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Pipistrel's electric-trainer project, which started out with a prototype called Watts Up, now has evolved into the ready-for-the-market Alpha Electro, the company announced at Aero Friedrichshafen this week. During a pre-show news conference on Tuesday, Pipistrel chief engineer Tine Tomazic said the airplane, which can fly up to an hour with a half-hour reserve, is designed for a single function -- to be flown in the pattern, doing touch-and-goes. The low hourly operating costs of the Electro will make it a compelling choice for flight schools, Tomazic said. The six batteries can be swapped out in five minutes, and a full recharge takes about 45 minutes.

The Electro is virtually identical to the company's Alpha Trainer, which will make it easy for students to spend time in both airplanes, Tomazic said. The airplane also features a custom-built propeller that helps return energy to the battery every time the airplane descends. It's for sale at a price of just under 100,000 euros.

Click here for a video.


Pipistrel's all-electric trainer, long known as the "WattsUP," has acquired a commercial designation, the Alpha Electro.  And according to chief engineer Tine Tomazic, she's ready to meet the public.  Tomazic gave us the lowdown at Aero in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

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Flight Design brought its C4 prototype to Aero Friedrichshafen this week, just a few days after the airplane's first flight. The flight, which took place in Germany last Thursday, lasted for about an hour. "We were able to finish all of our test points," flight engineer Robert Adam told AVweb. "We checked controls and stability. We will continue testing next week and open up the flight envelope." The four-seat aircraft has been in the works since 2008, and has drawn a lot of interest because it may be the first aircraft to be certified under new FAA rules that aim to let manufacturers provide safer airplanes at less cost.

Last year it was announced that the avionics will be the Garmin 3X Vision Touch suite, a non-certified system. "The use of non-TSO'd avionics raises the certification burden for the airframe manufacturer, but in the end saves a significant amount of cost while offering much more up-to-date technology," Tom Peghiny, president of Flight Design USA, said at the time. The company has said that if the new rules aren't ready by the mandated deadline of the end of this year, they can proceed with certification under EASA and then U.S. certification will follow. The prototype on display at Aero has its windows blacked out, to hide the work-in-progress state of the interior. 

Flight Design will hold a news conference on Thursday at Aero with a full update on the program.  In the meantime, here's a video look from Aero.


Flight Design's C4 is the company's first four-seat, fully certified aircraft.  Engineer Robert Adam spoke with AVweb at Aero in Friedrichshafen, Germany about the C4's first flight last week.

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Aero Friedrichshafen, the biggest general aviation event in Europe, opened today with 645 exhibitors, a new record for the show, representing 38 countries. The show, held in the country's southernmost region adjacent to a regional airline and GA airport -- and a lofty Zeppelin hangar -- attracts thousands of visitors, pilots and aviation enthusiasts, and hosts a wide range of industry meetings and events. This year, the business aviation sector is growing, and the small static display just outside the convention area is crowded with business jets, turboprops and helicopters. Inside, the diversity of GA in Europe is represented by an array of gyrocopters, sport aircraft, seaplanes, gliders, and a strong presence from U.S. aviation companies as well. The show also spotlights new and innovative technology, with electric aircraft and unmanned aerial systems taking center stage at the main entrance to the convention center.

Several aircraft are making their debut at the show following a recent first flight. Diamond's powerful-looking DA-50 JP7 single-engine turboprop, which first flew in January, is here on display, as well as Flight Design's C4 four-seat airplane, which just flew last week. The Atol amphibian, built in Finland, also arrived fresh from its first flight. Pipistrel will introduce its new electric trainer, Alpha Electro, today, ready to start sales, and the Rue Xiang RX1E, a Chinese electric airplane that is reportedly soon to start production, is on display in the e-flight expo. The show also is launching a "Be a pilot" campaign this year, which aims to inspire people to learn to fly or pursue an aviation career. The event is now in its 23rd year, and will run through Saturday.

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One of the leading makers of external GPS receivers for iPad and iPhone navigation and charting apps is warning customers to ignore the latest iOS update. Bad Elf says the update, iOS 8.3, sent earlier this week, apparently blocks the transfer of GPS data from its receivers and those of some other manufacturers (we're confirming that) and disables the GPS-dependent functions within the third-party apps in the devices. "We have reproduced this issue in our lab and confirmed that this issue is not unique to Bad Elf GPS receivers," said an alert from Bad Elf. Newer Bad Elf receivers don't seem to be affected but the company is recommending customers skip this update (new emojis are the big feature) while it works with Apple to sort the problems out.

Meanwhile, ForeFlight, the biggest third-party app provider, says the problem occurs with the external receivers and not the app. "The only issue we know of is the GPS accessory issue," ForeFlight CEO Tyson Weihs told AVweb. "The issue is actually with iOS, not apps or receivers. Apple did something to break the communication." It's not clear what the fix might be so those who have already downloaded the new emojis should test their equipment and perhaps dig out their paper charts.


