If you have any airline pilot friends, youve probably had this conversation: What? You really fly IFR in a single-engine airplane? Are you nuts? Some airline pilots own little airplanes and dont think twice about flying IMC in them but many others believe the very notion of it is insane. Without triple-redundant electrical systems, enough bleed air to heat Indiana in January and dual flight instruments, your back-up is skin deep in a piston single. Unfortunately, theyre right. If you fly serious IMC in piston airplanes, theres real risk. You may believe-as I do-that the risk is tolerable, but any warm feeling you get from analyzing the risk intellectually is between your ears and not supported by the numbers.
The piston engine is, of course, the root of the problem. Its perceived and probably is less reliable than a turbine engine. I say probably because its all but impossible to find meaningful data comparing piston engine reliability with turbine reliability in like operations. Nonetheless, turbines are deemed to have enough reliability advantage to offset their relatively poor efficiency when compared to piston engines.
And that, more than anything else, appears to be driving what is becoming a groundswell of interest and activity in small turbine technology. Beginning in this issue, were launching a multi-part occasional series on new developments in turbine engines. Our first part examines Innodyn, a scrappy little entrepreneurial company in Pennsylvania, thats going utterly against the grain in developing, manufacturing and marketing a small turboprop for the experimental field. Innodyn has a tiny budget, a small staff and virtually no experience in the field and it proposes to build and market turbines to sell in direct competition to engines homebuilders might otherwise buy from Lycoming and Continental.
Can these guys possibly succeed? My guess is they will, because theyve wisely picked the experimental market to learn their chops, no one else seems to be interested in small output turboprops-at least yet-and Innodyn is out in front of a technological wave being surfed by Pratt & Whitney of Canada, Williams International and others. My prediction is that even if Innodyn doesnt succeed, their efforts will wake up what will be a vibrant small turbine market during the next decade.
As youve no doubt noticed, Aviation Consumer has a new look with this months issue. Weve changed the typeface from Palatino to a more modern and more readable type called Giovanni, weve added more white space in the layouts, improved the chart presentations and sharpened up the photo reproduction process. The new design is the work of Judi Crouse, a Sarasota-area graphic artist. Let us know what you think of the new look.