In no uncertain terms, Toby Kamark and Jeff Gentz see light-sport aircraft as the future of general aviation. It’s time for a new generation to succeed the old, and this change is happening now, they said. Sport pilot is the key to getting people into the air and making them pilots, Jeff said, adding that his wife is one of them. “You have to invest in sport pilot, or it’s not going to succeed,” Toby added.
They have done more than talk. Toby owns Orion Flight Services, with two Wisconsin locations, in Oshkosh and Door County. Jeff grew up at OSH, married Toby’s niece, and is a MD-11 pilot. Last year they formed Orion Sport Aircraft LLC. A Remos dealer, a G3-600 joined the FBO’s rental fleet last October, followed by the new GX earlier this year. A 172N and a Cirrus SR20 complete Orion’s rental fleet at OSH.
“I’m beside myself at how well they are doing,” Toby said, “much better than I expected.” Since joining the rental fleet the Remos light-sport aircraft have been averaging 80 hours a month, not bad considering that the G3 started logging rental hours just before a Wisconsin winter.
Despite the economy, Orion Sport Aircraft has sold 11 aircraft since January. With its performance, good useful load, wide cabin, and glass cockpit (two big-screen Dynon units and a Garmin stack of two nav/coms, audio panel, transponder, and panel-mounted GPS 496 with XM weather), “the Remos sells itself,” Toby exclaimed, “even at $140,000 a pop.” It’s also attracted a lot of new students. About a half dozen have already earned their sport pilot certificates and another dozen or so are now working toward their sport pilot tickets with Orion’s five CFIs.
About 70 percent of the prospective students who walk through the door are aware of sport pilot, Toby says. Those undecided usually make up their minds after an hour-long $99 introductory flight lesson in the Remos. And several who were training in the 172 have switched to the Remos, as have a number of rental pilots.
In comparing the Remos and Cessna, which both rent for $99 an hour, it’s easy to see why. The Remos’s cabin is four inches wider than the 172, and it will comfortably fit pilots with an inseam up to 36 inches. At its 1,320-pound gross weight the Remos gets off the ground in 400 feet and climbs at 1,300 fpm, said Jeff, who has more than 150 hours in it.
The GX has a 650-pound useful load and has a 22-gallon fuel tank, all but one gallon useable. With a Rotax 912 ULS on the nose, it cruises at 130 and stall at 44 mph with full Fowler flaps. It burns either premium auto fuel or 100LL, and sips from that reservoir. At full throttle you’re looking at 5 gph, said Jeff, and if you’re working in the pattern, it’s around 3 gph.
That in itself is why light-sport aircraft have started to change the face of American general aviation. It seems clear that the early adopters are reaping the benefits, if the past year at Orion Flight Services is any example. It takes little imagination to compare this change with the automobile industry, where American manufacturers who hung on to their old, profligate product lines too long. They proved that ignoring change, either in resources or consumer interest, doesn’t make it go away. There’s a lesson there for all of us in aviation. — Scott Spangler