New Mooneys: No Parachute?

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I've been pawing over some additional details on the specs for the new airplanes Mooney announced last week in Zhuhai. They truly are clean-sheet designs and the first we've seen from a major manufacturer in more than a decade. The airplanes are interesting less for what they have than what they don't have: ballistic parachutes.

Via e-mail, I asked Mooney CEO Jerry Chen about this. He said parachutes are on the design table and provisions are being made to accommodate them. But no decisions have been made. Anyone who's paying attention will have noticed that Cirrus is the only certified light aircraft line to have a BRS or similar system as standard equipment and to have sold it in significant numbers. I'm absolutely convinced that this has been a factor in the company's sales success and accounts, at least partially, for the fact that Cirrus has about 5000 airplanes in the field. Argue all you like about whether the parachute is effective or whether it's philosophically and morally a good thing. That's really immaterial to its value as a sales tool.

Some years ago, when Cirrus passed about the 2000 airframe mark, we conducted a survey to find out if the Cirrus CAPS was a factor in the buying decision. About a third of Cirrus owners told us it was, but I think the real percentage is higher than that. It's difficult to pin it down exactly because I'm not sure buyers can always articulate their motivations for buying one airplane over another. And we surveyed the pilots, not the spouses.

But consider this: Last year, Cirrus sold 112 SR22s while Cessna sold 21 TTxs; a five-to-one margin. How many otherwise serious and qualified buyers didn't give the TTx a second look because the SR22 has a parachute and the Cessna doesn't? It may not be 50, but I bet it's not zero, either. In a market with the miniscule volume we're seeing these days, those marginal sales make a difference and it doesn't take too many of them to turn a mediocre sales year into a good or great one.

Perhaps the trainer version of the new Mooney—the M10T—doesn't warrant a BRS because training institutions don't attach the emotional value to the second chance a parachute offers. The calculus is just different. Or maybe in markets other than the U.S. and Europe, perceived safety doesn't carry the same weight. But the step-up version Mooney has in mind—the retractable M10J—is a bridge model. It can be both a high-performance trainer for airline or other training and a go-places airplane for an owner interested in economy and who doesn't need four seats. (Many piston GA flights carry one or two people.) But here again rationality and practicality collide. Even though they know they won't fly much with the seats full, many owners still want the option, which is why the fundamental idea of a high-performance two-place airplane remains for Mooney to prove attractive enough to flourish.

The M10J is planned to be a two-seater with a third seat as an option. I don't have specs on weight yet, but I don't expect the laws of physics and aerodynamics to change in the next three years. The J will be 24 feet 6 inches long with a 33-foot 5-inch wingspan. That's essentially the same length as the M20J 201, but with a nearly three foot shorter span. That suggests its gross weight may be lower than the 201's 2740 pounds with a useful load less than the typical 900 pounds for that model. So pick a number. I'd guess between 750 and 800 pounds useful.

That would allow three people, almost full tanks and a bit of baggage. If you throw in the 75 pounds a BRS might consume, then the airplane could still squeak by as a three-placer because thanks to the diesel engine, it doesn't have to tanker as much fuel as a gasoline-powered aircraft would. But it still looks better as a two-place. That might not matter for training, but would it tarnish the appeal as a traveling or sport airplane? It certainly has in the past. Think of the Globe Swift, the Swift Fury, the Micco SP20/26 or the Fascination D4, even Mooney's own Predator—all two-place retracts and all either has beens or never weres. Lack of capital and weak promotion were contributory for the demise or poor market performance of those models, but the concept never seemed to catch fire.

In a way, this is the real-world penalty that the choice of a diesel engine exacts. It's about 90 pounds heavier than the equivalent gasoline engine, meaning none of the light diesel singles—save one--can be practical four-seat airplanes. That includes the Cessna 172 and PA-28 conversions and the new Archer DX. I'm not sure about the new Cessna 172 JT-A. If Cessna certifies it at a higher weight, it may gain back the diesel's penalty. That's what Diamond did with the DA40 NG. It was certified at a weight 290 pounds higher than the gasoline DA40 and that accommodated both the higher engine weight and the extra passenger. Cessna's 182 J-TA is another exception, but it's a heavier airplane.

So Mooney is breaking some new ground here in more ways than one. Perhaps the combination of an economical diesel, retractable gear and a composite airframe will hit the same sweet spot that Cirrus did with the BRS idea. But I can't help feeling they'd do better offering the parachute, perhaps as standard. Since Cirrus pioneered the certification of such a thing on a new airframe, perhaps Mooney's path to certifying with a parachute could be a little easier. On the other hand, I can sit at my desk and easily make observations and suggestions that add millions to a certification program. I'm really good at it. And it doesn't cost me a dime.

