Diamonds Delayed Diesels
I dont know if 2005 will become a watershed year in the world of general aviation but my instinct tells me a sea change-a big one-is afoot. A couple of weeks ago, I got an alarmed e-mail from a Cessna 210 owner who was shocked at having paid $5 a gallon for avgas in Teterboro, New Jersey. While that price is an anomaly in a world of $3 avgas, it portends a trend we had all better get used to. Escalating avgas prices were much on the mind of vendors at Sun n Fun in April and the fact that the show was lightly attended and we saw little in the way of new products this year suggests a certain lack of confidence.
High fuel prices might not threaten the existence of GA in the U.S. but fuel costs will and are stunting any conceivable growth, however tepid. What are we doing about it? Not much, really. FADEC technology promises some economy gains but at the moment, its a solution without a problem as long as leaded avgas is available. FADEC addresses octane shortfalls first, economy second. SMA is trying to gain traction with its aero diesel but theres little to show for it thus far. Thielert is doing the same with a line of diesels adapted from automotive designs. Only one airframer, Diamond Aircraft, has taken diesels seriously, with the DA-40tdi and DA-42tdi Twin Star selling well in Europe. Yet Diamond has delayed the introduction of both to the North American market.
As gas prices soar, what can Diamond possibly be thinking? Theyre thinking-correctly-that the industry may get one chance to do this right and a premature introduction of what could be the next seminal engine technology could kill or delay its timely development. Premature means large-volume marketing before the limitations and quirks of diesels are well understood and having perhaps hundreds of engines flying in the U.S. without a competent maintenance network to service them. If major service or reliability issues grounded the diesel fleet-it could easily happen-development could be set back for years or killed outright. Further, economy and reliability of diesels remains, in my view, an intriguing but unproven potential.
Frankly, Im impressed with Diamonds patience. Too many aircraft companies are spring- loaded to bring hopelessly immature or inappropriate products to market with predictable outcomes that early adopters pay for. In fact, Diamond is superbly positioned to own the diesel market even if they wait another year or two before launching the North American diesel blitz.
Small Turbine Fuel Efficiency
Another promising technology thats perking along is the small turbine engine being pioneered by Innodyn, a start-up company headquartered in the wilds of western Pennsylvania. We visited the factory last summer and reported on our findings in the October 2004 issue of The Aviation Consumer. As of April, Innodyn was delivering its first engines to the Experimental market and told us it had capacity to build a couple of dozen engines a month.
Impressive, but were more interested in fuel consumption claims. At Sun n Fun, Innodyn said the engines are burning about 7 gallons per 100 HP. That works out to a BSFC of .47, heretofore unheard-of efficiency for a turbine and in the range of the thirstiest piston engines.
Were saying .5, says Innodyns Ed Pope, who directs government marketing and R&D for the company. The cant-be-done crowd says, well, it cant be done. But Innodyn has invited us for another look-see and a test flight. Well let you know what we find.