The latest news in aircraft certification and production hovers mostly around the two ends of the general aviation spectrum – Very Light Jets and Light Sport Aircraft – although many interesting things are happening in between.
The pioneer VLJ certification may have been achieved by the time you read this. The Eclipse 500 (below) appeared to be within days of full certification as this was being written. Other light jets, including those from Adam, Cessna, Sino-Swearingen and Spirit Wing (actually a Learjet 20 modification) are expected to reach certification within the next six months. Others, such as Diamond’s single-engine D-Jet, ATG’s fighter-like Javelin, Grob’s SPn Utility Jet, Spectrum Aeronautical’s blandly-named 7,300-pound Model 33 twin jet, the EV-20 Vantage and the Epic Jet all are moving toward certification in 2007 and 2008. Millennium Aerospace no longer has an estimated certification date, following the recent loss of its Foxjet prototype, itself resurrected from the six-seat VLJ designed by Tony Fox in the 1970s.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Light Sport Aircraft category is growing by leaps and bounds, led by European manufacturers who were first off the mark. Only two years ago there was a lot of talk about Light Sport but very few airplanes meeting the FAA’s proposed definition could be seen at Oshkosh or Sun ‘n Fun. Today, both events have large areas set aside just for Light Sport Aircraft and there’s now an annual show specifically for LSAs at Sebring, Florida.
Even Cessna has jumped into the spreading LSA pool, having announced that its mockup will be on display at Oshkosh this month. (Consider that Cessna, not to be left out of any market segment, also boarded the VLJ bandwagon late in the game with its Mustang, but is well on its way to certification this year.)
In among the newest LSAs are several new-old airplanes, such as the updated Cubs and Luscombes, not to mention the many antiques that qualify as LSAs at a fraction of the new prices. Certainly the Cub derivatives are enjoying good sales and the new Luscombe line may join them, now that it is based at Flabob Airport in California and has Tom Wathen’s blessing.
Somewhere in between the jets and Jennies are elegant new airplanes offering hot 21st century performance, including a flock of business and utility turboprops.
While Epic expects to certify its jet in 2008, the Epic LT turboprop is on track for certification early next year, according to Rick Schrameck, Epic’s moving spirit and chief enthusiast. Three of the six-seat singles put on an impressive show at Sun ‘n Fun this year, zooming in front of an appreciative crowd impressed by the airplanes’ speed and beauty.
Germany’s Grob, in addition to its SPn Utility Jet, has two turboprops approaching certification this year: the four-seat G140TP and seven-seat G160 Ranger. Quest’s Kodiak, a huge, unpressurized, 10-seat STOL turboprop single, also is expected to reach certification this year.
On track but not for 2006 are Farnborough’s much-delayed Kestrel, scheduled to make its first flight this month and reach certification in 2008; the Ibis Ae270B derivative of the original Ae270, with a redesigned wing, also looks toward 2008 certification; while the 12-passenger, twin-turboprop NAL Saras pusher, which first flew in 2004, is scheduled for mid-2007 FAA certification.
In a distinctive category long dominated by Grumman, the Seawind 300C amphibian is bringing a 21st century look to the land-sea-air category. Early in July, Seawind rolled out its handsome new airplane, all ready for certification flight testing, which started immediately at the company’s production facility in Canada. Certification is expected within six months.
In an odd twist, a ubiquitous mid-20th century airplane may return as a brand new twin turboprop, if Viking Air of Vancouver, Canada, finds a sufficient market.
Viking, well known for its airframe modifications to de Havilland Beavers and Otters – including turboprop conversions – has bought full production rights to all defunct De Havilland Canada aircraft from the DHC-1 Chipmunk to the DHC-7 four-engine regional airliner.
Viking currently is assessing the demand for brand new DHC-6 Twin Otters. Although some 600 of the original 844 are still flying as 19-seat transports, outstanding STOL bush planes and skydiver droppers, Viking thinks the market for new ones may be substantial enough to warrant new production, says Dave Curtis, Viking’s president. The company has completed what he called “phase one” of its market study and will make a production decision later this summer.
“The Twin Otter seems to have its own niche,” Curtis said. “It is incredibly, uniquely versatile. We are intrigued.”
No mention was made of restarting production of the handsome and agile Chipmunk, a fully aerobatic basic trainer of the post-World War II era but still a lot of fun. What a good idea that would be.