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

Comments (44)

I believe it would be big mistake not offering BRS on the M10J as an option.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | November 15, 2014 11:52 AM    Report this comment

Technical arguments aside, those in the pursuit of conspicuous consumption will desire a BRS system. Thou wilt keepeth up with the Jones'.

Posted by: Andre Abreu | November 15, 2014 1:46 PM    Report this comment

I think the three-seat move is brilliant. I don't think I would buy a two-seat plane and never have the option of flying with two passengers, but I can think of only two or three flights I've taken that have had three passengers in addition to myself.

As for the BRS, obviously the plane alone is safer with it than without. However, in terms of overall safety, pilot plus airplane, I am not sure. If you assume that the average pilot is flying on a fixed budget, every additional fixed cost means fewer hours flown per year. If a repack every 10 years costs $10,000 dollars, that's $1,000 a year of fixed cost that is now spent on not-flying. At $100 an hour, that's 10 fewer hours flown per year. The question then becomes, does the added safety of having more hours flown per year, and thus higher pilot proficiency, outweigh having the chute? My instinct tells me that the chute still wins, but I don't think it's quite as clear-cut as it seems.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | November 15, 2014 3:52 PM    Report this comment

The day A380s or a B747s wear BRSs then I will approve them on a training aircraft.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 15, 2014 5:01 PM    Report this comment

Parachutes definitely have been a sales plus for Cirrus. It's hard to argue with success. I'm still skeptical about their ability to get it done with their personal jet, though...

I'm a big fan of alternative-fuel airplanes, but no airframe knows whether the propeller that's dragging it through the air is being powered by gasoline, kerosene, or wound-up rubber bands. Horsepower is horsepower; thrust is thrust; lift is lift. But these new Mooney paper airplanes have economy-size engines - 135 and 155 HP, respectively. When compared with a traditional 200 HP single, those low-power engine installations play havoc with the vehicles' climb gradients. This results in drastically reduced useful loads. And since the airframe ain't getting any lighter, that means reduced PAYloads. Consequently, the ~100 pound true installed weight of a BRS system easily can turn a 3-seater into a 2-seater and/or result in a 90-minute endurance with two typical Americans on board.

I like the 'chutes. I don't like the small engines. Why not install a 200 HP diesel, and let its virtues shine? The better SFCs of the diesel give the pilot more loading flexibility - weight versus endurance. Frankly, I simply don't get why some manufacturers are downgrading installed horsepower when they move to diesels - on otherwise identical airframes! Can anyone explain it to me?

Piper has the temerity to call their 155 HP diesel Cherokee an "Archer." Folks, it's got 5 fewer installed horsepower than a Warrior! That ain't an Archer! Do they think that we're really that stupid?

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 15, 2014 5:51 PM    Report this comment

"If you assume that the average pilot is flying on a fixed budget, every additional fixed cost means fewer hours flown per year."

Not sure that's a good assumption. The Lucky 500 who can afford to buy $650,000 new airplanes aren't "average pilots" and aren't sweating the cost of 10 hours of flying a year, nor the $1000 a year repack cost. I'm pretty sure the calculus is strongly emotional toward the perceived safety net of the parachute and what it costs doesn't matter much. At least, that's what they've told us.

For lesser airplanes or used model, it's different.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 16, 2014 6:45 AM    Report this comment

CAIGA's Mooney design is a composite of popular features ending as a Mooney-Cirrus-Columbia-Panthera two place airframe with a marginally powered, expensive, and limited time power plant. But CAIGA owns all companies except for Garmin so, it is my opinion, that the airframe/powerplant design makes business sense for CAIGA. The Chinese have a government subsidized market base with eyes on Europe and the USA. My guess is that we will see this product being predominantly manufactured in China for export with optional avgas engines. The price will probably start considering the international flight training market then float for the "average pilot" market segment. Lower prices at first then fluctuate to demand levels. Expect wide and multilevel marketing. May be a COSTCO item. BRS optional.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 16, 2014 9:14 AM    Report this comment wanta a green suit - turn the green light on."

