EAA AirVenture 2006: Business aviation news takes center stage at this year's event

 - September 12, 2006, 10:49 AM

At this year’s EAA AirVenture show, plans and promises from the past finally yielded fruit. Last year, Honda flew the Honda-powered, Honda-designed HondaJet to Oshkosh in an impressive demonstration of the company’s aeronautical capabilities. Yet the company was maddeningly silent about bringing the jet to market until AirVenture 2006, when it announced plans to certify and market the HondaJet. The Eclipse 500 very light jet got the nod (with limitations) from the FAA at AirVenture 2006, a little more than six years after the March 2000 launch announcement.

Personal jets seem to be a new category of small jet, and this segment garnered attention at Oshkosh, starting with the arrival of Diamond’s D-Jet on July 26 and continuing with Cirrus Design’s Alan Klapmeier confirming that the company is serious about building a single-engine personal-size jet.

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey held forth at the Meet the Administrator Forum, addressing the issues of the day but not always providing clear-cut answers. On the user-fee issue, for example, Blakey’s comments didn’t clearly signal the FAA’s position with regard to how all general aviation aircraft will fit into a user-fee system for air traffic services, although she said, “I do not want to create a funding system that stifles the general aviation community.”

The Administrator did impress the under-40 crowd with her intention to lengthen medical certificate intervals, to one year for first class and five years for third class.

While attendance was down about 10 percent from last year, to approximately 625,000 people, AirVenture 2006 was the newsiest AirVenture ever, according to Experimental Aircraft Association president Tom Poberezny. He attributed the reduction in attendees to higher fuel costs, unfavorable weather and unique attractions last year that caused a spike in attendance.

The number of aircraft that flew to Oshkosh and nearby airports this year was more than 10,000, including 852 homebuilts, 798 vintage airplanes, 387 warbirds, 130 ultralights, 121 seaplanes and 22 rotorcraft.

With so many aircraft converging on Oshkosh, accidents sometimes happen, and this year was no exception. On Sunday, July 23, the day before the official opening of AirVenture, two people were killed when their Europa XS crashed about 500 feet short of Oshkosh Wittman Regional Airport’s Runway 27. A witness told the NTSB that the airplane stalled on final approach. The Europa hit on the runway’s displaced threshold. A passenger in an RV-6 homebuilt was killed on Sunday, July 30, during a taxiing encounter with a Grumman TBM Avenger.

NEW AIRCRAFT

News that Honda plans to certify its HondaJet, Eclipse Aviation’s partial FAA approval for the Model 500 and Cessna’s unveiling of two prototype singles dominated the event.

Eclipse

During the night of July 26, a new sign sprouted over the extensive Eclipse display near AeroShell Square. The sign said simply, “FAA Certified.” And during the press conference to announce the provisional certification of the 500 on July 27, Eclipse president and CEO Vern Raburn let it slip early: “We are–worst-kept secret in the world–certified.” [Apparently lost amidst the euphoria was the strict interpretation of “FAA certified” as meaning the whole nine yards with no restrictions, rather than the limited approval Eclipse trumpeted during the show. But who can blame Eclipse, close to crossing a finish line that some said it would never reach, from crowing to the biggest crowd in aviation?–Ed.]

The logistics involved in Eclipse’s announcement must have been horrific. In fact, Michael McConnell, Eclipse vice president for sales and product support, conceded, “We’ve been working monster hours.” Acting Secretary of Transportation Maria Cino, Blakey and EAA president Poberezny were all on hand to congratulate Eclipse and, in Blakey’s case, to hand over a document proclaiming some level of approval.

As she prepared to present the certificate to Raburn, Blakey said, “When we look at the 500, it’s a trailblazer. It’s easy to fly, no boarding passes, no hassles. What does that mean for the flying public? I keep thinking that as we’re sitting here, somewhere there’s a corporate executive standing in his socks, waiting in that security line. Vern, you’re changing all that. On behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration, I have what may be the most significant piece of paper in America today, because it’s opening the door wide to the next generation of aviation.”

After Blakey handed over the framed piece of paper and the two had posed for photographs, Raburn stepped back to the podium, paused, then said, “Wow!” He thanked Blakey and the FAA for helping Eclipse during the certification process, adding that he thinks criticism of the FAA for holding up certification work is “ill-founded. There’s no reason you cannot have a productive relationship with the FAA. The FAA has gone to bat for us.”