An Indiana company is hoping to demonstrate a multi-copter patterned after unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that can carry a person while in autonomous or remotely operated flight at this year's AirVenture Oshkosh. AirBuoyant, LLC of Anderson, Indiana, briefly pirouetted its VertiPod with a 125-pound man in a rudimentary cage suspended from a howling quadcopter for a video on April 7. “It was just the proof of the concept, a very short flight,” said inventor Pete Bitar, president of AirBuoyant LLC, manufacturer of the VertiPod. “But it was exciting, doing something that’s never been done before, with a design for production.”

The plan for AirVenture is to have six-rotor, uh, device that doesn't display all the nitty gritty. It will also be portable (in a big roller suitcase) and qualify as a Part 103 ultralight. "No pilot’s license or formal training is required," the company said in a news release. "It can also be used in any number of pickup and delivery modes, delivering ammo and picking up a wounded soldier, for instance, or rescuing a person who has fallen through the ice." Endurance is only a few minutes now but the company is working on that. Cost for the first 1,000 units is $23,950.

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AVweb's Paul Bertorelli spoke with Tim Taylor of FreeFlight Systems about the company's EquipIt 2020 initiative, which aims to provide low-cost equipage options to meet the FAA's coming ADS-B mandate.  With the Aircraft Electronics Association show going on now in Dallas, Taylor explained the logistics of FreeFlight's RANGR Lite system, encouraged owner-pilots to equip sooner rather than later, and answered that all-important question:  Does he see ADS-B getting any more affordable than it already has?


We caught up with space-tourism company World View Enterprises' CEO Jane Poynter at the Aircraft Electronics Association convention in Dallas, Texas. Poynter described the technology behind World View's balloon-and-parafoil plan to lift passengers into the upper atmosphere for a several-hour tour of the planet.


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Viewed from over here in the cheap seats, Piper’s revelation this week that it’s retooling its M-Class line is more significant than it looks for two reasons I can think of: business/marketing savvy and for a clear signal on where general aviation autoflight might be going.

I’ve been watching Piper’s sales numbers for 10 years and conclude that it might be a textbook example of how a modern light aircraft manufacturer can survive. The company hasn’t favored me with a look at its P&L, but the sharks don’t appear to be circling so I’m going to assume it’s in the black or at least throwing off value sufficient to keep its investors happy. That may be the best one can expect these days.  It’s also a classic example of low-volume/high mix in the way that Lycoming and Continental are.

In 2014, according to GAMA data, Piper sold three Warriors, 45 Archers, eight Arrows, 10 Senecas, 23 Seminoles, 37 Mirages, 11 Matrices and 36 Meridians. That’s a total of 172 aircraft and down a little from 2013’s total of 188 aircraft. Anyone familiar with serial production will tell you that this much variety at low volume is challenging to build profitably and requires unrelenting cost control. If Piper’s persistent market presence suggests they’ve got this knocked, bully for them. Note that nearly half of all the airplanes produced are the high-margin M-Class—the Mirage, Matrix and Meridian. If there’s a market sweet spot for a low-volume manufacturer, I’ll bet that’s pretty close to it, even if the total numbers aren’t that impressive.

During the past seven years, Piper has moved an average of 38 Meridians a year and 30 Mirages. Those aren’t huge numbers, but then these are high six-figure or million-dollar-plus airplanes so it’s reasonable to expect that they have a nice margin to offset the rather more modest numbers on an Archer or an Arrow. Piper took a hit on the M-Class airplanes during the financial meltdown, but even so, it was still selling them. Volumes have recovered but not quite to the salad days of 2007 and 2008, when Piper sold more than 50 Meridians.

Piper has also been fairly canny about market realities. I thought its 2011 decision to cancel the PiperJet was one of the smartest I’ve seen an aviation company make. Light jet cert programs have proven to be nightmarish money burners with limited market legs. I wonder if Diamond wishes it had followed Piper’s lead. Maybe Cirrus has had similar thoughts. This week, Piper did another thing that looks smart to me and that might only occur to us pixel-pushing wretches in the media. It announced its new product revisions ahead of Sun ‘n Fun, not at Sun ‘n Fun. Finally, a company realizes that buzz is generated online, not at physical shows and press conferences. Having announced early, they’ll get attention at Aero, which opens Wednesday, and at Sun ‘n Fun next week. People going to those shows will put Piper’s booth on the to-do list. Second-day media coverage at the shows will sustain the interest. Marcomm folks (and CEOs enthralled with press conferences), take note. This is how it should work.

As for the airplanes, clearly Piper is looking to refresh the line and maybe find some step-up/trade-in buyers or siphon some sales for buyers shopping the TBM or a Mirage conversion. But there’s something else going on here, too, and it’s the confluence of avionics capability as a metric of airplane capability and value. Increasingly, what’s in the panel matters as much as what’s in front of the firewall; not for nothing are new 172s called G1000 Skyhawks.

