News, facts, and comments on the coming revolution for piston-engine aircraft.
In 1998, one diesel engine flew on a converted airplane for the first time since 1945. Today, close to 4,000 singles and twins are flying. This is the beginning of a worldwide trend which will eventually allow a rebirth of the piston-engined aircraft, around new specs and new missions.
DieselAir Research, Inc., the publisher of The DieselAir Newsletter, offers strategic intelligence services to the aircraft industry, its suppliers and its customers who ambition to benefit from this global change of paradigm which will mean new markets, new concepts, new services, new materials and components… You may be interested in our services if your firm designs and/or manufactures aircraft and components, aero engines, avionics, propellers and engine components, fuel systems or additives, advanced materials, or industry specific machinery for manufacturing of these; or provides aviation services such as fuel production or distribution; flight training, aircraft chartering, maintenance and operations (FBO’s); or airport management and design, traffic control, hangar, materials handling and storage equipment; or consulting and financial services for these industries; or advertising, sales promotion, trade shows, specialized publications.
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News of May 30, 2008
The Thielert Saga and its consequences for the aero-diesel industry
Bruno Kuebler, Principal of a German law firm, is presently entrusted as Receiver to manage the Thielert assets. He is a professional and as such, he knows what he knows, and he knows what he does not know; but as he has no experience of the very small and heterogeneous world market of piston engined airplanes, he does not know what he does not know. Which is why he is presently scuttling Thielert to the point that the business will soon be impossible to sell, and will very probably not survive. Not knowing what one doesnt know is the curse of professional managers who, like Mr. Kuebler, believe in catch-all, generic management, with same tools and methods for all industries. It is for the same reason that every industry who has fallen in the hands of pure financiers has slowly but surely gone down the drain. The irony is that the German manufacturing industry remains the most competitive in the world precisely because German managers are well aware of the futility of generic management methods, and have learned that, on the contrary, what is good practice in one industry becomes bad practice in another.
The market of aero diesels essentially consists in more than 800 Diamond airplanes, singles and twins, of course equipped with the 135 HP Thielert. Diamond Air is managed by an experienced, Austrian entrepreneur, Christian Dries, who enjoys an enormous advantage: He is playing with his own money; therefore he has been learning fast while being remarkably successful in the otherwise miserable industry which designs and manufactures piston-engined airplanes, an industry where successes have become the absolute exceptions among the lazaret of numerous defunct or severely ailing firms and short-lived start-ups. But too many of these Diamond planes are grounded for lack of spare parts. The ones who are flying are costing way too much in maintenance, especially now that Bruno Kuebler is charging exorbitant prices. All owners are wondering what their otherwise superb airplane will be worth next year. And Diamond has positioned itself as the diesel airplane specialist.
Other diesel airplanes do exist and fly, with engines from SMA (France), DeltaHawk (US), Wilksch (UK). Of these three, only SMA presently offers, through a network of dealers, the Cessna 182 retrofitted with its 230HP engine, an airplane which is certified worldwide including in the US. The number of 182SMAs flying is around 55 in May 08. None of the others has reached certification yet, the earliest hope being the IndUS Aviation T-211 2-seater equipped with the 120HP 2-stroke Wilksch engine.
By far the biggest market for piston-engined planes is the US. Yet, the immense majority of Diamond diesels are outside the US; and the market growth will not be in the US nor in Europe for sure, but in several NICs in Asia, Africa, Middle-East, the Pacific and South America. But this will happen only if reliable diesel airplanes are available, because all these countries have a growing problem with Avgas availability, quality, and price. And they need these planes, not to fly a $100 hamburger each week end, but for multiple professional uses including missions of an urgent nature in regions where there is little alternative to the small airplane for transportation.
