AVwebFlash - Volume 20, Number 17a

October 30, 2013

Redbird Cheap Gas Experiment: A Lasting Effect?

 

Redbird’s San Marcos, Texas, Skyport made quite a splash earlier in October when it sold avgas for two weeks at a buck a gallon. Yet two weeks after the cheap gas experiment ended, flight activity is still up threefold at the airport, according to Redbird CEO Jerry Gregoire. Redbird launched the cheap gas experiment on October 1 as a means of finding out whether the cost of fuel really is a major driver in lack of flight activity. They found out. 

“We’re glad to say the demand is out there to fly. It surprised us quite a bit. We expected in the first two weeks to sell about 16,000 gallons where we would have normally sold about 2000 gallons in that period of time. We ended up selling 90,000 gallons,” Gregoire said in this podcast recorded during the company’s third annual Migration training and industry conference this week.

Another surprise, said Gregoire, is that the buck-a-gallon experiment seems to have had a pump priming effect.

“Now what we’re seeing after this is that the amount of flying into this airport and the flights scheduled into this area are up about threefold on a daily basis since that promotion ended,” Gregoire said.

“It can’t be coincidence. Some portion of it has to be that once brought back to flying and reminded of how much fun it is and getting the airplane ready to fly so they could buy the dollar gas, they’re flying again,” he added.

In exchange for gas at a dollar a gallon, Redbird interviewed more that 1600 pilots flying in a total of about 1000 airplanes, some of whom made multiple flights into San Marcos. One flight school moved its entire operation to San Marcos temporarily for just the fuel experiment. Pilots were asked about how much they fly, where they fly and what type of flight they typically make. Interestingly, almost a quarter—23 percent—said they hadn’t flown in at least a year before the cheap fuel became available.

“Imagine this for a second. You have five valves that you can use to control the aspects of the cost of aviation. Now we had the ability to pull one of those valves and we pulled it all the way out at a dollar to see what would happen. Well, since we know that works, what if we could pull all five of valves out just a little bit, to help bring aviation back?” Gregoire said.

Although the price of fuel can’t be adjusted much if at all, consumption certainly can be, which is the root idea behind Redbird’s diesel Redhawk project. Gregoire said it may be possible to make incremental cost reductions in other areas, including maintenance and training. Those topics were scheduled to be on the table for discussion as the Migration conference continued this week.

More than 300 industry professionals attended Migration, up substantially from last year. “We’ve got a lot of the best thinkers in the industry talking to each other. You get a lot done. These kinds of personal relationships mean a lot in general aviation,” Gregoire said.

Podcast: The Long and Short of $1 Avgas

How many pilots will come out for $1 avgas?  A lot.  Even some who have given up flying.  At Redbird's third annual Migration training conference, Jerry Gregoire debriefed us on the success of Redbird's recent promotion -- and its potential implications for the future of aviation fuel.

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Diesel Redhawks: Leasing Program to Take Flight

 

Just three months after it announced its diesel Redhawk conversion aircraft, Redbird says it’s finalizing plans to lease the airplane to flight schools on a power-by-the-hour basis and it hopes to buy as many as 30 conversion aircraft by the end of the year. 

During this week’s Migration training and industry conference in San Marcos, Texas, Redbird was showing off the second completed Redhawk conversion and a third was under way in the company’s shop. Redbird unveiled the Redhawk at AirVenture in July. The airplane is a remanufactured vintage Cessna 172 equipped with a Continental Centurion 2.0 diesel engine, a modern glass panel and avionics, an upgraded interior and fresh paint. The target price was planned for $200,000, but Redbird CEO Jerry Gregoire told us the real number may be closer to $225,000. But that still competes well against a new Skyhawk costing more than $400,000.

In this podcast recorded in San Marcos, Redbird’s Roger Sharp said Brown Aviation Lease has agreed to take on and place a batch of Redhawks in schools that can put them to work. Sharp said the first year’s worth of production is already spoken for and he told AVweb that several conference attendees approached him about getting their own 172 converted.

