Fuel Crisis: What We Really Need ...

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The companies that build aircraft engines—and for the purposes of this discussion, let's call them Continental and Lycoming—are staffed by the dumbest people on the planet. This would be the general gist of opinions of pilots who know automotive technology and who also own or fly airplanes.

To them, the ongoing discussion about finding a replacement for 100LL is simply a failure on the part of the Big Two to freely adapt the advanced engine technology that's out there for the taking. There are various reasons why these companies haven't done this, but for us experts sitting on the sidelines, the general thinking seems to be that they could do this. They just have chosen not to.

The reality is different. And it's not a question of understanding and adapting technology because the automotive engineers who can do this work are readily available. Some of them even work at Continental and Lycoming. Some are pilots, too. The challenge is to find enough buyers to actually construct a business plan that won't crater within, say, five years. This is another way saying buyers say they want one thing, but when presented with that very thing, they demure.

Want examples? The recent history of light aircraft engine development is littered with the smoking holes of the very thing the automotive-savvy guys say they want. Where to begin? How about this: A six-cylinder engine with automotive-style ignition and fuel injection, autoleaning and—the ultimate—single-lever power control. That was 1988—the Mooney PFM. Mooney sold 41 before the project sunk, with Porsche actually buying back the engines.

More recently, Continental's FADEC—whose development goes back some 12 years—is, yup, an automotive-style system with variable timing and sequential pulsed fuel injection. On the plus side, it more than doubled the PFM's sales volume, which means about 100 are flying. Big whoop.

Well, goes the argument, those are just band-aid solutions on the ancient air-cooled lumps that still define the market. What we need are water-cooled Vs with advanced combustion chambers and overhead cams. This is the ever popular "Rotax are you listening?" cry. Yes, Rotax was listening. With great fanfare in 2003, it launched a pair of six-cylinder watercooled, top-cam Vs, crowing that V6 was the future of general aviation and, what with the fuel issue in doubt, they were sure they'd own the market. This project slipped silently below the surface, for various reasons some of which were surely related to buyer disinterest. Could be the timing was all wrong and Rotax could retool and relaunch. Maybe fuel panic could make it work now where it wouldn't five years ago.

And let's not forget the vaunted Toyota. It threw a bunch of money at certifying a watercooled V aircraft engine of its own and actually completed the project. It involved some of the very same engineers who developed Continental's FADEC. If Toyota ever intended to market this engine—doubtful—it ultimately never did.

Not bold enough? Consider the Diamond/Thielert diesel effort. Spanking new airframe (the DA42) with an untried high-tech diesel engine adapted from those razor-sharp whiz kids in the automotive segment. Three years later, Thielert is bankrupt and owners are steamed, despite sales totaling more than 1000 units. I could go on, but you get the point.

Against this backdrop of consistent failure, anyone planning a clean sheet design—watercooled, electronic everything, high power output, light weight—has to be realistically mindful of two things: The market is fickle and overwhelmingly conservative and the vast investment required has to pencil out with absurdly small volumes. We're talking hundreds of engines a year, not the thousands that an automotive engine plant makes on one shift in one day.

Further complicating this is the legacy fleet. It's both a millstone and a source of critical business for the Big Two in a market that is simply in decline. So, somehow, the business plan has to account for addressing the older airplanes while boldly forging ahead with the next generation engine, whatever that's going to be. To build for the future requires surviving the present.

You have to blindly hope that something will succeed. The fuel issue may push market forces in the direction of these new developments. The PFM, for instance, didn't perform as well as the Lycoming it replaced and TCM's FADEC offered no clear benefits. If 100 octane fuel goes away, maybe that will provide the tipping point. But the fact is, no one knows. And this is why the people who have to make these decisions at Continental and Lycoming are worrying now about the fuel problem. The only certain thing is uncertainty.

So the challenge for the budding market pundit is build a little spreadsheet whose inputs allow for investments in the multi-million dollar range, with sales in the multiple hundreds. And never mind profit, you just have to survive long enough for your new creation to become the GA engine of the future, after which the world will be yours. While it's occasionally true that who dares, wins, it's also true that the meek selling cylinders, lifters and crankshafts cling to profitability.

When you get the spreadsheet thing worked out, send me a copy, willya? I'm kinda stumped on this one. I know someone will eventually figure it out. We certainly know they're trying.

Comments (93)

If Bombardier/Rotax ever does go ahead with their V6 engines, they'll be a few steps behind Adept Airmotive (whose engine design is the basis for the Rotax). If 100LL is really going away this time, the better solution is a 96-100 octane UL fuel IMHO.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | June 17, 2010 1:39 PM    Report this comment

Understanding the economics of advanced engine technology only illistrates the need for the regulatory push for ADS-B. The economics do not support the installation of ADS-B or any other electronic upgrade. Advanced engine technology will become economic when 100LL becomes illegal.

Posted by: WILLIAM BRUU | June 17, 2010 1:40 PM    Report this comment

Let's skip ahead to electric and skip the "fuel" and "cooling" question altogether.

Posted by: Byron Head | June 17, 2010 1:54 PM    Report this comment

I expect this to be a very short thread. You have very succinctly, accurately and eloquently stated the economic realities, and other than a certain DC marxist, no one has been able to argue against reality and win. For multiple reasons, a large segment of our population continually adopts the least expensive solution, and as we all know, technology isn't cheap. When viewed from the historical perspective, it may over the long run, occasionally be cost effective (GAMI & engine monitors for TCM engines) but how long would you have to use a GNC530W to make it cost effective? No, I suspect a large segment of aircraft use a 496/696 to achieve their "G" classification. I would argue that engine technology won't advance until 100LL is unavailable, and by then it'll be too late for many to adapt. At that point we'll have our paradigm shift. You can't blame TCM or Lycoming, since they're in a "death spiral" to survive, they HAVE to show a profit or their board of directors will fire the entire management team. A Macro Economics class should be mandatory for all pilots. It might smooth out some of the bumps if we collectively saw them coming sooner.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 17, 2010 2:24 PM    Report this comment

I used to work in small (automotive) engine manufacturing. I remember they wanted avgas for testing their engines in house - reason being their competitors used it to allow an engine to be crated up in a warehouse for a year without the fuel going stale, then it would start right up as soon as it was installed on a unit. Ultimately instead of switching to avgas they just re-arranged the assembly line to allow the carb to run out of fuel after testing because it was cheaper to continue using auto gas. Perhaps a little irrelevant but, point is cost in the auto-world is the primary driver but not in aviation. Auto engines seem prevalent with experimental builders where building the aircraft for cheap is important, including running costs, but certified aircraft just haven't got there yet because they're designed and priced around 'liability' concerns. You can see the difference in the basic engine unit cost; a new 300hp crate Chevy LS1 engine costs about $5,000. A rebuilt 200hp lycoming IO-360 costs about $18,000.
If the experimental builders are doing it, why can't the OEMs?

Posted by: Peter Sharpe | June 17, 2010 2:28 PM    Report this comment

Some engine manufacturers are working towards innovation in the piston engine, general aviation market, specifically speaking of TRACE Engines. We build a 600HP, V8, watercooled, turbocharged engine that is type certified in a production certified facility. We have been aggressively been working on an electronic fuel injection and ignition system to certify with our engine. We have also begun running 91 unleaded octane "mogas" in our test cell to determine the capability of the fuel with the engine. So far we can produce the required horsepower and are working towards meeting the detonation margins required by the FAA. This fuel type would be utilized in aircraft under 10,000 initially due to the various blends of mogas. TRACE is also committed to running other unleaded or ultra low lead fuel types within the next six months. TRACE believes that the configuration of the engine will lend itself to running on multiple fuel platforms and intends to prove that in 2010. STCs for various fuels will be in process once the viability of the fuels are determined. The TRACE engine can be sold to OEM aircraft or retrofit to existing aircraft. The most favorable aircraft for retrofit are aircraft originally build with over 400hp engines, wither single or dual. If you would like to see more on TRACE Engines, feel free to visit our website www.traceengine.com or call me directly at 432-230-9417.

