The hapless airplane owner trudging the booths at Oshkosh this year should be forgiven a certain numb sensation from the neck up.
As the industry enjoys continuing recovery, more companies than ever are flogging techy gizmos, hoping that pilots will buy in sufficient volume to at least offset the R&D costs. Making sense of it all is baffling. (Even perpetually upbeat marketing execs have the thousand-yard stare.)
Amidst the din, however, we saw a couple of discernible trends plus an unusual bumper crop of high-tech goodies and Internet-related services. Two trends of note: Even as progress on cheap jet engines seems genuine, Lycoming and Continental are inching forward with single-lever, full-authority digital control technology for piston engines.
On the avionics front, color moving map and multi-function displays are becoming increasingly market ready. But the field is still too uncertain to make intelligent long-term buying decisions; a $15,000 mistake may be there for the making.
FADEC To Go
When Unison rolled out its LASAR electronic ignition system at OSH three years ago, it caused quite a buzz and ignited speculation that full authority digital engine controls (FADECs) werent far behind. Sure enough, Aerosance, Inc. debuted an ambitious FADEC system on a Continental IO-240B that looked to us like it was closer to production hardware than to the breadboard stage. (Aerosance-formerly Aerotronics Controls-was bought by Teledyne last year expressly to develop electronic controls for TCM engines.)
As currently construed, the Aerosance FADEC is a single-lever set-up, with the electronics having full control of timing and mixture. Gone entirely are conventional mags, replaced by a pair of high-energy, computer controlled spark coils with variable timing and electronic fuel injection, with the whole of the thing managed by a computer.
In the cockpit, the pilot has a FADEC status panel with limited fault detection and diagnostics. An optional graphic-style engine performance gauge combines power output and fuel monitoring functions on a single display. Aerosances time line is more aggressive than we expected, with certification planned for spring of next year for the IO-240B used in the Katana C1. Systems for TCMs six-cylinder engines will soon follow, since thats obviously the core market.
Cost: Little or no premium over the existing new engine price, says Aerosance. How about retrofits? No schedule on that yet but theyll be a must and were told STCd system will probably cost in the $5000 to $8000 range. (Contact 860-409-7880 or www.fadec.com.)
Although it has traditionally lagged behind TCM technologically, Lycoming, partnering up with Unison, will develop its own single-lever engine control called EPIC (Electronic Propulsion Integrated Control) which they also hope to certify by next year.
Where Unisons LASAR variable timing mags were a tentative step toward electronic control, EPIC sounds similar to the Aerosance system. Its a closed loop design that would sample power output, EGTs, fuel flow and such, then exercise full authority to run the engine to deliver (perhaps) the pilot-selected choice of best power or best economy. Or some happy as-yet-to-be-determined medium that would improve performance and economy.
Unlike jet-type FADECs, this device would have full manual reversion in the form of back-up mags and fuel controllers. Okay, sounds good. How much? Again, say Lycoming and Unison, EPIC will be included in the cost of new OEM engines bought from Lycoming. Too soon to say how soon this system will be available for retrofit, says Unison, but its a cinch that volume for such new technology will be found in the existing GA fleet, not new airframes. (Contact 904-739-4113 or www.unisonindustries.com.)
Not content with one joint venture, Lycoming also announced that its partnering up with Detroit Diesel-a major maker of truck engines-to produce an aircraft diesel or to at least explore the possibilities. Lycoming was non-committal on timing for a running engine, if indeed they ever get that far.
In the wings, Continental is a year into its diesel program, funded in part by a NASA AGATE grant. In Europe, Morane Renault has been flying an experimental diesel since March of this year in a Socata TB20 and had a running version on display at OSH.
Morane Renault claims impressive performance for its 200 HP diesel and says it expects certification in Europe early next year with deliveries to follow before Y2K. Given the scarceness of 100LL in Europe, Morane Renault may have a vigorous retrofit market in Europe, not to mention some nibbles from U.S. airframers selling new airplanes overseas.
Year of the Map
If personal jets stirred the blood last year, color moving maps were the stars this year, at least for aircraft owners on the prowl for new equipment. In an obvious effort to run with and maybe a little ahead of the big dogs, Trimble rolled out the TrimView 500, a color multi-function display based on the Avidyne cockpit computer.
Slap it into the stack and you get a moving map, a vector-based IFR-type map display, lightning data from BFGoodrichs WX-500 and-if youve got the radar front end-weather displays from Bendix/King color and monochrome radars.
