Sun-N-Fun 2003 Trip Report
I didn't think I'd make it to Sun-N-Fun this year. With the change of dates for a mid-week start (Wednesday) and my need to be at home on Saturday, it didn't make sense to drive or fly commercial to only spend one day at SNF. Then came Marc Zeitlin's offer for the co-pilot seat. Whoa! That changed everything! Not only would I get to spend some time with Zeitlin, I'd get to fly in his Cozy for several hours and really see what the plane is like.
First, my utmost thanx to Marc for offering the ride. He's the real deal. A very likeable fellow, a straight-shooter, and a good pilot. I've been conversing with Marc for years now and met him once at a Canard Aviators fly-in a few years ago. To spend a few days flying and talking canards with him was a great treat, a great privilege. THANX, Marc!
The Flight Plan
Marc flew down from Massachusetts to Suffolk, Virginia, in about 3.4 hours. We put N83MZ in my hangar for the night. Marc, my hangar mate Steve Volovsek (building a gorgeous Long EZ), and I drove into Suffolk for some Mexican food (a theme that would be repeated several more times). We then retired to my house. We awoke the next morning to a gorgeous day. After fueling up on Mexican omelets at the airport, we packed the plane, fueled it, and took off.
To date, I have 30 minutes of time in Nat Puffer's Cozy IV and about 1 hour in Tim Walsh's Cozy III. So I was really looking forward to some extended flying time in a Cozy IV.
The flight plan had us flying VFR along the East Coast shoreline to Myrtle Beach (SC), Savannah (GA), and Jacksonville (FL), before turning inland to skirt Orlando airspace prior to heading into Lakeland. We diverted into Hilton Head, SC, to empty the bladders and to take on some fuel in case we had to hold for the approach into Lakeland.
Total distance was about 711 statute miles (618 nmiles). We made the trip in about 4.2 hours including the stopover at Hilton Head. We had about 19 MPH of headwind most of the trip, changing to 11 MPH tailwind once we got into Florida airspace.
We reversed course on the way back to Virginia. This time we had a hefty 25+ MPH tailwind. We flew non-stop and made the trip in 3 hours, 15 minutes.
My Impressions of the Cozy IV
First thing I'll tell you is the Cozy looks ALOT smaller when it's painted in white and it taxies up to your hangar with someone inside it. It doesn't look like there's enough room for two up front. They don't call it a "Cozy" for nothing, but looks are really deceiving. Sure, it's small up front, but two adult males can sit side by side without touching shoulders. The inclined seating and the ergonomic arrangement of controls and systems make for a very comfortable ride. When I fly Cessnas and Pipers, my lower back starts to cramp up and I develop "hot spots" in the seat area. I tend to fidget uncomfortably after an hour or so. I felt none of that in the Cozy. In fact, I dozed off a couple of times while Marc was flying. Our longest flight leg was 3 hrs and 15 minutes. The only thing bringing us down was because we reached our destination. (Oh darned!) Three hours in an Archer and I'm ready for a straight jacket. Three hours in a Cozy and I'm wishing I had a bigger bladder. Very comfortable.
No Dancing Allowed:
While the seating and ergonomics are first rate, one must plan ahead on what to store where. Once seated, it's hard to maneuver within the seat to reach things out of arm's reach. Like I said, they don't call it Cozy for nothing. The map pockets in the arm rests and in the seatback are essential for storing charts and paperwork. Forget about ever reaching anything in the back seats, although I hear that the hot trick is to tie strings around items (like water bottles), toss them behind the shoulder brace, and simply pull the string up to retrieve items. That being said, we were well prepared and had placed all flight items needed in the nooks and crannies within easy reach. Marc was more adept at it than I was, but I quickly adjusted to these limitations. I quickly realized that if I needed something from the strakes I had to use my left arm instead of my right. Within 30 minutes, these limitations were a non-issue.
Many of you will ask about the canopy. Marc has a plans-built canopy with the exception that he raised the canopy height by an inch. The width is per plans. I have to admit that I did NOT hit the sides of the canopy glass as many times as I expected to. Yeah, it's close to the side of your head, but you get used to it after 30 minutes or so. You begin to instrinctively "manage" your body movements to maneuver within the confines of the cockpit and the canopy. If I scanned to my right from the co-pilot seat, I instinctively leaned inward to make room. I will say that raising the turtleback is pretty much essential depending on your height and the height of your seat cushions. In fact, I now believe that raising the turtleback height is probably the preferred modification over widening the canopy glass. Even with the stock turtleback/canopy width, there was enough room to clear my shoulder. The only time bumped the canopy frame was when I shifted around in the seat.
In a word -- TREMENDOUS! The view from the fronts seat is nothing short of spectacular. What I like best is that you can see downward over the nose in level flight. And the canard? Yeah, it blocks some of your view, but after a while you forget that it's even there! The nose and canard do block your view on takeoff, depending on your climb angles. The canard is the biggest "culprit" because it tends to block off the direct line of sight to the horizon. That being said, it seems like the pilot can work around these issues. It's certainly not as bad as other homebuilts. Ever flown in a Lancair or Glassair??? I can barely see forward in level flight in those planes. I have to really strain my neck to see over the nose in those planes. The sky disappears during the climb in those planes too.
