AirVenture 2010

 - August 27, 2010, 9:13 AM

EAA AirVenture, as usual, brought the aviation family together for another week of celebration, innovation and pure enjoyment at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis. While nothing could eclipse last year’s amazing side-by-side display of an Airbus A380 and the WhiteKnightTwo mothership on AeroShell Square, the many meticulously restored and well used aircraft parked on the central gathering place were testament to the enduring legacy of this show of shows. Front and center was a museum-quality Douglas DC-2 in TWA livery liberated from its perch at the Museum of Flight in Seattle and flown to AirVenture by Clay Lacy as part of the 75th anniversary of the iconic DC-3 (see box on page 47). Lacy in the DC-2 joined a group of DC-3s for a flight over AirVenture on opening day.

Although a watery mess greeted many exhibitors and visitors just before the show officially opened on Monday, July 26, thanks to a record 10 inches of rain on Friday, the sunshine returned on Sunday and stuck around for most of the week until low clouds rolled in on Friday. The sun returned on Saturday, just in time for the capper, a ­dazzling night aerobatics show.

Although AirVenture has become the go-to show for the introduction of innovative new products and aircraft, this year’s event emphasized the shift away from jets to other aircraft types. Many attendees agreed that AirVenture wasn’t the same without former Eclipse Aviation head Vern Raburn’s flamboyant product announcements or the ever-charismatic Rick Adam and his futuristic-looking composite piston- and jet-powered twins. But aviation continues to attract new dreamers and schemers, convinced that their version of a flying machine will pull in funding and find a market where so many before have failed.

This year’s new entrants are all targeting the piston market. New jets seem to be out of favor in these challenging economic times, and even promising-looking single-engine jet programs have suffered further delays, raising questions about the viability of the single-engine jet market niche. The turboprop market isn’t quite dormant, and just before the show opened, Cirrus Design cofounder and former chairman Alan Klapmeier announced his plan to revive the Kestrel program, which had been seeking new funding. Extra Aircraft’s recently FAA-certified ­Extra 500 composite high-wing single will see increased activity with the announcement of a new Extra facility to be opened in Montrose, Colo.

Jet Programs
Piper Aircraft has seen an influx of new talent, headed by new executive vice president Randy Groom, and including Drew McEwen, director of sales Americas. Both are industry veterans and worked at Hawker Beechcraft. Groom was president of Hawker Beechcraft’s global customer service and support and its Beechcraft division and McEwen was general manager of the company’s Mesa, Ariz., service center. Backed by new owner Imprimis, an investment firm based in Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, Piper has ramped up investment in the single-engine PiperJet program.

“One of the things I wanted was to fly the proof-of-concept ­airplane,” Groom said. “I said that’s important to me. I wanted to see the control harmony, characteristics. I slowed it down to 100 knots, pushed [the power] all the way to the wall, was looking for any pitch instability, and it was as stable as any aircraft I’ve ever flown. Because of the engine configuration, I thought there might be some pitch-up changes. Absolutely zero.”

Groom confidently added, “The PiperJet is a go program.” The growth in the number of engineers on the PiperJet program, he said, “is a statement about the commitment of our owners to this company. The airplane is evolving, and we’re going to have a significant announcement about the PiperJet at NBAA [in October].” Meanwhile, metal has been cut for the first conforming PiperJet, which will fly next year. Certification and first deliveries are still scheduled for mid-2013. 

Groom also announced the new Piper Match partnership program, which helps bring together people with similar aircraft interests who want to set up shared ownership. Piper Match bundles services such as financing, insurance, tax consulting and partnership structuring, he said, “basically making a turn-key system for something that can be a little complicated.” The program will be managed by Piper dealers.

Cirrus Jet
Cirrus Aircraft’s Vision jet  is still a viable program, according to president and CEO Brent Wouters. Last year Alan Klapmeier tried to buy the Vision program from Cirrus’s financial backer, Arcapita Bank, but the two parties didn’t come to an agreement. At the time, Klapmeier predicted that if he wasn’t able to buy the Vision program, further delays would be inevitable.

Cirrus, like all aircraft manufacturers, has been dealing with the recession, although it has been able to increase market share, according to Wouters. “I’m pleased with the trajectory of business, where we are and what we’ve been accomplishing,” he said. Cirrus revenue is now one-third what it was in 2006 and 2007. But improvements in efficiency and lower materials costs have helped the company triple its year-over-year gross profit relative to the bottom of the recession. “There’s no rocket science,” he said. “This is about tremendous business discipline. It has produced terrific results. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost, and we’re breaking even today at one-third the size we were three years ago.”

The Vision jet detail design is about 20 to 25 percent done, Wouters said. “The prototype testing has proved everything we wanted it to, so we know what it’s going to look like, how it’s going to behave. But what we don’t have is every rib, attachment point, internal component and system designed. We’ve got to have more resources to move that along at the pace that we’d like to.”

