The Experimental Aircraft Assn.'s (EAA) 2008 AirVenture event was packed with attendees the week of July 28-Aug. 3. Despite higher fuel costs and economic concerns, organizers estimate that 540,000 people participated in the annual "fly-in" held in Oshkosh, Wis. As has been the case each year in recent memory, the event was again a forum for several important announcements and introductions related to the composites industry.
First, on July 31, AAI Acquisition Inc. (AAIA, Englewood, Colo.), a U.S. company and the successor to the former Adam Aircraft Industries, announced at an EAA press event that significant steps have been made toward resumption of operations. Key to the comeback is the naming of veteran aviation executive Jack Braly as the new president and CEO. AAIA purchased the assets and intellectual property of the former Adam Aircraft in April this year, after Adam Aircraft declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February. AAIA also announced that it has completed its business organization process and will focus on FAA certification of its A700 very light jet (VLJ) from its headquarters at Centennial Airport in Englewood. Certification for the plane now is projected for early 2010.
"We are working diligently to gain certification of the A700, with the goal of getting this jet into production," said Braly. He noted that the U.S. Federal Aviation Admin. (FAA) has given the company notice that the A700 certification basis has been accepted, and AAIA has resumed the testing process. He also confirmed at the Oshkosh press conference that the company has no plans at this time to resume production of Adam Aircraft's A500 twin-engine push/pull prop plane, of which only a few were delivered prior to the acquisition. Both the A500 and A700 airframes are made largely with carbon fiber/epoxy composite materials.
AAIA is the first U.S. investment by the partnership of Industrial Investors Group and Kaskol, two Moscow, Russia-based private equity firms. The company already has 150 employees, many of whom previously worked for Adam Aircraft. AAIA's plans show employment levels growing to around 300 by the end of 2008 and to more than 500 by the end of 2009.
Elsewhere at the airshow, Cirrus Design Corp. (Duluth, Minn.) showcased its newly rebranded, all-composite-airframed Vision SJ50 personal jet, formerly known as the-jet. "The name 'Cirrus Vision SJ50' represents a natural extension of Cirrus' vision to build the ultimate personal transportation machine," said Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier. The Vision flew in to the airshow from a staging location in Wisconsin to Oshkosh at a modest 200 knots/230 mph and reached an altitude of only 11,500 ft/3,500m — limitations on performance were imposed because it is still early in the plane's testing regime. When fully tested and in production, Cirrus says the jet will do 300 knots/345 mph with a 25,000-ft/7,620m ceiling. Sporting a V-tail design and a single jet engine, the Cirrus Vision is said to be technologically advanced, yet engineered to be simple to fly, and it reportedly offers more flight options than any other personal aircraft. "Vision SJ50 offers owner-pilots access to more lifestyle pursuits and does so without conflicting with airline operations," said Klapmeier. "It cruises below airline flight levels and offers easy and convenient access to thousands of local airports not served by airline operations." The all-composite Vision, like Cirrus Designs' other planes, is equipped with the trademarked Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS).
The aircraft made its first flight on July 3 at the Duluth International Airport in Minnesota and, according to the company, performed flawlessly. The first production Vision is expected to be delivered in 2012.
Generating significant buzz at its AirVenture unveiling was ICON Aircraft's (Los Angeles, Calif.) all-new, amphibious, A5 light-sport airplane (LSA). EAA president Tom Poberezny called the plane an "innovative new design that will reach out to enthusiasts." Vern Raburn, founder and former CEO of Eclipse Aviation (Albuquerque, N.M.), and a member of the ICON board of directors, added, "Innovation helps you create a new market and new customers, and that's what the light-sport aircraft movement is all about. This airplane and this company are going to change the rules for marketing [sport] aircraft."
The ICON A5 is a carbon composite design with several unique features, including folding wings, which allow the plane to be towed on a small trailer. The aircraft first flew on July 9 at an undisclosed location in California, successfully taking off and landing in amphibious mode from a lake. According to ICON VP of engineering Matthew Gionta, "The challenge for us was to make a completely safe wing fold. We drew on Navy wing-folding mechanisms that have been used for decades. And in parallel with that, we have a glider overlapping spar joint that is as robust as you can possibly get."
The full-scale prototype seen at Oshkosh is scheduled to undergo several phases of test flights over the next year before the design is finalized. After flight testing, a preproduction model will be built to verify all FAA and ASTM compliance standards before the aircraft enters production in late 2010. As of the unveiling, ICON had commitments for 214 delivery positions.
Also unveiled at the show, the Remos GX, a new LSA model from Remos Aircraft GmbH (Pasewalk, Germany), sported a carbon fiber wing — previous models had fabric wings. Modifications made to its predecessor, the G3, also included changes to the fuselage, including an expanded cargo area as well as a ground-adjustable propeller. The two-seat aircraft ranges in price from $120,500 to $135,500, and numerous options are available.
Editor PickComposites in Light-Sport Aircraft
The Federal Aviation Admin.'s Light-Sport Aircraft designation promotes growth in the manufacture of composite recreational aircraft.