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Volume 24, Number 49b
December 6, 2017
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Van’s Kits Produce 10,000 Airplanes
Mary Grady

Ten thousand airplanes is an impressive benchmark for any manufacturer, but when those airplanes are built one at a time in hangars and garages around the world, by amateurs, it’s even more of an accomplishment. Van’s Aircraft, based in Aurora, Oregon, said on Friday the RV-7 built by David Porter, who recently reported his first flight, in Martinsburg, West Virginia, is the 10,000th Van’s RV aircraft to fly. Van’s added that while Porter’s airplane is “officially” the 10,000th, “There are certainly more than 10,000 flying, but we don't know about all of them.” Many builders have taken to the air, Van’s noted, but “doubtless, the thrilling experience caused them to overlook alerting anyone at Van’s.”

Van's Aircraft began to sell RV-3 plans back in 1973, so over the last 44 years, a new RV has taken to the air every 1.6 days, on average, the company said. By 1994, about 1,000 were flying. The company estimates that currently, one new RV makes its first flight every day, on average. “Van's can supply the raw material, but our customers provide the blood, sweat, and tears that transform those parts into flying aircraft,” the company said. “Thanks are due to all RV builders, whose work has changed the world of personal aviation.” Dick Van Grunsven, company founder and CEO, said he expects the next 10,000 airplanes will take only half as long. “Watch this space in 2040 or so,” he said.

Cessna And FedEx Renew Their Vows
Paul Bertorelli

When the press release on Cessna’s new twin turboprop came pixeling into my inbox Tuesday morning, my first reaction was: a new skydiving airplane! Woo-hoo! This further proves that self-interest easily overpowers rational thought, but in a more sober moment, I realized that in aviation as in everything else, history repeats.

Even without a piece of ruled graph paper—can you even buy that stuff anymore?—you can figure out the economics here. In case you’ve forgotten, Cessna and FedEx joined hands and checkbooks in 1982 to create the 208 Caravan. Thirty-five years and 2500 airframes later, they’re renewing their vows with the 408 SkyCourier, a clean-sheet twin turbine that is, as far as I can see, a rethinking of the venerable de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter. And then some.

Draw the lines of the graph and you find that in 1982, U.S. GDP was $3.3 trillion and FedEx—then still Federal Express—had about $800 million of it. In 2016, FedEx was a $50 billion operation in an $18.5 trillion economy. In 1982, the China import trade was barely visible. Today, China accounts for $462 billion in imports and FedEx flies a lot of that stuff not just from China but right into the hands of customers. FedEx was the launch customer for the Caravan because it needed an airplane to fly freight from the big airplanes to the little towns.

There aren’t any more little towns now than in 1982, but there are more people and there’s a whole lot more stuff. E-commerce is a growth industry and FedEx clearly needs more lift capacity at greater efficiency. And it may have Amazon to contend with as a competitor. We’ve reported that Amazon has been trying to build its own airline for package delivery and FedEx likely has an interest in blunting that. Logically, at least to me, this points to a twin turboprop to displace the Caravan on certain routes. The fact that Cessna has designed the 408 to accept rapidly loadable industry-standard LD-3 containers will usher in some ramp efficiency. FedEx’s initial buy will be 50 airplanes, with an option for 50 more. Not huge volume, but then the Caravan wasn’t either, nor was FedEx the only customer.

So far, Cessna has only whiteboarded the specs on the new twin, claiming a maximum payload of 6000 pounds against an unpublished gross weight. That’s nearly twice the 3305-pound useful load of the 208B Caravan and 1600 pounds more than the typical Twin Otter. (Textron didn’t give proposed useful load for the 408, so these numbers are a little fuzzy. But they’re directionally valid.) Fully loaded, the SkyCourier will have a range of about 400 NM, well within the 200 NM or less typical stage length the Caravans fly. That’s further proof that FedEx needs nothing more than a bigger pipe. (FedEx has also contracted to buy a fleet of new ATR 72-600F turboprop twins.)

All of this is perfectly logical and reasonable. I found two things interesting in the announcement. One is the utterly workmanlike feel of the proposal. Textron tends not to talk about such things, but there’s no whiff that it thought about the airplane being electric or hybrid or to have the hooks for that current darling of the forward-looking industry, autonomous operation. By aviation standards, they plan to have the thing flying by next week (2020, actually) and that’s too aggressive a timeline to fool around with technology that doesn’t exist, despite all the stories the aviation press flogs on the topic.

Second, it’s to be expected that Cessna would propose a passenger version of the SkyCourier; that simply expands the market envelope. But the 19-seat market, which was hot around the time the original Caravan appeared—remember the Beech 1900 and the Embraer 110 Bandeirante?—is moribund now. In the U.S., with the Essential Air Services program on life support, it’s hard to imagine that it will come back. But then I’m sure Textron isn’t banking on such sales. This is a utility airplane that’s all about cargo.

