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Aerodiesels: What, No Overpromise?

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If there's any overused word at an AirVenture press conference, it's "excited." The second most overused word to the point of cliche is "game changer." Considering that the last real game changer in aviation was, I dunno, the invention of the turbojet engine maybe, a clever new app with drop shadow shading and redesigned pulldown menus doesn't quite strike me as being in the same league.

Continental's foray into the diesel market may come close to shaking up the sleepy backwater of engine development, but it's going to have to prove that with demonstrated and repeatable economics. In my view, Diamond has already done that with its DA40 and DA42 models, but what it didn't really prove is that aerodiesels in the Thielert mold have the staying power of something like a Lycoming O-320 or Continental IO-550. That's the task before Continental and they're not wasting any time trying to prove it. At a press conference on Monday, Continental said it will soon have approvals for a 600-hour gearbox, which should delight stalwart owners who've been ponying up $3400 every 300 hours for years.

With its Redhawk project, Redbird drew a lot of eyeballs and although the idea is impressive enough, I was more impressed with the company's discipline in not overstating the case for diesel. In yesterday's video on the Redhawk, Jack Pelton quite deliberately stopped short of calling a diesel in a Skyhawk a game changer because no matter how successful it is, it won't be that. It will be a incremental improvement in access to flying, a marginal reduction in the cost of obtaining a rating and perhaps just a better training and flying experience. In the current state of general aviation, that's achievement enough, thanks.

At Continental's press conference on Monday, I got some fresh numbers on the cost of a Centurion 2.0 engine replacement: About $39,000 for the 2.0 and around $42,000 for the Centurion 2.0S. At a TBO of 2000 hours, that's still twice as much as the equivalent Lycoming, but as I pointed out in last week's blog, the diesel's fuel specifics give it an edge when full-cycle costs are added up. But only if it makes the higher TBR numbers; better yet if it gets to 2400 hours.

Because its training aircraft are constantly on the move, Redbird may be the lab experiment that proves the higher TBRs in the real world. And it might get there within a couple of years. If so, some crowing may be justified. But until then, the game will remain pretty much the same.

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Comments (3)

A laborttory experiment? Is that the new, combined English politician?

Posted by: Rush Strong | July 30, 2013 9:21 AM    Report this comment

Diesels are interesting but a moot point in today's world. When I started flying, it was not unusual to share a tie-down or hangar space with a local postman or even a pastor. Those fellows are long gone. Today even some doctors are having trouble floating the cost of flying. Forty grand engines are one reason.

The country's broke. Fixing that would be the REAL game changer.

Posted by: A Richie | July 30, 2013 9:26 AM    Report this comment

Certificated diesels for typical lightplanes! Game-changer? Well, at least an option-extender. The performance, reliability, and cost benefits will determine the extent and rate of adoption. But the day after leaded aviation gasoline becomes unavailable, av-diesels will be not merely a game changer - they'll be the only game left in town.

I expect the OEMs to lead the way. Cessna's there; I expect an announcement from Cirrus, shortly. Piper appears to be betting on mogas, but their production volumes are so low that it may be their safest bet. But they absolutely need a plan to certify a diesel in their M-class vehicles.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | July 30, 2013 3:01 PM    Report this comment

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