Thank you,

David Czarnecki
Chief Operating Officer
TRACE Engines L.P.

Posted by: David Czarnecki | June 17, 2010 3:10 PM    Report this comment

Rotax also makes a very modern engine for the Can-Am Spyder motorcycle. The engine is 998cc and is detuned to produce 106 hp. I'm wondering whether a modified version would work in an aircraft. It is water-cooled and uses regular auto gas. The engine is very reliable and I've put over 10,000 miles on it in about a year with the only maintenance being oil changes. Since Rotax makes man aircraft engines, it would seem to be a natural fit.

Posted by: Steve Sawyer | June 17, 2010 3:23 PM    Report this comment

Mention fuel, and a huge tangential discussion will always follow. Even in car, or model airplane forums. Nothing derails a discussion like fuel. As for why there is no engine innovation, the low manufacturing volume is a symptom, not the cause. The root cause is lack of tort reform. In a system where the o-ring supplier must pay damages when the crash was caused by a failed door hinge, volumes will ALWAYS be low. The next time a lawyer dies in a plane crash, the potential is he will be a victim of a system he lobbied for.

Posted by: Rick Freeman | June 17, 2010 3:42 PM    Report this comment

Rotax is making both a certified and non certified 100HP and 115 HP aircraft engine at this time. They are mainly used in Light Sport aircraft. The engines are 2% of Rotax's production. They run just fine on auto fuel, in fact it is preferable. Their 912 now has a 2000 Hr TBO...sold and serviced worldwide.

Posted by: JOE CONTE | June 17, 2010 4:50 PM    Report this comment

When the FAA allows the end user to replace certified equipment in commercial aircraft with a "suitable" alternative without costly STCs, we'll see major improvements in technology come to market. As it is, I can't replace my O320 carbureted engine with a nice fuel injected O320.
Get off the stick FAA and help the manufacturers fix this.

Posted by: John Papp | June 17, 2010 6:03 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I have got to say you are WAY out of touch on this one. The problem with water cooling is that the water adds weight. Just do the weight and balance of the RV aircraft with Subaru engines (water cooled) vs. Lycoming installations. The air cooled boxer engine configuration is perhaps the lightest engine configuration out there, that develops the power that is available. I think F. Porsche utilized this engine for some pretty high performance CARS. Now. Can an electronic ignition system be developed for the same price as a set of mags? There is the challenge. Cirrus and Liberty show that it CAN be done. It should be possible for automotive style electronic ignition technology to be developed for aircraft.

Posted by: Art Ahrens | June 17, 2010 7:06 PM    Report this comment

John Papp said it correctly above. Our problem is the FAA and its bureaucracy and our legal system.

No improvements can be made to certified aircraft without the almighty STC. This is the biggest bottle neck to manufacturers and innovators going. Even OEMs have too many hurtles to overcome just to get approval to produce an aircraft. I understand the "safety" issue, but in our litigious society everyone plays cover the backside. This not only effects engines, but also other easily replaceable parts such as avionics. Why should a relatively simple engine cost $40,000 new or $25,000 to overhaul. Also why is a TSO approved VHF Comm/Nav/GPS radio costing about $10,000 and up.

A prime example of industries besides aviation where litigation has driven cost sky high is medicine. I hope the following does not offend, but if the shoe fits wear it. Lawyers are parasites and produce nothing in society. Others close on their heels are bureaucrats that find it easy to say "no" or "you need more data" than to approve a design or change. Someone could say they did not do their job if anything gets done in a reasonable amount of time of less than a 10 to 15 year development period.

Posted by: Bobby Picker | June 17, 2010 8:49 PM    Report this comment

I own one of those 100 rather pricey Continental FADEC systems. I chose it for my Superior engine thinking that in addition to a smoother running engine it could adjust the mixture (economy mode) much better than I could for extended range. Not so, the engine runs rich and the range is markedly less than had I been manually adjusting the mixture. If there is a economy mode I haven't seen it and there is nothing I can do about it. I spent over 2.5 years trying to get it running as advertised but not to be. The folks at teledyne were good to work with but couldn't come up with a fix. The Superior engine was designed and built to burn 91 mogas so the FADEC will never pay for itself. AJ

Posted by: ADDISON JOHNSON | June 17, 2010 8:59 PM    Report this comment

Bobby - I think you're pretty close but I wouldn't trash the legal profession quite like you have. That said, I think revising GARRA to cap lawsuits in light aircraft (let's say 12,000 lbs or less, piston powered) to 100k per passenger would shut down the frivolous lawsuits. We'd be able to get affordable insurance for flight schools and maintenance facilities. This has been done in the State of Ohio for equine activities - I would think it would be doable for recreational aviation.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | June 18, 2010 5:58 AM    Report this comment

Maybe NASA could throw a hundred million dollars or so at the engine industry to develop the next-generation of General Aviation Propulsion. Oh, wait...

Posted by: Alex Youngs | June 18, 2010 12:16 PM    Report this comment

Are you folks noticing a pattern here? Whether it's medical, aviation, or the oil business, the Fed Govt supplies the speed-bumps. Skimmer barges in the gulf are enjoined by the Coast Guard from cleaning up the oil because they don't have the right number of fire extinguishers. This is regulation-insanity. Every human activity entails risk. To hamper all progress to wring the last .05% risk is self-destructive. I'm sure the STC process was conceived in an era where technology advanced much more slowly. The system is obsolete.

Posted by: Rick Freeman | June 18, 2010 2:34 PM    Report this comment

As far as the question of unscrupulous lawyers is concerned, remember that at the other side of the courtroom is a lawyer defending a company against these frivolous and idiotic lawsuits. Most lawyers I know blame the insanely high damages awarded on the juries who have the final say on the matter; if they decide that a broken leg from an airplane crash is worth $50 million, who are we to argue? Their reasoning is simple: "Hey, next time that could be me there and that cold be my ticket to paradise!" Or: "Me small guy, them big company. Big Company bad."

Posted by: PETER THOMAS | June 18, 2010 5:23 PM    Report this comment

Maybe I'm just anti big government and resent bureaucratic encroachment by overzealous resentful bureaucratic twits. But having said that, why have we lost 100LL with NO viable replacement? Just because the EPA want to prohibit lead doesn't necessarily mean the fight is lost Unless our duplicitous DC marxist terminates the Constitution, the Legislative Branch of government has the power to limit the EPA. If there was a viable replacement as easily, efficiently, and cheaply available as Freon, we might be more willing to follow along, but there isn't. I think we are accepting this as inevitable, and I'm not sure it is unless we quit and allow it. I know there are a lot within our ranks that welcome the removal of lead, but unless a better solution than 94UL is found, how much marketing, research and innovation will occur when only the 80 octane group is buying and flying? The loss of all the Lycoming powered crowd would be catastrophic. How much money can/will Garmin, JPI, Aspen, BDS and all the others spend on R&D with a much smaller market? Guys (and Gals), this is getting really scary. I know TCM has a marketing advantage with LOP ops and the IO550's advantages, but again, just the folks running IO550's and de-powered IO520's still wont carry the markets forward. Is this the way to rid of the citizen pilot in GA?

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 18, 2010 6:22 PM    Report this comment

Peter, I made no distinction between opposing lawyers in my 6-18 comment for a good reason. BOTH sets of lawyers belong and contribute to the American Bar Association. And THAT group funds lobbyists and greases politicians hands to make sure the list of things for which one can sue is long, and the punitive award limits are huge. Remember, Congress is a revolving door, full of lawyers who are one election away from needing to work as lawyers again.

Posted by: Rick Freeman | June 19, 2010 12:10 AM    Report this comment

While many of your positions about this editorial commentary by Mr.Bertorelli are valid for GA they don't begin to take into consideration the aviation infrastructure in Alaska that needs cargo aircraft deliveries into less than 3,500 foot gravel runways and on snow to its over 275 villages not on a road system. Legacy aircraft are our only hope for the next 10-years. Newer turbo props are smaller and most can't be equipped with skis and won't land on gravel. At the rate of certification of new aircraft I think getting the FAA to sign off on new electronic water cooled engines could take as much as 10 years and $10-100 million per year to achieve per manufacturer.

