Commentary: What Does Affordable Flying Mean to You?

EAA's AirVenture 2008 offers much to all who are interested in aviation; however, after a few days of wandering the grounds, I began to get a sense of what might be missing, and it is significant.

Although EAA has made a laudable effort during these financially challenging times to demonstrate that the point of entry for purchasing and building an airplane can be as low as buying a car, the organization seems to be missing the point that most people know that the first check, the one to buy the aircraft, is probably the smallest check they'll ever write for an aviation purchase. It is the cost of maintaining and actually flying their craft that adds up.

Take my RV-10. Sure, its build has been a drain on the checkbook in a steady, significant way over the past four years, but until that engine fired up and the aircraft took to the air those costs were predictable. Then we got the first fuel bills. And had to replace the electrical components that did not work. And a tire. And...well, you know where I am going with this.

Forums that have anything to do with engine and/or aircraft efficiency or longevity are packed at this show, which means the people here are definitely interested in learning more about how to build, modify and fly their aircraft for less money. It is just too bad that there are not more displays by EAA and manufacturers here that can offer these folks some solutions.

I'm a little worried that this key issue isn't being addressed. As pilot numbers shrink, manufacturers make fewer aircraft, oil companies refine less avgas, and the cost must go up. We in the industry must demonstrate both to these folks, who are clearly trying to keep flying their aircraft even as costs go up, but also to those who are considering learning to fly, that general aviation is an affordable pastime by coming up with solutions to make our aircraft and engines more efficient and less dependent on traditional fuels and materials.

Powerplant Developments Reveals Partners

Powerplant Developments Chief Executive Officer Tim T. Archer spoke at a press conference July 30 at AirVenture and revealed some tantalizing details about the company's unique three-cylinder, six opposed piston, lightweight (156 pounds dry) diesel engine, which is under development for the general aviation market.

Archer admitted that the engine's designer is Michael Daniels, who comes from a legacy of engine design through his company (and his father's before his) Westlake. Daniels and Archer are two of four partners in the company. Westlake was involved in the development of projects such as the HEMI head for Chrysler. Archer also introduced Jamie Cupler, a consultant who is evaluating the company for a group of investors who could provide the seed money to fund the production of the Gemini 100 and 125 engines.

The Gemini line of engines evolved from Daniels' diesel airship engine that had more than 2000 hours of run experience both on the ground and on airships before it was shelved when the Italian company developing it went bankrupt. That engine was redesigned with three cylinders, dropping quite a bit of weight in the process, and became the Gemini 100.

Powerplant Developments has recently rewritten its business plan because of interest in the engine from the marine and trucking industries. The U.K. based company is looking for a U.S. production facility for its complete engine line. Archer reiterated that even with its broadened product line, the company's mission first and foremost is to produce a general aviation diesel engine.

Archer announced that the company has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Italian aviation company TECNAM to test the 100-hp engine in the P92 Eaglet, an LSA, and the 125-hp engine is expected to be tested in TECNAM's P2006T light twin.

Propeller Design Is Rediscovered

I was walking among the thousands of airplanes at Oshkosh this week and noticed a subtle, but significant transformation; that square tip on the end of the prop of yore is giving way to a more scimitar looking device. Where a few years ago there were a few to be seen, now they are the dominant form on LSAs, especially those from Europe. What had been 4 inches inches wide and square on the end is now 1.5 inches and rounded. The air has not changed; horsepower is horsepower. So why the transformation?

The answer to this was offered in a seminar on the subject of propeller design hosted by Jack Norris, who knows of what he speaks when it comes to the subject as his book explains in lay-terms. In a nut, all this knowledge is being rediscovered.

Yes, rediscovered. Look at, for instance, the prop used by Glenn Curtis on the last of his seaplane racers--its look is suspiciously similar to these "new" designs. Why this knowledge was lost and then found again will be the subject of further discussion in KITPLANES.

There are some amazingly simple things you can do to your airplane, and you can modify your flying technique to significantly stretch that increasingly expensive gallon of gas. Hint: fly with the throttle wide-open until... More on that later.