But before we even talk about installation costs and the inevitable early-adopter STC knife fight with the local FSDO, the bottom line is $13,500, plus another $4500 for the radar software and WX-500, if you want the lightning display. The day of the $20,000 avionics upgrade may be upon us.
Of course, the computer/software is perpetually upgradeable so, theoretically, the sky is the limit for capability. The plank to walk here, however, is that cheaper and better computers and displays are always just over the horizon and the market is too uncertain to know what to expect next.
Trimble also showed off its new approach-capable GPS navigator, the TN500, yet another GPS box with a moving map. At a list price of $5500 for a navigator only-no VHF comm-were not sure how this one will fit into the market but it does round out Trimbles line to include everything but an autopilot. At a quick glance, it looks as though Trimble has noodled the problem of approach set-up complexity and simplified it considerably. Stay tuned for a detailed report. Contact 800-484-4662 or www.trimble.com/avionics.
With its market-leading KLN 89B and 90B getting long in the tooth, Bendix/King announced its foray into the color moving map market with a (relatively) inexpensive 16-color display to be built by its recently acquired British partner, SkyForce. This new map product-called the Skymap IIIC-can be used in portable or panel-mount mode (VFR only) and will sell in the $2500 or under range, with built-in GPS engine. A version of the map without a GPS receiver will also be available for about $2000, says Bendix/King. The SkyMap has a unique and supposedly dirt simple joystick and soft-key-based operating logic.
Although well known in Great Britain and Europe, SkyForce is a mystery player in the U.S. and in a market glutted with inexpensive monochrome portables, buyers will be paying a $1000 to $1500 premium for color; well be curious to see how many takers they find for what appears to be a fill-in product, even with Bendix/Kings marketing horsepower.
By comparison, Magellan also announced at OSH the EC-20X, an improved version of its mega-map EC-10X, an anemic seller in the portable market. The EC-20X will retail for $1399, a couple of hundred bucks higher than the top-selling Garmin 195. Contact 913-712-2613 or www.skyforce.co.uk for Skymap and 909-394-7072 or www.magellangps.com for Magellan.
Other map news of note:
Garmin gave the public its first look at the GNS 430 full-color mapcom. While Trimble gambles on the MFD strategy, Garmin clearly believes a less radical-and cheaper-solution will sell, at least for now. Price isnt set yet but its supposed to be under $10,000. Contact Garmin at 800-800-1020 or www.garmin.com.
From IIMorrow comes the GX-65, a budget mapcom with a first-rate VHF comm section that will retail (discounted) in the $3500 range. Its IFR approved for terminal and en route operations, but not approaches. Contact IIMorrow at 800-525-6726 or www.iimorrow.com.
AvroTec showed an improved cockpit PC called the FlightMonitor with a sunlight readable screen, larger hard drive and more RAM. Contact 503-221-1220 or www.avrotec.com.
From Stenbock & Everson: Polaris Skyshow, a highly detailed GPS-driven color moving map system for laptops meant for cabin information systems. Contact 800-966-4360 or www.stenbock.com.
From Sierra Flight systems, a stunning 3D map and EFIS system intended for homebuilts but one that the company pledges to eventually certify for spam cans. Contact 208-323-7291 or www.sierraflightsystems.com.
Last years major intrigue at OSH was the V-Jet II, an honest-to-goodness flying personal jet that will serve as a test bed for the low-cost FJX-2 turbofan being developed under a NASA grant by Williams International.
In the hype surrounding the FJX-2 announcement, famed visionary Burt Rutan predicted that the skies would be darkened with personal jets costing $300,000 or less and the piston engines demise was in sight. At least one company has joined Burt on that bus. VisionAire, which is chipping away at certifying the Vantage business jet, trial-ballooned the VA-12B, a two-place sport/personal jet to be powered by a single Williams FJX-2.
VisionAire says the airplane would cruise at 300 knots and sell in the $400,000 to $500,000 range; a four-place version would cost about $700,000. (Not lacking in confidence that their wingless mock-up will pupate into a real airplane within a year, VisionAire was busily offering production positions to bedazzled wannabe jet drivers.)
Meanwhile, a more realistic incarnation of the jet dream arrived in the form of a flying prototype of the CMC Leopard jet, a four-place, all composite British personal jet predicted to cruise at 500 MPH and with a 1500-mile still-air range.
Designer Ian Chichester-Miles, who bailed out of De Havilland 20 years ago to develop new aircraft, sees the market as upscale private owners and small companies that want a fast bizjet to haul a couple of execs. Projected asking price: $1.3 million or thereabouts, a figure we found to be a realistic breath of fresh air considering the pie-in-the sky quarter-million estimates being tossed around last year.