The flying qualities were "as advertised", if not better than advertised. Taxiing was pretty much straight-forward. Takeoff roll was brisk and quick. I don't have any quantitative numbers, but it felt like the takeoff roll was alot shorter than I expected it to be. Yeah, it "might" have been longer than a Cessna, but we did NOT chew up much runway. And that was with full fuel, full baggage, and estimating 370-380 pounds of human flesh in the front seats.
Awesome. I'm used to climbing at 500 feet/minute on a good day. Seeing 1,500 feet on the VSI gets your attention quick. Marc chose to fly at 8,500 southbound and he leveled off within 5 minutes or so. Wow!
Awesome too. Marc's plane was trueing out at almost 200 MPH. And that's without wheelpants and spinner. He was certainly happy about that. His Aerosport engine never missed a beat and the Catto prop was evidently doing it's job. We had smooth air at altitude and the plane was absolutely solid as a rock. It does get "sporty" if the air isn't as smooth. But let me tell you, FAST is FAST! Plan on opening and folding new charts about every 20 minutes. Now that's a new experience for me! It was very surreal watching the world "fly by" (ha, ha). I think my teeth got a sun tan from grinning so much! We caught up to, and flew passed a twin (looked like a Piper Seminole). This song kept going through my brain: "Na, na, na, na....na, na, na, na.....Hey, hey, hey....Goooood-bye!"
An autopilot is a very nice thing to have on these planes. Marc has the NavAid wing-leveler with the smart-coupler for GPS navigation. It's the first time I've flown with an autopilot. It was great. Get to altitude, punch on the AP, and experience boredom. I'm considering the NavAid for my plane, so I was curious to see how well it performed. Two thumbs up! The NavAid held course really well. The smart coupler captured the new course headings and flew the plane comfortably and smoothly during the intercepts. Since the NavAid is only single axis, the pilot must still maintain altitude. Left uncontrolled, the plane tended to drift slowly +/- 100 feet or so around the intended altitude. Only minimal and menial attention was needed every minute or so to keep the altitude in check.
Pitch Trim System:
Marc's plane has the Strong electric pitch trim system. That's a nice-to-have also. I was always puzzled that the controls are really stiff on the ground with the system installed (because you are pushing/pulling against a spring). Yet once airborne, the controls are responsive, low-force, and silky smooth.
Cabin Noise (or, lack thereof):
I took off my headset every once in a while. Noisy, but not as noisy as conventional airplanes. I'd still recommend headsets though. Marc has some nice active noise reducing headsets. First time I've flown with ANR headsets too. Gotta get a pair of those for my Cozy. Very nice.
Marc assures me that if you can land a Cessna, you can land a Cozy. But I gotta tell ya that the "sight picture" is totally different and is a bit uncomfortable (in my opinion). You don't point the nose down as much as you do on conventional airplanes. Plus, the inclined seating threw me too. Marc was in total control of the plane during all our landings and the plane seemed well-behaved. Again, it does get "sporty" if the wind is squirrelly, but I'd expect that's the case with a lot of high-performance homebuilts. The landings looked completely controllable. I just need to get accustomed to the sight picture.
The MATCO brakes were really nice. Marc was not afraid to use them and I can see why. Very positive feel to the brakes and they got the plane slowed down in a hurry with no fading or complaining. I'm glad I chose those brakes for my plane too.
I'm starting to rethink adding fuel sending units to my plane. Carl Denk and the others are absolutely correct. It's really hard to see both sight glasses from the front seats. It's impossible to see the sight glasses when the back seats are loaded with luggage. Grand Rapids Technologies makes a fuel sending unit (capacitive probe) with a remotely mounted head. Since I've already fabricated my strakes but haven't yet fabricated the turtleback fairings, I'm going to install the sending unit in the rear, inboard corner of the strake, then mount the remote head on the inside of the turtleback just above the center section spar. A small cable connects the capacitive probe to the sensor head. I'll make a small access door into the fairing to gain access to the probe.
One really NICE quality of the Cozy is that it can carry ALOT of luggage. I flew to Sun N Fun once in a Long EZ. I had to leave some clothes behind because there wasn't enough room in the plane. But here's what Marc and I packed into the Cozy -- my clothing bag, three back packs, two sleeping bags, two camping mats, two folding chairs, his cover for the Cozy, an electric drill and case, a case of bottled water, a four-person tent, two equipment bags for the Cozy, my flight kit (GPS, knee boards), his flight kit, and a partridge in a pear tree.
