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A new company announced plans at Sun ’n Fun to build a Finnish LSA amphib in Maine. The Atol Avion will be built in Brunswick Landing. A new company called Atol USA has been formed as a joint venture with the Finnish company to build and sell the aircraft in the U.S. Brunswick Landing is the former NAS Brunswick and the Maine government has been marketing it as an aviation industrial park. The Atol Avion is a new design but European approval is expected later this year. The U.S. company hopes for deliveries in 2018. The aircraft looks like direct competition for the Icon A5 at a significantly lower base price of about $160,000.

The airplane uses a 100-horsepower Rotax 912iS in pusher configuration. It has a useful load of 600 pounds and clears a 50-foot obstacle off the water in 1,500 feet. It cruises at 106 mph and has a range of 800 miles. The aircraft will also have a warranty linked to an onboard condition monitor that sends reports to the factory. As long as the owner allows the aircraft to keep phoning home and takes care of snags reported by the system, the airplane has a 2,000-hour, 10-year warranty. At the end of either of those cycles, it can be returned to the factory for a full overhaul and the warranty is extended for another full set of cycles. On top of the base price of $160,000 there is a host of options, including skis for winter operation.

 

German aviation authorities created new regulations late last year that allow for the certification of ultralight helicopters, and at Aero Friedrichshafen this week, RotorSchmiede said it has a design in the works for the new category. The VA115 single-seat helicopter is targeted for the global “sports leisure” market, the company said, and will provide stable flight characteristics and “combine safety, fun, and cost-effectiveness.” The company said its VA115 program is the first one to get official approval based on the new regulations.

RotorSchmiede originally was working to develop the aircraft for the experimental market, and already has four prototypes that were built during the early-development and proof-of-concept stages. Those prototypes have completed extensive ground testing, the company said, and now Prototype PT002 will enter flight testing. Market entry is planned following certification in the new Ultra-Light Helicopter category.

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Much to the surprise of drone pilots who assumed it was already illegal, the FAA announced today that it will restrict drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of 133 military facilities. Flight above 400 feet by unmanned vehicles is already prohibited without special authorization. The restrictions will be effective starting on April 14. The FAA says this is the first time it has issued airspace regulation specifically applicable only to unmanned aerial vehicles, but did not explain why it was choosing only to apply the restrictions to drone flights. The areas affected, in many cases, are already inside of part-time controlled or restricted airspace. The net result of the new restriction is to prohibit drone flights during the hours in which a restricted area is not in effect or a part-time control tower is closed.

Interactive maps are available to drone operators at uas-faa.opendata.arcgis.com or through the FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app.

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New options are now available for the Piper M600, the company announced at Sun ’n Fun. Buyers now can choose to add the five-blade composite Hartzell prop, and also can select an interior/exterior upgrade package with a range of design choices. The five-blade prop reduces vibration, the company says, and comes with an unlimited life certification. It’s available as a factory option on new aircraft. Buyers who choose the new design program can spend time at the Piper factory in Vero Beach, Florida, working one-on-one with a design expert to personalize their new airplane.

Customers have been asking for more input to the design details, the company said. “We identified ways to further improve the interior while giving customers the ability to express their individuality,” said Ron Gunnarson, vice president of marketing at Piper. “Customers can now work directly with our most senior designers to create an aircraft as unique and individual as they are.” Design options include leather-wrapped yokes, choice of seat stitching colors, embroidered or embossed logos and a selection of paint schemes. The M600 debuted at Sun ’n Fun last year.

Along with showing off its P2012 twin-prop commuter plane, Tecnam unveiled a slew of new features and updates for its fleet at the Aero Friedrichshafen show in Germany this week. The P2006T twin, the company’s top-selling airplane with 200 flying, now comes with the Garmin G1000 Nxi next-generation flight deck, ADS-B Out as a standard feature, and a new seat design. The latest version of the P2002 LSA will feature the Rotax 915 iS/iSC 135-HP engine, which offers full takeoff power up to at least 15,000 feet and a service ceiling of 23,000 feet.

Also at Aero, the company said the four-seat P2010 now is available with the Lycoming IO-390 engine and a VP prop. Weighing in at 315 pounds, the IO-390 delivers 215 HP at 2,700 RPM. The G1000 Nxi flight deck is now available as an option, and ADS-B Out now is standard in the P2010. Tecnam also opened up the order book for the new P2012 commuter, and said they would take deposits for the $2.3 million airplane.

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I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Despite its reputation for stifling regulation, there’s more airframe and powerplant innovation coming out of Europe than from the U.S. If you’re interested in new airplanes, look east, not in your backyard. It’s not unreasonable to say Chinese money is funding at least some of this.

Consider this report from our remote coverage of Aero: “Diamond will produce the four-place DA50-IV and the seven-place DA50-VII with 230-, 260- and 360-horsepower Safran/SMA diesels.” There’s more developmental news in that little nugget than from the last three or four Sun ‘n Fun shows combined.

Let’s break down where Diamond is going with this. The DA50 emerged as a proof of concept in 2006 and Diamond CEO Christian Dries said it would be certified in 2010 or 2011. It was a five-seater and could accommodate a range of engines. Never happened. I think Diamond’s capital and interest got sucked into the dark hole of the now idled D-Jet project.