Chichester-Miles told us CMCs initial price estimates are based on conventionally priced engines, not the low-cost FJX-2s that arent due to fly until at least next year.
On a more down-to-earth note, Cessna unveiled the revised and re-certified Cessna 206, a six-place airplane thats bound to find a niche in a single-engine utility market that has been starved for replacement airframes for a decade.
The major change from 206s or yore, of course, is a Lycoming IO-540 in place of the TCM IO-520 that powered the previous variant. As with the Cessna 172 and 182, the 206 comes standard with a Bendix/King stack and sports the same improvements Cessna applied to the 172 and 182.
Cessna claims pre-production performance as expected, meaning about 143 knots in cruise. Thanks to more accessories considered standard rather than optional and improvements such as better soundproofing, payload is nearly 200 pounds less than the 1986 206 had.
Base price on a VFR-equipped 206 is $304,900 and for an IFR model, $314,900. The T206 turbocharged version will sell for $340,900 VFR and $350,900 IFR. First deliveries are scheduled for November.
Down the OSH midway from Cessna, Mooney told us that although it will dump the short-fuselage -J and -K models, it has begun development on the M20S, an R-model long-body to be fitted with the same Continental IO-550-G found in the Ovation but further de-rated.
The -S model-to be called the Eagle-will be Mooneys entry-level offering and although it will cruise with an Ovation, to keep costs down, it will have a sharply limited options list. Big surprise here: The only avionics choice will be a Trimble stack. Pick-and-choose panel building will apply only to the higher-priced Ovation and Bravo. (Contact 800-456-3033 or www.mooney.com.)
Diamond Aircrafts four-place follow-on to the Katana trainer-the DA40-is flying in Europe but didnt show at OSH. However, the company did display a mock-up of the cabin structure and interior. We wondered how they planned to stuff two rear seat passengers into whats a very small fuselage. The initial solution is intriguing: a generous forward-opening hatch on the left side. We thought Diamond had settled on the TCM IO-360ES for the DA40 but a company spokesman told us Lycoming may still be in the running.
Proving once again that theres gotta be an aviation computer program for every purpose, we saw a number of new computer and Internet-related products worth consideration.
Best of show goes to Cessnas computer based instruction system which the company says will revolutionize flight training. (How often have we heard that?) CBI is an ambitious system prepared for Cessna by King Schools, which is well known for its line of aviation training videos.
Not too surprisingly, then, the Cessna system contains some 25 hours of video, much of it in five-minute snippets burned into multiple CD-ROMs. The program is extensively interactive and allows the student to move through the bookwork at his own pace, acing the groundschool stuff as quickly or slowly as he wants. Embedded in the system is a flightschool management feature that allows the students CFI to track training progress through a detailed syllabus. Cessna will require its pilot centers to purchase and use the system but were told it will also be available as a $199 package to all comers and we suspect it will soon repeat the success of Cessnas little red kit, which proved a mainstay for flight training during the 1970s. Contact a local Cessna Pilot Center or www.cessna.textron.com.
Figuring owners would use their home or office computers to program and update in-cockpit GPS, Jeppesen announced a datawriter program that will allow owners to download nav data from the Internet and burn it into flash memory cards for Trimble, Garmin, Magellan and Northstar GPS.
Hardware wise, the program includes a PCMCIA cardwriter gizmo and minimal software for Windows 3.1, 95 and NT. No price was available on this product-we would guess under $200-but Jepp says itll take orders beginning later this year. Will it reduce data revision costs? Nope, says Jepp, not for now, to which we ask: Then when? For more information, contact Jeppesen at 303-799-9090 or www.jeppesen.com.
From Avantext: Aviation Safety CD, a searchable compilation of Service Difficulty Report and accidents ($499 with semi-annual revision) and a CD-ROM based compilation of FAA Advisory Circulars ($199). Contact Avantext at 610-796-2385 or www.avantext.com.
Another Internet-based AD service from AeroFlight Services, for $99 a year; contact AeroFlight at 800-756-0650 or www.aftd.com.
From Elite: The $995 TS-1000, a programmable avionics and power quadrant suitable for single engine IFR training that includes software for the Cessna 172 and Piper Arrow. Contact 800-557-7590 or www.flyelite.com.
Destination Direct, version 4.0 will soon ship. Contact 800-515-6900 or www.flightplan.com.
From Trade-A-Plane, a new pay-per-use weather service with real time radar and other instant weather data. Contact www.weathertap.com.