By J. DOUGLAS HINTON
A casual glance at a map of Australia shows that virtually all of the population centers are concentrated along the coast, mostly in the south and southeast. So what’s in the interior? Thousands of square miles of desert, sparsely settled by cattle ranchers and miners, people in need of supplies and medical care.
Recognizing a need for air support, GippsAero developed and certified the G8 Airvan a few years ago. It also produces the GA200C agricultural aircraft and is reviving the Nomad twin turboprop as an 18-place commuter. The company’s plans were accelerated in 2009 when it was acquired by the Mahindra Group, an India-based company involved in everything from construction to finance and insurance. Now the aircraft manufacturing division of Mahindra Aerospace, GippsAero has produced more than 200 aircraft, which fly in 34 countries around the world, including the United States, where the Civil Air Patrol has added 16 to its fleet.
GippsAero is now on a mission to ramp up sales even more, particularly in the USA. It recently appointed a North American dealer, STOL Aviation of New Richmond, Wis., headed up by Randy and Jennifer Juen. Randy was recently president of Wipaire Inc.
Having just received their first demonstrator (shipped in a box from Aussieland and assembled in Mojave, Calif.), they are currently on an aggressive tour of the USA and were at Sun ‘n Fun and will be at Oshkosh. Because of the potential in the U.S. market, GippsAero plans to open an assembly plant in America in the near future, according to company officials.
I recently met the Juens and GippsAero’s George Morgan — co-designer and developer of the Airvan, as well as its test pilot — at Florida’s Kissimmee Gateway Airport to get acquainted with the Airvan through briefings and a test hop.
Though the cruising speed of the Airvan won’t set your hair on fire, there’s little need for that as it is built for other crucial roles, such as air ambulance, freight, surveillance, search and rescue, aerial photography, and parachuting, thanks to a huge cargo door that can open in flight. The prime parameters for the design were simplicity, safety and economy. The safety parameters for the Airvan meet or exceed European EASA standards, reputedly even tougher than those of the FAA. And all interior and exterior components have anti-corrosion priming prior to assembly.
The configuration of the Airvan is fairly conventional, save for a few exceptions. It’s a single engine, high-wing piston banger with spring steel fixed landing gear, except for the nose gear, which is somewhat unique. It’s a piston that abuts a spring. On landing or a rough runway, the piston compresses the spring as required, providing an adequate damping motion — no leaking nose wheel cylinder, no flat nose wheel strut in subzero temperatures and, best of all, little maintenance. The horizontal stabilizer is mounted high on the rear fuselage to afford parachutists adequate clearance and prevent damage from flying stones when landing on unimproved strips. The double wide cargo door with wind deflector (41.5 inches square) can be opened in flight and is a boon for freight or stretcher loading (up to three with medical attendants), or up to nine parachutists (who sit on the floor with tether straps).
The 87 gallons of usable fuel is stored in both wings without bladder tanks. Simple. Low maintenance. It’s fed to a collector tank, then to the engine. If parked on a slant, there is no possibility of fuel from one tank draining to the other because of non-return valves. Cylinder head temperatures are controlled by a single cowl flap.
There are two engine choices, either the standard Lycoming IO-540-K1A5 fuel injected model with 300 hp or a Lycoming TIO-540-AH1A injected and turbocharged version with 320 hp (recommended for frequent operations above 10,000 feet). TBOs on both are 1,500 hours.
The large cabin seats eight, including pilot and copilot, each with its own headset. The copilot controls and instrumentation can be removed to accommodate a seventh passenger or a small parcel bin that will accommodate 100 pounds. Fresh air eyeball outlets are available for each seat or air conditioning is also available as an option. Baggage space consists of two compartments totaling 31 cubic feet.
TIME TO GET IN THE AIR
Though I was offered left seat by George Morgan, I wanted to observe maximum performance in all parameters, so I thought George would be best suited to demonstrate these qualities. I had no instruments on the copilot side, but did have a control column and rudder pedals.