The Rest of Sun N Fun
I'll cut straight to the chase and say the best part of Sun N Fun is the "annual reunion" of the canard community. It's amazing that we spend alot of money getting to Sun N Fun and it's 8,000 airplanes and billions of dollars of products, then spend most of our time standing under a small tent talking war stories about canard building. I KNOW I'M GOING TO FORGET SOMEONE, but here goes -- Nat & Shirley Puffer, Jack & Donna Wilhelmson, Nick Ugolini, Ed Richards, Tim & Wendy Freeze, Jerry Schneider, Jay Blum, Steve Beert, Doug Solinger, Greg Richter, Chrissi & Randi (Cozy Girrrls), Jeff Russell, Greg (?) Russell, Steve Wright, Kevin Funk, Al Sweeney, Bob Bittner, Richard Riley, Barnaby Wainfan, Rob Cherney, and Howard (and I can't ever remember his last name either). I also talked with Jack Beale and another prospective builder. And damned, I'm sure I'm forgetting a few folks. There's always the danger of leaving someone out, so my apologies.
And I must give a tip of the hat to Gary Hunter, crew chief for the Exxon Flying Tiger and our on-the-air composite expert. He's a great guy and he's recently formed his own composites business. He makes everything -- baggage pods, wheel pants, spinners, canards, and a whole lot more. Give him a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>.
Here's the boring part of the report.
It is a RUSH to fly the approach into Sun N Fun. The change to a mid-week start did lessen the amount of traffic flying into Lakeland each day. We kept our heads on a swivel, but the approach wasn't as un-nerving as I've heard. The arrival ground points were easy to find and it was easy to navigate into and out of Lakeland. Marc did a stellar job. He's cool-headed and never once told me to quell my back seat piloting. :-)
We camped on the field in the trees adjacent to the Vintage aircraft area. It's nearest to the shower facilities and the main showplace areas. There is now a "Homebuilt Camping" area, but it's quite a hike from the main showplace areas. The porta-potties are cleaned and sanitized each morning. The best time to use the showers is at midnight. Prepare to stand in line if you prefer to shower in the morning. SNF must spend a fortune on heating bills because the hot water never ran out. The high-priced crappy food was exactly that.... high-priced crappy food. (See note about porta-potties.)
The "daily routine" goes something like this:
1. Wake up at 6:30 AM. You don't have a choice on this! The rooster ( a recorded "cockle doodle doo") gets played three times over the loudspeakers, followed by The Star Spangled Banner or some other patriotic song. Then the flying lawn furniture (ultralights) takes to the air. No sense sleeping when the weed whackers are revved up.
2. Eat breakfast. Not much choice. Eggs, sausage, potatoes, coffee. Six dollars, please.
3. Go to the flight line and say hello to the plane. Stand there long enough and you find yourself explaining canards to everyone. It's fun and rewarding to do that. You also meet other builders and FINALLY put faces to names.
4. Stop by the Cozy booth and say good morning to Nat and Shirley. Say hello to more Cozy flyers, builders, and wanna-be's.
5. Make your way into the vendor barns and see what you can't afford.
6. Eat lunch. Six seventy-five, please.
7. Walk the flight line again, check out all the other cool planes. Then watch the airshow or go back to the vendor barns and drool some more.
8. Eat supper. Seven dollars, please.
9. Go to the pavilion and listen to the nightly lectures and presentations.
10. Grab the lawn chairs, pull up in front of the giant TV screen, and watch the nightly movies. The first night's movie, the animated feature film "Ice Age", was really cute and charming. A real treat. But I have to confess that the Attack of the Clones (Star Wars) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) were real disappointments. At least I was able to catch up on my sleep during those two snoozers.
11. Take a shower, go to bed, dream of Cozies.
I went to SNF specifically to look at avionics. The public wants EFIS and EFIS is what they got. Blue Mountain Avionics is still the alpha wolf for experimental EFIS's, but there are at least 4 upstarts that have joined the fray. The new UPSAT CNX80 is sweet! NavAid has dropped plans on building a two-axis auto-pilot. The UMA light bezels are really nice. They fit between the instrument case and the instrument panel. A must-have for night flying and priced ALOT lower than paying for internally-lighted instruments. Becker Avionics has expanded its line of avionics. They have some nice looking stuff. Speaking of nice-looking stuff, I couldn't figure out why the Autolite Spark Plug booth was sooooo crowded until the buxom blonde in the tight flight suit took her 15-minute break. Then the place emptied fast.
There was probably alot more to see and alot that I missed. I've been to 5 of the last 6 SNF's. So alot of things remain the same. They just get more expensive each year. Jim Bede is still in business. There are now about 10 Glastar clones on the market. Everybody's betting the farm on the yet-to-be approved sport plane market. The diesel engine and next-generation engine guys are still making the same claims. The guys at Paradise City (the ultralight venue) still have the most fun of anyone at SNF. I'm still flabbergasted by the huge number of pilots who fly in to SNF without downloading the NOTAMS and arrival instructions. What part of "SHUT UP AND LISTEN" don't they understand? The aerobatic pilots and the things they do with the aircraft are nothing but astounding. They have my utmost respect. The war birds still put on a good show and make alot of noise with their pyrotechnic explosions. And Bob Hoover is still selling straw hats.
See You Next Year!
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