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 16, 2014 10:44 AM    Report this comment


Fair point. You're almost certainly right. I guess when I hear two-seat diesel, emerging market, I have this image in my head that these planes may just be priced at a point for a pilot stepping up from renting or from a larger flight club to sole ownership or a small partnership. I would guess the maximum price for such a thing would be around $250K, maybe as high as $300K. In retrospect, I suppose that's probably not a reasonable number for the retract model, especially not with the third seat and whatever other options they throw in.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | November 16, 2014 10:23 PM    Report this comment


I see it differtly. The question is: which Problem does a parachute solve. For me there are 3:
1) unusual attitude, which the pilot is not able to recover. A good aircraft which good slow speed behavior together with a well trained pilot won't need that.
2) Medical problem of the Pilot. When I fly with 2, it is almost always my wife. She got a basic training in flying that is good enough for a emergency landing and is able to operate the autopilot when in IMC. Training and keeping maintained the wife is cheaper than aquiring and maintaining a parachute. In addition it is more fun. When I fly alone and I get a fatal heart attack it remains just a question of insurance.
3) Icing. This is for me the only point for a parachute. I therefore opt for a hot prop to minimize the risk.
In addition I fly for 40 years without parachute. I see no reason to change that.

Posted by: Wolfgang | November 17, 2014 1:59 AM    Report this comment

Cirrus Sales v's Cessna Sales - commitment to that segment of the marketplace. Cessna are too busy chasing Citation sales.

Parachute - Presumably the Mooney is capable of spin recovery (and so certification) without one....

Posted by: Graeme Smith | November 17, 2014 6:03 AM    Report this comment

Well Paul, you're right on the money on several counts. BRS is an effective sales tool whether it delivers on what it advertises is immaterial, it sells airplanes and it's heavy. The planned diesel (smells really bad) is underpowered, sucks down half the fuel (because it's underpowered) of what really should be going into the "J" model (IO-390) and it's heavy. BRS will more than likely continue to be a primary factor in the sale of four (or three seat) airplanes regardless of their perceived effectiveness and it's heavy. People have gotten fatter, they are heavier and,... and the laws of physics have not changed, nor will they ever change regardless of how manufacturers play with numbers.
Beef up the structure of an airframe all you want to gain useful load, the laws of physics don't change.
You will still have and airplane that looks really cool, looks fast, seats four (or three) sips fuel, is really expensive by anybodies standards (value received for money spent) and flies like poo, because it's heavy and laws of physics don't change, but you'll look really cool even though the plane flies like poo, smells like poo, because it's way to heavy, because most people want what they want regardless of the consequences.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | November 17, 2014 6:10 AM    Report this comment

I couldn't agree more. I've flown for more than 43 years/13,000 hours (30+ professionally) rotorcraft & fixed wing. To date I would only consider flying GA again in aircraft that have BRS type equipment or I'm not flying at all. I've only got so many years left and the risk/reward to enjoyment/fun ratio is paramount in my daily life making decisions. BRS, regardless of what anyone else thinks, is the psychological edge that would affect my going back in the air or staying on the ground and keep golfing everyday.

Posted by: Stephen Gohlke | November 17, 2014 6:32 AM    Report this comment

The Swift "Furry"??? Why not, with the C-85 on a hot day and a short grass strip, the takeoffs were really hairy. They didn't need a ballistic parachute but a JATO bottle would have been a real selling point.

Posted by: Richard Montague | November 17, 2014 7:25 AM    Report this comment

Cute. I fixed the typo.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 17, 2014 7:41 AM    Report this comment

I sense a concentual condemnation of the BRS. But will the Chinese Mooney stakeholders have the same me opinion?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 17, 2014 8:57 AM    Report this comment

Wolfgang, I agree. Manufacturers must design airworthy craft (spin recovery w/o BRS) and users must learn to proficiently fly them. The need for the use of BRS is infinitesimal therefore an unnecessary expense. Learn to fly.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 17, 2014 9:18 AM    Report this comment

"Frankly, I simply don't get why some manufacturers are downgrading installed horsepower when they move to diesels - on otherwise identical airframes! Can anyone explain it to me?"

It's easy to explain, Tom. Aircraft diesel engine design philosophy bifurcated between 1995 and 1999. One branch was take by SMA, which developed a purpose-designed 230-HP engine, the SR305 and certified it. The other branch was taken by Thielert which rummaged around for an automobile diesel engine suitable for conversion and found it in the Mercedes OM668. It was state of the art and made in the millions for the A-class sedans.

It could be--and was--lightened by casting the block in aluminum instead of cast iron. But it was still heavier than a Lycoming and had less power. Nonetheless, it found a market and established itself as the the principal choice for aircraft diesels. The SMA and Continental's version of it have not established that market yet, the Cessna 182 J-TA notwithstanding. (I'm told that airplane has about 50 firm orders, which will finally give the SMA engine a foothold. If Cessna would just finish it...)

In 2007, a third branch appeared in the Austro, which also uses the OM640 as the basis, but kept the cast iron block. That makes it heavier than even the Thielert/Continental version, but has allowed them to tweak the horsepower up to 168.