But the large cabin idea morphed into what is now Diamond’s premium diesel twin, the DA62, which despite a price tag north of $1 million, is selling well. The announcement at Aero revisits the single-engine idea with a host of engines that thus far, haven’t even been the bride’s maid, much less the bride. To me, that’s the most interesting part of the news.

The smallest version of the DA50 series, the IV, will use the SR305-230E. This engine has a stunning history of, shall I say, non-acceptance. Its appearance in the market in 1999—yes, 18 years ago—predated the arrival of the Thielert diesels which, to date, remain the most successful Jet A piston engines.

SMA continued to improve the engine and it continued to not find traction in the OEM market. An STC conversion for the Cessna 182 found some buyers, but the company never really promoted it much. Maule offered it in the M9, but that project stalled and more recently, Cessna announced in 2012 that it would offer the SR305 in the Cessna 182 JT-A. But that project stalled, too and now has no definite timeline.

Before it bought the assets of Thielert, Continental purchased a technology transfer agreement with SMA to produce a certified variant of the SR305 of its own. That was in 2010. Seven years later, still no marketable engine, although Continental’s Rhett Ross told us last week during a visit to Mobile that announcements are imminent. Will Diamond have any better luck? Maybe. It’s got more diesel experience—including manufacturing its homegrown Austro engines—than anyone else. I wouldn’t bet against Diamond.

The DA50-IV is intended for the training market and presumably would be a competitor with the Cirrus SR20. Not one to mince words, Dries said at Aero that Diamond has lost sales to Cirrus because its cabins aren't large enough because Americans are, well, too fat. Diamond also mentioned a 360-HP version of the DA50 and I take that to be the flat six-cylinder diesel SMA showed off at Aero in 2013. At the time, SMA said it was just getting into test cell work. By the way, while the -IV has fixed gear, the more powerful variants will be retractables. Haven't seen a new certified piston retrac for quite some time.

As for the Lycoming offering, Diamond CEO Christian Dries said it would be a 375-HP engine. If that potentiates, it will be the most powerful single-engine piston on the market today. I assume this engine will be some variant of the IE2 project Lycoming has been simmering since at least 2010. (No one has ever accused this industry of rushing things to market.) Recall that this is a fully electronic engine, with single-lever control and dual FADEC. Lycoming used the Lancair piston Evolution as the test bed for this engine and as we reported, Tecam picked it for the emerging P2012 Traveler mini airliner. It’s good to see it finally finding OEM interest.

Diamond also announced a turbine version of the DA50, using the Ukrainian Ivchenko-Progress AI-450S. This is a free-turbine design similar to the Pratt & Whitney PT6. So Diamond is going the direction of Piper and Daher in offering a high-performance turboprop single. But it’s not to be a cabin-class airplane, so I have no idea of the market appeal.

As for the piston versions, the market niche is twofold. One is the Cirrus-type buyer who wants performance, but a larger cabin, which the DA50 has. The second is the buyer of a Piper Saratoga or a Beechcraft/Textron G36. In other words, the six-place market. This is not a major segment. In 2016, Textron sold 25 G36s and Piper ended the Saratoga in 2009, although it did move 26 Mirage/Matrix airframes. That’s not quite the same class of airplane, but they are singles.

Could new powerplants and the option of a seventh seat stimulate the market? At least a little? I wouldn’t bet against it. I have a history of being wrong about Christian Dries’ sometimes wacky ideas. When the DA42 appeared at the Berlin Airshow in 2002, I thought the idea of pairing obscure diesel engines with a new airframe was nuts. When I reviewed the airplane, I questioned whether the engines were ready. It turned out they were not, but it got sorted out. The airplane has been and continues to be a good seller for Diamond.

Obviously, these will be expensive airplanes. I’m guessing around the million dollar or a little more mark. I’m further guessing that at this price point, they’ll find buyers in the multiple dozens just as other Diamond products have. If the company makes money at that volume and the untried engines deliver acceptable service, thus is a business plan born. I’m not going to whine about the price because doing so is a pointless playing of a record that broke 20 years ago.

But I will whine about one thing. Who dreamed up those hideous gold paint schemes Diamond showed in its Aero stand? My colleague from the U.K.’s Flyer sent me this photo and it isn’t easy on the eyes.

Experimental autopilot manufacturer TruTrak, in partnership with EAA, has been working on FAA certification for its low-cost Vizion digital autopilot. Initially, the Vizion will have AML-STC approval for Cessna Skyhawk and Cardinal models, but others are planned as early as this summer. In this video, TruTrak's Andrew Barker talked with Aviation Consumer editor Larry Anglisano about the status of the project.

DC One-X from David Clark - lightest full-featured ANR headset

AVweb speaks with Paxton Calvanese, maker of the wx24 Pilot app for iOS products, about long-distance flight planning for light GA aircraft, teaching pilots a new way to view weather and future data visualization products. Two key feature of the wx24 Pilot app are its annular presentation of 24 hours of TAF data, including overlapping TEMPO weather conditions, and the ability to create personal minimums based on more than just ceiling, winds and visibility. Pilots can plan a long trip and have the wx24 Pilot flag en route TAFs where, for example, heavy precipitation or cumulonimbus clouds will present, based on the pilot's selected time of departure and ground speed.

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