The piece of paper handed over at Oshkosh means that the FAA has approved the design of the Eclipse 500 but there are attendant operating limitations. Provisional certification is a “jet-age” development that the FAA created to allow airlines to begin training on complex new airplanes before they reached full type certification. Manufacturers have been using provisional certification to show the industry that they are close to full certification, possibly as a marketing tool.

“Provisional certification is like a mini contract between the FAA and the OEM saying, ‘Yep, you’re close, we’re committed to finishing up and getting the [full] type certification,’” said the FAA’s Susan Cabler, assistant manager of the Aircraft Engineering Division, Aircraft Certification Service.

Raburn was clear about limitations– most of which he said were due to have been resolved by August 30–that still need to be addressed to bring the 500 to market. The holdups stem primarily from “significantly reduced avionics functionality” related to the software that runs the Eclipse’s Avio avionics suite and what he said were “tremendous problems” with the Meggitt autopilot.

As for performance guarantees, Raburn admitted that the Eclipse 500 has come up short on promised range. The most recent guarantee was for NBAA IFR range of 1,280 nm, and it is now 1,125 nm with new larger aluminum tiptanks that were still being developed at the time of the Oshkosh show. The new tanks will be retrofitted to Serial Number 18 and lower. Buyers had the option of canceling their orders until July 28, but only 12 of the more than 2,500 aircraft on order were canceled, he said.

Pratt & Whitney Canada announced that the Eclipse’s PW610F engine received Transport Canada type certification the same day the Model 500 received provisional certification. FAA certification of the engine was expected within two to three weeks.

HondaJet

For 20 years, Michimasa Fujino, Honda vice president of R&D for the Americas, has nurtured his company’s exploratory efforts to enter the aviation market. Last year, Honda introduced the company’s Honda-powered HondaJet to the world at AirVenture, but it wasn’t until this year that Fujino was able to announce that his company plans to certify and bring to market a very light jet bearing the Honda brand name.

The big surprise wasn’t just the HondaJet plans, however, but Honda’s business alliance with Piper Aircraft. The two companies will collaborate on sales and service, according to Satoshi Toshida, senior managing director of Honda Motor. “We will explore other areas of cooperation in general aviation and business aviation,” he said.

Toshida added that Honda will begin taking orders for the HondaJet later this year and will form a new U.S. company to pursue the FAA type and production certificates, since identified as Honda Aircraft, based in Greensboro, N.C. “We have great confidence the HondaJet will be accepted by customers,” he said, “and be a benchmark in the field of very light jets.”

Piper president and CEO James Bass called the relationship with Honda “another significant milestone in aviation history. It’s the beginning of a significant and meaningful relationship.” The two companies won’t be co-branding their products, however.

A visibly emotional Fujino was clearly elated during the Honda announcement. “I have dreamed of this moment since 20 years ago,” he said. “The HondaJet is not experimental any more. At times the HondaJet design was quite controversial and the project was almost terminated on several occasions. Several top managers supported it with great vision.”

In Japan, Fujino explained, it is customary to offer a gift with an accompanying apology for giving such a humble gift. “Today I am not Japanese,” he exclaimed. “I am very proud of my daughter, the beautiful HondaJet.”

Performance specifications released at Oshkosh were preliminary, pending firmer information at next month’s NBAA Convention. For now, Honda is talking of 1,100-nm NBAA IFR range, 420-knot high-speed cruise and 43,000-foot maximum altitude. The GE Honda Aero Engines HF118 turbofan will power the airplane. Honda will build the aircraft in the U.S., at a location to be determined. Certification is expected within three or four years of the company’s applying for a type certificate.

Cessna

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Cessna 172 and 182, Cessna broke out of its traditionally conservative shell by showing two proof-of-concept prototypes to AirVenture attendees. During a July 23 event at AeroShell Square, Cessna chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton unveiled a prototype Cessna light sport aircraft (LSA), a sleek-looking 100-hp Rotax-powered strut-braced, all-metal airplane with dual control sticks, upward-opening doors and a castering nosewheel.

Cessna brought the LSA prototype to Oshkosh to stimulate feedback from potential customers, encouraging them to fill out a survey form during the show. During
the LSA unveiling, Pelton asked those assembled to look into the sky, where Cessna’s prototype Next Generation Piston (NGP) flew by three times, giving the crowd a glimpse of a possible new line of Cessna singles.

