In my last column “Standing still too long,” I wrote about the problem with general aviation not moving ahead technically. This resulted in a significant amount of feedback from readers.
The comments mostly centered around GA being too small a business to pay for new technologies, all GA aircraft are hand built, the fact that the FAA would never approve new technology, and the always present, “who will pay for it?”
This month I thought I would try to come up with a solution to all of these problems.
First, I agree that GA is a small economy. This means that we need to borrow technology from other industries.
Since we are already borrowing fuel from the automotive industry, why not just borrow its engines since it has already developed leading edge technology for its engines?
For example, Ford produces a 1.5 liter 4 cylinder Ecoboost engine that produces 181 horsepower. This engine is already turbocharged, so it will work well at altitude. (There are many other makes and models to choose from, I am only offering this as an example).
Now if Lycoming, Continental, or some other company would adapt an engine like this with a good reduction drive and other modifications, they could get it certified and offered for sale.
Many of you are already writing a comment about the fact that the FAA would never approve this. And they would be correct.
The problem is that the FAA procedures for certification are designed to work with 1940s technology and do not work with new technology powerplants.
For example, most certified aircraft engines were designed for leaded fuels, so they have two spark plugs in case one fouls out. When is the last time you fouled a spark plug in your car run on unleaded fuel?
So we need to change the FAA approval process. But who will pay for this?
The FAA needs to stop work on the 100 motor octane unleaded avgas and admit it just is not worth it. They gave it the old college try, but it just is not working and really does not offer a safe alternative to 100LL.
If the FAA stops work on this fuel, it can transfer that money to work on new and improved procedures and rules for qualifying a modern technology powerplant.
Agency officials have already approved some diesel cycle engines, so how hard could it be to approve a spark ignition engine?
I am sure there would need to be some additional modifications, such as removing the catalytic converters because of the possibility of getting 100LL in the aircraft. The engines can also be detuned some to ensure that they last.
And it will be necessary to customize the electronics for self diagnosis and safety mode limp-back features and maybe add a spare or second battery.
Electronic ignition and fuel management very rarely have a failure, but if they do, they will revert to what is called a limp-back mode. This will bring you to a nearby airport for repairs if there is ever a problem.
And the systems have self diagnostic features to help find out what is wrong. The systems are not perfect, but neither is an old technology aircraft engine.
It will take some period of time with a steep learning curve.
Now I know this may sound like a wild idea. But the alternative is sitting here and watching GA continue its present downward spiral.