Posted by: Rob Stapleton, Jr. | June 19, 2010 7:00 PM    Report this comment

>>The loss of all the Lycoming powered crowd would be catastrophic.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 20, 2010 6:39 AM    Report this comment

"The companies that build aircraft engines—and for the purposes of this discussion, let's call them Continental and Lycoming—"

A number of commenters have mentioned Rotax engines that are frequently used in LSA aircraft. No one has mentioned that Rotax engines are also used in UAVs (such as the Predator drone). An AVWEB article this week says that the FAA is under pressure to open more airspace to UAVs for a variety of non-military uses.

What's the point? The end of the General Aviation spectrum that is growing is the end that can get along very nicely on a lower octane unleaded fuel than 100LL equivalent. As you say in this piece, the other end is heavily weighted toward legacy aircraft, with a minority of aircraft accounting for the majority of 100LL consumption. Other options to 100LL such as engines that burn Jet A or FADEC aftermarket upgrades wait in the wings.

Rotax engines don't tolerate 100LL very well. Oil change intervals are cut in half, to 25 hours on 100LL. Thanks to ethanol, autogas is no longer a viable alternative. DOD is eager to switch to an aviation grade unleaded fuel. They don't plan to wait for GA to get it's act together.

Bottom line? It's nice of AOPA to say that "Avgas solution years away". More to the point, the user community is dividing along predictable lines. I don't believe we have the luxury of time that AOPA suggests if we want to perpetuate the single fuel solution for all aircraft that we have enjoyed with 100LL.

Posted by: JAMES GRANT | June 20, 2010 10:15 AM    Report this comment

Rotax has authorized up to 10% Ethanol per SB SI-912-016 in their 912 and 914 engines.

Posted by: JOE CONTE | June 20, 2010 10:44 AM    Report this comment

We don`t need new engines for existing aircraft.
New airplanes with standard automotive engines out of a car. Auto manufacturers don`t like their engine in airplanes and don`t give their o.k.. But zero timed remanufactured auto engines can be used for a few thousand new airplanes per year without blessing from auto manufacturers.
New certified airplanes with reduction gears and propellers as part of the airplane which fit for varius engines out of autos.
Autos and small airplanes should be gased up at the same gas station. On the one side of the airport fence the autos and on the other side the airplanes. Both out of the same fuel pump and with the same auto gas prices.
Owners of old aircraft with reciprocal engines can modify their high compression oldies simply by putting a thicker gasket under the cylinders to reduce compression ratio. Whith this modification nearly all existing old design engines should be running on auto fuel with very small power loss only.

We can not expect low priced engines from the main two engine manufacturers who supply an overaged fleet of airplanes with their engines fixed in the type certificates. Rotax engines as well are not low priced.

Certification costs of $ 5 to $ 10 bio means only $ 2,500 - $ 5,000 per airplane for a number of 2,000 sold.

We need factory new four seat airplanes for about $ 50,000 which should be possible.

Posted by: Dietrich Fecht | June 20, 2010 2:53 PM    Report this comment

I'd be curious to see your math, Dietrich. A certified four-seat aircraft for $50k eh? What economics support this? Auto fuel in the US has ethanol which doesn't play well in aircraft. And a thicker head gasket would drop the compression ratio by probably .25 which wouldn't do much for fuel compatibility.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | June 20, 2010 10:52 PM    Report this comment

I have designed, manufactured and sold a few thousand street trikes with flat 4 VW engines in past decades. As an engineer and entrepreneur I usually know what I say. Alcohol in gas is a fact that will be in the future. And that is not bad, it is only a new aspect. You can lower compression ratio as low as you want by placing thick enough gaskets unter the cylinders as long as the mounting bolts and the lifter push rods are long enough!
I have researched manufacturing small planes for survival of private flying since more than five years. I believe we are at a point where only radical changes in the complete approach we see business and flying may help. What is nessessary are new four seat airplanes for $ 50,000. That`s it.
The basic math: Auto engine with gear and prop: $ 8,000; 465 lbs AL sheet 2,500; other raw materials 2,500; 600 man hours 15,000; Instruments/Avionics 6,000; Certification costs based on 10,000 planes 1,000; facility costs 1,000; design licence 500; overhead costs 500; profit 1,000. Totals $ 38,000. There is plenty of room for other costs.
Standard low wing design ca. 180 hp, four seats, 130 KTS cruise 650 Nm, VFR. Production 1,000 -2,000 planes per year. Sales direct ex production in USA.

Posted by: Dietrich Fecht | June 21, 2010 4:36 AM    Report this comment

Wow. I get the sense you have never done a cert project. I might suggest looking at LSA prices as a reality check on production costs and relationship of price to volume.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 21, 2010 5:42 AM    Report this comment

Or something simpler-a letter!
"I hereby allow any aircraft owner/operator to purchase & use fuel with required octane for that flight (incl auto-fuels) with no expiry.
I further direct each engine mfgr to publish engine performance and limitations data for each fuel type without fee.
And I direct each gas supplier shall provide fuel facilities & methods at over 40% of the locations for ethanol lead free fuel-as road tax will not apply, at a price competitive with local stations. No EPA/permit fees/permits/etc are allowed for supplemental tanks or dispensers.
Signed FAA Director"

It takes three pieces to solve this - not just one. It's not even enough to get a new fuel - there has to be economical/profitable distribution structure promoted.
Dietrich's through the fence part of the solution is brilliant and very workable.

What most people don't know (or care) is that oxygenated fuels cannot be pipelined even now - the ethanol is usually added when they are filling the truck! So non-ethanol fuel IS available reasonably locally.
100LL can't be pipelined either because the lead contaminates the pipelines - so it is trucked.

Give the pilots, owners and suppliers a choice, and the information to use the choice, and I expect 80% of the lead problem will go away instantly - the other 20% will shortly follow on their own because of the huge savings alone, but the option has to be there to make it work - and without all the fees and BS to get approvals for every step.

Posted by: Dan Tomlinson | June 21, 2010 7:47 AM    Report this comment

Burns Moore - turn the sheet around, the eyeholes go in front.

Posted by: Karl Schneider | June 21, 2010 7:50 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps we should use the same process to get engines compatible with today's fuel that was used to get here in the first place, military development. Yes, I know the military likes fuel guzzling turbines but if we're going to fight counter-insurgency wars we need good, cheap CI aircraft. Use them to launch a new generation of GA engines. If LYCO had a guaranteed market of 2000 to 3000 engines a year for the foreseeable future the spin off to GA would be covered and the tax payers could write it off to not spending $17K an hour for F-16's to shoot up mud huts.

Posted by: RICHARD GIRARD | June 21, 2010 7:57 AM    Report this comment

Why is 100LL without lead 96UL in Europe, but we are talking about 94UL here?

Reducing compression is easily done with a piston change which could be done in less than a day; literally a couple of hours once the engine is uncowled. There are no actual gaskets under cylinders on Lycomings or Continentals, just an O ring. Adding a gasket would cause problems.

Electronic engine controls should allow 96UL to be used in existing engines. Full Fadec with knock sensors. Using the self powered P-Mag as a starting point, there is no reason such a system should cost over $5,000. Two P-Mags retail for under $2500, and the other sensors, injectors etc are proven off the shelf components totalling less than $1000. Additional software etc would be needed, but the mechanical bits exist.

