Aero: Why It's Such a Player

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As I was rushing around the halls at Aero this week, I still took the time to pause and talk to lots of people, many I know and many I just met. Like any major aviation show, Aero draws from all over the world, but there's a strong concentration of central European attendees.

If I were searching for a single phrase to describe this show, it would be that it's a self-priming pump. Nearly everyone I spoke to—especially vendors—started the conversation with how much they enjoy coming to Aero. I don't hear that as much at either AirVenture or Sun 'n Fun. There are several reasons for this, but the biggest is that Aero is operated by Messe Friedrichshafen, a professional, purpose-built trade show organization. So when vendors are setting up, they get plenty of help from the show because that's what this event is all about. In this podcast, I thought Trade-A-Plane's Cosby Stone described it well. For my part, I'd say the press office here is second to none in terms of professionalism and support. Sabine Zorell, the press center's daily ops person, takes a personal interest in the job does it superbly. There are actually two press rooms here, one at either end of the complex. Very helpful.

Second, unlike the major U.S. shows, Aero is short—just four days from Wednesday to Saturday. I could have used another day to tie up lose ends, but that's okay. As they say in the comedy biz, leave them wanting more. Ignoring the cost of airfare, the show itself isn't overly expensive to attend. A day pass is 18 Euros or about $24 bucks or $44 for two days. Hotels aren't cheap, but neither are they in Oshkosh or Lakeland during show week. Ninety Euros ($120) will buy decent accommodation, but I talked to several people who paid twice that for hotels in Friedrichshafen. (I stayed across the border in Austria.)

As far as attendance numbers, the general feeling was that it was down a little over last year, although I don't have official numbers from the Messe yet. If so, that would follow the pattern of other shows. There's definitely more North American participation. As Thomas Borchert and I mentioned in our opening-day video report, Cessna had a major presence here this year and both Cirrus and Garmin upped their games noticeably. As is typical of many of the booths here—they actually call them stands—Cirrus had a full-blown pilot shop with all the logo wear you could ever want.

All of this must-do sentiment toward Aero reflects the increasing globalization of aviation and aerospace. There's less Chinese presence at Aero than at AirVenture, last year, but there are still Chinese companies here. Brazil, Russia and all of the Euro Zone countries are well represented, both by vendors and attendees. If you want to trade globally, I'm told, Aero has to be on the agenda.

Regulatory Reform

This was much on the agenda here and it's a potentially big deal. I say "potentially," because I'm a little worried that the revision of CS23/Part 23 is being oversold in terms of its effect on the price of new airplanes. In a nutshell, regulators from around the world are coming to detailed agreement on how to streamline the basic regulatory framework for light aircraft. This could—and should—substantially reduce the cost of certifying an airplane. All good, no question.

But don't get the idea that this will make airplanes cheap. They are still going to be expensive to produce. Case in point is Pipistrel's impressive Panthera. In this video, Pipistrel's Vid Plevnik estimates the price on the Panthera to be in the range of 470,000 Euros or $611,000 in 2013 dollars. And mind you, this airplane will be certified under the new regulatory structure, such that Pipistrel can anticipate its outlines.

That's not a cheaper airplane, even if it is more capable. So in my view, the regulatory rewrite won't dramatically reduce airplane costs, at least initially, but it will arrest their rise and it will allow easier integration of more technology that could improve performance and safety. That's a step in the right direction. We'll just have to see how effective it is.

Panthera Impressions

A shout out here to Brad Marzari who was working the Pipistrel static stand and, in addition to helping me with the video, he afforded me a good long sit in the airplane.

This thing oozes quality in build and design. It's just a test article, but the seats were exceptionally well detailed and comfortable. The stick comes up out of the floor right in front of the seat and sweeps back, so it doesn't impede legroom. Although the airplane is on the smallish side, the interior has plenty of room, including head room when I closed the hatch. Speaking of hatches, do you recall seeing that famous NASA picture of Jim Lovell and Frank Borman after splashing down in Gemini 7? They're floating comfortably at sea with the hatches open. For some reason, that's what sitting in the Panthera reminded me of.

Visibility out the sides is generous—those hatches have a lot of glass. Forward, it's a little less so, so I suspect landing it well will take an acquired touch. The backseat is entered, Diamond DA-40 style, through a large rear hatch. Plenty of room back there, too, and the seats have that perfect recline that suggest someone paid attention to their design. A lot of attention.

