Aero: Surprises From Across the Pond


One reason Aero is my favorite aviation show is that it’s more changeable than either Sun ‘n Fun or AirVenture. Those shows tend to put the same vendors in the same place every year, often with the same booth counters and display items. Given the effort and expense of mounting a show, I can’t really blame companies much for canning their displays in a readily transportable box. Aviation companies tend to be small and a week away from the office takes a toll.

Aero, on the other hand, has more surprises or at least variability. There are always a handful of new things that come out of left field and that we, being U.S.-centric, wouldn’t necessarily catch on our radar. This year the set-up day stunner is some of the stuff Siemens is showing. I knew about the HYPSTAIR hybrid project because I covered it in a recent Aviation Consumer article. Look for a video on that later today or tomorrow. Siemens is involved with that and Pipistrel in Slovenia is doing the heavy lifting. I got a good long look at in it on Tuesday and the engineering looks superb. I’d expect nothing less from Pipistrel, while admitting I don’t understand how such a small company can do the bench R&D they seem to.

But Siemens has a couple of other projects here, too. One is an Extra 330 equipped with what appears to be a pure electric drive—just batteries and a motor. And what a lot of batteries. They’ve got a transparent cowling on the airplane and based on what I know about the batteries used in aircraft, I’d guess we’re talking maybe as much as 15 kWh of total capacity. I’m not sure if the batteries are high energy density or high power density, but I’d guess the latter. For an aerobatic aircraft, you don’t need a lot of endurance, but you want a ton of torque available right now. Energy density and power density are mutually exclusive. Electric motors are great for instant torque, but high energy density batteries are a bit tender about discharging fast enough to take advantage of it. Either way, I suspect moving the throttle to full on Siemens’ 260-kW motor (max) ought to be quite the thrill. But don’t blink. It probably can’t last for more than 15 minutes. More on that later.

There’s also a Hungarian airplane called the Magnus eFlight, also sporting a Siemens motor with a max output of 85 kW. It’s a low-wing design with side-by-side seating and LSA-type weight limits. In addition to that, yet another hybrid is on display using a Rotax engine and a pair of electric motors in a pusher arrangement. The lead company on that one is called Euro Sport Aircraft. The airframe has a high-aspect-ratio wing that’s probably adapted from a sailplane of some sort, but I couldn’t place it on my first walk through the halls on Tuesday.

The guys from eVolo are here with their electric Volocopter. It recently flew manned for the first time and I’ll be talking to eVolo’s Stephan Wolf about that later in the week. In the meantime, I spent a fascinating 15 minutes watching them assemble the aircraft, which was shipped in pieces for the show.

Eclipse is here with a new production airframe and Cirrus has their cabin mockup on display. If you’ve never taken a close look at the seating arrangement, it’s really quite generous for a small airplane. I’ll try to make time for a video tour of it later in the week.

In walking these halls, there’s always something to cause a double take. A couple of years ago, there was the P-51 LSA knockoff by FK Lightplanes. That project seems to have fizzled; haven’t seen anything about in a while. This year, there’s a Czech company with a scale knockoff at the L-39 Albatross rendered in carbon fiber. It looks for all the world like the real thing and you can imagine it has a little jet engine inside, too. Nope, it’s a ducted fan driven by a piston engine. I don’t know the details, but I aim to find out because really, if someone can think of such a thing much less actually build it, that’s more than worth my time to report on it.

Last, as I was grabbing some quick footage of one of these airplanes, I noticed a fast-moving shadow drifting across the frame. Can’t be a cloud moving that quickly, I thought. I looked up and it was an airship passing over the glass roof in the entrance hall. Oh yeah. Friedrichshafen. That’s what they do here. That’s what they’ve always done here.