To the casual observer general aviation is on life support. The cost of flying has gone through the roof. Incomes are stagnating and there is no denying that the flying community is hurting.
While there have been many innovations in hull manufacturing and aerodynamic design, innovations in engine technology – certainly compared to what is going in the automotive sector – are progressing with the speed of cold molasses. Too often, it seems, emphasis in the industry is on financial engineering while the real engineers and tinkerers who have a tradition to come up with real solutions are left starving of cash, so they can’t do their work.
With all the publicity about phasing out 100LL fuel there is remarkably little evidence that a real solution that reduces costs and improves performance and safety is anywhere near on the horizon. The diesel engine experiment that started with Thielert in Germany ended up in bankruptcy and the patents to a French version first sold to Continental have now disappeared entirely into the hands of the Chinese.
In short, it is tempting to write the obituary of General Aviation the way we have known and loved it. But is this really the whole story?
What about that report of Boeing’s latest UAV, the hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye, which the company says will stay aloft at 65,000 feet for up to four days. The craft is powered by two converted Ford Ranger truck engines! The fuel for the engines is liquid hydrogen! Each engine turns a four-blade prop. The only byproduct is water. My dear friends, game-changing opportunities not just for our military, but for general aviation as well.
And what about that Lockheed Constellation refurbishing Project that is taking place right in our backyard here in New England? Squadron 7 members went to visit the site on two occasions and we could not believe our eyes! Several years ago, Lufthansa decided to buy up three dilapidated Lockheed Constellation aircraft that were parked on the tarmac at the Lewiston /Auburn airport in Maine.
Using the parts of two of the craft, they are painstakingly restoring the third one, hoping to have that one back in the air for full service, mind you, by July 2017. They are not just committing money but - much more importantly - some of their finest engineering talents to the project, all the while employing hundreds of engineers and mechanics from throughout the U.S. to this remarkable project.
And speaking of new engine technologies, perhaps the folks at Delta Hawk of Racine, WI will be able to introduce a 300hp diesel engine – Made in America - that can be used for conversion to a lower cost and more environment friendly flying experience.
If regulators could ease up a bit on the hurdles that such conversions face, and capitalists be a bit more generous towards projects that require a bit more experimentation, things could turn prosperous quickly again.
To get there, let’s stop selling each other on Fear. Let’s switch back to Hope, and Optimism, and Courage! And let’s build bridges of Trust!
With that approach I am sure the best is still to come. For decades, America’s general aviation community has been open to folks from all walks of life. Oshkosh is a living reminder of that uniquely American tradition. Let’s keep it that way!
Warbirds of America