One other surprise, maybe. The press release didn’t mention the engines, but the specs page does. I was expecting the GE ATP, the cutting-edge engine Cessna will use in the big Denali turboprop single. But nope. They’re planning the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-65SC. At 1100 SHP, it’s an iteration of the -65 series that’s been around for a while and will have the addition of Pratt’s FAST maintenance tracking and prognostication feature. Not exactly old school, maybe, but not cutting edge either. When the Caravan was launched, FedEx crowed about Pratt as a provider of reliable turbine power. Could be they drove that opinion again. I won’t be surprised to see a second engine option for the 408 if GE’s ATP proves more efficient and less costly to operate than the PT6. If you fly an airplane 1000 hours a year, a 15 percent efficiency gain in operating cost is not to be ignored.

Ten years from now, the 408, like the Caravan, will still be soldiering along. Twenty years? Same. Somewhere during that run, FedEx will cast off a few and, sure enough, one will become a skydiving airplane. Like I said, woo-hoo!

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Premier Aircraft's Refurbished Dakota
Paul Bertorelli

Premier Aircraft Sales is a well-known broker and mod house in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the company's latest project is called the Premier Edition Dakota. It's a spinner-to-tail refurbishment of the Piper Dakota, a real favorite among aircraft owners and buyers who want to carry a lot more than a standard Cherokee can haul and go a little faster while they're at it.

American Crews Get Christmas Double Time
Russ Niles

American Airlines will pay double time to pilots who take flights that, due to a computer glitch, may have been left without cockpit crews over Christmas. The glitch allowed most American pilots to take time off over the holidays, which obviously wasn’t workable. American and the Allied Pilots Association worked out the deal, which will only apply to the flights that were left without crews because of the glitch, and the bonus payment is retroactive to Nov. 28. The airline put a brave face on the costly mistake.

“We are pleased to report that together, American and the Allied Pilots Association have put that worry to rest to make sure our flights will operate as scheduled,” the airline said in a news release. “By working together, we can assure customers that among the many stresses of the season, worrying about a canceled flight won’t be one of them. In short, if Santa is flying, so is American.” When it discovered the mistake, American tried to fill the gaps with relief pilots and by luring back pilots who took advantage of the glitch with a 50 percent bonus to take some of the flights. The union said that violated its contract and the new agreement was reached at double the normal money. Up to 15,000 flights could have been affected by the error, according to the union.

JAL Investment Accelerates Boom
Geoff Rapoport

Japan Airlines is investing $10 million into Boom Aircraft, the Denver-based startup promising to bring back supersonic air travel. The deal includes options for 20 aircraft. “We’ve been working with Japan Airlines behind the scenes for over a year now,” said Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic. “JAL’s passionate, visionary team offers decades of practical knowledge and wisdom on everything from the passenger experience to technical operations. We’re thrilled to be working with JAL to develop a reliable, easily maintained aircraft that will provide revolutionary speed to passengers. Our goal is to develop an airliner that will be a great addition to any international airline’s fleet.”

The Boom passenger jet, according to the company’s target specs, will fly for 4,500 NM between refueling stops—just enough to carry 55 passengers on the 4,452-NM trip from Tokyo Narita International to San Francisco International at Mach 2.2. “We are very proud to be working with Boom on the advancement in the commercial aviation industry. Through this partnership, we hope to contribute to the future of supersonic travel with the intent of providing more time to our valued passengers while emphasizing flight safety,” said Yoshiharu Ueki, president of Japan Airlines. Boom hopes to fly its one-third scale technical demonstrator next year at subsonic speeds before moving into supersonic testing on the Edwards Air Force Base test range. 

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Canada Cancels Boeing Fighter Deal
Russ Niles

A Canadian newspaper says the Canadian government has scrapped plans to buy 18 Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets as part of an escalating trade dispute with the U.S. manufacturer. Instead, the National Post says Canada’s Department of National Defence will announce it’s buying an unspecified number of surplus F-18 Hornets from Australia, the same type now operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force. Australia is phasing out the Hornets as it takes delivery of F-35s. Canada is also in the market for more modern aircraft to replace its 30-year-old fleet of F-18s. The $2 billion order for 18 Super Hornets was intended as a stopgap until a decision is made on the final form of Canada’s fighter force. Canada is a partner in the F-35 program but has suspended an order for 67 of the fifth-generation fighters after the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, made a campaign promise in 2015 to drop out of the Joint Strike Fighter program.

Boeing has filed trade disputes to block the sale of Canadian company Bombardier’s CSeries airliners in the U.S. at prices Boeing claims are below Bombardier’s cost. The U.S. Commerce Department has agreed to almost 300 percent in duties against the CSeries and that resulted in Bombardier striking a deal with Airbus to potentially build the airliners in the Airbus plant in Mobile, Alabama. The dispute now appears to have spread to increasingly fractious negotiations over the Trump administration’s threat to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement. AeroMexico is apparently in talks with Delta, Bombardier’s biggest customer for the CSeries, to take at least some of Delta’s 75 aircraft off its hands while the trade issues are sorted out.

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Short Final

A Cessna wheel/float aircraft was being ferried from the Lower 48 to Talkeetna Alaska.Upon arrival the pilot called the FSS station for landing information.

FSS: Altimeter 29.92, wind calm, runway 01 or 19, your choice."


Cessna: "Which one is the longest?

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Meet the AVweb Team

AVweb is the world's premier independent aviation news resource, online since 1995. Our reporting, features, and newsletters are brought to you by:

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