The Toyota Mirage


A couple of months ago, aviation journalists were getting calls from a Japanese survey company with some questions about the aircraft engine market. Over the course of an hour, they asked about market demand, certification requirements and what buyers might expect of a new aircraft engine. The marketeers described themselves as working for a company involved in both the automotive and motorcycle segments. That led me to think of Honda or maybe Suzuki, which also has an automotive line, although few in the U.S. know much about it.

Based on the questions, I suspect the company is thinking about dipping a toe into the aircraft engine market. I cautioned that the water is a lot colder than it looks for such an adventure, but I’ve long since given up guessing why companies that get into aviation do the things they do. The whole of the industry is, after all, constructed on a foundation that assumes a certain degree of lunacy and just because aviation journalists write about it, doesn’t mean we’re any less unhinged.

As proof of that, here’s a story I wrote almost 15 years ago when another Japanese company was sniffing around with a general aviation trial balloon. Toyota invested some R&D dollars in converting the state-of-art Lexus V-8 engine into what becamethe FV4000 aircraft engine. They flew it and carried the program through to an actual type certificate, which exists yet today.

A few years later, we got wind of another Toyota project, a four-place composite aircraft that was actually flying in California and I had background conversations with people involved with it. None of them knew of Toyota’s plans, but connecting the dots, I was pretty sure Toyota was going to enter the market in 2002 or 2003. I trooped off to Oshkosh convinced that a giant Toyota tent would turn the place on its ear. The timing was perfect, because Cirrus was just hitting its stride and heading for the highest production figures it would enjoy just a few years later.

Didn’t happen. Since Toyota never consented to answer questions about its intentions, we have no idea if they were ever serious or just throwing around a little mad money. With annual revenues of $160 billion or so, a few million spent on a quirky airplane project won’t get much attention from the bean counters. But somewhere, maybe one of those bean counters bothered to plug some numbers into a spreadsheet and came to the conclusion that, hey, this is nuts. It probably would have been, too. At the time, some people believed that substantially cheaper airplanes really would expand and prime the market.

A new Cirrus SR22 sold for just under $300,000 around 2003 and the thinking was that maybe Toyota could ramp up and automate production to cut that price in half. I have no idea if they could have and, even if they did, if it would have moved the market enough to make it worth the effort. You can share your own opinion in the comments section.

In the meantime, no matter how many market surveys circulate or trial projects run up on the test stand, I’ll believe a new aircraft engine when I can get my greasy mitts on the throttle of one installed in a new certified airplane.

ADS-B Unraveling?

You probably read today’s story that the Air Force says it doesn’t have enough money in its avionics upgrade budget to equip all of its aircraft with ADS-B by the 2020 mandate. Do tell. But I’m quite sure the government expects the rest of us—airlines and GA—to stay the course.

In my view, this adds just another data point to my opinion that the 2020 deadline is going to slide back in some fashion. I’m not saying that it should or that ADS-B is a boondoggle, because I think it has demonstrated benefits. Owners who equip seem satisfied with the decision.

I just think it will be delayed … just because. And the more the FAA absolutely says it won’t yield, the more I think it will and we’ll be writing stories about it in the not-too-distant future. Not that this would stop me from equipping an airplane if I had one that needed ADS-B to fly in mandated airspace. It’s just another reason to giggle at the passing parade.