In what the Industry regarded as the ‘glider’ year for AERO Friedrichshafen, now that it’s held annually rather than every two years, there was a whopping increase in stands, displays and traffic – air and foot! Greg Doyle scoped out the event.
Due to the addition of the UAV DACH e.V Expo., the German association for unmanned aerial vehicles, the size of the event ballooned even though it appeared that many of the big volume European vendors had stayed away.
With the extended expo, it was immediately obvious that the line between drones, as we know them, and UAVs is now becoming very blurry. Clearly the Germans have got this right and placed both groups together under the banner, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Of course, the usual small drones were present – they had a dedicated netted enclosure in which to exercise and let off steam.
What did make me sit up and take notice was the serious payload that some of these new drones were sporting, for instance the Swiss built twin rotor helicopter with a 50 Kg payload and Jet power. This had ‘out of sight’ range control range and inbuilt autopilot for programmed routing e.g. in mapping use and for autonomous takeoff and landing.
These developments are bridging the gap between the larger UAVs as their payload and sophisticated controls systems are deployed. Furthermore, a range of e-flight component vendors were offering the key major component packages for a UAV which can be built into a helicopter, gyrocopter and conventional airframes. A truly modular approach to building your own e-Flight UAV!
The e-Flight display was highlighting the fact that electric power for aircraft is now a ‘real’ and happening thing. Substantial interest from major electrical suppliers like Siemens bear this theory out.
I was also struck by the fascination in replica aircraft from the Golden Age of aviation, in which space it could truly be said that ‘everything old is new’. A Tiger Moth replica was shown for the first time and its pre-war German competitor the Bücker Jungmann made an appearance. These were joined by multiple USA types, including the WACO YMF-5-D and, of course, the CUB. All of the above lend themselves to that quintessential classical look and feel with typically improved performance but are faithfully and painstakingly constructed to the original design albeit decked out with more modern, trouble free and durable components.
More than 600 companies from around the world turned up to this increasingly popular German Airshow to show off their wares. There was definitely a more positive feeling on the floors from vendors and customers alike. The display spectrum was broad: vintage gliders, retro style aircraft, helicopters now including UL types and gyrocopters. The largest group included the single and multi-engine piston-driven airplanes, turboprops and multi-engine jets, components and services for the same.
Finally, as already observed, there were the ubiquitous drones, engines, avionics, aviation accessories and the rapidly growing e-flight products or ‘electric’ power.
New Very Light Jets (VLJ) and piston GA
As expected this year the ‘big boys’ were here in force. The innovative HondaJet with its unconventional nacelle placement above the wing has already received final approval for operation in Europe and USA. One of the first of these aircraft to come off the assembly line was presented at AERO.
Another completely new business jet, which was displayed as a mockup at Lake Constance, is the single-jet Vision SF50 from Cirrus Aircraft. Following operating approval, which is expected shortly, it will be the world’s first business jet to be delivered with a parachute rescue system as standard.
The twin-engine Legacy 450 from Brazil’s Embraer Executive Jets also made its German premiere at AERO. In addition, many more business jets from Piper and Cessna were on display at Lake Constance. True eye candy for all of us, but the serious customers were trooping up the stairs, demanding the manufacturers’ full attention.
Single or multi-engine aircraft with piston-driven engines and turboprops also captured the attention of business users and well-heeled private buyers. Manufacturers of economical single-engine turboprops, like Pilatus with the PC-12, Daher with the TBM 900, Cessna with the Caravan, Quest with the Kodiak and Piper with the M500, enjoyed good sales figures worldwide in 2015 and were here in force.
It was recently announced that its likely these aircraft will be in even higher demand in Europe in the near future, as the EASA is considering allowing single-engine turboprops to fly in Europe in accordance with instrument flight rules. This has not been permitted to date.
Ultralights and LSA
Europe has common standards for aircraft under their regulator, EASA, and their ultralights are still a furiously booming segment in European aviation. This class includes not only powered aircraft with takeoff weights of up to 472 kilograms, but also gliders, gyrocopters and helicopters. But what always stands out to us is, there is actually scant regard for monitoring compliance to this common MTOW anyway – fortunately, the favourable trend in weight reduction is improving the chance of compliance, especially as the sophistication of carbon fibre lamination is increasing.
There is more innovation here than in any other area of general aviation in Europe, not least because next to gliding, flying ultralights is generally the most affordable way to fly, both in terms of operating costs and license costs and there are fewer restrictions.
Gyrocopters are also on the increase and the first of the UL helicopters was introduced at AERO. Although restricted in load capacity these can often be used everywhere that helicopters can, but with significantly lower procurement and operating costs.
One weight class above ultralights in Europe is the light sport aircraft class CS-LSA, for which operating regulations in Europe differ from the United States FAA requirements. Though EASA adopted some of the USA’s specifications for LSA, the regulations are much more stringent and testing compliance is a very expensive process that few manufacturers have undertaken, so ULs still dominate the market for new aircraft in Europe. EASA do have however have a 750 Kg upper limit on their specifications which is viewed with interest by RA-AUS and CASA for Aussie LSA regulations, discussions are on going.
Interestingly also, there is a very strong trend in European suppliers to move UL and LSA aircraft to the higher levels of performance, at least four new high speed aircraft were added to the list with these specifications at AERO. And it’s been noticed that in many cases this trend to higher speed means slicker composite airframes, some with tandem seating and retractable gear.
