As EAAs AirVenture show seems to demonstrate, general aviation is nothing if not resilient. In the gloomiest of markets, weve seen the show bursting with new ideas and products but 2003 was an exception to that. For the first time in years, the show had more new stuff than we could take in during a four-day visit. The big news: engine technology.
We were shown intriguing details about Bombardiers new aircraft engines and the company unveiled in general terms how it hopes to enter the GA market with the first clean-sheet commercial engine designs in three decades.
But the real surprise came from Honda. Yes, Honda. The Japanese automaker has formed a joint venture with Teledyne Continental and with no advance warning, the two companies showed off a new engine design that might best be described as the missing evolutionary link between traditional if dated offerings from Lycoming and Continental and the bleeding-edge ideas from Bombardier. Cutting edge avionics development has always been an Oshkosh staple. This year, the background buzz seemed to center on Garmins acquisition of UPSAT and the formers push into the PFD market with the G1000 integrated primary flight display.
Bombardier unveiled more details about its bold plans to enter the GA engine market with a pair of V-6, high-RPM geared engines aimed at the light single and twin piston market. But that detail we most wanted to know about-cost-was frustratingly absent. We buttonholed the company repeatedly for some sense of what these engines will cost but were merely told they will be competitive in price.
Competitive with what? New engines? Overhauls? OEM discount deals? We dont have this critical missing piece of the puzzle. Clearly, Bombardier has invested an enormous amount of money in a project thats further along than most of us on the outside suspected. The cutaway engine model the company had at AirVenture looks as close to production hardware as we can imagine and our technical questions were met with credible answers at every turn. (Bombardier might have done better with a centrally placed booth; its engine was in a remote corner of the AirVenture grounds where only the determined few will trek.)
Although the whisper campaign suggested that these engines are automotive derivatives, this is a below-the-belt slam, in our estimation. They are clearly purpose-built designs based on Bombardier/Rotaxs experience with high RPM, geared engines of the sort it has made millions of for the marine, motorcycle and recreational trade. And Bombardier seems well aware that the U.S. market may be wary of the reliability of high-output geared powerplants, given the mixed results with previous offerings from Lycoming and Continental.
In that context, Bombardiers Klemens Dozer, director of the engine project, told us that the company has taken extraordinary steps to isolate vibration and reduce wear in the three-to-one reduction gearbox that knocks the 6000 RPM engine speeds down to under 2000 RPM at the prop.
The engine has a countershaft to isolate harmonics, a silicone-filled flywheel for vibration dampening and a torsion bar to protect the gear train against power-pulse induced loading. The torsion bar also serves as a kind of fuse, shearing off in the event of a prop strike and thus-theoretically-protecting the crankshaft.
The engine is, of course, fuel injected, using a sequential system similar to modern cars, all of it operated by what Bombardier calls a two-lane FADEC-another term for dual channel-contained in a dual sandwiched box mounted on the firewall or elsewhere. Reversion for this system is electric; the engine has three alternators, two are internal, one an external belt drive.
Bombardier is becoming increasingly aware that fuel economy may be an issue in marketing these engines and it insists that despite the gearing and high RPM-both of which generate efficiency robbing friction-these new engines will have fuel specifics competitive with current engines. We were told the 220 HP variant will deliver a brake specific fuel consumption of .42 pounds while the 300 HP model will deliver .41. Bombardier says early engineering data suggests theyll perform better than this. Were skeptical, given the history of geared engines, but we remain open minded.
We asked Dozer about the Bombardier FADECs leaning scheduling and he explained that theres little concern about whether the engine is run rich or lean of peak EGTs. The FADEC aims for a run state more familiar to auto engineers than aircraft gear heads. Its called Lamba 1 and corresponds to stoichiometric conditions or an ideal air-to-fuel ratio of about 15 to 1. With water cooling, actual CHTs and EGTs are of less concern since the cooling system will suppress spikey temps that air cooling cant handle.
Dozer explained that the FADEC is programmed to operate the engine to a set of mapped parameters, using data from closed loop sensors to measure performance against the mapped requirements. The engine has whats called adaptive learning knock sensing, which detects the onset of detonation and retards timing to reduce or eliminate it, thus its minimum octane can be as low as 91 RON for the normally aspirated model. (For more, see www.VaircraftEngines.com.)