There is no insurmountable engineering problem here; there is an inertia problem regarding traditional technology.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | June 21, 2010 8:54 AM    Report this comment

I've been told 96UL would work for most engines under 300hp, but everybody else would have to make modifications, either in operation or outright engine mods. I'm hoping GAMI's G100UL gets traction, or Hjelmco's 100UL ETBE gets out of the ASTM process to provide a one-fuel solution.
I've read that a two-fuel solution for both low and high-compression engines is problematic because of the economics of FBOs providing both fuels to a shrinking market. That's probably our biggest obstacle. The regulatory quagmire just goes with the territory.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | June 21, 2010 9:22 AM    Report this comment

You've left out a very important consideration. I have a Lycoming that is now at TBO. But I'm not ready to put $40,000 or more into an engine that might well become obsolete in 3 to 5 years.
So I'm not buying anything, and I may well quit flying before I put that kind of money into a machine that has such a short life expectancy. I assume that I'm not the only one making this rational decision. So the Big 2 are losing sales, RIGHT NOW, because they don't have a product that we're willing to buy. If they're interested in increasing sales, they need to give me something worth buying, i.e. something that might have a future.

Posted by: Wesley Steen | June 21, 2010 9:53 AM    Report this comment

Burns Moore - turn the sheet around, the eyeholes go in front.

Karl, what are you talking about? If this is clever code for something, send me the decoder ring.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 21, 2010 11:24 AM    Report this comment

No rocket science involved in producing powerplants to run on unleaded av gas.

The affordability of new aircraft and re-powering aircraft will remain as now. Those who can, those who can't and the fence sitters.

If the av gas required to operate many of our aircraft becomes unavailable it will hurt those who can't the most. There's also good chance the value of many older aircraft will take a beating.

Posted by: William Olsen | June 21, 2010 12:22 PM    Report this comment

Wesley is right. In Sweden ac owners have for many years asked themselves when they are at TBO for an engine if the new hours of a newly overhauled engine really can be used until the next future TBO.
If you fly 200 hours per year and your engine has a TBO of 2000 hours you have to ask yourself -- do I believe leaded AVGAS will be available for another 10 years, if not I have to write off that investment during the time I believe 100 LL still will be on the market.
If I then get less hours to use on my investment in an overhauled engine than I realistically can use -- then each remaining hour will just be more expensive. (The same discussion is also valid if I buy a brand new aircraft!)
Perhaps then instead of making the investment in overhauling the engine I should buy another aircraft with an engine the aircraft engine producers already today have an existing unleaded AVGAS for.
For example -- read carefully Lycoming Service Instruction SI 1070 P.
I also think the new Cirrus SR22T is very interesting because it removes (?) my risk of buying a new aircraft for which there might not be any fuel in the future.
I think TCM is doing the right thing - trying to eliminate risk for the buyer regardless if Swift or GAMI100UL or someone elses unleaded 100 fuel will materialize or not. If they do I will be fine -- if they don,t I will also be fine.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | June 21, 2010 1:22 PM    Report this comment

Hello Paul, I don`t know what you have designed, manufactured and successfull sold in the past. Writing articles will not solve the future. LSA start with about 50,000 to 60,000 retail with expensive Rotax engines. A Rotax engine costs more than a comlete motorcycle with a lot more hp. The difference in production costs between LSA and certified airplanes is not very much. The nessessary work is nearly the same. Material costs are only slighly higher. Using the cheaper automotive technology gives important advantages. The old ideas, pampering the existing overaged fleet, pushing glass cockpits and the generally much to high prices has driven private flying in the mud. That simply has to be changed with lower prices for new certified airplanes. And that this is possible and that my price tag of 50,000 for a new certified fourseater is realistic is exactly that what a number of LSA manufacturers are showing. New engines or special gas for very old airplanes from which very much are ready for the junkyard is the wrong way.

Posted by: Dietrich Fecht | June 21, 2010 3:13 PM    Report this comment

Wow – in the forth post in this thread, Burns said he expected this to be a short thread – but I guess we all have frustrations that are “fueled” by the AVGAS challenge. Related to Dietrich’s suggestion about using automobile engines, I don’t think many if any automobile engine manufacturers will give their blessing to putting their engines into airplanes, simply because automobile engines aren’t designed for continuous 65% or higher power output. I remember a magazine article a few years ago where the president of Teledyne Continental talked about the fact that even automobile engines used in race cars only go for one or two races before requiring overhaul. Car engines are designed to output about 12% of their power most of the time – with higher power only being used for acceleration. Sure there are some production auto engines designed for higher power outputs, but I think if you walk into a dealer and ask to buy such an engine, you’ll pay as much as a Continental or Lycoming engine anyway. In addition, it seems like there have been a few auto-to-airplane conversion engines – some mentioned above, some that had big fanfare but seemed to disappear (remember the “Orenda V8” engine from 5 years ago?).

We all know how important electronic ignition is to using lower powered fuels. But if Teledyne Continental could not get many sales of their certified version of an electronic ignition solution – in which they invested quite a sum – who can?

Posted by: Richard Rickles | June 22, 2010 5:57 AM    Report this comment

>>And that this is possible and that my price tag of 50,000 for a new certified fourseater is realistic is exactly that what a number of LSA manufacturers are showing.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 22, 2010 9:08 AM    Report this comment

Well said Paul. In a capitalistic entrapunuerial economy, if someone can build a better mousetrap, it usually happens. There is little more sobering than a cold dose of reality. When I initially said this would be a short thread, I was assuming as much.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 22, 2010 9:32 AM    Report this comment

I could see a $50k four-seater with a 100hp Rotax 912 being built. In China. Would you really want to strap into one? Not me.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | June 22, 2010 10:27 AM    Report this comment

Lycoming or Continental could build an advanced tech engine if they chose to. If they dont have the in-house engineering skill to do so, those skills are readily available.

But until there is a demand we will continue to see more of the same old thing. And the current conservative customer base is unwilling to create the demand. Even with the imminent demise of the fuel those legacy engine configurations require, customers would rather create a potentially very expensive replacement boutique fuel, than to consider adopting new technology to allow burning the same fuel the rest of the country burns.

A 2 tiered fuel supply could drive the customer base to finally embrace technology. Ethanol free mogas or 94UL for those who can use it at an affordable price. 100UL or Swift fuel for those who need the octane for their legacy high performance engines. After a few years of burning $10/gal boutique fuel in their high perf engines and seeing their lower performance brethren burning fuel that costs half that or less, there could be the necessary customer demand to finally convince the legacy manufacturers to invest in more advanced technology.

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 22, 2010 2:16 PM    Report this comment

Rotax has authorized up to 10% Ethanol per SB SI-912-016 in their 912 and 914 engines.

Surprise, EPA is pondering (due this Fall) allowing 15% Ethanol. What then?

We don't need a place to hide. We need a solution...

Posted by: JAMES GRANT | June 22, 2010 4:57 PM    Report this comment

As a guy who has actually put a car engine in an airplane, I can speak to that. It can be done but it isnt as easy as buying an engine at the dealer, bolting it on, sticking a prop on it, and away you go. Virtually any engine will require significant changes to make it airworthy. Those changes cost $.

There is already an LSA being built in China, and even using cheap Chinese labor, Cessna couldnt keep the cost below $100K as they originally promised. A production certified 4 seat aircraft for $50K is a ridiculous pipe dream.

Now if Dietrich were talking about an Experimental kit airplane and an experimental auto based engine, non-certified, and build it all yourself, that is possible for $50K (minimally equipped and way out on the bleeding edge). But based on feedback I get on my airplane, very few pilots would be willing to fly it much less build it.

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 22, 2010 6:33 PM    Report this comment

Surely the longterm solution is to do away with avgas and use avtur in diesel engines. Avtur is much cheaper to produce and safer to use for a variety of reasons. Aero engines are essentially constant speed part-load devices for 99% of their operating regime and this requirement is best met by diesel engines with their excellent part-load economy.

Avgas is an anachronism in this day and age, as are fixed-timimg mechanical magnetos and carburettors. So come on you diesel engineers, what have you got to say?

Posted by: Richard Whincup | June 23, 2010 3:54 AM    Report this comment

>>But based on feedback I get on my airplane, very few pilots would be willing to fly it much less build it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 23, 2010 4:53 AM    Report this comment

I recently did some extensive reporting on why LSAs cost as much as they do. The median price is about $110,000 for a two-place, non-certified LSA whose certification costs are essentially nil.