Christian Dries is doing commendable and costly efforts to bring to the market the Thielert substitute made by Austro Engines. ‘Despite Diamond's best efforts to improve the situation,’ the company's statement said, ‘Thielerts attitude towards product integrity and customer support and service were substandard even prior to the insolvency. The current situation is simply impossible. The customers will ultimately decide the long-term future of TAE, and in the absence of an economically viable product, and of customers who trust the company, any future viability may be questionable.’ Located in the same industrial complex south of Vienna alongside Diamond Aircraft, Austro Engine is furiously gearing up to build new aero-diesel engines that will eventually replace the Thielert Centurion line. At the Berlin Air Show this week, Austro displayed the AE 300, a 2-litre powerplant that is an evolutionary improvement over the same Mercedes-Benz engine Thielert used for its Centurions. Austro is working with MBTech, a Mercedes Benz daughter company, to develop the four-cylinder engine, and certification is ‘imminent’ according to a report in Flight Daily News. Like the Centurion, the AE 300 is a turbocharged, direct-injected diesel engine with high-pressure, common rail technology. But it has 165 HP rather than the Thielerts 135 HP. It seems that the engine has the same relative footprint and is being specifically designed to fit Diamond's DA40 Star and DA42 Twin Star, while being able to replace the Thielert engine in existing Diamond airplane, using the same footprint for the engine mount.
AVWeb writes: ‘Austro will have to overcome several technical problems that have dogged the Thielert engines, chief among them is the requirement to inspect and/or replace the engine's gearbox at 300-hour intervals. Since it runs at the same RPM as the Thielert, the Austro has a reduction gearbox but the Hor Technologie-developed gear set is being initially fielded with an 1800-hour TBO. Further, unlike the Thielert, the Austro has no clutch, but uses a dynamic damper to insulate the prop and gear train from the diesel's sharp power pulses. The Centurion line also encountered cooling system faults that caused cracked cylinder heads. Fuel specifics for the Austro are said to be 20 percent better than the Centurion line, a claim that's consistent with the engine's performance in the Mercedes A-Class economy sedan, which delivers as much 56 MPH on the highway. The burning question that beached Diamond owners have is: when? Marcus Hergeth, the Austro managing director, told Flight Daily that first deliveries are planned for October of this year. It is not known what production levels are planned. If the Austro plans work out, they may complicate short-term efforts to revive Thielert Aircraft Engines. Because Diamond represents the majority of new engine and parts business for Thielert, investors may be reticent to recapitalize a company whose market is overhung by a major competitor who is also a customer. Diamond and Bruno Kuebler have engaged in a bitter war of words over how to restore engine and parts flow to Diamond customers. Last week, Kuebler published new parts prices that Diamond called ‘abusive’ (they certainly are, since the Thielert price list pre-bankruptcy was already prohibitive) and it announced that Thielert would no longer honor its warranty commitments. Meanwhile, more of Diamonds customers go AOG each day as engines come due for gearbox and engine replacements.’
Conclusion for the time being: The world of General Aviation needs diesel and must shift to Jetfuel. Diamond is doing what it takes to remain the leader in powers of less than 200HP for the time being, but at this very moment does not have a certified engine to propose. We can be sure they will soon. We can assume that the Thielert experience with a V8, 300-350HP engine will not survive. The SMA engine, which is an O engine of much lower power per liter (50HP/liter against 70-85 for the Mercedes derived engines), has no gear, is air-oil cooled, is STCd on the Cessna 182, and on which all reports are satisfactory, constitutes the wild card.
Andre Teissier du Cros
posted at 6:16 PM
The case against Mogas.
Bruce B., subscriber, emails us: Thank you for the excellent summary of aero diesel news. I was wondering if you could shed some light on why the larger 150Hp + aircraft engines can not get STC for premium auto gas. Is it a compression or material issue? It seems that along with diesel technology this would be the logical replacement for AV gas?
Andre answers: Thank you for your interest. Yes, it is a compression issue: One would need a lower compression to accommodate a lower octane, therefore accept less power. But there is worse: Alloys used for valves and valve seats suffer a shorter time between overhaul when using mogas. However a serious redesign of existing engines would solve all that. Then you would come to the worst problem: At this time, small airports, especially in developing countries but also in North America, dream of getting rid of Avgas because of availability and dwindling down demand; and serve only Jetfuel. What Mogas would mean is three different fuels to sell instead of one. It is not worth it. Better change to diesel and use Jetfuel, with the advantages of diesel on top: In Africa, Indonesia or South America and other NICs they do not hesitate, and these parts are where the market for piston-engined airplanes, small today, will be growing; whereas in the US Avgas at 5.30-5.80/gallon is going to mean the end of the active life for a huge number of 30-year old airplanes.