As we reported in this week’s news story, the new M600 will have more power than the original Meridian—now renamed the Meridian M500—and a redesigned wing carrying more fuel. Piper gives the speeds as similar, at 260 knots max cruise, and a 1200-pound payload for the M600. I’ll get to a detailed comparison when I’ve seen the POHs, but at a glance, it looks like the M600’s performance edge is a bit of additional range and maybe some payload flexibility. It’s not going to outrun a TBM nor outhaul a PC-12.

The draw? A cutting-edge avionics package. That would be the new Garmin G3000, which we’ve reported on previously. I say “new” advisedly; it was announced six years ago. Garmin said from the beginning that this system would incorporate some version of its Electronic Stability and Protection system (ESP) that’s basically a background routine that automatically intervenes if the pilot gets the aircraft to near or outside of its operating envelope. When introduced, Garmin said ESP would have overspeed envelope protection and although I don’t recall them saying then it would have underspeed capability too, the version in the M600 will have that as part of a general EFIS technology upgrade that’s been available on new G1000s since 2010. It will be capable of avoiding stall angle of attack in circumstances where the pilot has ham-fisted the throttle and gotten too slow. I’m sure it will be festooned with all sorts of alarms and cautions, too.

Raising cockpit Nannyism to the next level is hypoxia envelope protection, which is basically an aviation version of the dead man’s switch found in trains. This is not new with the G3000, either. Cirrus announced it in Perspective-equipped aircraft in 2010. In the new Piper aircraft, it’s simply combined with larger displays driven by touchscreens. When the aircraft is on autopilot, if the suite detects that the pilot isn’t engaged because no controls have been touched or radio traffic transmitted, it will assume a hypoxic non-response and automatically descend the airplane (on autopilot) to a safe altitude. This is what I call “between-the-ears” safety appeal. It’s comfort factor.

Hypoxia is responsible for an unknown number of accidents. Some that appear to be caused by something else might have been hypoxia. Or not. But there have been enough high-profile hypoxic accidents—most recently the TBM 900 accident that terminated near Jamaica and an SR22 fatal during the same week last year—that this capability may have definite appeal to the buyers of these airplanes. Or the spouses of the buyers.

In a way, this represents small GA aircraft trending toward fly-by-wire control laws without actually having fly by wire, even though that capability is in the works too. But do such things represent an overall improvement in safety? In perceived safety, yes. In actual safety, who knows? While hypoxic accidents are an uncertain percentage of the total, they’re occasionally the ones that make the evening news. But loss of control of some kind is a leading cause of fatal accidents and if such protective systems prevent a handful of those a year, we’re making progress. It would be silly to argue that real men don’t need envelope protection. Frankly, I’ll take all the help I can get since it’s abundantly clear that the training cudgel can do only so much.

In totality, the trend toward angle-of-attack indicators and autopilot or servo-based envelope protection represents two things: a technologically based solution to a genuine problem and something to sell pilots because modern digital processing has made it possible to build and certify such capability. That last bit is hardly trivial; the people who buy high-dollar airplanes—or maybe any airplanes—like gadgets and the more cutting edge, the better. If it has “safety” attached to it, better still.

That is, in part, why Cirrus has been so successful. The appeal of CAPS has, in my view, sold a lot of airplanes for Cirrus. But it has taken the better part of 20 years for Cirrus and owners to pull things together and capitalize on the airplanes’ inherent safety features enough to demonstrate better than a just-average accident rate. I don’t know if envelope protection will require a similar gestation period. Newer Cirrus aircraft do have it, but I haven’t isolated those accident numbers. And there is a tradeoff of sorts. The emergency descent feature works irrespective of terrain or traffic considerations; it’s just going to descend. Fortunately, there’s not too much terrain in U.S. that’s above its lowest descent limits.

As for single-engine turboprops, the accident rate doesn’t appear to be particularly high, perhaps because the pilots who fly them tend to be experienced and insurance companies require a tad more training for an owner looking for two million smooth on a $2.5 million airplane. But I’m sure they would rather insure an airplane with envelope protection than one without it.

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ADS-B is big in the news at the Aircraft Electronics Association show in Dallas this month.  In this product tour, AVweb reviews ADS-B units from three companies: Appareo, Avidyne, and Sandia Aerospace.

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At the 2015 Aircraft Electronics Association convention in Dallas, Aspen Avionics introduced a new angle of attack system for its popular Evolution EFIS system.  AVweb's Paul Bertorelli flew the system in a Cirrus and prepared this video.

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At the Aircraft Electronics Association convention in Dallas, Avidyne introduced a new remote Bluetooth keyboard for its IFD540/440 FMS systems.  AVweb took a quick look.

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