Lycoming's IE2: Perfect Timing?
Now that Sun 'n Fun 2010 has had a chance to cool, what's the verdict? I arrive at these shows looking for cutting edge products that indicate the industry is bullish in the near and longer term future. In this regard, this year's show was slower than most but, frankly, I wasn't expecting much given the economy.
One thing that caught my eye was Lycoming's IE2 engine project, which appears to be making measurable progress. The engine is flying in Lancair's big Evolution project and in this video, the company's Doug Meyer gave us a detailed update on the project.
More important, the hardware itself looks convincing—not just a bunch of breadboxes wired together to make a passable presentation. We don't really know enough about the details of the operation and software to make anything like an informed judgment yet, but the thing clearly isn't standing still, either. Meyer told us these engines will be ready when the kit is ready to ship in about six months in late fall or early winter of next year. He also said some variant of the engine will be certified—if not deliverable—later this year.
Lycoming has moved the project forward along the automotive paradigm, with pulsed fuel injection, variable timing and knock sensors as the basis of detonation control. TCM tried the same strategy—less the knock sensors—with what became the PowerLink FADEC. That system has been fielded for quite some time, but response to it has been lukewarm.
Would-be buyers we've interviewed found the TCM FADEC intriguing, but not so much to buy it. The perceived benefits of such a system simply weren't obvious.
Will Lycoming fare any better? Possibly. Having a high-profile project like the Evo as a launch customer can't hurt and the timing is much better. The EPA has now put a more certain date on the elimination of lead in avgas and this seems certain to recalibrate the industry's mindset, which has basically been head in the sand—or head up the you know what—for more than 20 years.
By any standards—much less the reduced circumstances of 2010—the Lycoming development project is a big deal. It's tempting to say it's overdue, but that's simply not the case, as Continental learned by launching its electronic engine into a market where the demise of leaded fuel was still 20 years away.
They must have been reading our chicken little stories about avgas. Unfortunately, lots of people did.