Paul, certification costs are essentially nil? You might want to look into this a little more. Although LSA are not FAR 23 certified aircraft, the ASTM standards define (minimum) self-certification requirements which must be complied with before the airworthiness certificate is signed (for each LSA). Some LSA manufacturers don't fully understand the certification requirements - hence the FAA LSA Assessment which was released a couple weeks ago. Unless the LSA manufacturer has people working for 'free' the initial and follow-on certification process for an LSA is anything but free.

Posted by: Richard Norris | June 23, 2010 7:09 AM    Report this comment

Is it consens that more affordable flying is needed (I go with that) to stop the decline of private flying? I come to the reult that only automibile engines and automibile gas and diesel will be available for low prices in the future do to big production numbers and the max. prices what are acceptable for auto fuels. The numbers of aircraft production will be to small for low prices of special aircraft engines and special aircraft fuels. When a future of flying is wanted then it´s only possible by using the resouces of the widespread and widly accepted automibile world. That means auto based engines (remanufactured) and flying with auto gas or auto diesel/kerosine in the future. $ 50,000 for a factory new four seater is possible with auto engines in production numbers of more than 500 a year in the USA (I don`t insist absolutly on this number). Low cost countries are not needed. $ 100,000 for a basic certified VFR plane is not nessessary and to much for the goal of stopping the decline of flying. $ 200,000 – 500,000 for a small plane what manufacturers today generally want may cover only a very small segment. This prices will not help stopping the decline. And LSA is only a small part of flying and can not save private flying. We need low cost certified airplanes and again more fully qualified private pilots.

Posted by: Dietrich Fecht | June 23, 2010 7:40 AM    Report this comment

The solution for current engines is a retrofit bolt on self powered electronic engine control. There is no reason that this needs to cost over $5000. The necessary components and knowledge exist. Even the 70% of current engines which can use MOGAS would be candidates for such a system, for the "Neat" factor, as well as the increased power nad reduced consumption. Those engines which need higher octane should be capable of running on 96UL with such a system. Whoever gets it to market will make good money on the available volume of sales to existing engines.

Continental and Lycoming need to make all their engines fully electronic, such that future build aircraft will accept the 96UL. Diesel engines running on Jet Fuel are the long term solution.

George Brayly at GAMI can tell us what octane is actually required, and he has an electronic engine control system. Continental has indicated that they can make their engines work. Lycoming is trying to sell brand new engines to existing aircraft; that will not solve the problem, current owners often cannot buy a completely new engine; they would buy a retrofit system at a reasonable price.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | June 23, 2010 8:04 AM    Report this comment

As I read all of these coments I saw no mention of WANKEL,from what I've seen written the Wankel has very few parts,and when anyone of them fail the engine still runs getting you back on the ground safley.

Posted by: William Fowler | June 23, 2010 8:41 AM    Report this comment

Mistral Engines was developing a 300hp triple-rotor multifuel engine, but recently announced it had to discontinue due to lack of funding. The SFC wasn't a huge improvement over a Lyc 540, but it burns UL fuel and runs turbine smooth. Hopefully they'll find the financing to get it certified.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | June 23, 2010 8:55 AM    Report this comment

Diesel engine continued

so why has LYC or Cont. not jumped on it?

My view is that they do not have the talent, being run by bean counters and too cheap to hire the smarts out of Europe and most importantly the key managers are bonused on results this year and needing to wait 5 years before you make any money, will not get them any bonus. If you reward people for results this year they will do everything they can to get results this year and ignore the fact they might be much better off in 5 years if they invested the money and made less money for the next five years. I do not see LYC or Cont doing it as their owners do not worry about any results more than a year out and thus do not incentivize the CEO of LYC or Cont to do any real long term development.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | June 23, 2010 9:34 AM    Report this comment

First of all, this is an excellect discussion and I appreciate you diving into the subject.

As a TCM insider, I can tell you that TCM would love to be able to supply lower cost engines, but at the volumes in our industry, that just isn't a reality. If we were building a million engines of a certain type per year, the numbers would be dramatically different. We have very few engine models that top 100 per year and most are 10-25 per year. At those volumes, anything that you build is going to be expensive.

I encourage Dietrich. If he can get investors that will buy into his economics, he should push forward and change the industry. I wish him well. I would just remind him that if it were that easy, we wouldn't have 4-5 players in the light jet market that are all $50M-$150M invested with no certified aircraft yet. The product liability cost, alone, for most 4 seat aircraft, will top $50K.

Tort reform and more flying are the only things that will dramatically change the economics of our industry. Ultimately, an explosion in flying in the emerging markets (i.e. China) may be the best thing that could happen for US pilots.

Posted by: William Read | June 23, 2010 9:58 AM    Report this comment

William, recall that TCM purchased diesel technology from SMA last month? I'd say they're jumping on it now so they don't get caught short and can offer it as a power solution eventually.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | June 23, 2010 10:36 AM    Report this comment

When I said LSA cert costs are essentially nil, I'll cop to using some editorial license. Everyone in the industry agrees that Part 23 is an excellent manual for how to build an airplane. It alone does not raise costs substantially.

What does is proving compliance for a certified airplane. Hiring expensive DPEs, going off to the ACO for a day of meetings on structures, then being sent back home by the FAA to come back with more data for more meetings that beget more meetings. And more tests...rework this, retest that. More reports.

Want a number? Jim Richmond at Cub Crafters figures it would take about $1M to push one of his LSAs through certification. At 40 airplanes a year, that's only $2500 per over 10 years. Not much.

But you (a) have to come up with the mill and (b) really sell that many airplanes. And don't forget products liability insurance, unless you self insure.

That's why $50K is a demanding pencil out. I'd be delusional if I thought it was doable.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 23, 2010 11:04 AM    Report this comment

$50k for a new 4 seater? The cost breakdown didn't even mention the hundreds of custom tools, dies, and fixtures required to bring such a plane to production. Also, as I said before, you need tort reform. it's essential. The $50k plane with a used/rebuilt auto engine will still expose the car/engine manufacturer to legal liability EVEN IF THEIR PERMISSION WAS NEVER GRANTED. Do you think a jury wouldn't give an award just because the engine was used W/O permission? No way. Gotta have legal reform for this to work.

Posted by: Rick Freeman | June 23, 2010 11:10 AM    Report this comment

Paul, to answer your question, my airplane is an E-AB RV-4 with Mazda 13B rotary for power. I did the firewall forward engineering and all of the fabrication myself.

While the engine itself is simple and robust, adapting it for flight requires a gearbox, cooling system, ignition, induction, and exhaust modifications to make it practical for flight. This adds complexity and cost.

As it sits I have between $25K and $30K invested in parts and materials (my labor costs considered free). And the airplane is a bare bones day VFR machine without paint (yet).

Vans kits are a great bang for the buck. Compared to a certified engine, my firewall forward costs were pretty cheap. I cant see how it would be possible to build it any cheaper than I have. So I dont see how Dietrich's math works.

It draws a lot of looks and comments, both positive and negative. But very few of the pilots I talk with about it would be willing to fly it. Too far out on the edge with gearing, water cooling, electronics, etc... for the average conservative pilot.

I'd guess that there are roughly 50 rotaries currently flying in the US.

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 23, 2010 11:23 AM    Report this comment

William Fowler, the wankel is a robust configuration with few moving parts. But to be fair and honest, in order to make the wankel an aircraft engine there are a lot of accessory systems that must be engineered and integrated. These systems add complexity and failure modes. To some degree these failure modes can be addressed in engineering (adding yet more complexity). All in all the wankel installation is more complex than a normally aspirated air cooled engine with a carb and mags.

In my opinion a properly engineered wankel installation can exceed the reliability of current certified engines and match the fuel consumption. But given the engineering costs, certification requirements, liability, etc... I doubt it would be any cheaper than current aircraft engines.

