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Thu, Apr 21, 2005

Highs 'n Lows: The Top 10 News Stories We Observed In Lakeland (Part One)

You didn't think we were going to leave Lakeland without a chance to throw out some Congrats and/or Raspberries... did ya?

Not one to miss a chance to pontificate at will (and we will...and will... and will), here's what most impressed us this week -- and what didn't. AND when all this noise  is said and done, we're FINALLY going to drop THE bomb on everyone... with a MAJOR announcement that is the result of many year's observation of Lakeland and dozens of other fly-in and airshows... Stay tuned... this one is gonna be a doozie.

First the Good News...

1. Avidyne Takes Over the World

The glass cockpit wars have been heating up here and there for the last couple of years and this year is looking to be a wildest yet. With Garmin heating up the landscape with a number of announcements over G1000 adoptions and introductions, Avidyne, the GA glass cockpit manufacturer with the largest installed user base, as well as the first to land a major OEM gig, has shown that they still own a large part of the market. More; they're not willing to give up any additional market share without a fight.

Already on a host of Piper singles, a very slick three-panel Avidyne Entegra installation is now being offered for the Piper Meridian turbo-prop. And then there was the Flight center announcement, radar interface announcements, Flight Director announcements, you name it. The Avidyne agenda is gaining some serious steam.

With a host of new features and capabilities also doing the news-rounds this week, the other big announcement was Avidyne's adoption by Symphony Aircraft... the only two seat manufacturer (besides mighty Diamond aircraft) with a truly GA-worthy two seat line -- and now the only two seater with a glass panel -- for less than $190K. Can you say "hot IFR Trainer?" I knew that you could.

FMI: www.avidyne.com

2. Diamond's Amazing Diesel

It's kinda fun when one's preconceptions prove to be misconceptions. Such is the case with the Diamond DA40TDI... an airplane that I expected to find somewhat underwhelming. But... I was wrong.

I mean... how good can a bird be that's used to 180 HP when it gets thrown out of the nest with only 135 HP? Answer: Much better than you think. Powered by the Thielert CENTURION 1.7 Diesel engine, the motive force for this critter is a 4-cylinder 4-stroke 4-valve in line diesel cycle engine with common rail direct injection. It is turbo charged and liquid cooled, uses a wet sump oil system, an electronic control unit and uses a gearbox/reduction drive with a 1:1.69 ratio.

But the beauty of it is this... as we all reel from sticker shock every time we taxi up to the pump, the DA40TDI giggles along on less than 5 GPH in normal cruise and can plug along on as little as 1.9 GPH at 40 % power and 85+ knots... all day long (or so it seems).

You give up a few things for this phenomenal level of economy and 21st century technology (the FADEC system is so simple even an Editor-In-Chief can use it... and did -- without ANY loss of life--BE IMPRESSED). It's just a little slower than the Lyc, it doesn't climb quite as fast... but it'll kick still a Skyhawk's ass and that's all that REALLY counts... no? Better yet, the same delightful characteristics that make a DA40 such a joy to fly are totally intact and the occasional whiff of jet fuel is but icing on the cake... especially when you pay your fuel bill.

Mind you; there's MUCH more to the DA40 diesel effort than a bird that sips so little gas as to make one accuse it of sporting the mythical "sky-hook," and we'll have a flight report done shortly that'll tell you why... but suffice it to say that the Thielert powered DA40 is a sign of the times that tells us that we're heading in the right directions and that gutsy little companies like Diamond are betting large... and winning. More info to follow.

FMI: www.diamondair.com

3. Eclipse Flies In

We knew it might happen several days ahead of time... but the vagaries of weather and an increasingly arduous flight test schedule kept us guessing until Vern Raburn called us as they taxied out of ABQ for Lakeland. That's how one of 2005's coolest cross-countries got started. Eclipse tells us that N503EA participated in chase chores for the  first flight of aircraft N502EA -- which delayed the departure for LAL until 15:11 MDT on 4/14.