The high-wing NGP, powered by a Lycoming engine, has no wing struts, a slightly forward-swept wing, steeply swept-back vertical fin, horizontal stabilizer well forward of the fin and flaps that extend across about two-thirds of the wing trailing edge. The NGP flew away after the third pass, returning to Wichita to continue flight-testing and leaving everyone to wonder whether this is the long-awaited “Cirrus killer” that will propel Cessna into the future. “I hope later this year to get into more specifics on performance, timing and exactly what the airplane will look like and do,” Pelton said.

Cessna officials revealed few details about the two airplanes. Much more information was available on the progress of the Mustang light jet, which should receive FAA certification by year-end.

Pelton hinted that the company has some business jet announcements up its sleeve. “We have some yet-to-be announced introductions later this year in business jets,” he said. Business continues to grow, with the order backlog now at $6.8 billion, “a little better than prior to 9/11,” he said. “We’re delivering at rates we haven’t seen for a long time.” Orders for this year should reach 300 jets and 300 piston singles, and deliveries for next year are expected to climb to 370 jets, he said.

Pelton was excited when he discussed the proof-of-concept LSA and NGP prototypes. “We were worried: had we lost our ability to innovate?” he explained. Feedback from Cessna employees indicated that none wanted the company to be perceived as stuck in the past. “Ten weeks ago,” he went on, “we cut the first metal [on the LSA].

“So why is Cessna exploring this market?” he asked. For Cessna, the motivation is to stimulate an increase in the number of new pilots. The LSA market is becoming the entry level for new pilots, and Cessna Pilot Center operators have been asking Cessna for new products to offer their customers. “Is this a market we can play in and win?” Pelton asked. “We’re here today to figure out if we can do that.”

The Cessna LSA prototype was supposed to fly four to six weeks after AirVenture. Around the first quarter of next year, the company will be ready to make a go/no-go decision about whether to produce the airplane. “‘Go’ would be ready to launch it and take orders. ‘No-go’ would be to explain what the issues are that we’re faced with,” he explained.

The NGP prototype first flew in June and signals the manufacturer’s intent to build a new line of piston singles, Pelton said. “We are going forward,” he said. “It’s not a single-point product. We’re designing it around the ability to offer more than one model type as we’ve done in the past.”

Cessna’s next jet in line for certification, the Mustang, “is a long way along in the journey to certification,” said Roger Whyte, Cessna’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. During AirVenture, Cessna achieved several milestones, including FAA signoff on the Garmin G1000 avionics and autopilot, single-pilot authorization and release of final weight numbers to customers. The airframe has been approved to five lifetimes/75,000 hours, and the FAA has acknowledged that there will therefore be no life limit on the Mustang airframe. Icing certification testing is already complete, too.

The Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F-powered Mustang began function and reliability (endurance) testing last month. After some final paperwork, the new jet should be ready for FAA certification in the fourth quarter with no limitations. Certification will include known icing, RVSM, WAAS and Vnav. Visitors to Cessna’s Oshkosh display area probably noticed the vortex generators on the de-icing boots on the Mustang’s wing leading edge. Those are to help manage stall characteristics in icing conditions “in one corner of the envelope,” Whyte explained.

Orders for the Mustang stand at nearly 250, and the backlog extends to mid-2009. First customer delivery will take place by year-end, but that airplane will be leased back to Cessna for demonstration purposes. The first customer to take a Mustang home will do so from Cessna’s new Independence, Kan. delivery center in January.

Diamond D-Jet

The D-Jet proof-of-concept prototype, Diamond Aircraft’s candidate to be the first single-engine personal jet to enter the market, flew to Oshkosh from the company’s London, Ontario (Canada), factory on July 25, having stopped in Grand Rapids to clear customs. Piloted by Diamond president Christian Dries and test pilot Anthony Brown, the flight from Grand Rapids took 59 minutes and wasn’t exactly a straight shot due to weather routings and a 30-knot headwind, Brown said.

Poberezny and Blakey welcomed the D-Jet. “Is this an elegant airplane, or what?” Blakey asked the crowd assembled at the taxiway entrance to AeroShell Square. “This will really enable a lot of people to move into the jet arena in a way they weren’t able to.” When it comes to FAA certification, she added, “we’ll do everything we can to move it smoothly ahead.”

Dries outlined D-Jet performance goals, including 1,250- to 1,300-nm range, 25,000-foot maximum altitude, 80-knot Vref, 65-knot stall and rate of climb of 2,800 to 3,000 fpm. Avionics are a three-panel Garmin G1000 suite and GFC700 autopilot. The engine is Williams International’s FJ33.