“They’re [Brown] are going to partner with us for a specific number of airplanes to do a power-by-the-hour program. The flight school taking on the airplane would pay a fee up front to acquire the airplane, it will be a modest fee, and they will pay by the hour at a cost that can be passed on to the customer that’s palatable,” Sharp said. If a school finds it can’t generate the hours, it could turn the airplane back in without a penalty or acquire more if demand warrants. The program is intended to allow flight schools to have a modern, state-of-the-art airplane that’s also economical without a large financial commitment.

Exact costs of per-hour leasing? Not available yet, said Sharp, because Redbird is only on its third conversion and hasn’t settled on stable processes and prices with vendors.

One critical part of the puzzle, Sharp said, it getting a higher TBR on the Continental Centurion diesel that’s the anchor point of the conversion. “The more data we can get for Continental on the maintainability of the engine, the faster they can get the engine life period extended. That’s important in the long run for the economics of the engine,” Sharp added. Sharp said Redbird’s Skyport will be the consumer for the first six airplanes which, in addition to being active flight school aircraft, will also serve as test articles for various components. Sharp said the first airplanes may go to Brown as early as next February.

Podcast: Diesel for the People -- Making RedHawks Available to Flight Schools

By now, you're likely familiar with Redbird's diesel-powered Cessna Skyhawk conversions (called "RedHawks").  At the Redbird Migration conference in San Marcos, Paul Bertorelli asked Roger Sharp when and flight schools can get their hands on them.

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Video: Redbird's Game Theory Flight Training Idea

Game theory is gaining favor as a means of training in all sorts of disciplines, and now Redbird wants to try it with aviation.  At the company's third annual Migration training conference in San Marcos, Texas on Tuesday, Redbird's Jeff Van West explained the new program.  It's currently in the experimental and testing phase but could be ready for a more complete rollout in three years or so.

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New Details, More Questions In Nashville Crash

A Canadian newspaper is reporting that the pilot of a Cessna 172 who died in unusual circumstances in a crash at Nashville International Airport early Tuesday has the same name as a convicted bank robber  facing recent pornography charges who said he was embarking on a 30-minute flight. The Windsor Star says it has confirmed the identity of the pilot as 45-year-old Michael Callan.  A Michael Callan of the same age "has a criminal record dating back to the late 1990s in Windsor, including a number of violent bank robberies," according to the Star. Callan filed a flight plan from Windsor to Pelee Island, about 30 minutes away, and closed that flight plan. It's not known if he actually landed there but sometime after 2:45 a.m. the 172 crashed at Nashville, about 500 miles from Pelee Island, and Callan died. There was dense fog at the time. It took up to seven hours to discover the burned-out 172 and authorities have said that no one heard a radio call requesting landing permission or issuing a distress call. The FAA and NTSB are investigating.

Callan was a member of the Windsor Flying Club and the club apparently knew something about the past referred to by the newspaper but decided it wasn't relevant to his flying activities. “What I did was establish that he was a pretty good pilot,” Club President David Gillies told the Star. “He has a legitimate pilots’ license and medical, a night rating, quite a few hours behind him and zero infractions while flying an airplane. In 2011 when he came back to us and asked us if he could re-join the club, the board discussed it and said well, who are we to judge? And in he comes. And he was allowed back into the club again.” The paper says the bank robber Callan was also facing charges related to his openly watching porn on his computer at a library and on transit buses. The charges resulted from a crackdown on child pornography by police in Windsor.

Spacecraft Test Flight Ends With Gear Damage

Photo: NASA

A full-scale test article built by Sierra Nevada Corporation in support of its effort to build a commercial crew and cargo vehicle that would serve the International Space Station flew freely for the first time last Saturday, completing a smooth descent and landing, but it then skidded off the runway when one landing gear failed to properly deploy. The lifting-body Dream Chaser autonomous test vehicle was carried to 12,500 feet by an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter above Edwards Air Force Base. After its release, the company said, "The vehicle adhered to the design flight trajectory throughout the flight profile." Less than a minute later, Dream Chaser smoothly flared and touched down at 160 knots on the runway centerline, but the left main gear did not extend, and the aircraft skidded off the side of the runway.

