By Fred Petrie
Evolutionary announcements and unveilings augur well for aviation’s future
By Fred Petrie
The 55th annual convention of the Experimental Aviation Association was held July 23-29 at Wittman Regional Airport, Oshkosh, Wis.
This year’s event may have lacked the drama of the 2003 Centennial of Flight or the 2004 Light Sport Aircraft or Spaceship One in 2005, but there were plenty of evolutionary announcements and unveilings that augur well for aviation’s future.
Now that VLJs are being delivered by Cessna and Eclipse, with others imminent, the new story is the Personal Jet, taxied in dramatically by CEO Vern Raburn as Eclipse’s annual press conference was under way. The Eclipse Concept Jet was developed in complete secrecy over the past six months and was the biggest 2007 surprise. But the single-engine personal jet is not new, as Diamond Aircraft has its DJ1 already under flight testing. Cirrus also recently revealed its single-engine jet, with its over the aft fuselage and V tail configuration also used in the ECJ. Piper had already confirmed its PiperJet and has communities fighting over where it might be built, a question that HondaJet with its unique over-wing engine placement, has already settled. Epic Aircraft introduced both single- and twin-engine jets for building from kits.
The second ongoing story of recent years has been the Light Sport Aircraft, promised to be the rejuvenation of (affordable) grassroots aviation. The credibility of LSAs received a huge boost last year when Cessna unveiled its concept LSA. Cessna confirmed this year that the Cessna 162 Skycatcher will go into production, albeit with the Continental engine (some questioned its utility within the LSA weight limit). Major competitor Cirrus was not far behind in announcing it will “Cirrus-ize” the German made Fk14 Polaris. Might Piper follow by introducing an LSA as its new “trainer” lead-in product? Could even Beechcraft enter the fray now that it has new owners committed to general aviation? And underneath these traditional manufacturers are ever more sophisticated LSAs such as SportAir’s StingSport with its glass cockpit and whole plane ballistic chute. This year it introduced the Sirius, a high-wing sport plane with room for golf clubs, that is flight testing this fall.
Another source of evolutionary news at AirVenture 2007 was in engines, particularly diesels flying on Jet A. These will also resolve the disappearing (leaded) avgas issue. Sonex unveiled its electric-powered aircraft. Some readers may remember the Orenda piston engine developed in recent years as a low-cost (lower that turbine) V8 for larger piston aircraft like Air Tractors and de Havillands. I had known that the new factory launched with much fanfare in Diebert, NS, had shut down. It seems all of its rights were purchased by Trace Engines of Midland, Texas.
Part of the fun of Oshkosh is seeing what is on the horizon in aviation. Even more fun is to speculate on what might be coming over the horizon next year. So here is a prediction: Little was heard at AirVanture about Cessna’s “Next Generation Piston” development. While we know how busy Cessna is with its very successful business jets, including its VLJ offering, the Mustang, it is hard to believe that it is going to continue giving up single-engine piston market share to Cirrus. So why the delay in launching the “192” NGP to replace the venerable 172 & 182 lines? My guess is that Cirrus is waiting for a technology breakthrough, for a product edge. And that guess is that it is waiting to select a diesel power plant, such as the Centurion 4.0; it already supports Thielert conversions to 172s. That may be the big news in 2008.
Meanwhile, there is another manufacturer already into diesel engines. Diamond already makes its TwinStar with diesel power plants, and I suspect we will see diesels in the DA42 Star and the new DA50 SuperStar; sticking a Centurion 2.0 into the DA20 could give it a complete diesel line. And the Diamond lineup will also include the DJ1 jet. Might Cessna find its major general aviation competitor coming from north of the border? Might the Diamond plant in London, Ont., become Wichita north? You will just have to wait till AirVenture 2008 to find out.