The D-Jet will be the first jet equipped with a BRS parachute, likely a two-phase system that will first slow the airplane so that the second parachute can help the
D-Jet touch down safely. Certification and first deliveries should occur in mid-2008, Dries said.

The proof-of-concept airplane has logged 30 hours aloft since first flying in April. Only small improvements are needed to bring the airframe to production configuration, according to test pilot Brown. These include refinements to the flap tracks, reshaping of control surfaces and other minor changes, he said.

Diamond also announced at AirVenture that Point2Point Airways ordered an unspecified number of D-Jet delivery options as well as diesel-powered Diamond DA-42 Twin Stars.

Adam Aircraft

Joe Walker, president of Adam Aircraft, outlined progress in the A700 VLJ program. The third and fourth production-conforming A700s were on the assembly line in late July, and the fourth is slated to be the first customer airplane following certification in about six months. Three customers have completed the A700 training program. Orders now account for 342 A700s, a three-year backlog.

FAA certification of the A700 should be simpler than for the A500 piston twin, Walker said, because of airframe commonality. The A500 required 250 FAA reports, he explained, and 100 of those were common to the A700. Of the 150 remaining reports needed to certify the A700, only 25 to 35 remained outstanding as of the end of July.

The A500 should have its full FAA type certificate at the end of August, said CEO Rick Adam. The Change 2 upgrades to complete the A500’s night, IFR and pressurization system certification were all finished by AirVenture, except for a final 150 hours of function and reliability testing. Adam expects to receive the FAA production certificate in the third quarter. “I believe we’ve done most of the work,” he said. FAA auditors had found 50 squawks, and most of those had been fixed before AirVenture.

A big question for Adam is whether it will mimic Eclipse and seek provisional certification of the A700. “Since Eclipse highlighted that as an option, we’ll look into that,” Adam told AIN.

Comp Air

Kit manufacturer Comp Air announced that it plans to certify the Comp Air 9, a Honeywell TPE331-10-powered pressurized high-wing fixed-gear single. The company is also developing the Comp Air 12, a low-wing retractable powered by a TPE331-14, and the Comp Air Jet. The Model 9 will be the company’s first certified airplane. “It’s just in the very early stages,” said Ron Lueck, Comp Air owner. The wings and horizontal stabilizer have been built so far. Comp Air also began building a 50,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility at Merritt Island Airport in Florida.

Comp Air is tapping the certification expertise of Marsh Aviation, of Mesa, Ariz., which has extensive experience modifying Grumman S-2F Trackers with Honeywell TPE331 engines. The certification process does not hold many attractions for Lueck. “I’m really going kicking and screaming,” he said. “I don’t believe this process has to be so…complicated. If you’re light on your feet and innovative enough, you can work with it. There’s got to be a better way to do it.”

Aviation Technology Group Javelin

ATG’s Javelin two-seat twinjet was down for modifications during AirVenture, and
ATG had a mockup on display at its booth. The first production version should fly about a year from now, said Charlie Johnson, ATG president. “We are being cautious and conservative in our program,” he said. “We’ve hit every single test point, and each time we release data it is valid.” The Javelin has flown to 20,000 feet and at Mach .5.

The Javelin’s military styling caused a bit of a problem for ATG. Johnson said that he and company founder George Bye had to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with State and Commerce Department officials and explain why the Javelin isn’t a military airplane. “We do have a lot of interest in military applications,” Johnson said, including a memorandum of understanding from a foreign government that needs a military trainer.

ATG hopes to certify the Javelin in the fourth quarter of 2008. There are 13 slots remaining at $2.795 million, then the price increases to $2.995 million. The Javelin, Johnson said, “is real and tremendously exciting.”

Quest Kodiak

“This isn’t a Caravan,” said Paul Schaller, president of Quest Aircraft, which is working on FAA certification of the massive Kodiak single-engine utility turboprop. “It is designed around different needs.” The Kodiak is designed specifically for rough airports used by missionary aviators.

“It can get into every runway that a Cessna 206 can get into,” he said, but the Kodiak burns jet fuel and hauls a lot more. An optional cargo pod on the belly has a unique feature, the ability to store folded-up seats so an operator can fly a load of passengers one way and return with a cabin-load of cargo, a feature Schaller said is much in demand with some operators.