Mark Sirangelo, space systems chief for SNC, said at a news conference on Tuesday that damage to the craft was light and repairable. Also, he noted that the gear used on the test vehicle is not the same design that's intended for the final spacecraft. The crew compartment was undamaged, and if a crew had been aboard, they would have been unhurt, he said. Sirangelo added that despite the gear problem, he considers the flight test a success. "What we did come away with was terrific data," Sirangelo said. "We have been able to design, build and fly a new lifting-body autonomous aircraft." He said the vehicle can probably be repaired and used for further flight tests. A vehicle that will be used for orbital test flights is already in the works, he said. He added that the accident isn't likely to have a significant impact on the project's schedule. SNC is in competition with SpaceX and Boeing to design a replacement for the Space Shuttle.

 

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Another LSA Amphibian Unveiled (Updated)

Image courtesy of Vickers Aircraft

Vickers Aircraft has unveiled a new LSA amphibian design powered by a Lycoming IO-360 engine that they say will be ready to start deliveries by next summer. The Wave prototype, which has been in the works for about three years, hasn't yet flown, but it's "80 percent finished," company director Paul Vickers told AVweb this week. "We have achieved our production weights on completed assemblies that include wings and tail," Vickers said. The components are built from a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber. "We can state with confidence that we will achieve our design weight to enable the Wave to be certified LSA," he said. It will sell for under $180,000, he added.

Vickers said the Wave amphib will have a useful load of 500 pounds, a three-blade 72-inch prop custom-designed by Catto Propellers, wings that fold with the push of a button, and an optional ballistic chute. The amphib will compete in a crowded field, including the Icon A5, which it strongly resembles. Icon recently said it will roll out its first pre-production aircraft next summer, and plans to build three more to complete the ASTM compliance process before starting deliveries. Lisa Airplanes, based in France, also is working on an LSA amphibian, with funding from China. Vickers says the Wave amphib will be able to fly at 120 knots for up to 720 nm, burning either avgas or auto gas. He said the company plans to have its prototype flying soon and use it for flight testing, and will have a second aircraft ready to deliver perhaps as soon as EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh in 2014.

For Alaska Flying, A Twin-Engine Bushplane

The video posted online recently of an unusual bushplane diving off the edge of a cliff is an attention-getter -- the tiny, two-seat, two-engine, bubble-canopied, tundra-tired airplane shows off some extreme flying capabilities. But those capabilities are not just for show, Alec Wild told AVweb this week. Wild, a wildlife conservationist living in Kenya, says the DoubleEnder evolved from "years of experience bush-flying and dreaming about what could be improved upon." The goal behind the project "was to make a better airplane, not necessarily the most marketable airplane," he said. When the design is finalized, he said, the aircraft may be offered for sale as a kit.

Wild said the airplane may be on display at the next trade show hosted by the Alaska Airmen's Association, in Anchorage next May, and also may compete in the STOL competition in Valdez, also in May. Wild added that he has been flying the DoubleEnder since its first test flight, in 2010. Safety was the single most important factor in designing the airplane, according to the developers' website. "It was designed to counter the most common causes of accidents for this type of flying. It was then given the greatest amount of visibility one can imagine, something more along the lines of what is commonly found in helicopters, rather than fixed-wing airplanes."

The instrument panel is minimalist, and the performance has been maximized for maneuverability and slow flight. "With 260 horsepower available to the pilot, the power-to-weight ratio exceeds what is normally found in this category of airplane, giving it extreme performance in regular conditions, while retaining enough power to keep you going in the event of an engine failure," says the website.