Bombardier will likely find competition from Teledyne Continental, which continues to push its Aerosance PowerLink FADEC system and possibly from auto/motorcycle giant Honda. Last year, we heard persistent rumors that Honda had joined Continental in an engine development project, a development confirmed last March.
To the surprise of many, both companies quietly showed the results at AirVenture: a 225-HP four-cylinder, water-cooled horizontally opposed engine looking much like a traditional aircraft engine, save for the cooling jackets around the cylinders. No gearing on this project; its direct drive at 2700 RPM and a displacement of 370 cubic inches.
Unlike most work-a-day Japanese auto engines, Honda resisted the temptation to use an overhead cam, favoring pushrods instead, at least on the prototype we were shown. The engines run speed is too slow to benefit much from top cams and it would make the entire package four to six inches wider. The Honda design has four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 9.5 to 1. Hondas Haruo Nakayama, the chief engineer on the project, said the engine can burn either mogas or 100LL, despite the high compression ratio, because its ignition system is the Aerosance FADEC, with modified software and an automotive-type fuel injector nozzle. Interestingly, Nakayama said the Honda design wont necessarily have a single-lever power control but may retain pilot-controlled RPM to maximize operating choice and efficiency. He said initial test runs of the engine have delivered fuel specifics of .37 BSFC.
Can the thing be scaled up to six cylinders and 300 HP? Yes, says, Nakayama. If the design is fielded, it likely will appear in that form. By its AirVenture debut, it had accumulated 10 flight hours in a modified Cessna 337 plus test cell runs.
One thing we liked about the Honda/Continental joint engine is that it appears mechanically robust, with a short, beefy crankshaft with five main bearings, an unusual amount of structure for a four-banger. The engine is also physically small and, at 200 pounds, it appears lighter than the Bombardier offering for equivalent horsepower. Continentals Bryan Lewis told us this engine is a joint feasibility project; no timeline was given for introduction.
Lewis also said Continentals GAP diesel project is being revived for possible introduction to the market in a larger horsepower variant. Recall that Continental developed the diesel under a matching grant from NASAs General Aviation Propulsion project, flew it briefly and then shelved the project, citing lack of market vigor. Given the success of diesels in Europe and budding interest in the U.S., Lewis says Continental is reconsidering the diesel, perhaps as a six-cylinder design in the 280 to 300-HP range.
And indeed, diesels are gaining marketshare. Diamond Aircraft told us it has sold 25 of its DA40-TDI aircraft in Europe, a four-place design powered by the Thielert Centurion 1.7 (formerly the TAE 125) direct injection diesel.
Diamond continues to move forward with certification for the DA42 Twin Star, which has a pair of Thielert diesels. On this side of the Atlantic, Cirrus has its diesel project with the SMA 305 on a slow boil but Maule is moving forward. At AirVenture, it had on display its new diesel-powered M-9 model, which chugs along at 140 knots burning about 11 GPH. With 85 gallons of Jet-A aboard, the M-9 can put 1000 miles behind it without a fuel stop.
On the avionics front, glass cockpits continue to attract much of the attention if not all of the buyers. While Avidyne currently enjoys the edge in certified aircraft PFDs, Garmin is close behind with the G1000, its version of the be-all, end-all integrated solution to flight control and display. When Garmin announced this developmental project some months ago, the Cessna Mustang was cited as the potential launch customer but the system will almost certainly appear first in Diamonds DA42 TwinStar, albeit it in a different configuration.
In the Mustang, the system will have three screens, one combined primary flight display for each pilot and an enormous multi-function display with mapping, weather, traffic and datalink capability between the two flight displays. In smaller aircraft, the system will probably have only two screens, one for the flight display, one for the map functions.
Whats different about Garmins design is the degree to which it integrates everything-navigation, communication, engine monitoring, weather, autopilot-into the display system itself. The easiest way to grasp this is to imagine the front ends of a couple of GNS530s sawed off, with the buttons and displays carried over to front of the G1000 itself. This means all of the screens are festooned with labeled knobs, buttons and softkeys. As shown in the photo, most of the show is contained on the G1000 itself; other than power and flight controls, theres not much else on the aircrafts panel.
In the brief demonstration we were given at OSH, it seems clear that anyone familiar with a GNS430/530 would be able to make the G1000 do its basic tricks. Higher order functions-the datalink, integrated engine monitoring, radar and so forth-would take some training but Garmin boxes have become increasingly easier to operate with each new product.
