Oshkosh 2005: The Jets Finally Arrive

Thus far, very light jets have been mainly marketing puffery. This year, four actually arrived, including a surprise visit from Honda.

If Oshkosh 2002 proved to be the year of the very light jet, OSH 2005 was the year the jets actually showed up, one right on time, one late and one few of us were sure even existed. You could poke your nose into the cabins and size up the things instead of numbly filing through a mock-up equipped with dummy avionics.

Many eyes fell on the Eclipse 500, a jet project launched and pursued with such unparalleled hyperbole that we wondered if the real thing could ever measure up, but the airplane certainly drew plenty of attention. It might have drawn more if its triumphant first-ever arrival at OSH hadnt been number two on final behind Burt Rutans SpaceShipOne. (Note to the marketing department: need to work on scheduling.)

At a distance, both the Eclipse and its rival, the Cessna Mustang, look like what weve started to call JAWJ for just another white jet. Up close, however, the Eclipse is startlingly small compared to the Mustang, in a way that a V35 Bonanza towers over a low-slung Mooney, even though both Bo and Mo are four-place airplanes. The Mustangs wings are nearly chest-high, the Eclipse wings hit you about mid-thigh. Cabin size and volume hold true to this first impression; the Eclipse feels snug, the Mustang more capacious.

At a press briefing, Cessna engineer Jon Carr said the Mustang will hit or be near its original target weights, which allowed carrying 600 pounds in the cabin with full fuel on a 7800-pound gross weight. Eclipse, on the other hand, has both ratcheted up its asking price-it now stands at $1.275 million in 2000 dollars-and scaled back the airplanes potential payload from its introductory claims, a point which the straw hats staffing the Cessna booth noted in passing.

But give Eclipse this: The airplane is finally flying and on flyby demos, it looked terrific and we think airport neighbors will love its Pratt 610F engines. Theyre whisper-quiet and so small that we marvel at how they ever produce the claimed thrust.

Less good looking is the surprise crasher to the jet party: the HondaJet.It showed up later in the show, proving that Honda does indeed have more than passing interest in the airplane market. (Toyota, where are you?) With its bizarre upper-wing pylon mounted engines, the Honda is anything but a JAWJ.Indeed, General Electric, with whom Honda has partnered to offer engines in the 1600- to 1700-pound thrust category, says its looking for an innovative airframer to launch what it says are essentially production-ready engines.

But with Pratt and Williams at the head of the line in whats already looking to be a saturated market, Honda and GE are late to the action and theyll need a clever hook to draw away potential buyers from Eclipse and others. The Honda is intended as a proof-of-concept for the engine market, but its test program is being carried out as a certification effort. Although GE reportedly offered advice and tweaks, the engine is largely the effort of Honda R&D.

While Eclipse and Cessna fight it out, another innovator quietly introduced yet one more jet. Epic startled the market a year ago by arriving at OSH with a flying prototype of a huge single-engine turboprop, the Epic LT. That airplane is being marketed as a build-your-own experimental first, with certification to follow. At OSH 2005, Epic showed a mock-up of its follow-on concept: a seven-passenger jet powered by a couple of Williams FJ33s. Like the turboprop, the Epic jet will be introduced as an experimental with certification to follow. The experimental version will sell for $1.5 million, says Epic, with the certified version selling for $2 million.Although the jet-as-a-kit idea seems like a reach, dont count these guys out. They delivered the turboprop when they said they would and we were told that that 10 experimental versions of the airplane are underway in Bend, Oregon, home of the companys factory. See www.epicaircraft.com.

Engine Developments
Three years ago at OSH, Bombardier made quite a ripple with its proposed V-6 aircraft engines, one with 220 HP and another turbocharged version of 300 HP.Just as quickly as it emerged, the project seemed to sink into the marketing muck, eclipsed by the hoopla over Thielerts diesels. This year, the company came roaring back and it looks serious.