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Embraer To Build Legacy 450/500 In Florida

Embraer plans to assemble its new fly-by-wire Legacy 450 and 500 business jets at an expansion of its Melbourne, Fla, operations. The company announced Tuesday that, subject to various approvals, the company will add an assembly line for the midsize aircraft in 2014 and the first Legacy 500 will be delivered from there in 2016. Embraer currently builds Phenom 100 and 300 aircraft in Melbourne as well as operating a paint facility. It also has an engineering and technology center that will get its permanent home next year. “Some 50 percent of our executive jet deliveries go to the U.S. and more than 60 percent of the aircraft content comes from U.S. suppliers and industrial partners, so this is a natural step forward to the benefit of our customers,”  said Embraer CEO Fred Curado. 

The Brazilian planemaker also has an assembly plant in Jacksonville for the Super Tucano light attack aircraft. Florida Governor Rick Scott was on hand for the announcement. Embraer concentrated on its new midsize aircraft at last week's NBAA convention and announced that Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan will be the launch customer for the 500, which he'll get in 2014. The first 450 will be delivered in 2015. In addition to fly-by-wire controls, the two jets will include a head-up display with enhanced vision by Rockwell Collins and the 500 will have what Embraer says is the "largest cabin in its class."

NTSB: Tires Intact During SMO Crash

The NTSB has found no evidence of tire malfunctions on a Cessna Citation that crashed at Santa Monica Airport last month, according to the safety board's preliminary report. At least one eyewitness had reported at the time that a tire blew out during the landing. In its report, the NTSB said on-scene investigators found no airplane debris on the runway, and all three landing-gear tires were inflated. The tires showed no unusual wear patterns. The local tower controller said the pilot didn't express any problems over the radio before or during the landing. All four people on board were killed when the airplane ran into a hangar and a fire ensued.

Witnesses reported that the airplane made a normal approach and landing, the NTSB said. "The airplane traveled down the right side of the runway, eventually veered off the runway, impacted the 1,000-foot runway distance remaining sign, continued to travel in a right-hand turn, and impacted a hangar structural post with the right wing," according to the NTSB report. "The airplane came to rest inside the hangar and the damage to the hangar structure caused the roof to collapse onto the airplane. A post-accident fire quickly ensued." The flight had originated at Hailey, Idaho. The owner of the jet, Mark Benjamin, 63, was killed in the crash, along with his son, Luke, 28. Lauren Winkler, 28, of Irvine, and Kyla Dupont, 53, of San Diego, also died. Mark Benjamin, who is believed to have been the pilot, was CEO of a construction company, where his son worked as a project manager.

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Are the Millennials GA's Salvation?

Have you ever noticed how a word you haven’t heard for awhile all at once starts buzzing into your ears like that mosquito that snuck through the screen door? At Redbird’s third annual Migration training conference this week, the word was Millennial. We all know it as the term used to describe the generation born roughly around 1980 and now the oldest are reaching their high-achieving 30s. It’s quite natural to look at this generation as the salvation of general aviation because nothing quite focuses the mind like having no choice. Millennials, you’re it. Step into the batter’s box.

Futurist and educator Don Marinelli did an admirably humorous job of explaining to the largely flight training-oriented crowd what it is they need to understand to sell aviation to these younger prospects. Heavy on theoretical underpinnings, when Marinelli said “technology is a procedural medium that facilitates participation” when what he really meant is gadgets, like shiny objects, draw people in, I got just a flicker of a psycho-speak warning light. But I take the point. Millennials are drawn into personal agency by technology to a greater degree than was the previous generation. But only by degree, in my opinion. Who the hell do you think is buying all those tablets and aviation apps?

Among many others, Marinelli ascribed to the Millennials several attributes that I found potentially at odds with becoming pilots. One, Millennials don’t read.  Two, they’re very green (as in eco conscious) and, three, they’re financially savvy, both globally and personally. The reading part relates to aspirational reading. It’s not that they’re functionally illiterate, but that Millennials tilt toward information uptake not centered on the printed word, whether on paper or in pixels. They don’t buy magazines. They’re not big readers of books. They engage across a range of information sources, which they integrate into a whole. They are therefore thought to be ripe for the innovative, tech-based and sim-centric pilot training that Redbird is developing. I think this is right. But I also think all of us will like the tech-based and sim-centric pilot training that Redbird is developing.