SMA Diesel Engines Available for Experimentals

SMA, part of the SAFRAN Group, announced today that its diesel-burning engines are currently available in the new Maule M9, as well as for the Experimental Pulsar S300. The company is selling the engine to individual owners of other certified and non-certified aircraft (including the Piper Dakota and Cessna 182 and 206).

The SR 305-230 engine, with 230 horsepower, has proved itself in the Cessna 182 over nearly 12 years of operation as a more fuel-efficient alternative than the OEM Continental O-470. Its FADEC system and ability to burn Jet-A or diesel fuel make it particularly attractive to kit aircraft builders who are beginning to experience difficulty finding avgas, and especially for those who live in parts of the world where avgas has become unaffordable.

The SR 305-230 engine is not an inexpensive proposition for a kit builder, with price estimates for the engine running somewhere in the $75,000 range, according to SMA, but it is ready to ship today. Its performance, burning just 7.9 gph at 65% power, and long TBO (3000 hours), as well as the fact that it contains 70% fewer parts than the typical avgas-burning engine, are all attractive to builders. SMA is hoping that 12 years of developing its engine as an alternative fuel burner is about to pay off.

Zenith CH 750 STOL Premiers at Oshkosh

Fitting neatly between the two-seat CH 701 and four-seat CH 801, Zenith Aircraft is introducing the new CH 750 to the world at this year's AirVenture convention. Available in either kit form from Zenith Aircraft ($19,500) or air-ready and VFR equipped from AMD ($99,900), this spacious two-seater retains its LSA compliance while delivering impressive STOL performance typical of the other Zenith models.

When powered with the Continental O-200, the 750 takes off in just 100 feet, lands in 125, cruises at 100 mph, and stalls at 38 mph. Useful load is 545 pounds.

"We went with the Continental engine," says Zenith President Sebastien Heintz, "because now you can get a new, experimental O-200 for less than a Rotax 912. But since the firewall is the same as the one on the 601, you can pretty much use whatever engine you want, including the Jabiru or the Corvair."

"We're just offering the one 'standard' kit at this point," Heintz continued. "Since all the parts are CNC punched and pre-formed, there's really not a need for a 'quickbuild' version. With the blind rivets, you can build a wing in two days. We're just starting the manufacture of the wing kits now, and with our standard lead times, figure you'll have a full kit by the end of October if you order a kit today."

For larger pilots (like me) who find the 701 just too confining, the new 750 has all the earmarks of retaining the 701's impressive STOL performance and style while retaining the ability to fit neatly into Light Sport requirements. If the crowds around the airplane is any indication of its future success, it appears that Zenith may have just come up with another winner. More information coming soon at Zenith Aircraft.

Dream Aircraft's New Tricycle Tundra

"The tricycle gear Tundra is meant for the Cessna 172 pilot who wants a new airplane with better performance, and who wants the ability to be able to legally work on it himself, and get the satisfaction of building it." So says Dream Aircraft's Luc Premont, who was proudly showing me the latest from the Demarais and Gagne factory in Quebec. The very first tricycle prototype didn't make very many airshows, unfortunately, as it was immediately sold when it first appeared. So the logical solution was to build another one, and here it is.

Currently equipped with a 180 horsepower Lycoming O-360, the performance and handling is very much like the original taildragger version, according to Premont, who flew the airplane into this year's AirVenture. "It's a very sturdy and forgiving airplane," Premont adds, "but it's still very fun to fly." Premont saw cruise speeds near 128 mph during his flight to Oshkosh, but expects that those numbers will eventually creep upward once the airframe clean-up parts become available after development.

Indeed, after a quick walk-around of the Tundra trike, it was obvious that wheel pants, strut fairings, horizontal stabilizer strakes, and a few fairings here and there could add 10 to 15 mph to cruise speeds.

The nosegear option adds about $2,500 USD to the cost of kit, which tends to fluctuate a bit due to current exchange rates between the U.S. and Canadian dollar. Current cost of the tricycle kit is right around $48,000 USD.