The up-and-down cycle of the aviation industry is a major reason for delays to the Vision jet program. “The project requires significant stable financing month-to-month,” Wouters explained. “You have to have some capital that can balance out that cash need over the course of time.” Under Alan Klapmeier,” he said, “it was a bet-the-farm approach, but in an unrealistic fashion because you could never expect the core business to fund it consistently.

“While I’m a big risk-taker, I’m a calculated risk-taker and I would have wanted to know more of the answers than we had at the time we decided to make [that decision]. So you’ve got to give credit to those who went down the path. But from my angle today, the good news is that we will get it done and we’re getting it done,” he added.

For a while, it appeared as though single-engine jets would quickly fill their market niche, but financial challenges have delayed every program. The Diamond D-Jet is now two years behind schedule, the PiperJet has only recently received a boost with new company ownership and Cirrus’s Vision jet still needs a substantial influx of outside financing. All of this raises the question of whether the single-engine jet market remains viable. “We obviously feel a strong sense that the market is there,” said Wouters. “Why? Because we have deposits [for 430 airplanes]. The excitement is off the charts. This product will sell.”

Wouters confirmed that some depositors have requested and ­received refunds. “You have to expect that. In the last 12 months we’ve had about 20 percent of the order deposits canceled, and we sold just as many and a few units more than canceled. That’s unbelievable; 80 percent of the people stayed with us through the worst economic downturn any of us have seen, and then we resold as many positions as canceled.”

D-Jet
Diamond Aircraft brought its two flight-test D-Jets to AirVenture, and the company recently moved the certification date from this year to the end of next. Even with all the delays, the D-Jet should still be first to market, and it will be interesting to see how the market responds to the first production single-engine jet.

EAA AirVenture is a dreamer’s paradise, chock full of adventurous and inventive risk-takers who have spent years working on their new design or better aero-widget before revealing it to the public. Given the huge obstacles that face those who choose the ultimate challenge of designing, building and certifying a new aircraft, it’s amazing that every year more would-be manufacturers take the wraps off their projects. This year was no exception, as would-be manufacturers spent lots of good money presenting their new aircraft.

More New Programs
First-time exhibitor and corporate pilot Frank Leventhal has partnered with John Meekins and engineer Bill Husa to tackle one of the most difficult airplane types, an amphibian. The Privateer Industries single-engine turbine-powered composite amphibian breaks tradition with an unusual configuration, a centrally mounted fuselage that doesn’t touch the water, suspended between two sponsons that sweep back and attach to the horizontal stabilizer. The twin-sponson design makes the Privateer much more stable on the water–especially in crosswinds, according
to Leventhal.

Meekins wanted a safe seaplane that he could park at his private lakefront property, Leventhal said, but once Husa’s design took shape, the partners decided that the Privateer should be certified and put into production. Construction of the prototype Privateer is under way, under Husa’s direction, and most of the major airframe components are done. Power is provided by a pusher-configured GE M601 with a shrouded propeller to provide more static thrust for takeoff. The engine was scheduled to be hung last month, and first flight is planned for the first quarter of next year. Performance for the six- to seven-place Privateer includes 215-knot cruise speed at 15,000 feet, 1,000-nm VFR range with full fuel and passenger load, 1,200-foot water takeoff distance and 5,600-pound max takeoff weight.

Privateer Industries has enough money to fund the program through first flight, according to Leventhal, but then will need to raise an estimated $200 million to certify the amphibian, hopefully by partnering with a manufacturer with composites experience. “If not,” he said, “we’ll fund it on our own.”

Arvind Mehra, executive director and CEO of Mahindra Aerospace, made his first visit to EAA AirVenture this year, shortly after his company completed its acquisition of Australia-based Gippsland Aeronautics. Mahindra provides engineering services to aircraft manufacturers, including Airbus and Hawker Beechcraft, and builds structural components. The acquisition of Gippsland boosts Mahindra into the aircraft manufacturing arena, starting with the recently FAA-certified turbocharged eight-seat GA8 Airvan.

Gippsland’s next project is the Rolls-Royce 250-powered turbine GA10 Airvan, which will feature a longer fuselage and take about eight to 10 months to achieve first flight and 18 months for certification. The first GA10 fuselage is built. “We need to get to market, said Gippsland founder and director of technology George Morgan. Market pressure for the GA10 is huge, he added, because “avgas is definitely going to go away, and particularly for the higher-power piston engines it’s a difficult problem.”

Gippsland also owns the former Government Aircraft Factories Nomad program and is working on a recertification program, bringing the Rolls-Royce 250-powered twin up to more current certification standards. This will take about two years. Both the GA10 and GA18 Nomad will likely be upgraded to the Rolls-Royce 500 as it becomes available.

