EAA AirVenture 2007

 - August 30, 2007, 11:28 AM

the surprises started early at this year’s EAA AirVenture show, better known simply as “Oshkosh.” The night before the show’s official opening on Monday July 23, as Honeywell officials were laying out their vision of the future with their newly revitalized Bendix/King brand and ground gangs tied down the just-arrived Goodyear blimp at nearby Pioneer Airport, a tiny V-tail jet snuck in to Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport and taxied to a well concealed parking spot.

Earlier, on Sunday morning, Cessna announced that after a year of studying the market, it is launching the newly named SkyCatcher light sport airplane (LSA), the smallest airplane in the prolific manufacturer’s stable and a return to the company’s roots as a maker of airplanes that train new pilots and aircraft buyers. True to the company’s heritage, Cessna’s SkyCatcher will sport the modern version of the Teledyne Continental engine that powers the Cessna 150, as well as a new Garmin G300 glass cockpit that helps pilots make a comfortable transition to the G1000 found in other Cessna move-up airplanes.

On Monday, Cirrus Design founders Alan and Dale Klapmeier threw their company’s hat into the LSA ring with a planned Cirrus LSA, a redesign of the Fk14 Polaris by Germany’s Fk Lightplanes. That makes two major airplane manufacturers validating the critical importance of the entry-level airplane market and the role that those airplanes play in helping attract new entrants to aviation. Like the Cessna contender, the Cirrus LSA shares characteristics with its siblings: the BRS airplane parachute system, a glass cockpit of to-be-determined provenance and all-composite construction.

The avionics segment received a boost, not with zippy new handheld GPSes as in years past, but with Honeywell’s rebranded Bendix/King touting a new line of primary flight displays and multifunction and Aspen Avionics’ introduction of the innovative new Evolution three-inch-instrument-replacing glass cockpit system.

The big surprise came at the Eclipse Aviation stand, where a crowded room full of reporters, Eclipse employees and interested onlookers oohed and aahed as COO Peg Billson unveiled amid flashing colored lights and machine-generated fog a fuselage mockup of a V-tail single-engine jet, the Eclipse Concept Jet (ECJ).

Eclipse Tests a Concept
Shortly after pulling aside the curtain to reveal the mockup, however, Billson turned the crowd’s attention to the big curtained wall fronting Eclipse’s exhibit area, and as the curtain opened, the actual ECJ was taxiing up with president and CEO Vern Raburn in the left seat next to test pilot Terry Tomeny. As they brought the jet to a halt in front center of the Eclipse display area, the jet’s pod-mounted Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F engine whined to a halt.

It was a masterful piece of showmanship by Raburn and company, and oddly historical, too, as the original “concept” jet–the V-Jet II built by Dr. Sam Williams to promote his small turbine engines–was parked outside the AirVenture main entry gate. The V-Jet II was powered by two Williams International 550-pound-thrust FJX-1 turbofan engines and weighed 3,800 pounds empty. Ten years ago, when the V-Jet II first appeared at Oshkosh, Williams said, “Our objective is to replace aging piston-powered light aircraft with all-new, four-place single- and six-place twin-turbofan-powered modern aircraft.” Given today’s strong interest in VLJs and single-engine jets, Williams was clearly prescient.

The ECJ, Billson explained, is a “concept” jet, a marketing tool to gauge buyer interest, just like automobile manufacturers make concept cars to wow audiences at auto shows. Eclipse is not taking deposits on the ECJ, the jet is not going into production and it will be at least a year before the company gives a go-ahead on a single-engine jet.

The ECJ concept was born sometime last year and began the 200-day road to Oshkosh at Eclipse’s Christmas party on Dec. 9, 2006, when Vern Raburn asked test pilot Tomeny if he would like to head up a stealthy project to build a single-engine jet. Tomeny said yes, even though that meant he would be holed up at NASA’s Wallops Island, Va. facility for six months.

Although some questioned the wisdom of Eclipse spending what one industry observer estimated to be $2 million of strained company resources on the ECJ project, Raburn dismissed such concerns, saying that anyone who feels that way is “stupid.” The ECJ team from Eclipse involved two full-timers, including Tomeny, and about 15 people spending about 10 percent of their time on the ECJ, he told AIN. That’s why the company chose outside vendors to design and build the ECJ.

Swift Engineering of San Clemente, Calif., led a team of vendors–including BaySys Technologies of Onancock, Va., and International Aero Engineering of Bellflower, Calif.–in helping Eclipse design and build the ECJ. Swift is known for its work on the Killer Bee unmanned aerial vehicle.