Bottom line: these companies are using the lower horsepower engines because that's what's available. And where avgas is expensive or scarce, that matters. A lot. Because of their high combustion pressures, diesels are always going to be heavier than gasoline engines and there's always going to be some compromise on payload. Why no purpose-designed 200 HP? In addition to the weight, there's the investment required. The Austro investment was around $62 million. They have about 750 engines flying. Not a very appealing RIO. The SMA, by the way, would be too heavy for the new Mooney design, I think. It would add another 130 pounds.

I always find it amusing that the most determined criticisms of diesels come from people who have never flown them and know even less about the economics. The comment above about them smelling bad is an example. It's kind of silly.

I've just finished another survey of diesel operators and they're still saying what they've been saying: They like the diesel's smoothness of operation, ease of starting and dispatch reliability and the fact that it burns a third less fuel. They don't like the high replacement cost, the gearbox changes and the lower climb performance. Lower payload never seems to be a complaint. When asked if they would rather go back to gasoline, almost all of them say no. The diesels edge the gas, but it's not a slam dunk.

Since about 2005, diesel airplanes account for 7 percent of all new airplanes sold. It's quite likely that this share will increase at a modest pace if Cessna sells its J-TAs, Diamond continues and Cirrus introduces a diesel, which it's likely to do. Against that backdrop, Mooney's decision to go with diesels makes perfect sense. If the TBRs increase and Continental figures out an overhaul program, they'll look better. And buyers can decide if the compromises are worth the gains.

I don't know if gasoline engines are suddenly going to stage a renaissance. Anything is possible. It really depends on what the avgas market does. But I don't think the diesel market is going to fade.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 17, 2014 10:18 AM    Report this comment

A lot of these questions would/can be answered when we find out WHERE THIS DESIGN CAME FROM.

I am excited to see Mooney innovating, even if it's origins are starry-eyed Chinese dreamers...

Posted by: Peter Kuhns | November 17, 2014 10:20 AM    Report this comment

Paul, you got on the right track when you talked about spouses. I find this goes double when it comes to potential passengers. It's rare to find a couple who wants to join us flying, but I have had many of them say they would reconsider if my plane had BRS. So, spouses often lean towards chutes, and spouses of friends do as well.

Sharing a ride then comes more likely with the BRS which paradoxically takes up the weight you need.

Not sure if want a chute, but the retract sounds like a winner to me.

One last thing. The whole marketability of range vs payload is an art. Combine the silly full fuel payload cult who pay homage to the demigods Phillerup and Will Stopoffen with the guys with giant bladders and bigger ambitions and what to you build?

Posted by: Eric Warren | November 17, 2014 11:02 AM    Report this comment

Not sure 75 lbs for a BRS is a good figure. There are some 20 microlights sold in the French market and of the low 50 or so estimated to be bought last year, every one had a parachute.
Having a parachute boosts MTOW from 450 kg to 472 kg while the parachutes only weigh between 7kg -11 kg, depending on type and the length of the straps needed to fix them to the structure.

Posted by: John Patson | November 17, 2014 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Paul, the other factor in the horsepower question is the higher torque at lower revs of diesel engines.

Posted by: John Patson | November 17, 2014 11:26 AM    Report this comment

John, those microlight parachute systems are much smaller than what's used in the Cirrus, where the canopy and reefing system alone weights more than 50 pounds. The rocket and container add to that. We're talking about a large canopy--65 feet--for the SR22. Might be a little smaller for a lighter airplane, but not much.

On the diesel torque, yes, it does have more torque. But ultimately, thrust is determined by power and the diesels have less of it. You notice it in longer takeoff runs and a lesser climb rate compared to the Lycoming. However, I recently flew a CD-135 with a new Hartzell prop and it had noticeably better climb rate than the MT.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 17, 2014 1:03 PM    Report this comment

At the end the new plastic Mooney's success will depend on volume and price. Ramping up production for the Chinese is key. I am anticipating CAIGA will manufacture for their needs then add the European and USA markets. The design makes sense, no BRS, two place trainer and recreational, G1000, diesel or avgas, ultimately 180hp. Then the retract.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 17, 2014 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Paul, my comment regarding diesel smell was meant to be silly. I thought that was obvious.
I got my mulli engine in a DA42 1.7 Thielert and about 50 hrs. flying the 1.7s.
I was restricted by the flight school who rented out the DA42 to a specific radius because if it broke down they would have to foot the bill to send out their mechanic to fix the plane because there's not a real big network out there taking care of Thielert's or Austro's for that matter. Virtually all parts have to be ordered from and shipped over seas. I think I had somewhere around 150 to 155 tas at 85%, 6.0 gph a side 5,000 msl with a full fuel useful load of 450 lbs. Like you said, it's all about physics.
I understand most other countries outside of North America don't have the supply of Avgas that we have here. I don't live in the other countries, I live in America.
I also believe approximately (and I could be wrong so, please feel free to correct) 80% of all ga aircraft reside in North America.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | November 17, 2014 2:22 PM    Report this comment