At $1.295 million, the Kodiak is non-pressurized and powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 flat-rated to 750 shp for takeoff and 700 shp for cruise. Takeoff distance at mtow is about 700 feet, according to flight-test engineer Kenny Stidham. Controls are operated by conventional cables and pulleys, and Fowler flaps maximize lift during low-speed operations, with full aileron control available through the stall thanks to a discontinuous leading edge where the outboard section extends farther into the airstream.

Seating is available for two crew and eight passengers. Icing equipment–a TKS weeping-wing system–will be optional, and Quest plans icing testing this winter. First customer delivery is expected by year-end, and there is a three-year backlog.

The Kodiak program’s financing is somewhat unusual in that missionary organizations that have put up money will benefit by receiving every 10th Kodiak built, according to Schaller. “The order rate has exceeded expectations,” he said.

EADS Socata

Small jets garnered a lot of attention at AirVenture, but EADS Socata chairman and CEO Stéphane Mayer wonders why anyone would wait for a VLJ or personal jet when they can fly a TBM 850 “VFT” (very fast turboprop) right away. Upgrading the single-engine turboprop TBM to the more powerful 850 shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66D “was a good decision,” he said. “We received instant and positive customer response. No one is asking any more if we will survive the arrival of the VLJs.”

EADS Socata will deliver 42 TBM 850s this year and 50 next year, according to Mayer, a record for the company. The TBM’s parts catalog is online with real-time parts pricing, and the company has expanded the sales and support network so any owner is no more than three hours (by TBM) from an authorized representative.

Mayer also said that EADS Socata has donated two scholarships to EAA’s Young Eagle program participants, which will pay for two graduates to fly to Europe to learn about the aircraft industry.

Epic

Rick Schrameck, CEO of Aircraft Investor Resources and Epic Aircraft, said that certification of the Epic LT single-engine turboprop in Canada (due to lack of FAA resources) should occur in 24 months. Epic’s Elite VLJ should be certified a year after the LT, he added. Much of the funding for the production version of the amateur-built LT and the Elite comes from selling kits, he explained, and production-version research and development is jump-started with all the work done on the kit program. “We have $68 million of revenue booked,” he said, “and we’re reasonably profitable.”

Epic had planned to fly the Williams FJ33-powered Elite twinjet at Oshkosh, but last-minute complications kept the jet at home base in Bend, Ore., having missed its planned first-flight date by five days, according to Schrameck. “We started running into little issues,” he said, “and it got down to an issue of safety.”

Schrameck revealed that the Elite will have a three-panel Garmin G1000 avionics suite, while the LT will feature either an Op Technologies or Garmin panel. “By NBAA, we’ll have a contract signed,” he said.

Excel-Jet Sport-Jet

Test pilot James Stewart said he knows exactly why the Excel-Jet Sport-Jet single-engine personal jet that he was flying on June 22 crashed shortly after takeoff. “It was not pilot error and it was not our airplane,” he said emphatically, while standing near the fuselage of the crashed airplane at Excel-Jet’s AirVenture display.

One minute and 28 seconds before Stewart and mechanic John Welty, who was in the right seat, began the takeoff roll for the Sport-Jet’s 25th flight at Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, a de Havilland Dash 8 had taken off. “We never saw it,” Stewart said. “We didn’t have a clue it was out there.”

The Sport-Jet lifted off at the same spot as the Dash 8. “When he rotated, he created bad air,” Stewart said. At 20 to 40 feet, the Sport-Jet’s left wing dropped “in a knife-edge pass. Both [Welty] and I were trying to turn it to the right. The left wing scored the runway for some distance.” When the left wing scraped off the edge of the runway and into the dirt, the Sport-Jet cartwheeled twice, destroying the tail, then ended up on its belly with the engine still running despite ingesting a pile of dirt. The entire event lasted eight seconds.
Welty shut down the engine and opened the door, which was not jammed, and dragged Stewart out. Stewart suffered a back injury and Welty was not injured.

“This is an FAA accident,” Stewart said. “The responsibility lies with the tower; they violated the three-minute [wake turbulence] rule.

“Now we need to build three conformal airplanes,” he said, “and get into the certification process. I’d like to see it available in two years as a certified airplane. It looks good and performs well. Let’s go build [it].”

Cirrus Personal Jet

Cirrus Design president and CEO Alan Klapmeier added a small amount of information to the company’s announcement last year that it was exploring a single-engine personal jet designed to provide an easy upgrade path for Cirrus owners who prefer the whine of turbine blades to the pounding of pistons.