Nothing startling about the start-up procedures, but since this was the turbocharged model and first flight of the day, it took about 10 minutes to get all temperatures in the green as we taxied to the run-up area. With Randy and Jennifer strapped in, we took the runway, stopped and George ran up full power, released the brakes and we were off pretty close to the advertised ground roll of 800 feet with the stall warning beeping intermittently and before we reached the threshold lights.
Next came the optimal climb rate. Considering the density altitude, we were doing close to the advertised climb rate of 900 fpm at 59 kts IAS, which, when achieved, we had to flatten out to remain below Orlando’s terminal control area. Heading south over Lake Toho, we were eventually able to climb to 3,500 feet where we flew the balance of the flight. Setting up a cruise speed at 68% power (2,300 rpm and 28 inches mp) we were clocking about 135 kts.
I took control and did some turns in both directions. The Airvan is extremely stable in all parameters, although I found the elevator trim a little stiff to manipulate. George explained it was because of the size of the trim tabs. I then put the aircraft in a dive without trimming to assess the inherent stability. At yellow line airspeed I released the control column, the nose came up, and the aircraft regained stable, level flight in little more than one oscillation.
“Want to try a couple of stalls?” asked George. I did, both clean and flaps down. One really has to bring the control wheel all the way back before it pays off with a mild judder and no wing drop. The clean stall occurred at about 62 kts and flaps down (38°) at 56 kts. “Let me show you something!” offered George. He took control and put the aircraft in a 60° bank turn both directions while maintaining about 65 knots with the stall warning intermittently beeping. And we maintained altitude throughout! Randy later told me he’s seen George do a continuous 90° bank around a point on the ground under the same conditions without stalling or losing altitude.
Flying back to Kissimmee, I asked George to show me a short field landing. Since things were a bit turbulent on final approach, he varied his speed between 65-70 kts. After touching down, maximum braking brought us to a halt in about 500 feet. All in all, a very impressive airplane.
The only disadvantage I can see to the Airvan for operation in certain parts of the world is that, except for the pitot tube, it is not de-icer equipped. “That’s coming,” George said. “We’re only a few months away from having a certified electrically heated propeller and de-icer boots, which we decided to go with rather than the weeping alcohol system for the wings and tail.”
The price of a “plain jane” Airvan is currently set at $699,000 USD. Because it can perform so many different missions, GippsAero decided to offer a basic airframe and let the customers decide what they need in terms of avionics and other options. For the base price, customers get a pilot-side VFR avionics package with steam gauges. Options include a whole array of glass cockpit systems, as well as copilot instrumentation and controls.
Interested in other options? A turbocharged 320-hp Lycoming engine will cost an additional $30,600; add $37,500 for air conditioning; or $12,750 for a cargo pod with a 440 pound capacity and two access hatches.
So what’s next for GippsAero? Early in 2013, the company expects Australian certification on the GA10, a 10-place turboprop that will have a commonality of many parts used on the GA8 Airvan. And following that, the GA18, an 18-place twin turboprop.
Sounds like GippsAero is on its way!
For more information: GippsAero.com
Specifications and Performance
- Length 29 ft 4 in
- Wingspan 40 ft 9 in
- Height 12 ft 9 in
- Cabin Ht. 44.9 in
- Length 183 in
- Width 50 in
- Max. T/O 4,000 lbs
- Empty Wt. 2,324 (turbo)
- Useful 1,675 (turbo)
- Ground Roll 800 ft (takeoff)
- Over 50 ft 1,600 ft (takeoff)
- Ground Roll 483 ft (landing)
- Over 50 ft 1,621 ft (landing)
- Cruise @ 75% @ 10,000 ft 134 kts, 20.8 gal/hr, 4.2 hrs, no reserve
- Rate of Climb (sea level) 904 fpm
- Stall, clean 62 kts
- Stall, 38° flaps 56 kts
- Certified ceiling 20,000 ft
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