The Bombardier mothership sold off some of its businesses, including the recreational products line and the aircraft engine business. The segment following through on the V-6 engines has been reconstituted as Aircraft Engine Services, based in Titusville, Florida. (see www.vaircraftengine.com

The big news is that AES says it has an OEM launch customer but it declined to say who it might be, explaining the airplane company wanted to make the announcement itself. While were waiting for that to be revealed, AES is busy setting up a service, repair, overhaul and warranty network, something it will need to be taken seriously by any OEM.

Were pretty sure Cirrus isnt the OEM, but we shopped the idea with Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier who told us he likes the potential smoothness and power of the V-design. Because Cirrus doesnt have a turbocharged model in its line, the V300T might offer Cirrus the potential to leapfrog past rival Columbia Aircraft, whose Columbia 400 claims to be the fastest production single. But Klapmeier concedes adopting new engines is chancy. Test cell floggings notwithstanding, the V-engines real-world reliability is an unknown and despite AESs pledge to build a service network, its not there yet, so its unlikely that even a talented wrench swinger in, say, Fargo will want to lay a hand on it yet.

Further, if gas prices head north of $4, a high-RPM, geared engines fuel specifics may weaken the exotic designs market appeal. AES claims a .44 BSFC for the 300-HP V-6 which, if true, is respectable. On the other hand, if it can deliver 200-and-something knots, maybe buyers wont care about the gas bill.

For those skinflints who do care about fuel costs, Diamond inches ever closer to introducing diesels in the U.S. As expected, it announced FAA certification of the Thielert-powered Twin Star diesel at OSH, although it had on display for the first time in the U.S. a Lycoming-powered version.(See Aviation Consumer for August 2005 for more.) Conspicuous in the rear seat of the Lycoming variant was a honking big ferry tank necessary to get the airplane across the pond from Austria. Could that be the reason show attendees seemed more interested in the diesel version than the gas version, or was it our imagination?

We prowled the Diamond booth and asked around and our impression is that the diesel is still the big hit. From a perch inside the cockpit of the Twin Star, Bonanza owner Greg Short told us this: With gas engines, this is just another twin. But with diesels, its really something interesting. He told us he would give up some cruise speed for the diesels fuel economy, smoothness and ease of operation. Increasingly, were becoming convinced that Diamond will find strong demand for the diesel twin in the U.S. At the show, the FAA awarded Diamond its type certificate for the diesel twins but deliveries wont commence until next year. One flight school-Utah Valley State College-has already ordered two. See www.diamondair.com for more details.

OSH has always been a first-see venue for new avionics and 2005 continued the tradition, albeit with fewer jaw-dropping gadgets. Garmins GPSmap 396 topped the leaderboard, with all of the demo booths packed solid with oglers. By day three of the show, limited supplies of the unit seemed to be long gone.

One complaint about the 396 filtered back to us: The XM antenna has a magnet which will disturb a wet compass. If you still rely on the compass in an age when navigation consists of pointing the miniature airplane at the magenta line, move the magnet away from the compass or complain to Garmin.Were told that if enough buyers beef about the magnet, Garmin will remove it. Its there because the antenna is an all-purpose vehicle mount meant for other markets.

We wondered if the 396 would kill sales of PDA-based navigators capable of receiving XM weather. Our observation is that it probably wont. I can get into the game much cheaper with a PDA, kit builder Bob Noffs told us, and Im not interested in the weather data. Ill look at the 396, but it looks too expensive for me. Nonetheless, some kit builders-and spam can owners, for that matter-may insist on turning the GPSmap 396 into what it essentially is: a cheap PFD. A new company called AirGizmos (www.airgizmos.com) makes a nifty little gadget that fits into the panel and turns the 296/396 into a snap-in/snap-out panel mount device. We think it could sneak under the radar in a certified airplane with a Form 337 sent to a reasonable FSDO. (Let us know if you find one.)