My own engine installation is way cheaper. Roughly $6K complete firewall forward. My setup would never meet any cert standard anywhere. But it is working for me.

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 23, 2010 11:36 AM    Report this comment

One of the big problems with auto or specialty engines would have to be what happens when rebuild time comes? If that particular engine is no longer available, and just for the record, note the shelf life of many excellent European and Japanese engines. An entirely new engineering challenge regarding the engine mounts, hoses, cooling, gearboxes etc. I for one don't want to buy into that cycle.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 23, 2010 12:14 PM    Report this comment

Mike--how did the weight work out relative to the Lycoming O-320 option?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 23, 2010 12:22 PM    Report this comment

Thats a good point Burns. Look what is happening to owners of Thielert diesels. This has also been a problem for Experimental builders who bought complete firewall forward packages from developers who have since gone under.

In my case since I did most of the engineering and fab myself and I dont have to worry about certification standards it is a lesser concern. But I do have a number of critical components that came from small companies. If one of those fails and the source is no longer in business I'll need to come up with an alternative.

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 23, 2010 12:24 PM    Report this comment

My airplane is fat. Common problem with auto conversions. Vans says an RV-4 should weigh around 915 lbs. The reality seems to be somewhere around 975 for the typical builder constructed RV-4. Mine is 1025.

A lot of my excess weight is due to over-engineering and somewhat conservative (relatively) design. An example. Many of the pioneers of the Mazda installation had serious cooling issues. I went large on radiator to avoid this and as a result have had no cooling issues but I'm carrying around some excess water.

I know how to get my weight down by about 50 pounds relatively easily. Further weight reductions are possible but more expensive and time consuming.

For the moment the airplane is lighter and outperforms my previous RV-6A which was powered with a 160HP Lyc so I am content to live with it for the moment.

For the record, Tracy Crook who is the real pioneer of the Mazda rotary movement has an RV-4 that outperforms mine, has more HP, and an empty weight of 930 lbs. But he's been refining his installation for 15 years and has well over 1000 hours on his airplane/engine.

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 23, 2010 12:37 PM    Report this comment

When I said LSA cert costs are essentially nil, I'll cop to using some editorial license. Everyone in the industry agrees that Part 23 is an excellent manual for how to build an airplane. It alone does not raise costs substantially.

What does is proving compliance for a certified airplane. Hiring expensive DPEs, going off to the ACO for a day of meetings on structures, then being sent back home by the FAA to come back with more data for more meetings that beget more meetings. And more tests...rework this, retest that. More reports.

Want a number? Jim Richmond at Cub Crafters figures it would take about $1M to push one of his LSAs through certification. At 40 airplanes a year, that's only $2500 per over 10 years. Not much.

But you (a) have to come up with the mill and (b) really sell that many airplanes. And don't forget products liability insurance, unless you self insure.

That's why $50K is a demanding pencil out. I'd be delusional if I thought it was doable.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 23, 2010 12:39 PM    Report this comment

any new aircraft engines should be desiel. This takes the uncertainty old of fuel supply. Jet A is here to stay. I have read many articles on desiel engines and one manufacturer seems to have it right if it can get the engine certified, DeltaHawk engines. liquid cooled, turbo and super charged, no electronics. If anyone has more info or this engine please post

Posted by: JOHN ZAZULKA | June 23, 2010 3:36 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: Will Alibrandi | June 23, 2010 4:58 PM    Report this comment

Paul made my case about bureaucracy with "What does is proving compliance for a certified airplane. Hiring expensive DPEs, going off to the ACO for a day of meetings on structures, then being sent back home by the FAA to come back with more data for more meetings that beget more meetings. And more tests...rework this, retest that. More reports."

What I see is a situation where the person/corporation desiring to obtain certification does not know all the question up front that would need to be answered. Therefore, the FAA can always justify their existence by asking for more data and more reports, etc. The money just keeps piling up. What is needed is a "complete guidebook" and the first line engineers making sure all questions are answered on the first submittal of data.

Thus without a comprehensive "guide" the situation that exist is come with your wallet open and a good supply of blank checks, because the final certification cost cannot even be imagined.

Posted by: Bobby Picker | June 23, 2010 5:10 PM    Report this comment

60 years of over regulated and stagnant development of piston engine aircraft. But wait, there is LSA today. Yeah, right - $150K for a 2 place aircraft that can barely get 2 adults off the ground without any luggage! A useless, rich man's toy of an aircraft designed by the corporate airlines that want to control the skies!

Not one of the major GA manufacturers has embraced any real form of advancement in general aviation since the FAA came into being. They just continue to build the same 60 year old designs with 60 year old engines with new paint jobs and fresh interiors. They are just new museum pieces with fancy electronics in the cockpit. Its no wonder that young adults don't get into aviation today! They are used to powerful cars with high tech systems, great safety features and minimal limitations. What's a mixture control?!?! You have to be kidding - you mean I have to adjust the fuel air mixture to keep the airplane flying efficiently? What's a carburetor? A Magneto? What are they and why are there two of them? Where is the Head UP display with synthetic vision so that I can see where I'm going in the clouds? They only exist in multi-million dollar jets?

Cessna, Piper, Beech, Mooney, etc., are so totally out of touch with today's potential customers that they are facing their own self constructed demise. Cirrus and Lancair - have sleek new glass aircraft still being yanked through the skies with antique engines and systems.

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 5:14 PM    Report this comment

The FAA has so over regulated light piston aircraft (any single or twin aircraft under 6000 lbs that carries 8 or fewer passengers) as to have completely succeeded in their mission to "Promote Commercial Aviation" - the only way possible - by killing private aviation complicit with the major GA manufacturers whose only interest is harvesting every dollar they can for their own personal gain rather than re-investing and innovating and lobbying for reduced regulation for light aircraft.

As long as the major manufactures refuse to face the facts that they must actually improve their product through innovation and investment the GA world will continue to disappear into the museum of history - where it actually exists today. As long as the FAA stands in the way of innovation instead of supporting it - there will never be enough money to move GA forward. Simply put - there isn't enough of a market anymore to justify the development and innovation without some form of helping hand from the government and I am not referring to just cash assistance. It is vitally important to continue to make safe and reliable aircraft - the trouble is that unless the FAA helps by providing standardized testing, including facilities and support personnel - nobody can afford to justify new development because the testing of new products is so immensely difficult.

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 5:15 PM    Report this comment

Today anyone wanting to develop and certify a new aircraft or aviation product has to development and certify their own testing to show compliance with the regulations. This is a huge expense that is complicated by the fact that there are no standardized test procedures! It is all subjective to the various FAA personnel that are involved. This makes testing and certification of virtually any product a huge unknown. If the FAA would provide the facilities and standardized test procedures then manufacturers could concentrate on engineering and innovation while the FAA handled testing and certification - all in a standardized manner ensuring that all new products were subjected to the same tests and procedures. This would enhance overall safety and save an enormous amount of time and money on redundant test facilities, procedures and personnel while simultaneously allowing a manufacturer to budget/predict the cost of certification.

I speak from direct experience as I was one of the very few to actually care enough to pump almost $1M into the development of an advanced piston engine over the last 10 years. As everyone will soon discover, air cooled piston engines will be rendered totally obsolete when leaded avgas goes away.

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 5:16 PM    Report this comment

My company has developed and flown a water cooled modification that offers the most practical solution to keeping the existing fleet flying while simultaneously opening the door to advanced engine management and fuel economy while overall improving aircraft performance. I have seen first hand the complete disinterest that Lycoming, Piper, Cessna and Money have for any form of real innovation and improvement in reliability. The VP of Mooney once told me that "There is nothing a water cooled aircraft engine can do to improve our aircraft!" The utter arrogance and ignorance of that statement was really made ironic by the fact that Mooney had just filed for bankruptcy protection 3 days earlier! Gee - with closed minded people like that running the company its no wonder the went under. The CEO of Piper aircraft couldn't even find 10 minutes to walk over and see the Piper Cherokee that we had on display with a water cooled Lycoming O-360 engine at the AOPA air show in Long Beach, CA back in 2004. We offered to provide Piper aircraft with a free conversion for their evaluztion and we were re-buffed with - silence.... Unbelievable - and the same status quo arrogance continues to this day under Piper's new owners and management.

