Creativity and innovation abound at EAA AirVenture 2011

 - August 23, 2011, 6:05 AM

For one brief warm summer week at the end of July, the aviation world largely put aside its commiserations about the sad state of the general aviation industry and celebrated creative new designs, fabulously restored antiques, innovative electronics, talented designers, pilots and builders and everything aeronautical. From honoring the U.S. Navy’s centennial of flight to welcoming the world’s largest experimental airplane–Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner–EAA AirVenture Oshkosh at Wittman Regional Airport in Wisconsin was the place to be for 541,000 visitors (up 1.3 percent from last year), more than 10,000 airplanes (at Wittman and local airports) and 803 exhibitors (also up from last year, by 26). Of the 2,522 showplanes, 974 were homebuilts, 899 vintage, 367 warbirds, 94 ultralights, 92 seaplanes, 36 aerobatic, 30 rotorcraft and 30 miscellaneous. A highlight of this year’s show was the tribute to legendary designer Burt Rutan, including a display of many of his key airplane designs on AeroShell Square.

While there were plenty of new product announcements at AirVenture, notably lacking this year were any significant new non-homebuilt aircraft programs. And many stalwart, fund-raising, wannabe future airframers didn’t even show up this year. One attendee suggested that this is a worrisome trend, signaling the likelihood of few, if any, new programs to come in the next decade.

What was apparent is that avionics and electronics have taken over as the key area of aeronautical innovation (see page XX for avionics news at Oshkosh; go to ainonline for program  updates from aircraft manufacturers and developers exhibiting at Oshkosh). Perhaps this is because aerodynamic design has plateaued or the cost of certification is simply too great a burden or a marketplace of limited size is oversubscribed. But if AirVenture proves anything, it is that there is no shortage of entrepreneurs willing to try something new.



One of the most unusual designs at AirVenture this year was Pipistrel’s G4, a composite four-seater powered by a single 145-kilowatt electric engine. The craft’s engine is mounted to a central nacelle pod that stores batteries and electric controllers, and occupants sit in one of two passenger pods on either side of the engine. Flight controls are mounted in the right pod but could be fitted to either. The G4 will compete in the Café Foundation’s Green Flight Challenge September 25 through October 3 at Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in northern California.

Aerostar Aircraft flew its long-awaited jet version of the Aerostar piston twin to Oshkosh. The prototype aircraft features twin underwing-mounted, Fadec-controlled P&WC PW615Fs that propel the aircraft at 400 knots at 20,000 feet. Aerostar president Steve Speer said the aircraft’s altitude is currently limited because it is not equipped with an RVSM-compliant altimeter, though plans call for the aircraft to have a ceiling of 35,000 feet eventually. He is confident that the fuselage can withstand the higher pressurization loads at this altitude. “The main thing we have to do is go to dual-pane windows,” Speer noted. Max takeoff weight is 6,050 pounds, and Speer said the range goal is 1,100 nm. He said no price has been set for the twinjet, which the company envisions as a “new production” airplane, though he did not discount the possibility of doing retrofits. According to Speer, the company is currently seeking capital to place the jet into production, which he estimates would cost $50 million. “This is a proven airframe and is a lot less expensive to get into production.”

Electroair announced that it received the first FAA STC for a pure electronic ignition system for certified aircraft, after a two-year testing and documentation process. The Electroair ignition system is eligible for installation in all Lycoming four-cylinder engines installed on Cessna aircraft. Electroair plans to add more airframes powered by Lycomings during the coming months as well as six-cylinder STCs for both Lycoming and Continental engines.

More than 2,500 Electroair ignition systems have been installed in experimental aircraft. The system consists of an RPM measurement device, manifold-pressure sensor and high-output coil and a controller that manages ignition timing to provide a precisely controlled hotter and longer-duration spark. The Electroair system replaces one of the engine’s two magnetos (usually the right magneto) and is capable of enhancing performance and lowering fuel consumption. The EIS-41000 kit sells for $3,400.

Electroair also announced that it signed a testing agreement with Swift Enterprises using a Continental O-200-A four-cylinder piston engine powered by Swift’s 100SF high-octane unleaded replacement for 100LL avgas. The tests will “further augment the increased fuel economy experienced by using 100SF,” according to Swift.

LoPresti Speed Merchants expects to receive an STC for installation of a DeltaHawk diesel engine in the Cirrus SR20 early next year. The modification will include a new LoPresti-designed cowl system, a new Hartzell propeller and fuel system adapted to jet-A and biodiesel-type fuels.

For the SR20 program, said LoPresti business manager RJ Siegel, “Our target is to outperform the SR22 on two-thirds of the fuel consumption.” The STC will include new performance parameters in the POH, he added. Critical altitude of the DeltaHawk diesel is 18,000 feet.

LoPresti Speed Merchants has been developing the new cowl system that will be used on the diesel-powered SR20 for the past five years, according to Siegel. The cowl system lowers total cooling drag by two-thirds, he said. Air flows into the cowl through a “shark mouth” underneath the propeller. The engine, cowl system, new Hartzell propeller, fuel system modifications and installation in the SR20 will cost less than $100,000.



Saving GA

The two biggest problems facing general aviation today are retention of student pilots and safety, according to King Schools co-founder John King. “The plain fact is we kill too many people in general aviation,” he said. King and aviation luminaries Martha King, Alan Klapmeier; GAMA president Pete Bunce; AOPA chief Craig Fuller; Jerry Gregoire, president of Redbird Flight Simulations; and Mark Patterson, Cessna director of sales for propeller aircraft, joined in an AirVenture press conference to highlight an effort to combat these twin problems.

“Things are converging to solve these two biggest problems we have in general aviation,” said John King. “Another thing we have converging is we have Jerry Gregoire and his band of pilots. Jerry said, ‘What if we developed at a fraction of the cost a simulator of such fidelity that it’s useful to teach people VFR?’”

Redbird has sold hundreds of its full-motion FMX simulators and desktop devices and is now breaking into the market for King Air and larger aircraft models, at a fraction of the price of traditional full-motion devices. Redbird also sells the Xwind simulator used to teach pilots how to handle crosswinds.

In an effort to revitalize general aviation, Redbird is building the Skyport, a new flight school and FBO facility at San Marcos Airport near Austin, Texas. Skyport isn’t an ordinary flight school, but will serve as a means of testing and refining flight training concepts and improving student retention and safety.

“It’s fashionable to blame flight schools,” said Gregoire, “and we think this is nonsense. As with all problems this big, the answer’s not that simple, [just] to fix the flight schools to fix this problem. The Redbird Skyport is at its core a laboratory to study and develop flight training recruiting, retention, processes, curricula, delivery of those curricula, equipment, as well as community outreach and involvement. And it’s supported by a high-volume Part 141 flight school that will give us an adequate number of  ‘lab rats’ to study how these systems will work.”

Gregoire credited the “folks who have made this possible, including John and Martha King, Craig Fuller and AOPA, Pete Bunce and GAMA, Mark Patterson and the Cessna team, and Avemco Insurance.” The Skyport grand opening is scheduled for November 8.