, maybe I'll get the chance to have my own soon? :)
  • Velocity Aircraft - It's got a canard, it's got a big engine, it cruises at 270 knots. Well outside the range of anything I'll likely ever be able to own but wow, what an aircraft.
  • American Legend & Cubcrafters - The taildragger pilot in me gets way too excited when I see things of beauty like their Cubs. Sure, it's hard to imagine dropping over $100K for a Cub and I doubt I'll ever be able to... but man were these amazing machines. Ok, so the panel-mounted Garmin 696 felt a bit sacrilegious to me as well.
I'd kill to own one of these Cubs - FUNtastic, indeed

This is EAA's new sweepstakes plane - look at those tundra tires

They had some really cool cars at Airportfest on Saturday...

...so I couldn't help but take a few photos

  • DTC DUAT - I use their service all the time for weather briefings (including on my cell phone, a feature I love) and filing the occasional flight plan and spent some time looking through new features they've implemented. They've got some great new graphical forecast products available now and it sounds like a few other new things are in the works. I also learned about a few things I've clicked past a hundred times but never knew were in there.
  • Frasca - Ok, so this was interesting... they had a Cirrus simulator there that was quite realistic, from the wrap-around 180 degree screen to the full cockpit with instrumentation and controls - you could even pop the BRS! Needless to say, I waited in line and when it was my turn I had only one thing I wanted to try, spins! Well, come to find out from the instructor sitting there controlling the thing, due to legal reasons the thing's programmed so that it can't spin! Apparently they don't want people trying spins in a sim, then later suing Cirrus for saying it can't recover from a spin because they were able to in the simulator. Or something like that. Not that I didn't try anyway! :) At the stall break I kicked in full rudder and the plane sort of flipped inverted like during an incipient spin, but the second I moved any control it righted itself. Clearly some funky software stuff going on there. Lame, I say!
  • Goodyear Aviation - Nothing much to report except they had a replica of the new moon tire they designed for future moon landings in a glass case, and it was pretty sweet looking.
  • Jeppesen - Another brief report, as the only thing I picked up was a free little airplane that lights up and spins its prop when you plug it into a USB port. Need I even tell you that it will be on my desk at work shortly?
  • Brightline Bags - You may recall I got one last Christmas and reviewed it on here earlier this year. Well, they've made a couple minor tweaks that I spoke with the owner about along with thanking him for such a great product. The updated bag has been enlarged slightly so foreign charts will fit inside, one of the front main pockets has additional fabric sewn to the sides so it won't flip open and let the contents spill out, and the zipper pulls have been changed to a much more solid plastic. I still love my bag and highly recommend anyone looking for a flight bag at least take a look over at the Brightline website.
Things I Missed
  • Seminars - Ditching and Water Survival, Buying Your First Airplane, Reducing the Cost of Aircraft Ownership, Mastering Takeoffs and Landings
  • Vendors - VirtualHUD (incredible technology - I'm still kicking myself for forgetting to go check it out) and Pilot Getaways Magazine
It was a bit windy, but at least it was right down the runway

Well there you have it, my overly detailed report on the AOPA Summit. I honestly didn't even realize just how much I crammed into three days until I sat down to quickly write this recap and have now spent three or four hours organizing my thoughts into something I feel fit to post. For those of you I saw down there, it was great to see/meet you in person! For those who didn't get the chance to go, I hope this gives you a good idea of the various things that were available. Finally, for everyone reading this, best wishes for clear skies and tailwinds!


  1. Thanks Steve for the write-up!

  2. steve absolutely fabulous photos! thanks for sharing those. you're spot on with the Remos assesment-well built and a blast to fly. tons of fun. I was in Jacksonville a few weeks back and shared concrete with the T-51 Mustang-thing's a beast!

    safe skies to you man.

  3. Thanks for a great write-up. I would love to hear Rod Machado speak one day. I'm glad you brought the camera...I loved seeing all those planes.

  4. Great recap! Thanks for providing the info and sharing your take on the Summit. I would also like to hear Rod speak, at some point maybe I'll make one of these events.

  5. Rod's a very funny man, that's for sure. I think just about every pilot would enjoy hearing him speak!

    Compared to my usual photo-taking, I actually didn't bring out the camera much... I was so engrossed in all the seminars and stuff. Only when I got home did I notice I never took any photos inside so you could see the vendor booths, etc.

    Anyway, glad I could provide some insight into the thing for those of you who weren't able to make it!