Mooney's CEO. "Originally from Taiwan, Dr. Chen was an advisor for the USC AeroDesign Team and frequent lecturer for 10 years at USC. Dr. Chen's past research and industry work include aerodynamic studies and aircraft design, nonlinear dynamic and control systems, Mechoptronics, the KillerBee UAV program, unmanned helicopter autopilot control system design, micro-satellites control, low-speed wind tunnel testing, supersonic shock-tube experimentation, and 6-degree-of-freedom robotic arm dynamics and control."

Chen is not a newbie in aviation, i would think this is where the design came from. The plastic, diesel, glass deck Mooney is on the roll.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 17, 2014 2:40 PM    Report this comment

Paul: Thanks for your excellent "state of the diesels" response. In it, you said: "The SMA [230 HP diesel], by the way, would be too heavy for the new Mooney design, I think. It would add another 130 pounds."

I understand that when you're an airframer who's shopping for an engine, you have to choose from what's available. I just don't understand why manufacturers opt to install the available baby engines in airframes, to replace much-higher-horsepower gasoline engines - when engines like the SMA also are available. In Piper's case, a diesel "Dakota" probably would have made a lot more sense than what they came up with - a diesel Warrior purporting to be an Archer.

Let's return to the Mooney example. Giving up one (of four) occupant seats would allow for the extra 130 pounds of the SMA engine PLUS the installed weight of a BRS. In fact, the 48% increase in power (230 HP vs 155) would provide an increase in weight-lifting capability that would be several times the increase in engine weight. The resultant vehicle would have true Mooney-like performance, plus the other diesel advantages that you listed. It could be a real 3-seater, or a 2-seat hot rod. Yet, once you quickly cleared those hungry trees, nothing would stop you from cruising the thing at 40% power, if you really wanted to sip that kerosene.

Note for anyone who's interested: my assertion that a BRS in a Cirrus-class airplane weighs about 100 pounds is my napkin-math accounting for the dry weight of the equipment PLUS the increase in airframe weight caused by structural accommodations like embedded lanyard channels, drag-surface tear-aways, etc. This is the same reasoning that caused me to conclude that the installed weight cost of a BRS in their SF-50 would be about 400 pounds. [Worth-what-you-paid-for-it opinion: a 400-pound increase in useful load would support a nice set of operational options for that airframe...]

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 17, 2014 3:28 PM    Report this comment

Depends on the market you're aiming for, I guess. I'm not sure the SMA is a good choice for a training airplane. It will, by necessity, be a larger, heavier airframe than the smaller ones would be and the economy wouldn't be as great. You start to lose the narrow edge the diesel enjoys.

Then there's this: the Thielert/Continental engines have the field history of 4000 or so copies out there, millions of hours, including drone operations. The SMA has nothing like that yet.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 17, 2014 3:45 PM    Report this comment

"I'm not sure the SMA is a good choice for a training airplane." I agree. In this day and age, I also wonder if there's much of a market for new "trainers" at all. At under $50k? Sure. At ten times that level? I doubt it. At that price point, I tend to favor the "train in what you intend to fly" paradigm. That dynamic - and the increasing prevalence of 240-pound students - is the most-likely Achilles' heel for AOPA's "re-imagined 150" vehicle. Maybe if Piper tried to market their diesel-powered "Archer trainer" under a different name, I wouldn't see it as false advertising.

Your point about SMA's lack of a service history is well-taken. On the other hand, Thielert's service record hasn't exactly been a story of unblemished success. Continental's future seems based largely on what was LEARNED during the Thielert adventure. Just as Airbus claims to have learned from Bowing's plastic-airplane travails, SMA may have learned valuable lessons from the Thielert experience, too. Only time will tell. I'm going to be very interested in seeing Cirrus' diesel-powered SR-22 derivative (SR-23?). I'm surprised that we haven't seen it already; maybe the SF-50 simply is consuming all of their development bandwidth.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 17, 2014 4:40 PM    Report this comment

Tom, more like an Cirrus SR21 for the diesel.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 17, 2014 6:10 PM    Report this comment

For Tom and Paul re: diesel engine design approaches,

There are significant operational performance differences between turbocharged, liquid cooled diesels and non-turbo air cooled gas engines that make a straight comparison of rated horsepower into somewhat of an apples to oranges affair.

