Toyota mum on plans for GA aircraft

 - April 16, 2008, 6:05 AM

So far, Toyota is downplaying the significance of its TAA (Toyota Advanced Aircraft) proof-of-concept airplane. The all-composite, four-place piston aircraft took flight for the first time on May 31 at Mojave (Calif.) Airport, and Toyota officials are calling the project “an early look” and a “feasibility study.” Some 35 Toyota engineers have been working on the single-engine airplane. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has reported that the TAA has what is described as an aggressive laminar-flow wing designed by Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, though a Toyota spokesman would not corroborate that information. Similarly, it has been reported the project has cost the automaker an estimated $50 million to this point, though the spokesman said Toyota has not released that figure.

Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites of Mojave built the conventionally configured, fixed-gear prototype, which is said to be powered by a 160-hp Lycoming engine and is expected to cruise at about 140 kt. A follow-on TAA-2 model is expected to cruise at 160 kt behind a 200-hp engine. Again, Toyota would not confirm engine or performance information.

A spokesman said Toyota has no firm plans to certify and produce the TAA at this time. He told AIN, “For us to go forward, it would have to make sense. There is a lot of demand for smaller airplanes, and those that are out there are getting on in years.” The spokesman also confirmed that Toyota is committed to diversifying approximately 10 percent of its corporate activity to non-automotive pursuits. Other areas include biotechnology, manufactured housing, telecommunications, financial services and marine interests. Toyota currently has a division that manufactures forklifts.

In the early 1990s Toyota experimented with Hamilton Standard and Scaled Composites on a light aircraft powered by a version of its Lexus V8 auto engine. That project was shelved. According to an industry insider, Toyota placed a high priority on keeping the V8’s noise level as low as possible. An elaborate stainless-steel exhaust system proved problematic, however, and was subject to cracking.