For the past five years, as general aviation has drifted through weak sales and anemic development, the pace of new product rollouts has been similarly flat. This year, as I mentioned in my opening day blog, the industry seems to be stirring, reflecting optimism, if not confidence in full flight.
Even in slow years, Ive always seen a few products or ideas that leave an impression indelible enough for me make mental notes to follow them over the horizon. This year, my radar pinged three things: LightSpeeds new headset, a wearable HUD from a company called Aerocross Systems and the Adept Airmotive engine, which Ive been watching for three years.
First, the headset. Headset intros are a little like street trolleys; if you wait long enough, another one will trundle along claiming to have the best comfort, the best ANR and maybe a revolutionary leap in performance. Meh. The reality often falls short of the marketing claims. But this year, one of the indelibles for me was trying out LightSpeeds new PDX. (Full disclosure here: LightSpeed is an AVweb sponsor.) Allan Shrader corralled me into the booth to try this thing and when he said the company is doing ANR differently, he wasnt kidding.
As explained in this podcast, the PDX uses something called feed forward technology to sample the noise environment many times a second and perform what Shrader describes as search and destroy on the changing ambient noise. The earcups have an external mic to pick up ambient noise and throw it into the ANR solution mix.
Unfortunately, the podcast doesnt do the effect justice. I think the mics we use for recording podcasts just arent good enough to keep up with the ANR performance and I suspect the mics presence in the earcup queers the mapping that LightSpeed has devised. Without the mic inserted for the podcast, the noise cancellation was extraordinary. I can only describe it as almost having a density you can feel. Ill reserve more detailed judgment on the PDX until Ive flown it in a noisy cockpit, but it sure looks intriguing. And here I thought ANR performance had peaked.
AirVenture often serves as a trial balloon launch pad for dingbat technologies that you know arent going anywhere, but which are, at the least, creative entertainment. At first I thought that about Aerocross Systems wearable HUD glasses. Think Google Glass, with the viewer on the right side of a pair of glasses that projects a mini-PFD in front of your right eye, though I suppose it could be on the other eye, too. The display is tiny; no bigger than a quarter. But because its designed for infinity focus, its quite readable. HUDs havent made much of a dent in general aviation, probably because the market is limited and theyve been ruinously expensive. But at an estimated price of $2000 or so, the Aerocross device, if it makes it to market, might be a winner. Says Aerocrosss Tam Pho, the finished product would likely be a battery operated wireless device that wouldnt require certification. If the idea of HUDS is a good one-and I think it might be-this gadget could finally make them practical and affordable. Lets see what Aerocross has in a year or 18 months.
Last, engines. Continentals burst of diesel activity seems to have placed gasoline engines into the shadows, but theyre still out there. In fact, if diesel engine market penetration quadruples in five years, gasoline engines will still own 90 percent of the installed GA piston market. But gasoline technology is so mature as to be static developmentally. Lycoming has the IE2 engine underway and Continental is expanding its Powerlink FADEC certs, but these arent seeing much traction yet.
Against the anemic backdrop is Adept Airmotives V-6, which displayed at AirVenture. Heres a video. Whats good about this engine is that is has terrific power specifics, is relatively efficient with BSFCs in the lower 0.4s and is light enough to fit a range of airplanes. A 300-hp plus option expands the airframe menu further. But nothing is for free. Its relatively complex compared to the typical Lycoming and watercooled, which complicates conversions, although that wouldnt necessarily be a factor for OEM installations.
Recall that in 2004, BRP/Rotax offered a similar engine and got the project well along before cancelling it. The engine had significant developmental problems and I suspect Rotax realized, among other things, that it didnt have the service infrastructure to support such a complex engine. The return on 10 years worth of investment wouldnt have been too attractive, either.
Adept will have that challenge in the global market but also one advantage that I can see. Its based in South Africa, a country with an active local market that might give Adept a foothold in fielding and supporting a new engine line before trying to export it elsewhere. It may initially find a good enough conversion market to at least prove the concept.
But no one should have any illusions. Marketing a new engine, much less a gasoline engine, in a universe dominated by Lycoming and Continental engines whose economics and service history have been long since proven, will be a challenge. Were it not for the ongoing extinction of 100LL, even diesel engines would have an uphill fight. Rotax claimed to have had an OEM for its V-6, which was most likely Cirrus. But in the end, for technical and economic reasons, it canned the project. It was probably a wise decision.
But its 2013 and the demise of 100LL draws ever closer, so perhaps theres a tiny wedge of just-right timing for a new, efficient gasoline engine that doesnt require high-octane fuel. On paper, the Adept engine appears to have the numbers to deliver. Still, it faces long-shot odds in a world where the China-based AVIC International is putting its money on diesel and the inertia of 250,000 or more gasoline engines carries the rest of the market.