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Volume 25, Number 19b
May 9, 2018
 
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Uber Elevate Pursues Air-Taxi Vision
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Uber will be ready to start commercial service with urban air taxis by 2023, Mark Moore, Uber Elevate’s engineering director, said at the Elevate Summit on Tuesday. The electric-powered VTOLs are still in development, but Uber released its latest concept showing a four-passenger aircraft with four rotors. “Stacked co-rotating rotors or propellers have two rotor systems placed on top of each other rotating in the same direction,” Uber says. “Initial experimentation of this concept has revealed the potential for significantly quieter performance than traditional paired rotors and improved overall performance.” The company said testing will begin in 2020, with Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles as the first test sites. Their goal is to provide the service at a rate comparable to an Uber ride on the ground.

Several Uber partners also revealed concepts of new designs. Tine Tomazic, R&D director at Pipistrel, said his new eVTOL is optimized for speed and distance. It will be quiet, and aims to be easy and comfortable for passengers to use. Pipistrel is partnering with Elan to develop the eVTOL structure, Tomazic said. It will be designed for serial production, and scalable to various sizes and missions. Embraer X, an Embraer branch, and Karem Aircraft, also revealed eVTOL concepts. Uber also said it has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create a new air traffic control system that could manage fleets of low-flying autonomous aircraft in urban areas. The Elevate conference continues on Wednesday, and will be streamed live online. Mark Moore said a new Uber Elevate white paper will be released on Wednesday.

Flight Sharing Expands In Europe
 
Jason Baker and Mary Grady
 
 

Flight sharing via app has been stymied so far for private pilots in the U.S., but the idea has taken root in Europe in the last few years, and is continuing to grow. Rules developed by EASA (the European Aviation Safety Agency) now allow GA pilots to share costs with up to five passengers. Tony Rapson, head of general aviation for Great Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority, wrote in a blog post last week that pilots need to be aware of the risks. “Flying with strangers opens new potential issues ranging from security and personal safety to insurance implications,” Rapson wrote. “We at the CAA are very keen that pilots who do embrace these newfound opportunities fully understand the risks involved.” Several online services are available to connect general aviation pilots with passengers willing to share flight costs. The vendors are encouraged to sign on to a charter developed by EASA, which outlines best safety practices for flight-sharing platforms. 

Wingly, one of the more popular platforms, recently raised 2 million euros to build its network and expand into new countries. “We now have around 150,000 users registered, with around 50,000 in the UK,” co-founder Emeric de Waziers told AVweb in an email this week. “We have around 10,000 pilots registered, with 3000 from the UK. We had more than 8000 passengers in flight in the last 18 months, and currently we have around 1000 passengers per month.” Wingly is organizing six fly-ins around Europe this summer, and is now operating in the UK, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. There have been “no accidents or incidents,” de Waziers said. Besides Wingly, several other platforms have been operating in the EU, including BBPlane, Coavmi, and Flyt.club.

“Ultimately,” the CAA’s Rapson wrote, “the clear intention of relaxing the cost sharing rules is to allow pilots to fly more—building skills and experience—while sharing their passion for aviation with others. Providing passengers and pilots understand and stick to the rules, then that intention can become a reality.” De Waziers said the ultimate goal of flight sharing is to spark interest in aviation among the wider public, so more people will choose to become pilots. “Flying is the oldest dream of mankind,” he wrote. “We shouldn’t forget that."

Is the Vashon Ranger The New 150?
 
Paul Bertorelli
 

You can say a lot of things about light sport airplanes, but one of them isn’t that the sky has been darkened with 1320-pound wonders. Sales remain modest at best and a company selling 30 or 40 a year has a smash hit.

Now comes new startup Vashon to reset that equation with a heretofore untested idea: a cutting-edge airplane with a large cabin, an efficient production system meant to drive the price down and a dual appeal as a sort of flying RV and would-be replacement for the Cessna 150. In addition to lifting its own weight, the Vashon Ranger has to levitate those expectations in a market where light sports haven’t made a meaningful dent in the trainer fleet.

What are its chances? Challenged, I’d say, not least of all because I haven’t encountered anyone who claims to understand the overall anemic piston market. Consider this: 2017 was, relatively, a good year for trainer sales. Yet, says GAMA, between Cessna, Piper, Diamond, Cirrus and Tecnam, the market absorbed 334 aircraft that might be considered trainers and even that number depends on assuming all of the Skyhawks, Archers and DA40s went into the flight school segment. So I’d guess the more reasonable number is 225.

We’re led to believe that the chronic pilot shortage and the burning urge of 1.4 billion to Chinese to slip the surly bonds will unleash a torrent of demand any day now and, well, I first heard that in 2005 and I’ve been a bemused bystander since. As explained in this video, Vashon’s belief is that demand is suppressed by high prices and it wants to drive those prices down by building volume. For now, the Ranger is at $115,000, fully equipped. The company doesn’t know if it can make money at that price, nor does it yet know if it can go lower or will be forced to escalate, as so many companies have had to do.

Big volume is planned. But what’s big volume? Is it 100 airframes a year? Or 300? The company is cagey about this, but I’d say if they can approach the lower number and be profitable, the Ranger will be a player. If they reach 300—basically what Cirrus is selling—I’ll be the idiot I always suspected I was. In context, $115,000 is not the lowest-price LSA out there by any means. But with sophisticated two-display avionics including an autopilot, it’s a good value against something like the Flight Design CTLS north of $150,000.

On the other hand, the normal rules of supply and demand don’t seem to apply to airplanes. The best-selling LSAs are the most expensive ones, including the aforementioned CTLS and CubCrafters’ Carbon Cub. And while these airplanes are upper tier for light sports, they’re still half the price (or less) of Part 23 trainers such as the Archer and Skyhawk. Yet they aren’t well represented in the training fleet because schools have a bias against them related to durability, tight cabins, squirrelly handling and lack of payload—but mostly durability and support. That’s not to say light sports aren’t used in training, just not to extent their lower price suggests.

