Why Rotax Built an Eco-Engine
Sometimes I feel like a bug smashed on the windshield of aviation progress. At least that's the impression I got on Thursday at Rotax's giant factory here in Gunskirchen, Austria, when I walked into a big product display tent set up on factory grounds. This was one of those giant Taj Mahal-type tents reminiscent of Eclipse's glory days and it was wingtip to wingtip with 10 LSAs already equipped with Rotax's new flagship aviation engine, the 912iS.
Major new product rollouts like the 912iS don't happen often and they happen even less in the engine segment. The typical product rollout is one third trial balloon, one third fanciful work by the modeling department and one third crafty press release prose. Not Rotax. In addition to the 10 airplanes already fitted with the 912iS, a trial production line was moving along with the first 50 engines and the company says it's about six weeks away from shipping the things. Many of the BRP workers were already sporting well-worn 912iS logo wear. Clearly, Rotax has been at this for a long time—at least a couple of years and a thousand hours of testing, including flight time.
What's this going to mean to the market? A good question. The 912iS, which BRP/Rotax is marketing as an eco-engine, will carry something like a 20 percent premium over the legacy 912 series, which will remain available. For the addition bucks (or Euros), you get a more efficient engine with sophisticated self-diagnostics than even an owner can use. (Rotax has developed software that will run on PCs to download fault codes and operating data in plain language.) In short, your airplane engine is getting closer to your car engine and it's about time, thanks very much.
I don't have good specific fuel consumption numbers yet, but for planning purposes, Rotax says the 912iS is 20 percent more efficient. That's the difference between 4.2 GPH and 3.4 GPH in cruise or a BSFC from the mid .4s where the carbureted 912 runs to the high .30's, which would be a considerable achievement if it turns out to be accurate. But what BRP has its eyes on—and you won't like reading this if you are a U.S. pilot—is carbon emissions. A typical 912 spits out 85 pounds of CO2 per hour compared to 68 pounds for the 912iS.
Here in Europe, they take the carbon thing more seriously than we do in the U.S. because we have politicized CO2 emissions to the point that any suggestion of a need to reduce carbon pollution is taken as hogwash—the lunatic ravings of the green crazies. BRP, which makes its living building engines to stoke the hydrocarbon lifestyle, doesn't have the pleasure of denial. They see which way the world is going on CO2 regulation and rather than fight it, they aim to be ready with more efficient, lower emissions engines and that's what the 912iS is. BRP is applying similar technology in its other markets because it wants to give its customers more efficient options to reduce fuel costs and it believes it has to pay more than lip service to lower carbon emissions. Whether it's right or wrong—I think it's right—it's well positioned to move forward into an age when light aircraft fuel efficiency is going to matter. We are, in fact, already there. Like the 912, by the way, the 912iS will also burn mogas up to E10.
We'll have more reporting on European swing later this week.