What slump? Oshkosh gathering shows GA on an upswing

EAA's AirVenture 2014 was a solid success, and offered lots of composite applications.

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It’s amazing to see — nearly 1,000 exhibitors, 10,000 aircraft, and hundreds of thousands of visitors from more than 70 countries converging at the 62nd annual Experimental Aircraft Assn. (EAA) AirVenture event at Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wis. Signs of a lagging economy were not visible, given the lush, large aircraft and equipment displays around the venue. EAA chairman Jack Pelton told reporters on the event’s closing day that 2014 might be the best convention ever, based on preliminary attendance figures: “Overall attendance was up and we are getting very strong feedback from the exhibitors that people were here to buy.” CW was at the event, and found some exciting composite developments.

Major business announcements included the appearance at the show of the first production HondaJet on July 28. Following an event celebrating the occasion, the HondaJet gave an entertaining flight demonstration during the afternoon airshow that included high- and low-speed passes. “EAA AirVenture Oshkosh has been the setting of several HondaJet firsts,” said Honda Aircraft Company (Greensboro, N.C., USA) president and CEO Michimasa Fujino. “We decided to debut the first production HondaJet here as part of Honda’s commitment to inspire others through the power and realization of our dreams.” The aircraft remained on static display at the expansive Honda tent.

Cirrus Aircraft Co.’s (Duluth, Minn., USA) CEO and co-founder Dale Klapmeier gave a press briefing noting that the company is on track to deliver its first production SF50 Vision personal jets to customers before the end of 2015. The seven-seat, single-engine carbon fiber composite jet has been under development for a number of years. However, earlier this year the company flew the first of three production conforming prototypes and is now well along in the flight test program, he said. The other two prototypes are currently under construction and are expected to fly sometime later this year. According to Cirrus president Pat Waddick, purchase orders for production materials are being prepared now and assembly of the first customer airframes will begin in the near future. Company plans are to produce 90 examples of the craft in 2016, and ramp up to 125 airplanes a year for 2017 and beyond. The company reportedly has 550 orders for the jet currently on its books.

Epic Aircraft (Bend, Ore., USA) showed a mockup of its beautiful E1000 single-engine turboprop made of carbon fiber/epoxy, the outgrowth of the company’s original LT composite kit planes. Epic, reconfigured after bankruptcy of the original company, is confident of obtaining FAA Part 23 certification of the aircraft in 2015. It plans on manufacturing the E1000 in the old Lancair/Cessna Corvalis factory in Bend.

Innovative designs as always were in abundance. In addition to Terrafugia’s (Woburn, Mass., USA) Transition flying car (which flew at the last year’s AirVenture event), and ICON Aircraft’s (Los Angeles, Calif., USA) first production ICON A5 amphibious aircraft on display at the show, a new entrant in the multi-functional fun aircraft sector is the MVP Model 3 under development by MVP.AERO (Minneapolis, Minn., USA). Conceived by father and son team Darrell and Michael Lynds together with Steve Pugh, the amphibious craft designed by Mike Van Staagen (formerly of Cirrus who led the Cirrus Vision jet design effort) can operate on land, water or snow, and has some unique features, demonstrated on the full-scale mockup at the show. On water, with the wings folded, canopy open and flight controls moved up out of the way, the craft becomes a floating platform for swimming and fishing. An optional fitted tent turns the flat platform into sleeping quarters, says Pugh. “We are targeting outdoor enthusiasts as our customers. Our first flying prototype should be ready in about 18 months.” He describes the composite airframe as a combination of carbon and fiberglass; wings and horizontal tail are fabric stretched over carbon fiber/epoxy ribs. A chrome-moly truss structure supports the engine and a safety parachute. The MVP will first be offered as an experimental kit but will eventually be sold as a special light sport aircraft (SLSA). Fabrication will be contracted to Glasair Aviation (Arlington, Wash., USA) and Fibercraft Inc. (Spruce Creek, Fla., USA). Preliminary arrangement have already been made with Hanxing Aviation of China for Asian sales.

One of the most intriguing innovations was a demonstrator manufactured by Carter Aviation Technologies (CAT, Wichita Falls., Texas). The PAV-II (Personal Air Vehicle), reportedly 20 years in the making, is a combination helicopter/fixed-wing VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft with a two-blade rotor, a pusher engine and propeller behind the passenger cabin and a simple fixed wing without flaps. The PAV-II, just one of several company prototypes, incorporates some important technologies, says company founder Jay Carter: “This concept is safer and quieter than any existing VTOL aircraft ever conceived — and the technology is scalable to large, commercial sizes.” Carter’s trademarked technology is called Slowed-Rotor/Compound (SR/C), which means that a simple 2-bladed rotor with high lift initiates flight to an intermediate speed. At that point, the rotor is slowed to the slowest possible rotational speed to decrease rotor drag, essentially reducing rotor drag to zero. The small fixed wing together with the pusher propeller enables fuel-efficient and fast high-speed cruise. The result, claims Carter, is substantially increased efficiency, with longer range and higher speed than traditional helicopters, at higher service ceilings, and using substantially less fuel. Carbon fiber’s high stiffness and tension strength enable the stiff rotor blade, which, combined with stainless steel tip weights, reduces blade flapping, maintains high centrifugal force and resists potential wind gusts as the rotor slows. The PAV-II technology demonstrator is autoclaved carbon/epoxy prepreg with aramid honeycomb core. Carter, whose background includes involvement with the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor program as well as wind turbine blade designs (he started Carter Wind Energy company), says his goal is to eventually license designs to kit plane manufacturers, both fixed-wing and helicopter. “We can compete in both markets, and bring the best of both together in a versatile design.” Check out the video showing the PAV-II in flight at the company’s Web site: http://www.cartercopters.com/.