With robust landing gear, a huge cabin and handling like an RV-8, the Ranger addresses these shortcomings. What it does not address is payload. With a 438-pound useful load, it gives up a solid 100 pounds to an airplane like the CTLS. LSAs that push the weight envelope aren’t unusual—the American Legend Super and the Carbon Cub are even heavier. With the Ranger, will buyers and flight schools be willing to work around this limitation considering the price, the sophisticated panel and cabin size? People who insist yes or no either know a lot more than me or a lot less. I just don’t know. I thought Diamond’s DA42 would be a dud.

The reason for the Ranger’s high empty weight is at least partially because Vashon picked the Continental O-200-D. That’s why the Super Legend and CarbonCub are so heavy, too. They bypass the Rotax 912/914 series in favor of traditional aircraft engines that are at least 50 pounds heavier, if not a little more. This choice is an axe with two blades. Do you pick up more buyers for using an archaic legacy engine than you lose for having 50 pounds less useful load? See above. I can’t say. In CubCrafters’ and Legend’s case, they’ve tarted up the basic four-cylinder with either electronic ignition or fuel injection, or both.

That’s my beef with the O-200. In addition to being heavy, the number of carb icing accidents in Cessna 150s is legion. The Ranger is a cutting-edge design that’s even equipped with an integration module. It needs an engine to match, in my view. It’s 2018—no piston airplane should have an engine sans fuel injection and electronic ignition. Vashon says it’s looking at other engine options. Price may be an issue, too. The Rotax 912 iS is more expensive than the O-200-D.

And we interrupt this blog for my standard screech about the LSA weight limit. It needs to be raised. Period. A driving reason it's 1320 pounds is to align with the 600 kg European ultralight limit, but Europe and the rest of the world are shot through with inconsistencies and I can see no reason why the U.S. should cling to 1320 pounds in a universe of 225-pound students and instructors. If the Ranger had a 1500-pound limit—which it easily could—it would be far more appealing.

Among many unknowns is another: market timing. It’s always possible that in a strong world and U.S. economy, demand really is on the verge of a spike and it's further possible that schools may become fed up with Part 23 trainers that cost close to a half-million bucks, or at least enough of them to constitute a viable market. The $115,000 price point—if Vashon holds it—will be an interesting test. It’s far from the $40,000 airplane of light sport fever dreams, but given Vashon’s investment in automated production, it may be as good as it gets. The question is this: Is it good enough?

JP International - Video Library
China Invests In Scramjet Engines
 
Mary Grady
 
 

China’s government is moving forward with plans to build a commercial-scale plant to produce hypersonic engines for both military and civilian aircraft, according to a recent report in the South China Morning Post. The scramjet engines could produce speeds up to Mach 5. The project will bring together the expertise of the Institute of Mechanics, a technical school that has focused on the development of hypersonic weapons, with the local government, to create the facility. Scramjet engines could theoretically cut flying time from Shanghai to New York to just two hours, compared to almost 15 hours for commercial airliners today. The engines also could provide power for spacecraft, according to the Post.

Analysts told the Post a spacecraft could use a turbine engine to take off and reach supersonic speed, then switch to the scramjet for a speed boost, then fire a rocket for the final push to orbit. The three-stage system could be significantly cheaper to operate than today’s technology. If the new plant develops that kind of system, hypersonic expert Liu Hong told the Post, “I think their goal for commercial production is possible. It is within the reach of current technology.”

Epic Optix Shows Low-Cost HUD
 
AVweb Staff
 
 

At Sun 'n Fun 2018, Epic Optix showed off a new low-cost HUD for light aircraft. In this follow-up coverage, AVweb learns how the new device works. It's designed to attach to the aircraft glareshield without need for formal approvals.

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Viking Launches Aerial Firefighter Conversion
 
Jason Baker
 
 

A Canadian sister company of Viking Air Limited, which builds the CL-415 Aerial Firefighter, has launched the Viking CL-415EAF, called the Enhanced Aerial Firefighter. The company will convert and modify 11 acquired CL-215 firefighters to the upgraded turbine version that provides the basis of the EAF.

The company said finding qualified staff for the project is a difficult undertaking, hence it’s reinstating its Viking Academy paid-training program to provide job applicants with the technical training required for the positions. Both Longview Aviation Asset Management (LAAM), which owns the airplanes, and Viking are working with local post-secondary institutions to develop technologies and provide training for the program. The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology has also been engaged for personnel training in Alberta, and Viking is actively developing partnerships with companies participating in the British Columbia Technology Super Cluster initiative.

The conversion program forms part of a staged approach to leverage advances made with the LAAM-converted aircraft as the basis for the proposed Viking CL-515 new-production amphibious firefighting aircraft. It will feature updated avionics. To help launch the new aircraft manufacturing program, Viking has applied to the Canadian government’s Strategic Innovation Fund.

The CL-415 was developed from the piston-powered CL-215 Series 5 aircraft in combination with the advances from the T- conversion program. Improvements over the CL-215, which first appeared on the CL-215T, include winglets and finlets, higher operating weights, an increased capacity firebombing system and the addition of a foam injection system. The aircraft is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW 100 engines.

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Brainteasers Quiz #243: Put The Civil In Civil Aviation
 

The seemingly infinite possibilities of flight are easily achieved by expanding the frontiers of our self-induced limitations -- whatever that means -- so be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid in acing this quiz. (Yes, that's a cheeky allusion to Almost Famous, likely to spark hangar discussions among incensed Goethe scholars.)

Click here to take the quiz.

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