If Pipistrel gets this airplane through the cert process without significant compromise, it's going to be the modern world airplane to beat. Pipistrel is a scrappy, innovative company and the fact that they haven't put some downmarket lowball price on the Panthera suggests they're realistic about what it will take to get the airplane to market. For what it's worth, I find this company refreshingly honest to deal with.

The Mogas Subterfuge

Lots of talk here at Aero about mogas burning engines. In fact, the Panthera is advertised to burn mogas. But there's a certain slight of hand going on here and it ought to be explained.

Morphologically speaking, there are two kinds of mogas. When we say mogas in the U.S., we think of what you buy at the local Shell station or maybe the marina if you want E0. When engine makers say mogas, they're referring to 91AKI and mainly they seem to be tilting toward the UL91 that the French refiner, Total, is trying to deploy throughout Europe as a certified aviation fuel. But the two fuels aren't the same thing nor are they sold at anything close to the same price.

UL91 is essentially 100LL without the lead and it sells in Europe for only a bit less than avgas. Some pilots here complain that Total is actually charging as much for UL91 as for 100LL. It makes both.

In this podcast, Lycoming's Michael Kraft insists Lycoming is not going to sign off on supporting actual mogas or what it calls pump gas. We published a series of guest blogs explaining this. (part 1, part 2, part 3) Continental is on the same page.

So when you see these engines approved for mogas, it isn't the same kind of mogas you're probably thinking of.

Comments (11)

The jet-set AVweb reporters never rest. Not even in Coach...

Posted by: Peter Kuhns | April 29, 2013 8:55 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I watched your nice video on the beautiful Pantera, but I have to say I burst out laughing and spewed coffee across the room when the Pipestrel rep said a major upcoming feature will be mogas approval for a $611,000 airplane!

I'd love to own one of these beauties, but I can't see anyone hauling jerry cans to the airport to put in a $600k airplane. On the other hand, if you're broke after paying that, I guess you gotta do what you gotta do...

Posted by: A Richie | April 29, 2013 9:11 AM    Report this comment

Talking to a ProAero-salesman in Friedrichshafen, I forecast that the performance data of their experimental electric prototype would be duly overlooked by the media -- a forecast of which the above report is a first confirmation.

Here's the info:

Range: 1000 km
Autonomy: 8 hours

Yes, 8 hours of flight at 125 km/h drawing just 3 KW...

After ProAero's Electra One won the $25K LEAP challenge, the NASA quickly offered $1M for an aircraft bound to be huge.

Alas, Pipistrel stepped into the trap with a gigantic double-fuselage aircraft... got NASA's message?

"Ladies and gentlemen, if ever you were dreaming of your own personal electric aircraft: forget it -- just see how huge it would have to be...".

Exactly the same message the Swiss government is conveying through SolarImpulse...

But Germany will take revenge for the post-war ban on aircraft building imposed by the U.S.A. -- much the same as it has already taken with that other technology banished by Big Oil and the French nuclear lobby, i.e. solar PV, because EA and PV promise individual independence for both personal mobility and personal energy supply.

Dull outlook for the lobbies keeping us hostages at their outlets -- and for the the U.S. government and its vassals keeping us grounded to secure last-resort power enforcement capability through near-100% control of the global airspace by the military with their fighter-bombers and, increasingly, with their drones...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | April 29, 2013 9:36 AM    Report this comment

"When we say mogas in the U.S., we think of what you buy at the local Shell station or maybe the marina if you want E0."

Not entirely true. The 117 airports listed on AirNav selling Mogas do not buy it at the local gas station. It is obtained from a fuel terminal where it must be delivered without ethanol as ethanol may not be pumped through the pipelines that deliver most of the gasoline in the US. In the case of Florida, it's delivered by fuel barge, but also without ethanol that is first added at the terminal. Lycoming's Michael Kraft does not seem to understand this important point - aviation-grade mogas is available at fuel terminals, much different than what may or may not be available at the corner gas station. It's no different in Germany, where most gasoline for cars is now E5. Ironically, AirTotal, who delivers Avgas and Mogas to airports, also sells UL91, which has been quite a belly-flop outside the U.K. (where oddly mogas is not allowed in certified aircraft), and no wonder as it is no different really than mogas, except in price.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 29, 2013 10:41 AM    Report this comment