The formal announcement of the Cirrus jet program came in early June, at the company’s annual Cirrus migration to headquarters in Duluth, Minn. “I felt it was appropriate to announce it to our customers first,” said Klapmeier. The only details he would reveal were that the airplane will be a single-engine jet and will have a parachute system.

“It’s definitely something we’ve been thinking about for a while,” he said. “Our plan since I was in high school was to have an airplane company that was a full-line manufacturer.” Among the early Oshkosh inspirations for the Klapmeier brothers (Alan and Dale founded Cirrus Design) were Tony Fox’s stillborn Foxjet, Jim Bede’s BD-5J and a jet-powered Stelio Frati design that never made it past the brochure stage.

“The reasonable business case,” Klapmeier said, “is that our customers who have bought lots of Cirrus airplanes have certain expectations about what they want to fly. We believe that includes a niche different from VLJs; it is a personal jet.”

A personal jet fits Cirrus Design’s mission to expand the aviation industry, filling a niche where there are currently no products, although personal jets are coming from other companies, too. “There is a market in between what Eclipse is now and Cirrus,” he said.

Cirrus will begin taking deposits for the personal jet in the next few months, which should help persuade providers of capital that there is a market for a Cirrus jet.

In keeping with its mission to expand aviation, Cirrus also recently launched the Cirrus Access program, under which a Cirrus buyer who is not a pilot or has little experience can opt for a mentor flight instructor. For at least a year and at a cost of $85,000, the mentor will teach the buyer to fly and manage the Cirrus, help him or her achieve mission success and thereby improve the utility and value of owning an airplane. “There’s a huge number or people who would benefit from access to personal aircraft,” Klapmeier said, explaining why the Cirrus Access program will help build aviation.

“Our goal is safe utility,” he said. At the end of the year, the Cirrus owner will be comfortable flying the airplane in weather and using it to reach business and pleasure destinations reliably. This approach is opposite the traditional way people learn to fly, he explained. People don’t have problems manipulating an airplane’s controls, but they are challenged by decision-making issues related to weather, weight and balance, fuel and other potential problems. “I think this is more important than the jet at this point. This is what we need to do to expand the industry.”

AVIONICS

Garmin

With 2,500 G1000 avionics suites installed in production airplanes thus far, Garmin has taken the inevitable next step, retrofit installations of the G1000 and a new G600 system designed to replace the “six-pack” panel in most light general aviation airplanes. Kansas City, Mo.-based Executive Beechcraft is busy developing the first supplemental type certificate for the Beech King Air 90 and has set a price of $330,000 for the three-display G1000 package.

The King Air 90 package should receive FAA supplemental type certification in the first quarter of next year, according to Scott Tychsen, Executive Beechcraft director of sales and business development. The package removes most of the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 2 boxes but retains the mounts used for the APS-65 autopilot servos. Total weight saving for the Garmin installation is 150 pounds, mainly due to removal of two 68-pound inverters.

Garmin’s new G600 retrofit combines a PFD and MFD in a unit that measures 10 inches wide by 6.7 inches high, about the same area as the six flight instruments it replaces. The $29,772 G600 must be supplemented by a Garmin 430 or 530 nav system, and because the G600 is a single-processor system, Garmin recommends retaining backup airspeed, attitude indicator and altimeter instruments.

Innovative Solutions & Support

The market for retrofit glass panels in turboprops is heating up, and Innovative Solutions & Support came to AirVenture for the first time, with its Pilatus PC-12 equipped with four panel displays to highlight the recently STC’d retrofit package. Both Epps Aviation and Western Aircraft are installing the IS&S system, which has a baseline price of $175,000, not including installation and options such as XM satellite weather and Jeppesen charts.

A future option could include synthetic vision, said Michael Cawley, director of business development. IS&S also plans to STC a system with two 15-inch displays for the PC-12, he said.

Enhanced Vision

Low-cost uncooled infrared-sensor-based enhanced-vision systems (EVS) are popping up with more frequency. Kollsman displayed a Mooney equipped with its Gavis uncooled vanadium oxide infrared sensor mounted on the top of the fuselage behind the windscreen. A Rosen display inside the cockpit played the enhanced-vision images, which are analog video.

Kollsman is working on an STC package for the Cessna Citation II, which should be done this month, according to Edward Popek, marketing manager for commercial aviation systems. The cost should be less than $100,000 installed.