N503EA flew in formation with Don Taylor's Mu-2 at FL250 enroute to Longview, TX for RON. Pacing the MU-2 resulted in 270 KTAS. Total trip was 2,688 NM with six stops (Longview, TX; Tallahassee, FL; Lakeland, FL; Jackson, MS; Wichita Falls, TX; Albuquerque). Max distance in a single leg was 590 NM. Max block time was 2:30. Fuel burn was about the same as the MU-2. The aircraft reportedly performed "excellently," and experienced NO maintenance issues. It RON in Wichita Falls on the return because of weather while Eclipse folks noted that this first flight test aircraft had only 40 hours on it before the trip and flew a 6 hop 2600+ NM cross country with no maintenance problems, was "significant." 

Eclipse qualifies the trip's stats, somewhat, in that the actual numbers of cruise altitude, speed, leg length, are NOT indicative of the actual performance of the jet because they were following Don's Rice Rocket and were using very conservative minimum fuels due to the fact that this was the first time the aircraft was away from home. Regardless of the caveats... it was a cool thing to do and we're glad to see the E-500 spread it's wings... nearly coast to coast, no less.

FMI: www.eclipseaviation.com
 
4. Piper Battles Ice

Piper is no stranger to de-ice and anti-ice offerings... but the recent introduction of the PIIPS system is not only a welcome addition to the six place line... but we truly appreciate the manner in which they are marketing the product. The Piper Inadvertent Icing Protection System (PIIPS) is now available as optional equipment on it's unpressurized six-seat single-engine models - the Saratoga II HP, the Saratoga II TC, the Piper 6X and the Piper 6XT.

But it's the very truthful emphasis on the system's use in "emergency" icing that I find refreshing. I've seen the same system oversold as an icing deterrent WAY too many times when the simple fact that is that such systems are to be used when one accidently encounters icing.,.. and not as a way to cheat fate and stack the deck in favor of the pilot who's willing to push his luck. Piper isn't playing that game.

Piper's Molly Martin Pearce, New Piper's Director of Dealer Relations & Sales says that, "When weather forecasts are off the mark, and pilots inadvertently find themselves in icing conditions, the build up of airframe ice can be quick and dangerous. Having PIIPS takes preparedness to a new level and ensures that pilots have the safety margin to exit icing conditions quickly and effectively."

Piper, flat-out, calls it an emergency system, describes icing for what it is... something to be avoided like the plague. As a result, it sells the program SPECIFICALLY as a last chance against unplanned/accidental icing encounters. Good for them.

Piper may be getting older... but they're getting smarter, to boot.

FMI: www.newpiper.com

5. Two Seaters Making Comeback

Competition is good for business... especially when that competition makes everyone look good. For for too long, Diamond ruled the twin-seat roost with a line of sexy and capable two seaters that offered excellent bang for the buck and even better value. A number of announcements came and went in regards to a number of pretenders to the throne -- some credible, some not. The revamped Luscombe is still DOA, the Liberty XL-2 has seen more delays than a REALLY bad day at Amtrak (and been mismanaged horribly), and the much vaunted Symphony program stumbled visibly after financial woes forced a shutdown.

But times have changed.

Diamond still rules, Luscombe is a ghost and the XL-2 still seems like a long shot... but the lovely little Symphony is back... with a vengeance. The Symphony SA 160 is a 2 place aircraft that offers 700 lbs. of useful load, a 150 mph cruise speed, a roomy and comfortable cabin, outstanding visibility, a large baggage compartment and an elegant and modern look. Transport Canada assumed responsibility as the "State of Design" and has issued the Type and Production Certificates to Symphony Aircraft Industries. New alliances include:

  • a five-year alliance with Meggitt/S-TEC to provide autopilot technology as factory-installed option,
  • Avidyne Entegra, integrated flight deck glass cockpit,
  • Ballistic Recovery System (BRS) whole aircraft recovery parachute system.

Symphony expects to have two aircraft certificated to FAA Part 23 by the end of July, and customer deliveries by September, 2005. Symphony expects production to eventually grow to 200-500 aircraft per year. Prices include the Symphony SA-160 with the VFR package for $139,900, a basic IFR version is $154,900, and a Glass Panel IFR version (entirely replaces VFR equipment package) for $189,650. The optional BRS ballistic parachute will be factory installed (pending certification) for $18,500. Expect to see a lot these in circulation in 2006. 

FMI: www.symphonyaircraft.com
To Be Continued....

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