A turbocharged diesel engine, for instance, maintains its full rated horsepower to higher altitudes than conventionally aspirated engines that lose 30-40 percent of their rated power up high, meaning that if you operate out of a high altitude airport (common throughout the western states), or simply prefer to cruise at higher altitudes, a 155 hp turbodiesel easily outperforms a non-turbo Lyc O-360 for much of the flight profile.

Secondly, a liquid cooled diesel is generally approved for operations at higher percentages of rated power (up to 100%) at economical fuel flows for extended periods because overheating is not an issue. Unlike most gas engines that are limited to 75% power, either due to overheating concerns or due to excessive fuel consumption.

Thirdly, the published weight difference between a Continental CD-155 (295 pounds dry wt) and a Lyc O-360 (258 pounds) is only 37 pounds - not the 90 pounds that Paul cited. And that difference in engine weight is very easily more than made up by the much higher fuel efficiency of the diesel, which will cruise on only about 5.5 gal/hour vs. about 10 gal/hr for the Lyc gas engine operating at 75% power. Meaning, instead of having to fill the tanks on an Archer (50 gal, or 300 pounds fuel), the diesel bird can obtain the same range on as little as 165 pounds of fuel - or a savings of 135 pounds, four times the weight penalty of the engine itself. That weight savings is enough to account for the installation of a BRS system. Plus, there's the economy of much lower fuel consumption that is a major reward in itself.

Yes, Paul is right that these diesel engines (replacements for the Lyc O-320 and O-360) are based upon easily-available Mercedes auto engines, so that explains the smaller horsepower numbers of the CD-155 and CD-135. But there are also other diesel aircraft engines coming on line that are higher horsepower, such as the SMA 227 hp engine slated for the Cessna JT-182, and still others in development that can replace the big 300+ hp gas sixes. The entire aviation world is in the process switching to diesels, and eventually the prices will become more competitive as more and more models come into the fleet.

Posted by: Duane Truitt | November 18, 2014 8:20 AM    Report this comment


I can't imagine Cirrus installing a 135 or 155 HP diesel in one of their half-a-million-dollars-plus airframes. They're already amazingly successful at selling SR-20s and SR-22s to well-heeled non-pilots. Their idea of a "trainer" is selling an SR-22 to a person who makes a deposit on an SF-50!


Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 18, 2014 8:26 AM    Report this comment

"Thirdly, the published weight difference between a Continental CD-155 (295 pounds dry wt) and a Lyc O-360 (258 pounds) is only 37 pounds - not the 90 pounds that Paul cited."

Duane, you're using dry weight only. This is misleading. You have to use installed weight complete, including radiators, plumbing and FADECs. And if you compare the empty weights between a CD-135 conversion and the original Lycoming, the difference is about 100 pounds. If it were 37 pounds, the airplane would retain its practical four-place capability and I assure you, it does not. Not in the Cessna, not in the Pipers. I think your claims are a little optimistic.

Specifically, the S-model Skyhawk used for the CD-135 conversions has a typical empty weight of 1642 pounds against a 2450-pound gross for a useful load of 808 pounds with the gasoline engine. With the diesel conversion, the empty rises to 1746 pounds for a useful load of 704 pounds. It's really a little more than 100 pounds. Also, max fuel is restricted to 44.6 gallons, due to wing structural considerations. Some of that weight Delta is due to non-engine components.

In the Piper Archer, the weights work out like this, according to Piper. Useful load in the gasoline Archer is give as 870 pounds, while the diesel version is claimed as 795 pounds. But the demo I flew had a useful of only 439 pounds, supposedly because it was a converted LX version. Not sure if the lighter interior is going to find 350 pounds, frankly, so the real useful may be closer to 725 or so. Could be less.

"and eventually the prices will become more competitive as more and more models come into the fleet."

No one I've spoken to is saying this, least of all Continental. Right now, diesel engines cost more than twice as much to manufacture as conventional aircraft engines. In Continental's case, part of the reason is that they use automotive sourcing for specialty components like complex castings and forgings. But they buy at very low volume. Doubling that volume or even tripling it won't reduce cost of manufacture much at all and certainly not by a factor equivalent to the cost of gasoline engines. Five times the current volume? Maybe. That would be the equivalent of 7500 airframes with diesel having 100 percent of the market.

This may happen eventually, at least the 100 percent part. But not in the foreseeable future. Diesel will continue to gain marketshare at a steady pace. It will live or die on its economy, durability and dispatch reliability, not being cheaper to buy or even the equivalent purchase price of gasoline engines.