Another, rather unusual hybrid fixed-wing/rotorcraft was displayed by Elytron Aircraft (Mountain View, Calif.). The two-seat demonstrator, incorporating an all-carbon composite airframe, combines three sets of wings: one pair of rotary wings called “prop-rotors,” attached to a single tilt-wing mounted in a central-fuselage position, and two pairs of fixed wings. The fixed wings, joined together by winglets, form a forward pair and an aft pair, and resemble a large box or frame around the fuselage. The wing design eliminates interference with the prop-rotors’ thrust, says the company. Because the proprotors are tilted forward during normal flight, the Elytron design does not suffer the performance penalty that helicopters do with the retreating blade. Therefore, Elytron aircraft will be capable of achieving air speeds two to three times those of equivalently powered helicopters. Elytron said that flight testing will begin in 2015.

Gliders and sailplanes seemed to be everywhere at the show. The most amazing example was the Perlan II high-altitude pressurized glider, currently under development, and the partnership announced July 28th between Perlan Project Inc. (Beaverton, Ore., USA) and Airbus Group (Leiden, The Netherlands). Perlan, started in 1992 and headed by chief pilot Einar Enevoldson, formerly a test pilot at NASA Dryden, seeks to soar upward to 90,000 ft/27,432m or higher on stratospheric mountain waves created by polar vortices. Not only will the project smash all soaring altitude records, the not-for-profit organization says that important meteorological research will be conducted, including how these high-level waves impact global climate models,  particularly throught the mass exchange between the troposphere and the stratosphere.  The project was previously funded in part by U.S. adventurer Steve Fossett, who together with Enevoldson flew to over 50,000 ft in August 2006 in the Perlan I glider. Interestingly, the pair wore pressure suits inside the unpressurized cockpit, and the suits expanded so much that they eventually couldn’t move or control the aircraft, and had to abort the flight. Now, Airbus will provide technological and financial support for the pressurized Perlan II effort, said Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus Group at the press conference: “Partnering with the Perlan team is consistent with our core values of furthering innovation in aerospace and of inspiring the next generation of designers and aviators.” Morgan Sandercock, project manager for Perlan II, says the aircraft, with its 84-ft/25.8m wingspan, is being fabricated using a carbon/epoxy prepreg supplied by Toray Composites America Inc. (Tacoma, Wash., USA) on carbon fiber composite tooling. The thick polycarbonate windows in the fuselage weigh more than the airframe, notes Sandercock. Aircraft testing will occur in the U.S. in late 2015, and flight is planned for the summer of 2016 in Argentina, near the southern pole.

Other notable glider standouts include the recently updated S10 motor glider with a 75.5-ft/23m wingspan from Stemme (Strausberg, Germany and Lyons, Col. USA), which attracted a crowd. The all-carbon composite S10, in production since 1984 and a well-known high-performance aircraft, has a retractable propeller and engine, which allows self-launching; once airborne, the propeller retracts into the nose cone for silent soaring. An S10 equipped with special camera systems recently soared to more than 30,000 over Mt. Everest in Nepal. Pipistrel (Ajdovščina, Slovenia) had a large display of its motor gliders and light sport aircraft (LSA) models. All are composite, made with a combination of carbon, fiberglass and aramid fiber wet out with epoxy resin. The Sinus model motor glider, which qualifies as an LSA, has a strutless design (i.e., the wing requires no strut support) thanks to its composite design. Pipistrel is the winner of all three NASA Challenges for energy-efficient airplanes, and won the Lindbergh Prize for best electric aircraft.

Oshkosh also offers educational sessions for pilots and others in the aviation world. One of those workshops was the Advanced Composites Infusion Forum presented by double bag infusion innovator Russ Emanis together with Dana Greenwood of RS Industries (Keller, Texas). Emanis was joined by Jim Glaser of Oxeon (Boras, Sweden), supplier of TeXtreme spread-tow carbon reinforcements, who described the use of Oxeon’s materials in several LSA models. The well-attended session showed the level of interest in infusion, and a subsequent demonstration by Emanis of the double-bag technique using his trademarked ProFusion resin controller was a success, he relates: “The infusions showed the ProFusion’s accuracy and ease of use, with nearly zero waste.” Emanis used trademarked MTI hose supplied by German Advanced Composites Inc. (Miami, Fla., USA) during the demo. Learn more about double-bag infusion at www.compositesworld.com, at this link: http://www.compositesworld.com/articles/double-bag-infusion-70-fiber-volume.


Watch for our expanded coverage in an upcoming issue of High-Performance Composites magazine.

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