The ECJ shares many components of the Eclipse 500, including metal wings and nose assembly, landing gear, forward pressure bulkhead, some systems and the new Avio NG integrated avionics suite.

However, there are some differences between the concept airplane and the company’s current model. The fuselage of the ECJ, unlike that of the Eclipse 500, is composite and thus doesn’t make use of Eclipse’s friction-stir welding aluminum bonding technique. The fuselage is fiberglass from the pressure bulkhead to mid-wing, then carbon fiber aft, including the large V tail. The wings don’t have the Eclipse 500 tip tanks.

The ECJ was built extra-strong, according to test pilot Tomeny, and at 3,300 pounds empty is about 500 pounds heavier than a production version would weigh. The airplane’s pod-mounted Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F was an engine left over from the Eclipse test program; a production version would likely use a variant of the engine delivering about 300 pounds more thrust, he said. The ECJ is not pressurized.

Tomeny has flown the ECJ as heavy as 5,000 pounds, carrying 1,100 pounds of fuel and for up to three hours nonstop. He flew to Oshkosh from Wallops Island via Dayton, Ohio, at 20,000 feet and 250 ktas, burning between 250 and 280 pph. He reported that the nose pitches up when power is reduced, adding that he associates that characteristic with any single-engine jet. During a go-around with gear down and full flaps, he said, “you get a handful of stick.” Resetting flaps to the takeoff position helps reduce that pitch-up phenomenon.

A four-place production-configuration pressurized ECJ would cruise at 345 knots (maximum), fly up to 41,000 feet and carry four people 1,250 nm with IFR reserves.
Wind-tunnel testing at Swift facilities showed that the pod engine installation above the fuselage offered the best solution, reducing inlet air losses that occur in ducted installations and opening up space in the aft fuselage for a large baggage compartment. To mitigate possible control problems caused by an uncontained engine failure, designers routed the ECJ’s control cables on one side of the engine pod structure and trim cables on the other.

Eclipse is using the ECJ to improve its understanding of the single-engine jet market, Billson explained. “We’re taking our cue from our friends at Ford,” a nod to Eclipse manufacturing vice president Todd Fierro, a former Ford employee hired in March to help speed up the Eclipse 500 production line.

Eclipse is working hard to increase production of the model 500 VLJ, and Billson told attendees the company shipped four airplanes in the first quarter, 17 in the second and expects to ship 22 in the third quarter. By last month, she said, Eclipse was scheduled to reach an output of one airplane per day.

That is supposed to increase to 1.5 per day through next April, then two per day through the end of next year, followed by a three-per-day rate in 2009. Making any airplane in large volume has always been a challenge for aircraft manufacturers, and Eclipse’s order book of about 2,700 jets is definitely pushing the envelope on volume production. “We plan to change that,” Billson told AIN.

The Albuquerque OEM also announced that it is switching weather-radar vendors, and Japan Radio–an established manufacturer of marine and military radar systems–will supply the standard radar included with each Eclipse 500; the original Honeywell radar will remain a higher-cost option. The Japan Radio radar will not be retrofittable to earlier Eclipses.

Eclipse flew test aircraft number 107 to Oshkosh late in the show to display the installation of the Avio NG avionics suite, which replaces the original Avidyne system and is due to receive FAA certification by the end of next month. This airplane does not have the Japan Radio radar system. Avio NG includes displays and software by Innovative Solutions & Support, FMS by Chelton Flight Systems, dual Garmin mode-S transponders, Honeywell digital radios and a PS Engineering digital audio system.

The 40th Eclipse 500 was coming off the assembly line and due to fly near the end of the Oshkosh show. The airplane includes all the performance improvements, such as the larger tip tanks, redesigned tail bullet and other changes, all of which were on display on one of the test aircraft shown at Oshkosh. Last month Eclipse service centers in Gainesville, Fla., and Albuquerque, N.M., were scheduled to begin modifying the first 39 Eclipses to the latest configuration, a job that would take two weeks per airplane. The Avio NG installation is a one- to two-week job, and some customers may elect to have both done simultaneously after Avio NG is certified.

Certification for flight into known  icing remains pending, and Raburn said he hopes to accomplish that by the end of the first quarter of next year. “We’ve done all risk-reduction flight testing so far,” he said, but flight into actual icing conditions still must be done.

Eclipse also announced a $75,000 price increase at Oshkosh, to $1.595 million, up from $1.52 million (June 2006 dollars), due to increases in vendor costs.

