AERO 2013: A clear signal on fuels

As was the case when I reported from the great AERO Friedrichshafen show last year, judging from the latest generation of engines and aircraft on display this year, Europeans have put the issue of leaded avgas behind them. Once again, all of the new engines on display operate on lead-free, ethanol-free mogas or Jet-A, either in diesel pistons or small turbines. What’s more, smaller diesel engines are starting to emerge, great news for light aircraft designers.

While business demands prevented me from attending AERO 2013, I was able to get a fairly good summary of fuel and engine related news from friends who were there, and by monitoring reports from two popular German-language magazines, Aerokurier and Fliegermagazin. General Aviation News also provided some good stories on the show in its April 23rd, April 24th and April 25th online editions. GA News blogger and LSA expert Dan Johnson was also there and filed several excellent reports on his blog

The following provides GAfuels readers with some of the highlights related to engines and aviation fuel.

Diamond Aircraft displayed a DA50 four-seat single powered by a 450-shp AI450S turboprop engine from Ukrainian Motor Sich-Ivchenko Progress.

Italy’s Tecnam, the world’s largest producer of light aircraft, displayed its all-mogas fleet, which now includes the all-new P48 Astore low-wing two seater, named after the company’s very first ‘Astore’ (Goshawk) from 1948.

Slovenia’s Pipistrel surprised visitors by flying its sleek four-seat Panthera (pictured) with its 210hp, mogas-burning Lycoming IO-390 engine to Friedrichshafen — across the Alps, and only a few days after its first flight! Pipistrel is sticking to its predictions that the airplane will burn only 7 gph while cruising with four in a luxurious cabin at 170 knots, a tribute to the design’s best-of-class aerodynamics and the latest technology of Lycoming’s new iE2 line of mogas engines.

Company officials said that the Panthera may be eventually available with hybrid or all-electric powerplant options. It was reported too that Pipistrel is working on a drop-in electric powerplant kit for homebuilders. Considering Pipistrel’s long experience with electric propulsion in its Taurus sailplane, such comments are to be taken seriously from this remarkable company located on the southern flanks of the Alps.

France’s SMA, whose Renault-based SR305-230 Jet-A diesel engine powers the new Cessna 183 Turbo NXT, showed off its latest design, the SR46, a 7.5 liter (460, six-cylinder diesel that will develop between 330-400 hp.

At the other end of the power spectrum, Germany’s FlyEco announced that its three-cylinder, 80-hp aircraft direct-injection SMART Diesel, derived from the powerplant of the Mercedes SmartCar, has been certified by EASA. With fuel consumption of under two gallons per hour and weight under that of a 100-hp Rotax 912, the engine has very low specific fuel consumption, making it ideal for light aircraft. The company also offers a 102-hp SMART Brabus engine based on the Mercedes gasoline powerplant for the SmartCar.

EcoFly is the creation of Otto Funk, founder of FK Lightplanes, one of Germany’s leading manufacturers of light aircraft. I had the pleasure of visiting with Mr. Funk a few years ago during an early phase of this work and was impressed by the innovation of this modest man, one of the most important figures in post-World War II sport aviation in Europe.

As in 2012, one needs to travel to Germany to learn about Continental’s lead-free engine efforts. As reported by AVweb, Continental Motor’s CEO Rhett Ross revealed that the company has retreated from its earlier support for 94UL as a lead-free alternative to avgas, and that it received certification for its four-cylinder, 200-250 hp Jet-A burning, turbocharged TD300 diesel engine last December.

The same AVweb summary of AERO included some remarks from Lycoming’s Michael Kraft, commenting on the company’s expanded line of mogas-burning engines yet his reluctance to endorse it as a fuel, despite author Paul Bertorelli’s comments on the fuel’s widespread availability: “In Europe, many airports have three fuels available — autogas, 100LL and Jet A — and a handful are distributing French refiner Total’s 91UL. But that fuel isn’t widely deployed enough to have gained other than toehold market status.”

This latter point on 91UL — which my German flying friends call “expensive, perfumed mogas” — is underscored by reports from AERO 2012 and 2013, there has been very little interest in the fuel in the past year since it was first announced by AirTotal, a company that already delivers avgas and mogas to airports across Europe.

In summary, the continued trend for mogas and Jet-A becoming the two most likely candidates to replace 100LL was as obvious at AERO 2013 as it was last year. Equally encouraging is the expansion of diesel engine power ranges both upwards and downwards, and the emergence of more practical electric powerplants.

AERO 2014 will be held April 9-12. It’s on my calendar — I look forward already to all the “Neuheiten” on display, as well as a cool “Bier und eine Bretzel” to end each day.

Related posts:

  1. At Aero, More New Stuff From Diamond
  2. The engines of AERO Friedrichshafen
  3. Video: AVweb’s Aero Engine Tour
  4. GE Advances Jet Engine Technology
  5. Predictions: Aviation fuel in 2013
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