The green part is a problem. Millennials own fewer cars than Boomers do, use them less and drive very economical cars when they do. So let’s not get our pants snagged trying to argue that a personal airplane is green, unless it’s painted that color. Even Redbird’s super economical Redhawk is averaging 25 mpg. Some SUVs do better. Green starts north of 40 mpg. Or on a city bus.

The financial savvy can cut both ways. Those of us woozy with the passion of flight are willing to partake of it no matter what it costs and many of us devote a substantial portion of our income to do this. Our cost/value relationship is driven by our notion that flying is just the best thing we can ever be doing, otherwise how could we justify paying for a $1200 starter drive? Will Millennials, when introduced to a $150-an-hour airplane, feel the same? More important, as the 21st century unfolds to uncertain global economies, will they have jobs with sufficient income to support such a habit?

When I go to these conferences, there’s often an unchallenged assumption that just because we love airplanes and flying, everyone else exposed to it will, too. But this has never been true and it may be even less true of Gen Y. On the other hand, it will definitely be true of some of them, just as it was with the World War II generation, the Boomers and Gen Xers. That’s why I think general aviation, at least in the U.S., will always exist. It’s retrenching, yes, and will continue to do so. At the Migration dinner, Jack Pelton mentioned that just since 1992, the pilot population has declined by 100,000. The demographic forces that caused that are not permanent; they’ll swing someday. It’s just that no one knows when. Or how.

Some of the conference focused on re-imagining flight training and Redbird has this well in hand with an innovative new training idea that Jeff Van West explains in this video and the Redhawk diesel training aircraft we’ve already reported on. I like where the training proposal is going because one aspect of it rests on the supposition that you can really teach yourself most of what you need to know to earn a pilot’s certificate. You don't need a discrete ground school or a hovering instructor for everything or even much. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that. This new modular, interactive and reactive training drives right down the center of that lane.

I'm not too worried about training these new pilots. Although the economics are challenging, the training is figure-outable. And so might the marketing be. My question is what are these people going to do with their pilot certificates? Will they have the wherewithal to use airplanes for serious travel, or will they be dedicated sport flyers? Well, probably both, just as is true now. Marinelli noted that Millennials are highly attuned to experiential adventures—extreme sports—and flying may fit right in. If they’re financially savvy, maybe the concept of shared ownership will resonate more than it has with current generations of pilots. Or maybe electric airplanes will come of age—they have to eventually—and meet the Millennial generation’s design brief for ecologically sound sporting activities.

There are lots of maybes. As I’ve said before, GA is shrinking, not dying because the urge to fly will always be there in some form. The industry will turn that corner eventually. It’s just gonna be a little messy before that happens.

Join the conversation.  Read others' comments and add your own.

The View from Xi'an

Sure it’s a little smoggy in this bustling central Chinese city, and the high-rise apartment blocks shooting into the sky often blot out an infrequent sunshine fighting to burn through the mist. Construction is rampant, and locals quip the new Chinese national bird is “the crane.”

You could say my feelings were also a little smoggy when I boarded our 13-hour non-stop Air China flight from JFK to Beijing, China’s gateway. I came to this vast country not knowing what to expect, and quite comfortable in my assumptions. That is: China’s relatively sudden thrust forward in general aviation is long on hope and short on reality. I came believing China’s effort at putting on an air show and aviation conference would never rival Oshkosh or NBAA.

My prejudices were naďve and incorrect. The energy at the third annual Chinese International General Aviation Convention was palpable. And I came away believing that China has all the essentials to build and fly world-class airplanes, to train pilots for its business, commercial and even civilian sectors, and to create from scratch an entire industry to support its aeronautical ambitions. They quite actively discuss a Chinese Moon shot, certainly within the Chinese space program’s reach, and building an aviation infrastructure will be just as challenging—but just as do-able.