I attended some of the early AERO shows back in the early 1980s when I worked as a aerodynamicist for Dornier, located on Lake Constance. It has always been a show of highly-technical nature aimed at professionals and run by one of Europe's finest trade show organizations, the Messe Friedrichshafen. When they moved the Messe from the suburbs to the airport some years ago, it turned a good show into an excellent one. Widely they stopped trying to appeal to the greater public some years ago, stopped the distracting airshow and moved the dates to appeal to professionals and serious buyers. There are good options for lower cost accommodations if you are willing to drive a bit. My favorite is the new Hotel zum Fliegerwirt, one of the few small hotels located on an airport in Germany, in this case Mengen, about a 50-minute drive (or 10 minute flight) to the north of Friedrichshafen. Mengen is also home to a number of aviation businesses, including the Germany manufacturer Comco-Ikarus and the German agent for Czech TL Ultralights.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 29, 2013 10:47 AM    Report this comment

Paul, thanks for the very informative report.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 1, 2013 10:41 AM    Report this comment

The Part 23 re-write OUGHT to be only the first step in reconsidering ALL of the FARs. My guess--the revised Part 23 won't go nearly far enough. Certification should be divided for simple and high-performance airplanes--it makes no sense to use the same criteria for a Skyhawk as for the new Panthera. It's overkill on the simple airplane, and holds back innovation and performance on the high speed airplane.

There should be seperate certifications for "private" planes--"those who are aware of the risks (like experimentals) and those used for charter--"to protect the non-pilot paying passengers." Concurrently, there needs to be a change in pilot training as well--a pilot certificate for "high performance aircraft"--not airplanes like Arrows and Sierras. Let those pilots demonstrating capability fly aircraft with higher speeds--higher stall speeds--and lighter controls--like so many experimentals.

"One size fits all" doesn't work well for clothing--or aircraft certification--or pilot certification.

Posted by: jim hanson | May 1, 2013 1:01 PM    Report this comment

A hydrocarbon heptane molecule by any other name?

Posted by: Ron Brown | May 1, 2013 1:14 PM    Report this comment

"Not entirely true. The 117 airports listed on AirNav selling Mogas do not buy it at the local gas station"

A difference without a distinction and bringing it up again only confuses the issue. The local marina here is selling the very same ASTM-spec finished motor fuel for boats that's being delivered to what few airports have mogas. In Florida, the very same jobbers deliver it. It is an automotive motor gas without ethanol.

But it's not what's approved for the Lycoming IO-390 in the Panthera or the IO-360-AF soon to be in the C4. When people say how great those engines are for being mogas approved, they are not seeing an accurate picture. Mogas really means "not avgas."

So one of three things needs to happen. Or maybe all three. The airframers will have to STC for that actual mogas--or a third party will; the mogas itself will need to be ASTM spec'd for aviation use; or the engine manufacturers and airframers will have to TC it as is.

If you listen to the podcast interviews I did, you will hear that neither Lycoming nor Continental are completely opposed to approving a real mogas for aviation use, but only one delivered to a tighter spec with regard to vapor pressure controls and seasonal variations.

Because of the ethanol push, the octane pool is in decline so there are economic issues that may prove difficult.

One major engine maker--Rotax--approves real mogas, including E10. But their engines derive from recreational products designed to burn motor fuels.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 2, 2013 8:04 AM    Report this comment

There's no future in aviation gasoline or any of its imitators. Bring on the diesels.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | May 2, 2013 12:55 PM    Report this comment

There's no real reason that more airports don't sell auto fuel. At our FBO, we sell 91 octane unoxygenated fuel (most of the spec sheets accompanying the load say 93 octane). It is readily available from Koch Refining at Pine Bend, MN.

We could save 38 cents per gallon at the wholesale level by buying unoxygenated 87 octane--but with 160 and 180 hp Lycoming engine STCs, the higher octane is required--not to mention the Rotax engines.

The fuel is handled by the same trucking company that handles aviation fuels--with dedicated trucks (no diesel or heating oil from prior deliveries to contaminate the fuel. We've been using it for years in Skyhawks and Cherokees--(with the occasional 100 octane) and haven't had an issue in the 10,000 or so hours we've flown the aircraft.

Posted by: jim hanson | May 2, 2013 3:00 PM    Report this comment

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