September 2014 Issue

YellowBird: Affordability Reimagined

Walking around AirVenture 2014 at Oshkosh—almost 30 years from the day that I took my first training flight in a Cessna 150—my 15-year-old daughter Ashley spotted AOPA’s Yellowbird 152 on display. “Dad, I need one of these,” she matter-of-factly remarked in a voice that commanded the same attention as her mother’s. I was 15 when I first enthusiastically strapped into the little trainer and now Ashley is focused on dual instruction of her own in a 152. A bright yellow one, she says. While it’s tough to find anyone that’s not fond of the 150/152 (“The J3 of our generation,” says AOPA president Mark Baker), let’s put emotion aside.

If you haven’t heard about the Reimagined 152 and 150 (and many folks that I talked with at the show haven’t) these are completely refurbished airplanes that AOPA purchased from Aviat Aircraft, the folks that manufacture the Husky, Eagle and the Pitts.

Although it has no intention of getting into the aircraft refurb business, AOPA’s Baker said the three purchased Yellowbirds are intended to introduce and in many cases reintroduce a means to affordable flying. How affordable? AOPA estimates the hourly cost of the refurbed trainer to be around $63. While that’s roughly half of what I’ve paid per hour for a well-worn Warrior at the local flight school, that number could be optimistic. What’s also optimistic is hoping that buyers—and that might include flying clubs, flight schools and individuals—will pay upwards of $90,000 for one. While cheaper than many new LSA models (and more than many Skyhawks), the Yellowbird that I saw on display was pretty stark in comparison to an average LSA.

Despite prices that might top $130,000, many buyers are attracted to new LSAs because of modern avionics and accessories, but in the Yellowbird, there’s no Dynon or Garmin G3X Touch gee-whiz glass because this isn’t an LSA. The retrofit avionics have to conform to the original type certificate or have an STC. Instead, the Yellowbird that I saw had a Garmin aera GPS, digital navcomm, transponder and iron gyros. While that’s plenty for a primary trainer—and represents the simplicity of what the 152 stands for—I think buyers will demand more from an aircraft with a $90,000 price tag.

On the other hand, I’m all for like-new refurbishment and I think one that’s been thoroughly refurbished by a well-known aircraft company deserves a premium price tag. Baker isn’t sure if the Reimagined 152 has legs, but I give AOPA credit for giving the venerable 152 another try. And kudos to my young, but sharp, daughter for recognizing a good trainer when she sees one. Really, how much is that yellow 152 going to cost me per hour?

Here come the electrics
Speaking of little yellow airplanes, also on display at AirVenture was the PC-Aero Sun Flyer proof-of-concept solar electric trainer. The single-place airplane (a two-place model is planned) has two electric motors on a common shaft and develops a measly 40 HP, but a single failure results in only a 50 percent deficit in total power. Moreover, the company says motors can last as long as 20,000 hours and are powered by a battery pack, plus solar panels that are mounted on the wings. Endurance is shy of three hours of flight time and the aircraft can cruise at roughly 80 knots. Park the aircraft outdoors for three days and the solar panels will completely charge the battery. Regular charging takes about six hours and batteries can be as much as $15,000 each.

Certified as an LSA, the Sun Flyer is targeted to cost under $200,000 and have direct hourly operating costs in the $5 to $10 range. We’ll be following the Sun Flyer and the emerging electric market closely. —Larry Anglisano