Still, the things we take for granted in the States don’t exist here, or are in limited supply: City-convenient airports, fuel tankering and delivery, air-route structures and nav-aids, most importantly a free and unfettered air traffic control system. Our ability to decide on any given morning to file a flight plan, enter IMC and fly in congested airspace, receive vectors and radar advisories, then safely let down precisely on an ILS are things that don’t happen routinely in this country.  But success is often written in identifying the unmet need: so American aviation leaders take note…As the City of Wichita and Cessna Aircraft Company have learned, there is opportunity where industries start small, and have a long view.

The Chinese have a driving national will, hoardes of yuan to invest, and smart leadership. China’s acquisition of leading brands and technologies like Cirrus, Mooney and Continental Motors attest to a knack for buying well those things they can’t make. There is substantial industry-government cooperation in the development of Chinese aviation, largely because in many instances the industry IS the government.

But that’s not enough. There has to be a national will to accomplish large national goals in any society. Judging from the huge crowds at the Peucheng air show—who evinced an Oshkosh-esque enthusiasm-- China’s population at all levels is simply fascinated by airplanes.

As Cessna’s Shijiazhuang-based general manager David Howard told me: “They have such tremendous enthusiasm. That’s where you start.” Their excitement suggests a significant national drive to make aviation happen in China. In America we had a century of building to establish our aerospace system. First NDBs, then VORs, now a ubiquitous GPS system. And we have heroes—the Wrights, Glenn Curtiss, Chuck Yeager, Burt Rutan—larger-than-life personalities who took us all forward. China’s sheer mass of money and talent, and the aviation sector’s vibrant energy evident in abundance in Xi’An, will in my judgment be enough to carry Chinese aviation forward.

The question is when. How long will it take?  It took the Chinese thousands of years to build The Great Wall, stretching 1500 miles east to west. Thirty-feet high and festooned with massive watch towers, each brick weighs 24 pounds and they are stacked 30 feet high. The builders of the Great Wall simply had a different concept of time than you and me…

Time, to them, was irrelevant. That’s why questions of “when” as it pertains to Chinese aviation don’t really matter. They are already solving the “if,” and the “why.” And they are well on the way to resolving the “how.” For now, these are simply details. The big picture is written on the faces of all those aviation enthusiasts in Peucheng. It’s in the smile of the little Chinese kids when they look up in the sky and see an airplane…

Join the conversation.  Read others' comments and add your own.

Video: Dassault's New Falcon 5X Long-Range Business Jet

New range, new power, new jet with more room -- from Dassault.  Unveiled at the National Business Aviation Association exhibition held in Las Vegas in October 2013, the Dassault Falcon 5X is the company's latest offering.

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Video: Beechcraft King Air 350i

Beechcraft's King lives on with new upgrades in the 350i model.

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Video: Pilatus PC-24 Business Jet Debut at NBAA

Pilatus Aircraft has seen great success with their PC-12 single-engine turboprop.  The manufacturer is now venturing into the jet market with the PC-24 twin jet -- a corporate comfort aircraft capable of flight in and out of unimproved airstrips.

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Video: Eclipse 550 First Delivery at NBAA 2013 in Las Vegas

Eclipse Aerospace president Mason Holland delivered the first Eclipse 550, boasting new upgrades to a customer at the National Business Aviation Association exhibition in Las Vegas, October 22, 2013.  The aircraft hosts avionics upgrades and enhanced and synthetic vision systems.

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Video: Nextant's King Air G90XT Powered by GE

Nextant Aerospace has hade a business of "remanufacturing" the Hawker Beechjet 400A/Hawker 400XP -- offering a new aircraft experience at a used aircraft price.  Now it's expanding that business model to the King Air, refitting the aircraft with GE engines.

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Video: Rockwell Collins Enhanced Vision Systems for Light Jets

Rockwell Collins brings enhanced vision to light jets with the EVS-3000 vision system and HGS-3500 display, which employs a new space-saving design.  The company will bring the products to market with Embraer in 2015 aboard the Legacy 450 and, later, Legacy 500 business jets.

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