There is a story going around about a toothpaste company that was having quality problems. It seems that every once in a while an empty tube would go through the system and get to the stores. This was causing several customers to threaten to cancel their orders.
So the president of the company, who was a business type, showed his leadership skill and hired a consulting firm. For $8 million, the consulting firm developed a high-speed scale system that would sense the weight of every tube going down the line. When a “light” tube was sensed, the line would stop and a buzzer would go off. The technician would remove the tube and restart the line.
The first day the system was on it found 150 empty tubes, the second day 175 tubes, and the third day zero tubes.
The president panicked and went down to the plant manager and shift supervisor to find out what happened. Neither knew, so they went down to the line and talked to the technician. He said that the constant buzzing and line stoppage was slowing down the process, so he installed a $20 box fan on the line, which blew the empty tubes off before the high-speed scale.
So how does this relate to general aviation?
One of the main problems in almost every industry is that they are being run more and more by the business types and consultants and less and less by the people who really understand the show.
For example, if you read almost any aviation publication, you quickly realize that two of the biggest concerns in GA are the declining pilot pool and the need for an unleaded aviation gasoline. The answer to both concerns is the same — technology.
If you have dealt with any person under 40, you quickly understand that the people we are trying to get into GA have been raised on high-tech things. They really do not relate well to low technology things.
These young people think aviation must be cutting edge, but then they take their first flight. After we get done explaining when to pre-heat, sump the tanks, set the mixture strength, hit the primer, etc., we realize their eyes glazed over between the pre-heat and setting the mixture strength.
These young people quickly realize that they are about to fly an engine based on 1930’s technology that they do not relate to at all.
For comparison, I bought a new snowmobile last year. It has a 160-hp four-cycle engine that starts instantly even at -20°F with just the turn of a key. It runs perfectly smooth on pump gas and is almost bullet proof.
So why does aviation depend on 80-year-old technology, but other pleasure craft use modern technology? Part of it is the FAA approval process and the huge liability burden for GA aircraft.
But look at the Light-Sport Aircraft and experimental part of our business. Why does our industry stick with air cooling when liquid cooling is so much more efficient? How about direct drive? Every turboprop aircraft, car, truck, tractor, mower, motorcycle or any other vehicle has some form of gear reduction, so I must assume that they have perfected the technology.
And what about fuel injection, electronic ignition, knock sensors, variable valve timing, and on and on? Why aren’t any of these systems being used in aviation? There are a lot of reasons, but a significant part is the “we never did it like that before” attitude of a lot of people in general aviation.
Years ago I had the opportunity to fly a 172 with a Porsche engine. It scared me because it was so quiet, smooth, and easy to operate. But it failed, partially due to high price, but also because of lack of customer acceptance.
It appears to me that our whole industry must take a giant leap from the 1930s to the 21st century and start to embrace some new technology. For example, if you are designing a completely new diesel cycle engine, why go with air-cooling and individual cylinders? If you are designing a new LSA engine, why use the same old technology? If the special fuel for your engine is not available, why not use current technology that is well proven and will work with available fuels? Oh, that’s right, we never did that before.
And now the rest of the toothpaste story: The president got a seven-figure bonus for solving the problem. The plant manager and shift supervisor got promoted and the technician got laid off because he was no longer needed. But do not cry for him. He saw the error of his ways and became a consultant. He’s now making a seven-figure salary helping the FAA cut back on expenses and services.