Quest Certified
For Quest Aircraft, EAA AirVenture was a celebration of receipt of FAA type certification of the Kodiak single-engine utility turboprop and public debut of the first production Kodiak. While other manufacturers would likely have rented a large space and persuaded FAA Administrator Marion Blakey to hand over the type certificate during a big press conference, Quest did its celebrating in a more low-key manner, hosting a barbecue for employees at company headquarters in Sand Point, Idaho.
The airplane on display at Oshkosh is equipped with a 10-place interior and the standard Garmin three-display G1000 glass cockpit, the first turboprop installation of Garmin’s popular system.

The non-pressurized PT6-34-powered, fixed-gear Kodiak holds 320 gallons of jet-A and offers a range of 1,250 nm with a one-hour reserve flying at 174 ktas. Takeoff ground roll at maximum takeoff weight of 6,750 pounds is 700 feet; landing distance without reverse thrust is 750 feet. At its mtow, the Kodiak can carry a 3,325-pound useful load. Stall speed is 60 knots with full flaps.

Although the Kodiak is not certified for flight into known icing, Quest is planning to engineer a TKS weeping-wing de-icing system and seek known- icing certification.

Other than the surprise visit of the Eclipse Concept Jet and Quest’s certification news, there wasn’t much activity at AirVenture in the realm of certified aircraft manufacturing. Gulfstream Aerospace added to its display this year after showing up with a G150 fuselage mockup last year. It presented a G550 and G150 open to the public and attracted a steady stream of visitors who wanted a gander at how the jet set travels. Previous Oshkosh shows, however, suggest that some of these visitors were probably doing some shopping and likely have checking accounts large enough to handle a new Gulfstream.

Epic Aircraft celebrated the arrival of two all-composite jets targeting the homebuilt and certified aircraft markets: the single-engine Victory and twin-engine Elite. Epic chairman and CEO Rick Schramek proudly heralded the simultaneous arrival of the two jets and congratulated his team on building and flying the Victory in less than seven months, about the same amount of time that Eclipse and its partners took to build and fly the Concept Jet.

Schramek flew the four- to five-place Victory to Oshkosh with test pilot Lynn Fox VFR at 17,500 feet, indicating 200 knots and with a groundspeed of about 320 knots. By the time it arrived at AirVenture, the Victory had flown about 50 hours since its July 6 first flight in Redmond, Ore.

The Victory prototype was powered by a Williams International FJ33-4, but the certified and amateur-built versions will feature a Pratt & Whitney Canada PW600-series engine (PW615 for the owner-built and PW617 for the certified jet).

The Elite jet, powered by two Williams FJ33-4s, made its public debut at AirVenture, after achieving its first flight on June 7. Planned for certification at a price of $2.2 million, the six- to eight-seat Elite will have a top speed of 410 knots, range of more than 1,600 nm at low-speed cruise and 1,330-pound payload with full fuel. Certification is scheduled for late 2009.

LSA Go Mainstream
Cirrus Design piggybacked on Eclipse’s V-tail Concept Jet when it unveiled the new Cirrus light sport aircraft that it will market in partnership with Fk Lightplanes of Speyer, Germany. An Fk14, painted in Cirrus colors and markings, was draped with a large fabric cover in preparation for the announcement of the partnership, and someone with a sense of humor, possibly Cirrus cofounder Alan Klapmeier, placed a large frame behind the LSA so that when covered with the cloth, the airplane appeared to have a V tail, an obvious spoof on Eclipse’s earlier revelation of the V-tail Concept Jet.

The Fk14 isn’t yet an LSA, but Klapmeier said that Cirrus engineers will “Cirrusize” the airplane so that it meets the consensus-standard LSA rules, which are simpler than FAA regulations. Unfortunately, this means slowing the Fk14 to a maximum speed of 120 knots. The Fk14 is all-composite, already has a BRS whole-airplane parachute system and is powered by a 100-hp Rotax 912S that burns about 3.8 gallons per hour. Cirrus hasn’t decided yet on an avionics vendor, but it does plan to offer a glass cockpit. The Cirrus version of the Fk14 will be called the SR Sport and will sell “in the $100,000 range,” said Klapmeier.

What is significant about Cirrus’ decision to enter the LSA market is that it is the second major OEM to announce an LSA at Oshkosh, adding a strong dose of credibility to the entry level of aviation.

Dale Klapmeier, Alan’s brother and Cirrus cofounder, said, “We’re looking to bring fun to flying. We don’t see kids lining up at airports anymore. This is the type of airplane kids will want to fly. We want them to be dreaming of aviation.”

Cirrus donated the first SR Sport to the EAA Young Eagles Gathering of Eagles fundraiser auction, and Hal Shevers, founder of Sporty’s Pilot Shop, won with a bid of $170,000.