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 5:16 PM    Report this comment

Bob, I'd like to agree with you but cant. I dont really like the way the LSA thing played out either. The original concept was affordability, but apparently the market is driving it differently. The high priced LSAs are the ones that are selling.

As for Cessna/Piper/Mooney, how are they supposed to develop and sell completely new designs and recoup development costs when their current aircraft are already perceived as being too expensive. Pretty hard to blame them.

Cirrus and Lancair/Columbia/Corvalis are certainly pretty advanced designs. Not coincidentally, both companies started out in the Experimental world.
Both are far out of my price range, but I could conceivably someday afford an E-AB Lancair. You want innovation, look to the Experimental world. And yet even most of those designs use conventional airplane engines. Because they are proven.

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 23, 2010 6:26 PM    Report this comment

I think the problem you and any other engine manufacturer will face in breaking into this market is convincing the buying public that what you have to offer is worth the risk. The aircooled flat engine for all of its warts is a very well known quantity. Your engine better have some real, proven technological advantages. Otherwise why should somebody risk their rear end to be your beta tester?

You want to know how to get some track record? Follow the Lancair lead and sell in the Experimental market. But the same rules apply - you better be selling either a better or significantly cheaper mousetrap. Otherwise buyers are going to go with what they know.

My own experience? Developed my own firewall forward Mazda based powerplant. I've seen some of the advantages you claim, but reality is that my installation is more complex than a Lyc, weighs more, burns about the same amount of fuel and goes about the same speed. So in my case the real advantage has been cost (at the sacrifice of flying a lot of very experimental stuff). With a lot more $ for development I'm sure my setup could exceed a Lyc in a number of areas, but I'm just one guy tinkering in my hangar with not a lot of excess cash.

I could have passed on rolling my own. At the time a company called Powersport offered a complete Mazda based firewall forward install for my airplane. But as much as I like the new tech, Powersport wanted more $ than a Lyc cost. Why pay more to be somebody's beta tester?

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 23, 2010 6:29 PM    Report this comment

I saw your setup at a fly-in somewhere a number of years ago. My perception of your engine if I recall correctly is that since it is based on Lyc parts, it added cost as well as the complexity of liquid cooling, without providing significant independantly documented improvement over a standard air cooled Lyc. Why would a potential customer pay more, assume unknown risks, without seeing significant quantifiable benefit?

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 23, 2010 6:35 PM    Report this comment

>>You want to know how to get some track record? Follow the Lancair lead and sell in the Experimental market. But the same rules apply - you better be selling either a better or significantly cheaper mousetrap. Otherwise buyers are going to go with what they know.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 23, 2010 7:44 PM    Report this comment


Glad you had a chance to see our engine installation. We could go back and forth ad-infinitum in terms of verification of cost/benefit. I'm confident that a 5000 hour TBO, a 30-35% reduction in fuel consumption combined with about a 10% improvement in airspeed alone more than compensate for the modest increase in cost/complexity. How many CHerokee 180s do you know that can easily climb at 1500 fpm and fly at 167MPH? Our does without even trying. Top speed is 173MPH - that's +2 MPH above Vne in level flight!

We offered the installation to Piper on a silver platter - at absolutely no cost to them. Without the cooperation of an OEM airframe mfr a new engine will never see the light of day. As for establishing a track record in the experimental market - your own description of the Mazda engine is a reason why we can't. Experimental builders are notoriously cheap and will work 1000 extra hours to save $5. Finally – experimental aircraft have too many variables that are outside the control of an engine supplier. All it would take is one accident and our engine would be called into question – even if the cause was fuel exhaustion or something totally unrelated.

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 8:07 PM    Report this comment

No new engine will be able to penetrate the GA market. The Porche PFM engine was a valiant attempt that failed simply because of NO FIELD SUPPORT! You cannot expect any certified mechanic to work on a new engine. They aren’t trained and by regulation they are not permitted to work on anything unless they have been trained and have the necessary manuals. At the rate of GA sales over the last 20 years a new engine will never be able to achieve enough penetration to motivate A&Ps to get training and technical data to support a new engine. This is the primary reason why the PFM engine didn’t make it. Porche was flying mechanics to the middle of nowhere to provide support – many times for issues that had nothing to do with the engine itself since no local mechanic would touch the aircraft. This same problem is even worse for diesel engines. Very few mechanics in the US know anything about a diesel engine and even fewer A&Ps have any clue.

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 8:10 PM    Report this comment

The bottom line - Wishing for a new engine is what everyone is doing and thinking that it will be less expensive than a Lyc or TCM is but a fantasy. Lots of airplane people think they know what it takes to make a water cooled engine work and I can assuredly state that until they have run engines on a real dyno, recording tons of data for hours at a time and seen the results – they don’t have a clue – most of what I read and hear are myths and hangar talk. We’ve done the hard work – proven it safe and reliable to fly whether operating from the baking Mohave Desert to the frigid mountains in both certified tractor and experimental pusher configurations. We have seen how easy it is to have a major performance improvement on any airframe – experimental or certified and how easy it is to convert most installations.

Piper, Cessna and others don’t have to do hardly anything to breathe major new life into their existing airframes! Come on – a Piper Cherokee 180 that out flies a Piper 201 – on the same horsepower and all that is involved is a water cooled engine! We provide the complete firewall forward installation and engineering – all they have to do is the flight testing. That’s a no brainer – a simple production line modification and they can immediately whoop their competition – faster cruise, less fuel and WAY more range as a result not to mention the possibility for significant increases in gross weight.

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 8:14 PM    Report this comment

Just based on our analysis we could safely increase the gross weigh of our 1971 PA28-180 by a full 200lbs and still have plenty of safety margin. Completely solves the 24lbs of weight gain up front from the water cooled version.

I’m just watching the time go by – because, like you, everyone is a skeptic and without some financial and regulatory support new engines just aren’t going to make it to market. Leaded avgas is on the way out and when its gone that’s when the ugly truth of the obsolescence of air cooled engines will have to be confronted. Justifying the continued path down the road with antique engines and systems will only continue to diminish the interest in GA, further reducing the number of pilots and aircraft owners into a grave yard spiral where eventually the certificated piston aircraft market will no longer be viable. Then just like the loss of Concord and soon the Space shuttle – we will relegate private GA to the history books.

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 8:14 PM    Report this comment

The WAM diesel looks promising. A least they got the 2-stroke part right. Still at about $24K for 160HP it is in line with a Lyc O-320. One drawback that I see is the use of non-hydraulic cam followers requiring regular adjustment maintenance however, overall it seems to be a good design.

The one thing that they probably haven't encountered yet is torsional vib issues. A major problem with direct drive diesels is the stress that they put on propellers. Without a torque dampener the enine and prop work very hard to destroy each other. The high the HP output the worse the problem gets. Using non-metal props can help reduce the torsional loads significantly but not completely alleviate the issue. Only time will tell with the WAM diesel.

BTW, torsional vib problems have been the major issue that plagued the Delta Hawk diesel - that is one of the reasons I suspect that you haven't seen it on the market.

The joke is that the Germans solved the torsional issues with 2 stroke diesels in the 1930's but of course, the NIH effect combined with the inability to perform research causes the wheel to be re-invented....

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 8:40 PM    Report this comment

Bob, I have to admire your passion and committment, and to be honest, I've never heard of a water cooled conversion, and it might be because there isn't one available for Bonanza/Barons. I'm not a mechanical engineer, but I do have a good memory, and before you cast all aircooled engines in the dump with the demise of 100LL, remember Porche won a lot or races with aircooled engines and unleaded fuel. The final answer? Who knows. I suspect we'll all give a little, take a little and end up with a solution that works for most with the least collective pain. Personally, I like diesels, but TCM has a lot of work and needs to be very convincing to sell their new 300 HP diesel project.