“We’re investing $20 million in these two programs,” Mehra said. Gippsland will import Airvans into India, he said, beginning with the GA8. The timing is good, he added, because Indian regulators are becoming more open to general aviation operations.

French aerospace engineer David Loury began sketching his design for a new piston-powered single-engine high-performance pusher in 2002 and spent years refining the design, building the prototype and trying to raise funds. In 2008 Loury obtained his first round of fundraising, then three months ago a second round, which should allow the prototype Cobalt Co50 to fly by year-end. Certification of the Co50 is planned in two to three years, Loury said.

The Co50 features a canard configuration and is made from composite materials. With a 350-hp twin-turbocharged and Fadec-controlled Continental piston engine, the Co50 will seat five and have a maximum cruise speed of 245 ktas and maximum range of 1,150 nm. Company headquarters is in Toussus-le-Noble, France, but Loury announced plans to open a U.S. branch for development, certification, production and support for the Co50.

“The concept was to have a traveling tool that is really efficient,” Loury said, “and that didn’t correspond to what I could find on the market when I started flying, and also traveling in a classy way, having a beautiful aircraft. We still have a long way to go.”

Italy’s Oma-Sud Sky Technologies received EASA certification for its twin-engine pusher-configured Skycar late last year, and FAA certification is due next month. The Skycar is powered by two 200-hp Lycoming IO-360 piston engines and seats five. Max cruise speed is 160 ktas and maximum range at 55-percent power and with a 45-minute reserve is 1,087 nm.

Another new AirVenture exhibitor was Korea Aerospace Industries and its composite KC-100 four-place piston single. The KC-100 will be certified first in Korea, then by the FAA. Avionics will be Avidyne’s Entegra Release 9 suite with FMS900w and DFC100 autopilot. The four-place KC-100 features a Fadec-controlled 315-hp Continental engine, 210-knot maximum speed, 1,200-nm maximum range and 1,100-pound maximum payload.

Oshkosh Activities
There was no shortage of interesting events and activities at AirVenture 2010, from the first appearance of Art Nalls’s civil Sea Harrier at AirVenture to the auction of the Jack Roush/Carroll Shelby-­designed Ford “SR-71 Blackbird” Must­ang at the Gathering of Eagles event on July 29. The Mustang sold for $375,000 to an undisclosed bidder, and the event raised $2.1 million for the Young Eagles and other youth programs.

Two surprise visitors at this year’s AirVenture were Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Transportation Se­curity Administration administrator John Pistole. Napolitano and Pistole announced the new “If you see something, say something” security campaign, which encourages general aviation participants to report suspicious activity to the TSA hotline (1-800-GA-SECURE). Napolitano also announced that the pre-screening process for non-U.S.-registered aircraft entering and exiting the U.S. has been simplified, so pilots need submit only one manifest to the U.S. Customs Border Protection’s eAPIS system. A TSA waiver will no longer be required. DHS recognizes, she said, “that stronger security and efficiency go hand in hand.”

Quest Aircraft held a ceremony on July 30 to celebrate handing over the first in an order for nine single-engine Wipline 7000 amphibious float-equipped Kodiaks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our pilots have to fly low,” said Paul Schmidt, assistant director of the migratory bird program. “They have to fly slow, and at the same time observe and count the migratory bird populations, identifying species and sex as they’re flying just above the treetops. We need a safe aircraft to do that, and this is going to serve us extremely well for this mission.” Quest also brought to AirVenture its first Kodiak with the external cargo compartment. The optional compartment, which meets the latest flammability and system protection for lightning regulations, should receive FAA approval by the end of the third quarter. All flight and structural testing of the Kodiak’s TKS ice-protection system is done and FAA certification is imminent.

Saturday July 31 saw the first-ever Spirit of Aviation Auction, conducted by REDC and Auction.com. While there was plenty of interest in the dozens of aircraft for sale, only five were bid higher than their reserve prices and sold.

Big draws at this year’s AirVenture were the many electric aircraft efforts and the all-day GE World Symposium on Electric Aircraft on July 30. Electric aircraft efforts (see special report on page 22) aren’t limited to lightweight airplanes like those offered by Yuneec, a big player in the electric arena, or Sonex, with its e-Flight Initiative. Sikorsky Innovations introduced its all-electric helicopter technology demonstrator, Project Firefly, at the symposium. Project Firefly is a Sikorsky S-300C with a 190-hp electric motor, motor controller, battery system and cockpit controls, and Sikorsky expects to fly the aircraft later this year. 

Cessna Aircraft and Bye Energy have teamed to develop a prototype electric-powered Cessna 172. The EAA also announced a $60,000 electric-flight prize “to the individual or corporation that can demonstrate the most promising level of achievement in E-Flight at AirVenture 2011.” AeroLEDs, Aircraft Spruce & Specialty, Dynon Avionics and Wicks Aircraft Supply donated funds for the prize.