Some people in this industry continue to believe there is a magic bullet with regard to price and volume. I just don't see it. The great Chinese groundswell of aviation notwithstanding, I don't see world GA producing more than about 5000 airframes a year no matter where the prices go and at best, they may flatten some. I hope I'm dead wrong about that, but I don't think so.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 18, 2014 10:36 AM    Report this comment

As was previously discussed diesels aren't necessarily lower performance than "equivalent" avgas engines: the 168 hp Austro engines of our Diamond DA42 will easily outperform 180 hp Lycoming IO-360s in the same airplane despite the higher weight of cast-iron engine blocks in these modified Mercedes OMS640 car engines. Above 3000 feet the turbocharged Austros are more powerful; they'll maintain full power up to about 12,000 feet. Our DA42-VI will routinely climb at more than 1500 fpm and exceed 190 knots TAS up high, so the performance of diesels is hardly anemic.

Also, Diamond's upcoming DA62 twin will use these same Austro engines boosted to 180 hp with just a simple software change. And because of their more robust construction (including much bigger gearboxes), Austro Engines can be overhauled instead of being replaced like Continental (formerly Thielert) engines at TBO.

Too bad Mooney can't use Austro instead of Continental diesels. My understanding is that Diamond/Austro Engines will only sell Austros to airframe manufacturers who are perceived as not competing with Diamond, such as American Champion with their forthcoming Austro-powered diesel Scout model.

Posted by: DAVE PASSMORE | November 18, 2014 10:58 AM    Report this comment

I am trying to understand what possible purpose a BRS could serve?
So the plane can float down to a high speed landing after a wing failure? Does that really ever happen?

If the engine is running isn't it much better to do a controlled landing at an airport?
If the engine is not running isn't it much better to glide to the nearest airport or to a controlled off airport landing?

Don't we all train for that? I sure did. In fact the greatest part of pilot training is handling emergencies. Or mine was.

Can anyone explain that? What is a parachute for, anyway?
Have any been deployed? What was the outcome? Why couldn't the plane be glided to a controlled landing?

I am not disputing the value of a BRS, but I just don't get it.

Posted by: Steve Waechter | November 18, 2014 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Somehow I feel compelled to point out that the limiting factor for gross weight is climb gradient on an ISO standard day at seal-level altitude. The fact that some installed turbocharged engine can make full-rated power to some higher altitude is not a factor at sea level. Raw power is what buys you high gross weights. And I say this as an unabashed supporter of kerosene-fueled engines.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 18, 2014 11:21 AM    Report this comment

Paul, C172S gross wt. is 2550 lbs. the R model is 2450.


On volume and pricing. In my opinion, the Chinese can cut prices to bolster production and deliveries within their emerging "closed" market then out for export. It is evident that the Chinese are gearing up for the making of pilots and aircraft in balance.

On pilots. The Chinese students are flowing into the USA soon to return and instruct in their country increasing their demand for training aircraft and other commercial types.

On manufacturing training aircraft. The plastic construction means a more labor intensive design but affordable when constructed in China.

On engines. Continental rules either in diesel or avgas. Whatever the flow the Chinese will join.

On the order of aircraft deliveries from China. The USA is "small potatoes" follow by EU.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 18, 2014 11:33 AM    Report this comment

Paul - It appears you're still minimizing the reduced fuel load required to achieve parity in range with a gas fueled airplane that a diesel provides. That's a benefit that more than makes up for the mechanical weight difference, even if we stipulate a 100+ pound weight increase for the diesel. Yes, if a pilot chooses to always fill the tanks up all the way, he or she may not realize the full GW savings benefit of increased fuel economy. But most of the pilots I know don't always fill their tanks every flight, but instead, take into account the flight range and weight and balance as required.

So the bottom line here is that the weight increase for diesel machinery is not a big factor, if any, as long as the pilot pays attention to W&B management and only carries the fuel needed for a reasonable flight segment. 3 hours aloft is about my personal limit! Plus allow for an hour's reserve - at 5.5 gph, that's only 22 gal or 150 pounds of JP-4, as compared to 300 pounds for full fuel in a gas powered Cherokee or Archer. If the re-engined diesel Skyhawk has a 44 gallon tank, that would be the equivalent of about 8 hours aloft at diesel cruise fuel flows. How many owners and pilots actually need that much range?

The cost issue for diesel engines will be what it is, which is too much. Everything in aviation costs way too much, for a variety of reasons.

Posted by: Duane Truitt | November 18, 2014 11:38 AM    Report this comment

I think to look at the diesels honestly--at least for the conversions and re-engine models--you have to point out the good with the bad. You can assign whatever weight you like to the merits and demerits. I'm neither a diesel apologist nor a detractor.