Keep up the good fight . . .

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 23, 2010 9:20 PM    Report this comment

Bob, gotta disagree with you again. Cost was part of my motivation to go Mazda, but the bigger motivation is the same one that drives you, the interest to experiment with more modern technologies.

The part I disagree with you on is the comment that you made regarding experimental builders being notoriously cheap. Guys experimenting with auto conversions are an extremely small minority. The vast majority of homebuilts these days are designed for and using Lycomings and Continentals. I'd bet half of Vans customers buy brand new Lycs via the OEM deal - my RV-6A had a brand new Lyc on it. Most of the current generation of homebuilders are very similar to pilots flying factory airplanes - relatively conservative and willing to spend pretty big bucks if they can justify it.

So if you really do have a better mousetrap, and it can be made both available and affordable, and all of your performance improvements can be independantly verified by some customers, I think you'd find acceptance in the Experimental world. Once that's happened you'd be in a better position to follow the Lancair model into the certified world.

But if your mousetrap is more expensive than the current offerings from Lycoming and Continental with their 60 year track record, and its perceived as more complex, and the only thing potential customers have to go on is your word for it that its better, well.... Good luck with that.

Posted by: Mike Wills | June 23, 2010 9:21 PM    Report this comment

Lead has nothing to do with cooling systems. The 180 hp Lycoming likes unleaded gas better than leaded. I am aware of a number operated on 91 octane Mogas. The result is 50% more cylinder life (exceeding TBO) in Glider Tow operations. The O320 behaves similarly; longer life on unleaded. Small Continentals up through the O300 and 230 hp O470 prefer unleaded for longer engine life. These engines were designed for 80/87 which often had no lead in it unless a particular batch came up low on octanem and then it was a max 1/4 the lead in 100LL. There is nothing good about lead in engines except increased octane, which can be obtained in other ways. Specifically, lead has nothing to do with Air Cooling versus Liguid Cooling. People forget the problems engines had when lead was introduced. The engines had to be redesigned to accept lead without severe valve issues.

By the way, the Deltahawk Diesel is two stroke. What are the bets on certification by Oshkosh, or the next Sun N Fun at the latest?

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | June 23, 2010 9:50 PM    Report this comment

As for getting rid of the lead - I am all for it because it also extends the life of the engine's internal components but reducing the amount of corrosive byproduct acids that are created in the crankcase oil as a result of unburned and partially burned fuel blow by.

Mike - again you have answered your own question. Very few builders run experimental engines - they tend to purchase certified ones. Ironically, that means we have to certify ours in order to gain the possibility of greater acceptance. This goes back around full circle to needing the support of an OEM certified mfr in order for a new engine to even stand a chance of success.

BTW, I hope that Delta Hawk succeeds. I like their design.

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 23, 2010 10:56 PM    Report this comment

It looks like the previous posters have covered this pretty well. My two cents is this. I am not ready to replace my engine yet. When it reaches TBO, I will think about it. In my book, $35-45K is a lot of money. How much would a new technology engine cost? $90K like the Thielert? Not to be overhauled but replaced for the same $90,000? The problem for the manufacturers is a separate STC for every certified airplane out there. This would also include certifying propeller combinations for every aircraft too. This is all a very tall order in the current regulatory and litigious environment that exists today.

Posted by: DAVID HEBERLING | June 24, 2010 12:49 AM    Report this comment

David you have summed up the cold, hard realization that I came to a few years ago with our water cooled Lycoming conversion. While the water cooled modification can be STC'd for the engine - every single installation would have to be certified and approved. We would also have to certify engine and prop combinations if we changed the compression ratio or increased horsepower - both of which are a major benefit of going water cooled and we of course have done. We think a normally aspirated IO-360 that produces 245HP is a much better engine. The bottom line is that we would have to be prepared to re-certify every engine, prop and airframe combination that we would want to install into - a monstrous undertaking. For those that aren't familiar with the way the FAA/ACO works. A PA28-180 and a PA28-181 are considered two different aircraft for certification purposes. Couple that regulatory burden with the general distrust that most pilots and owners have of anything new (except electronics) that has been so aptly displayed by several commentators here and we are faced with a generally hostile market in which to introduce an engine MODIFICATION that we know will be better - but we have to have customers to prove it first. Which is it - the chicken or the egg???

Lastly - consider the lack of economy of scale of the GA piston market. More new Formula I racing engines are produced every year than ALL of the new GA piston engines sold by both Lycoming and TCM combined!

Posted by: Bob Atkins | June 24, 2010 3:25 AM    Report this comment

In Sweden we have flown millions of hours on UNleaded AVGAS meeting US standard D910 for AVGAS for 29 years.
There are no engine problems -- and typically these Lycoming and TCM engines run 3000 before overhaul and that is longer than with 100 LL. So what Bob is saying has no bearing in reality about less hours between TBO when flying on unleaded AVGAS.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | June 24, 2010 6:35 AM    Report this comment

Lars; Can you illuminate the discrepancy between your 96UL and the 94UL proposed for the US. If 100LL without lead produces 96UL in Europe, why are Americans saying 100LL without lead produces 94UL.

Can Paul Bertorelli do an interview or otherwise contact George Brayly at GAMI and ask him what octane is actually needed by various engines.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | June 24, 2010 8:06 AM    Report this comment

We already have a good handle on what engines require 100 octane. Both Lycoming and Continental have long lists showing what's approved for 80/87 and which require higher octane.

Generally, the low horsepower engines can use 80-octane or what would be 94UL. O-320s, O-360s, some of the IO-360s and O-540s.

But some of the smaller engines--the 200-HP IO-360, the IO-540s, some 480s and even a few 320s need 100 octane.
Similar pattern at Continental.

What's at issue is how many of those engines that require 100 can actually use 94UL. This is where Continental and Lycoming seriously diverge.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 24, 2010 8:40 AM    Report this comment

My question was to get someone outside the manufacturers to suggest which engines actually need 100 octane fuel. Any engine previously approved for 80/87 or 91/96 would generally be fine on 91 octane unleaded. (and happier without the lead.) Any engine for which a MOGAS STC has been issued is not in question.
Which engines actually need higher octane, and what octane.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | June 24, 2010 8:35 PM    Report this comment

In reading through the posts I am wondering why there is no argument or conversation about the carbon footprint of diesel/jet fuel compared to 100 Low Lead, is this not similar to what the environmental community is protesting additional pollution to the atmosphere? If we are going to devise a new engine and new fuels it seems to me that this should be in the equation. Otherwise we face the same dilemma in the next century.

Posted by: Rob Stapleton, Jr. | June 24, 2010 8:56 PM    Report this comment

Without wanting to start another running gun fight, carbon foot is voodoo science, which is a great disservice to the noble art of voodoo. It has been fairly well proven that carbon is a result and NOT causative with relationship to temperature. The oceans release carbon as the temp increases, so with all due respect to that great scientist sex poodle goofy Gore, please lets not get wrapped around the axle with carbon footprint. Ask a horticulturist what happens when the ratio of carbon dioxide increases. Hint: Increased growth rate, all else constant.

Posted by: Burns Moore | June 24, 2010 9:29 PM    Report this comment

Notice that no one ever talks about the methane problem. Because homo sapiens cannot be blamed for the methane problem, it is ignored.

Posted by: DAVID HEBERLING | June 24, 2010 11:58 PM    Report this comment

Brian: The US 94 UL is a test fuel and has no standard but is very like the Hjelmco 91/96 UL. The Hjelmco 91/96 UL meets US AVGAS standard ASTM D910 for leaded grade 91/98 but does not contain any lead. If you go otanwise the Hjelmco 91/96 UL and the test fuel 94 UL from time to time are equal.
So it is not incorrect to say that the TCM efforts are trying to find out if a fuel somewhat similar to the Hjelmco 91/96 UL could make it in their high bore engines.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | June 25, 2010 3:40 AM    Report this comment

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