As some of these aircraft are capable of over 130-140 knot cruise, well in excess of the USA specification S-LSAs which have a 120 absolute knot limit, there has been no ‘fast’ S-LSAs for local or export markets. Happily we don’t suffer from this upper speed limit here for an LSA, so some of these are starting to appear in the local market, example the Fly Synthesis new Series II Texan and Syncro and at the show the new ULs from Elixir and Blackwing joined the releases this year.
It seems to us that in Europe as well as Australia, these are generally not only astonishingly fast and economical but are commonly configured with leather and all forms of luxury fit-out as very special personal aircraft. Definitely a trend here for a ‘need for speed’ but with sharp looks and comfort.
Electric Power Comes of Age
In Germany the large electrical manufacturers have now seriously entered the E-motor race. The most impressive of which were the Siemens and Bosch powered products, when the big names get serious they do so with their full resources and the results were impressive. But what was also noticeable was the plethora of e-power component suppliers.
The range of ‘hybrid’ power add-ons for Rotax was also a surprise, ranging from the simple systems that add an electric motor/generator and clutch between the Rotax output shaft and the propeller from AXTER, to the work Siemens is doing with its 60 Kw E-motor combined with a Rotax engine.
Siemens showed two aircraft near production types that feature the German company’s powerful electric drives. First up was an aerobatics aircraft with a 250-Kw engine, based on the Red Bull racing Edge aircraft. Then there followed an ultra light, also with a Siemens E-motor, with 60 Kw of power. The e-flight Edge won the award for innovation at AERO – it was a superbly finished, serious aircraft that is already proving to be a major test bed for Siemens.
While Bosch, very well known for innovation and reliability in electrical and electronics, especially in cars, showcased a superbly crafted and innovative gyrocopter. This is based on the Cavalon airframe, in this version as an electrically driven gyrocopter. It made its maiden flight late in 2015.
This year, there were prototypes or mock-ups of an electric twin-engine design and some potentially CS-LSA e-flight types. The compactness of the e-Flight Power components made themselves felt in the electric non-rigid wing aircraft and gyrocopters, as well throwing up many new 120 kg machines in the very light aircraft (VLA) category. With advancements in battery and motor technology these usually single seat aircraft and gliders are strong candidates for electric power.
Many powered single seaters comply with Europe’s new Very Light Aircraft 120 Kg empty weight class and the USA 130 Kg Part 103 regulations; e-flight versions are built on this experience. Interestingly in Europe, this empty weight does not include the ‘energy’ source, meaning fuel or battery and the owner may fly them without having to obtain a medical certification.
One that especially caught my eye was the Song 120 – it reminded me of the Sadler Vampire UL with its twin booms, but this is a very slick and well finished fully composite single seater that has either petrol or battery power, the latter with two hour flight duration. Billed as a motor glider, the Song 120 has a useful 25:1 glide ratio, promising a lot of fun in safety, with electric motor save capability and a ballistic chute.
And this power option has already made its presence felt in serious electric self launch gliders, the new FAA DU class Silent Electro shown at AERO 2016 being one of the most economic and popular with this new power option.
On Avionics Avenue, the AERO showed off the latest developments and equipment for flight control, navigation, collision warning and flight planning for airplanes and helicopters. Up till now, Europe has not had a strong glass panel supplier and USA built instruments still dominated the market. Increasing European adoption at an OEM level with changes to instrument rating approvals under EASA should drive higher demand and spark domestic innovation.
This is what occurred in the Comms market when EASA regulations required a move for all VHF radios to 8.33 kHz channel spacing by 2017. The stipulation drove European manufacturers to maintain their market and grow it, resulting in much innovation in this area, including dual mode channel space selection which uses existing channel spacing ‘now’ and the future ‘tighter’ specifications in the future.
Winter continues to be the quality benchmark worldwide for traditional avionics instruments, but it has stayed with pure analogue types for all types of aircraft. However, TL Electrinik in the Czech Republic and Kanardia, nearby in Slovenia, have both taken up the challenge and had a strong showing at Aero. TL has been in the business since 1995. At Aero they showed their proven range of LCD monochrome digital displays and full featured 7” and 9” Integra glass panels and interfaces, mirroring the USA manufacturers’ typical product range, but at more attractive prices.
On the GPS front AVMap has a standalone unit AvMap 5, recently introducing EFIS features to add to its GPS functionality. TL and Kanardia glass panels have EFIS, GPS and EMS features included now.
I was very impressed with what Kanardia had achieved since coming together with parts of the LX Navigation, a major gliding instrument supplier. Part of the reason is their early adoption of advanced electronic design tools and lately 3D printing I was told. The latter makes it easier to produce precise small parts, a visible example is the new joystick control panel and its switches, all 3D printed, with its underlying electronics. They have truly innovated in the small ‘analogue’ instrument range, these have a normal analogue display and a bright white digital display of the reading, all working together on CanBus so handles all existing and new engine sensor technology.
Users of Analogue systems can still have low cost artificial horizon with a smart display HORIS, will this feature and full three mode features EFIS/GPS/EMS are handled on one to three panels, as is autopilot and full logging – impressive stuff more in the Garmin feature set mould and a company to watch.
And that was all time allowed for my brief trip. The show’s organisers swiftly hailed the event as a success, claiming 30,000 visitors had piled through the doors over the five days. What was probably most cheering ultimately, was the ability for the organisers to promote aviation careers as well as motivating the next generation of pilots.
Under the slogan ‘Be a pilot’, advisors were constantly at hand to provide guidance about future careers in aviation and answer questions young people had about schooling, qualifications and career funding.
Let’s just hope they can keep their eyes away from the drones’ remote control long enough to leap into the air themselves!