Cessna enjoyed a hugely successful introduction of the newly named Model 162 SkyCatcher LSA, which is the production iteration of the concept LSA that the company brought to Oshkosh last year. At the Cessna display area,
a mockup of the SkyCatcher with a Garmin glass panel sat in front of an electronic tote board that recorded orders taken at AirVenture.

The SkyCatcher carried an introductory price of $109,500 for the first 1,000 orders, and at Oshkosh Cessna took orders–with $10,000 deposits–for more than 600 copies of the new airplane. (That number reached 720 shortly after the show.) “It was extremely successful,” said Cessna chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton, “and validated that we have a very large market there and we have the right product in that market.”

For Cessna, the LSA market is important because it provides a new entry-level trainer for the 300 Cessna Pilot Centers. In addition, Pelton said, “it’s about getting that price point down so that people can get their private pilot license more cheaply than they have in the past.” He expects the SkyCatcher to be attractive to large flight-training organizations and universities inside and outside the U.S. Cessna is also developing a computer-based training program for the SkyCatcher, which will be ready in about 18 months.

First deliveries of the aluminum SkyCatcher should begin in mid-2009, according to Pelton. While Cessna has to meet the ASTM consensus standards to certify the airplane, Pelton plans to perform additional testing, including building a static-test 162 to ensure that the LSA is robust and reliable.

The SkyCatcher will be powered by a Teledyne Continental O-200D piston engine, not the Lycoming O-235 made by Cessna’s sister Textron that powers the Cessna 152. At 120 knots top speed and the FAA-mandated maximum takeoff weight of 1,320 pounds, the SkyCatcher will perform better than the 152. The SkyCatcher’s 44.25-inch-wide cockpit is roomier than that of the Cessna 206, Pelton said, “so it’s significantly wider than a 152. People who trained in a 152 years ago say, ‘It’s slow and small and cramped.’ We’re taking away slow and we’re taking away cramped. That’s going to be an attractive offering in the market.”

In keeping with Cessna’s strategy of making transitioning up the Cessna food chain easier by offering Garmin’s G1000 system in the 172 through the Mustang, the SkyCatcher will also have a Garmin glass panel, the new G300. This features a split-screen primary flight display and multi-function display, or an optional two-display system.

More Jet Action
Cessna also announced that new capabilities are in the works for the Citation Mustang VLJ. Testing at Bolivia’s El Alto International Airport in La Paz will lead to certification for takeoff and landing at altitudes up to 14,000 feet, the company said. As of AirVenture, Cessna had delivered 16 Mustangs and planned to reach 40 shipments this year. The next certification will be Brazilian.

On July 26 Embraer attracted a crowd when it moved a giant screen out into the taxiway fronting AeroShell Square. The screen was there to play a video of the first flight of the Brazilian manufacturer’s Phenom 100 VLJ, which took place earlier that day. The Phenom 100, with test pilot Antonio Bragança Silva at the controls, flew for one hour 36 minutes from Embraer’s manufacturing plant. FAA and Brazilian certification is on schedule for the middle of next year, with EASA certification to follow a year later.

“We said it would fly by mid-year,” said Embraer Executive Jets vice president Luis Carlos Affonso. “We are executing as planned.” The second Phenom 100 was scheduled to fly one month after the first, he added, and there will be four prototypes.

Embraer predesign and market intelligence experts are now looking at a new jet to fill the gap between the Phenom 300 and Legacy 600, Affonso said. “We don’t have a date to launch, but we believe it would be a family, at least two airplanes.”

Does Embraer plan to make a jet smaller than the Phenom 100? “We do not have plans to go smaller,” Affonso said. “We have to create a ladder for our customers to trade up. We hope they start with the Phenom 100 and move up to the Legacy.”
The Phenom 100 backlog now extends through the end of 2011; the backlog for the Phenom 300 extends through early 2012. Sales are running 60 percent in the U.S. thus far.

Blimps and More
EAA AirVenture always manages to attract unusual aircraft, and this year the Goodyear blimp made an extended visit, parking each evening on a portable mooring mast at Pioneer Airport next to the EAA AirVenture Museum. At the other end of the speed spectrum were two Lockheed F-22 Raptors flying aerial performances and daily heritage flights with historic U.S. Air Force airplanes.

A group of Beech Bonanza owners flew in for the July 22 celebration of Beechcraft’s 75th anniversary and the 60th birthday of the Bonanza. Hawker Beechcraft brought its house band–the Sons of Beech–to entertain the partying Beechcrafters during the evening barbecue in the North 40 airplane camping area, surrounded by Bonanzas and Barons and almost every variety of Beech ever built. The Beach Boys made a return visit and delivered a rousing concert to a packed and warm AeroShell Square on July 23.