The facts are these: the converted 172 climbs slower than the gasoline engine model and cruises slower at lower altitudes. Where the gasoline engine model can realistically carry four people, the diesel cannot. The diesel costs more than twice as much to overhaul, has a shorter TBO/TBR and requires the gearbox replacements.

The diesel burns 30 percent less of a fuel that costs maybe 50 to 75 cents less than avgas. (Much more elsewhere.) It's easier to start and operate in the air and has fewer maintenance events. It appears to be easier to maintain and delivers about a 15 percent reduction in overall engine operating costs.

Various owners and would-be owners assign whatever weight they like to these factors. But it's important not to apologize for the shortcomings, but rather explain them. The most meaningful buyers of these airplanes are going to be flight schools, not private owners. So you need to look at them through that lens. For them, four seats don't matter. Cruise speed doesn't matter. But climb rate does, as does dispatch reliability and maintenance costs.

Two schools I spoke to had DA42 diesels, but went back to the Lycoming version for performance reasons. This surprised me, but when schools fly these airplanes six to eight hours a day, they look at them differently than a private owner might.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 18, 2014 12:20 PM    Report this comment

"The most meaningful buyers of these airplanes are going to be flight schools, not private owners. So you need to look at them through that lens. "

I agree, excellent point.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 18, 2014 12:42 PM    Report this comment

I recently purchased a 7 year old Diamond DA-40 and considered the Cirrus but the CAPS is what stopped me. I do like to interior room of the Cirrus but the high insurance cost and high maintenance cost of the Cirrus swayed my decision to the DA-40. Due to the safety features the Cirrus averages about $3500 for a standard annual compared to about $1400 for the DA-40. Plus every 10 years the CAPS requires a $18,000 repack so the total annual maintenance is over $5000 even without any repair. Also for various reasons like the high accident rate and fatality rate of the Cirrus the insurance would have cost me an additional $1500 a year for a total added cost of $6500 a year. Keep in mind that most (all?) deployments of the CAPS total the aircraft. One of the reason I went with a newer aircraft (and not a 30 year old one) was to reduce expenditures beyond the capital costs and the CAPS clearly does not help.

Posted by: M Kett | November 21, 2014 9:45 AM    Report this comment

In my view, the parachute question can be divided into two parts - a sales component and an operation component. Mama is involved in family finances and if Mama ain't happy ain't nobody happy. If she feels safer because of the 'chute then the aircraft is an easier sale.

Operationally, I do not agree with the (mostly older) pilots who think it's all about spin recovery and such. It's not. If we do not fly except when conditions are perfect - origin, destination, and everywhere in between - we don't get to fly very often. That may be fine when the whole purpose is just flying, but if an aircraft is to have any utility it has to be able to fly when conditions are less than perfect. In particular I'm thinking of flight over rugged terrain or at night. Used to be that we didn't hesitate to fly at night but every year I'm seeing less GA nighttime traffic. I suspect the same is true over the mountains even in the daylight. Which brings us back to Mama again, if we can't go where she wants to go, why would she want that aircraft?

Hopefully the chute will never be used but it provides another layer of safety. No amount of pilot skill will keep a plane aloft every time but pilot skill can be allowed to work more of the time if there is a last line of defense. As the sticker on the imported riding mower said: Caution - Avoid Death.

Posted by: Darryl Phillips | November 21, 2014 5:37 PM    Report this comment

I am going to have to call BS on flight schools choosing Lycoming for performance. My experience selling to flight schools tells me that they choose Lycoming because they are used to it as are their mechanics. My experience selling in general tells me they don't want to admit the real reasons because it's not good marketing and PR to do so. They don't want anything in their fleets that's different, requires more training, and creates more opportunity for them to be at fault. Certainly they don't want mechanics having any leverage.

They really have a hard time admitting the different is bad thing because they also realize that anything better is logically required to be different. The bottom line is they require OMG level better or they will keep buying Textron slop by the bucket.

Posted by: Eric Warren | November 24, 2014 7:27 PM    Report this comment

If Mooney isn't taking the opportunity to integrate state of the art safety techniques as safety chutes into a clean sheet design then they should avoid the big development cost for a complete new model.

An alternative option would be to build their successful proven and reliable M20J 201 airframe, built it in composite to save expensive manufacturing hours and provide it with a matching diesel engine in the 180 - 200 hp range ( austro?).
Looking at the Composite Comanche of Nowadays (Ravin 500) might show the way - at least it would be charming to the eye to keep the timeless smart lines of the classic Mooney airframes!

Posted by: Joern Szabados | November 24, 2014 8:06 PM    Report this comment

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