For Garmin, the G1000 represents the leading edge of an astonishing array of new products, all intended to be integrated by the display system itself. These include new versions of the GNS530 designed to live remotely, either behind the display itself or elsewhere in the airplane, the GFC700, a new autopilot, the GDL69A, an XMSatellite datalink/entertainment box, the GRS77 AHRS to provide attitude information for the displays and the GWX68, a redo of the KWX-56 radar Garmin bought from Narco a few years ago. Well have more detail on these products as they emerge but the key thing to know is that Garmins new strategy is to tie all of the remote capability together into an integrated display using either its own boxes or those built by others.
Other developments from Garmin: WAAS upgrades for the GNS400/500 series will be available for less than $1500 by end of 2004; for $500, you can add terrain detail/warning to 400/500 series boxes and, last, the 500-series navigators can upgrade to Class-B TAWS terrain avoidance for $6495 by the end of this year. (Contact www.garmin.com.)
Although it didnt develop the capability itself, Garmin is buying into the emerging automatic dependent surveillance (ADS-B) technology with its pending purchase of UPSAT. ADS-B has been at the talking stages for a decade and its now finally being fielded in a limited way by UPSAT, which makes a box called a universal access transceiver or UAT, the emerging, FAA-approved standard for ADS-B.
ADS-B relies on a transceiver to receive data broadcast from ground-based wide-bandwidth 978 MHz UHF sources. That ground network still doesnt exist in other than a test mode but Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will equip its training fleets in Daytona Beach, Florida and Prescott, Arizona with UAT boxes and the FAA has agreed to build the local ground sites.
UPSATs Doug Helton told us that the school needs two of ADS-Bs capabilities: air-to-air-based collision/traffic avoidance and flight tracking data transmitted to dispatch back at the airport.
In addition to those capabilities, thanks to its high bandwidth, ADS-B will also broadcast TIS-B and FIS-B. TIS is the ground-based traffic avoidance technology similar to that deployed through Garmins GTX330 Mode-S transponder and FIS-B will offer the FAAs free weather channel, including NEXRAD, METARs and TAFs, among other products.
Although the FAA has agreed to build out the ADS-B system, the lack of a firm schedule has stunted the advance of this technology. The ERAU project represents the first large-scale commercial fielding of ADS-B. If it catches on, its advantage over pay-per-view datalink is that for the price of the UAT box (about $6500) and a display such as UPSATs MX20, you can have traffic, weather and messaging with no additional ongoing costs. (Contact www.upsat.com.)
Other avionics items of note: WSI has achieved certification of its weather datalink system, the satellite-based Inflight AV200. The WSI systems use geosynchronous satellites to continuously broadcast weather data to the cockpit. Cost of the certified system is $4995. Contact www.wsi.com for more information and a list of displays suitable for the WSI box.
WXWorx has advanced its weather datalink system using XM Satellites wide area broadcast system. It was demonstrating a portable, non-certified XM data receiver that will display a range of proprietary weather products on electronic flight bags or tablet-type computers. Price: $600 to $700 plus monthly fees for the service, which start at $49.99. See www.wxworx.com for more.
Vision Microsystems announced the ADM2000, an eye-catching color follow-on to the VM1000 power/engine display system thats finding its way into more certified aircraft. The ADM2000 includes gear warning, trim indicators, tape-type engine gauges and graphical analog instrumentation. Cost is $4990 for the non-TSOd version. TSO plans are in the future. Contact www.visionmicrosystems.com.
From Shadin, we got a look at the AMS-2000 altitude management and warning system, which uses Mode-C derived data to do time-based altitude alerting, density altitude display, engine performance and other performance items of interest. Contact www.shadin.com. Also worth a mention: Shadin says you can now interface any NMEA-format portable GPS-and thats most of them-with a MicroFlowL fuel totalizer through a panel jack.
Continuing its philosophy of cutting edge headsets, Bose has an improved version of its Headset X. It has a smaller control module, power-conserving circuitry with a battery-life indicator and an upgraded mic boom. Retail price of the new headset is $995. Bose says the upgraded module can be retrofitted to older Headset Xs. Contact www.bose.com.
Peltor also introduced a new noise-canceling model called the ANR ProGT. The new model has full stereo capability, auto shutoff for the power supply and improved gel seals. Retail price is $660, with a lifetime warranty. Contact Peltor at www.peltor.com.