One of the more intriguing products we saw this year comes from a company called Xerion, which appears to have sprung full-blown into OSH with an engine monitor called the AuRACLE. It has a large TFT color screen and offers all of the features buyers of monitors have come to expect, plus an impressive range of monitoring and analysis tools.

Xerions timing may be perfect, given that JP Instruments seems to have turned off some buyers with its customer service policies and many may be looking for a more customercentric alternative. One thing that could be a problem is its high price-$3195 complete-and its relatively large size, at 6 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches. The instrument is designed to legally replace the tachometer, CHTs and other gauges, but it isnt certified yet so we dont know if the FAA will play that game. If the replacements dont work out, some owners will have trouble finding room for the AuRACLE. Nonetheless, in our view, this one shows promise. See www.xerionavionix.com.

In the Garmin GPSmap 396 reviewed elsewhere in this issue, we opine that the next big thing in cockpit displays will be compact, more capable tablet computers without wires. OSH 2005 showed us that its already happening. A company called Motion Computing has made inroads with well-regarded, durable tablets and their latest entry-the LS800-measures 6 by 9 inches overall or roughly the size and aspect of a Jepp plate. It has wireless everything and a three-hour battery so it shows promise as an affordable alternative to clunky laptops and tablets or PDAs.

Other avionics briefs: SureCheck is or was known for its line of portable traffic avoidance devices. The business has formed a new unit called Zaon Flight Systems and are planning two new portables, one that offers azimuth detection by quadrant ($1795) and a smaller unit for $499 that offers range and relative altitude. Both are supposed to be available in November. Contact www.zaonflight.com.

LightSPEED Aviation rolled out the new Mach 1 lightweight, in-the-ear headset, which seemed to draw plenty of interest. Just in time to mate up with XM Radio, it has stereo capability and a cellphone interface. At $525, its not cheap, but its nicely made of brushed magnesium. Look for a review of it later this year. See www.anrheadsets.com for more.

Both Peltor and Telex also brought out new headsets. Peltor showed a new passive noise headset, the H52, which adds music interface and cellphone capability to an inexpensive conventional headset. Price is about $180; see www.peltoraviation.com.Telex had the active noise Stratus 50D with a cellphone and music interface, at $875 retail. (www.telex.com)

Short Takes
Precise Flight now has a mechanical oxygen conservator for built-in oxygen systems. We reviewed the portable model in the October 2003 issue. Cost is $495.

Another new oxygen gadget comes from Precise Marketing, which is selling a pulse oximeter to compete with the Nonin. At $275, the so-called Checkmate is at least $50 cheaper than the Nonin. Contact 516-625-3484 for more.

Precise Flight has also introduced a new HID-based superbright landing light system to compete with the LoPresti Boom Beam. Price is about $550.Check with Precise Flight (www.preciseflight.com) for STC applications.

Sunshine Makers is pushing a new product called Extreme Simple Green Aircraft and Precision Cleaner as both an interior and an exterior cleaner for aircraft. Contact www.simplegreen.com for more info.

We looked over Jeppesens new NavSuite, which integrates three popular software products, Jepp-View, FlightDeck and FlightStar, the companys flight planning program. Interestingly, the integrated products price varies according to the area of charge coverage. See www.jeppesen.com for more.

Kelly Aerospace continues to expand its line of aftermarket starters and alternators. One accessory that caught our eye adds a high-tech feature to a dumb-as-a-rock accessory. Its a new line of starters that replaces a mechanical Bendix drive with an electronic speed sensor that disconnects the starter when the engine fires and gets up to speed. These so-called E drive starters are mainly meant as replacements for conventional-and heavier-starters on Lycoming engines.

For Continental engines, Kelly has developed permanent magnet lightweight starters that work with TCMs often troublesome starter adapter drive. These are equipped with a momentary clutch disconnect to protect the starter adapter from damage. For more, see www.kellyaerospace.com.