Forward Vision’s EVS uses an uncooled barium-strontium-titanate infrared sensor that is far less costly than other EVS systems, according to company co-owner Patrick Farrell.

Forward Vision is also developing a King Air 90 EVS STC, and, Farrell said, “two OEMs are evaluating the system.” The OEMs have asked Forward Vision to add a memory module that could record EVS video from the last half hour of a flight.

Arinc eFlyBook

Arinc’s new eFlyBook portable document reader demonstrated the capabilities of a new technology called “electronic paper.” Developed by iRex Technologies and licensed to Arinc for the aviation market, the eFlyBook is an electronic display that looks almost as sharp and clear as black ink on white paper, even in direct sunlight. The display uses electrophoretic technology to show text and graphics in 16 shades of gray with “electronic ink globules” that remain in position, even with power turned off. Because the unit uses so little power, the lithium-ion battery will run the eFlyBook for 10 to 12 hours of continuous use.

Selling for $899 at AirVenture, the eFlyBook includes up to 100 megabytes of data that includes approach plates, IFR en route charts, the FAA Airport/Facility Directory, FARs, the Aeronautical Information Manual and flight manuals. The eFlyBook is a document storage and display system, and there is no moving-map capability. Users can write on the screen to take notes or mark waypoints on charts, for example. A virtual keyboard is available for typing
in letters when searching for information.

For $250 a year, eFlyBook owners get updates delivered on CD every 28 days, and the built-in wireless Internet capability allows for updates anytime the system connects to the iRex server.

Mercury Computer Systems VistaNav

Anyone who found the Mercury Computer Systems booth would no doubt be surprised to learn that they could buy a capable and carefully designed portable 3-D synthetic vision system selling for $3,999 at the show (normally $4,299).

Mercury’s VistaNav hit the market last November. For those who might assume that the VistaNav is yet another electronic flight bag (EFB), Jeff Simon, senior product manager, offered some clarification. “I don’t like the term,” he said. “It’s going to become outdated. An EFB has no navigation functions.” And no EFB shows a detailed, colorful 3-D view of the outside world like that available on the VistaNav.

The VistaNav includes approach plates and IFR en route charts, but not sectionals. The system consists of a tablet computer, power supply, antenna and a separate inertial reference unit that communicates wirelessly with the tablet. XM satellite weather capability is available, for an additional $650, and later a $1,785 3-D traffic display system will be offered.

The concept behind VistaNav is simple: why not provide a capable navigation system with 3-D synthetic vision and highway-in-the-sky display in a low-cost non- certified portable package? The certification issue is not important, Simon reasoned, because even as an advisory system, the VistaNav can help pilots fly so much more safely that it doesn’t matter that the FAA hasn’t officially blessed the system.

“We believe synthetic vision is a revolution in navigation,” he said. “Our goal is to increase safety and change the way people fly their aircraft. The world of two-dimensional navigation is very quickly coming to an end.” What Simon means by 3-D navigation is the difference between looking at a glideslope needle and reacting to the information that it provides and “seeing” a detailed 3-D display of the runway and its environment, in such fidelity that the pilot can fly the airplane visually using the outside references presented on the VistaNav display.

“With 3-D,” he said, “you see the runway, you see the ILS visually, therefore the concept of shooting through the localizer, it doesn’t ever happen. You have the runway environment in sight.”

Synthetic vision, Simon added, is going to change aviation forever. The biggest impact will be on making airplanes more useful because pilots will be able to fly more safely by not having to remain super-sharp on needle-interpretation skills. “This has the ability to make IFR navigation so much easier and safer that it will take a huge number of VFR pilots and make them IFR pilots. When you do that, you increase the utility of aviation.”

VistaNav records every flight, something that is of interest to large flight school customers, Simon said. Buyers of the more than 100 systems sold before AirVenture include light airplane pilots, business jet operators and even two operators of Boeing 737s. “That’s a little surprising,” he said. “As complex and expensive as the high-end [avionics] systems are, [their] technology is very conservative. They don’t even have satellite weather.”

A novel VistaNav feature is the nearest-airport button. This not only shows the nearest airports but also which ones a pilot can reach in the airplane’s current configuration. If the engine has failed, for example, VistaNav knows which airports are beyond gliding distance, and the highway-in-the-sky guides the pilot to a point 1,000 feet above the selected, reachable airport.

Simon said Mercury is working on other systems that could include a certified avionics suite.