posted at 4:17 AM
News of May 28, 2008
ILA 2008: Diamond duels as new engine sparkles, and Dr. Kuebler, Receiver for Thielert, expresses dissatisfaction
Austrian GA airframer Diamond Aircraft announced its new Austro Engine AE300 2.0 170hp diesel engine yesterday at ILA, after its long-time supplier Thielert Aircraft Engines (TAE) filed for insolvency just last week. Sticking to diesel preference, it is a Jet A1-powered compression ignition piston engine developed from an automotive Mercedes-Benz engine. The AE300 is based on the same core engine as the Thielert unit. Christian Dries, chief executive of Diamond, speaking at the show yesterday morning said: ‘Solving our own problem is the priority, but we are happy to work with others. There are more than 70 [Diamond] aircraft waiting for an engine.’ ‘Why did we start our own engine development programme?’ Answering his own question, Dries said: ‘Well, it was not our intention to invest €40m in the factory, I’d rather have saved the money. But the TBO of the Centurion 2.0 was becoming very short. It would almost be cheaper to operate with a twin turboprop.’ On a potential certification date, Dries says: ‘As soon as possible. As you can see, it is close. It has to be if we are flying three aircraft into the show on them.’ And to that extent the company has flown three aircraft into ILA with the new AE300 power plant – the DA40, DA42 and a DA50 Magnum. Dries also sees the new engine as a good retrofit option for other Thielert customers. ‘We will see if it fits into a [Cessna] 172. But it could also be an engine for the [Cessna] 182. I think the 182 with the AE engine would be good, not as good as our aircraft but only because we have got a new design with better aerodynamics,’ he says. The AE300 will burn between 10 and 34 litres per hour depending on conditions and although the AE300 is actually slightly heavier than the TAE option, Dries is confident it is by far a better power plant. ‘This engine will meet the 2,000h TBO. It has to.’ According to Dries the DA40 has become a ‘quick aircraft’ while the DA42 is going to become ‘a real 190kt aircraft’.
Speaking at ILA yesterday (Tuesday) the recently-appointed provisional insolvency administrator of TAE, Dr Bruno Kuebler, said that current public disquiet with the company was largely due to a ‘disinformation campaign’ initiated by Diamond Aircraft. ‘In the past few days, Diamond repeatedly let it be known that I was not very cooperative in negotiations and did not seem very interested in securing the TAE business in the long term. This is blatantly misrepresentation of the facts. In actual fact, Diamond offered to buy a large number of engines and spare parts – but a price considerably lower than the price that would be charged to the end customers. That’s how Diamond tried to negotiate special conditions. Diamond has not yet directly responded to our offer of 13 May 2008 in which 90% of the required spare parts available would be delivered to Diamond. Now that more than one week has passed, we will release the parts for the market.’ Under German insolvency laws, customers buying engines, spare parts or maintenance from TAE must now pay in advance. And an immediate 20% price hike also means that large customers like Diamond – and Cessna – are not happy and would probably prefer to wait for the inevitable sale of TAE to be completed later in the summer before making any further purchasing decisions and further clarifying all outstanding warranty issues, both pre- and post-insolvency. (Flight Daily News 5/28/08)
The reference to the TAE 300 fuel consumption from 10 liters (2.64 US gallons) to 34 liters (9 US gallons) per hour confirms for the first time in data from an aircraft manufacturer how low fuel flow can be with a diesel at maximal economy conditions.
The TAE 300 delivers 170HP with 2.0 Liters, which means a power of 85 HP per liter. This is even higher than the Thielert figure: 155 HP for same cubic capacity. We are waiting to read how Austro Engine addresses technically (metallurgy, surface treatments) the issues which have plagued the Thielert engine: fast wear and tear, frequent replacement of gearboxes, and similar.
posted at 3:01 AM
News of May 14, 2008
Cessna: The Thielert-Skyhawk is delayed.
The accounting scandal that led Thielert Group to insolvency has also delayed delivery of the first Cessnas with factory-installed diesel engines. In October the companies set mid-2008 for first deliveries of the Skyhawk 172S, but discussions at Cessna in the late evening of May 1 have let those plans stall. “There won’t be any deliveries in 2008. We can only sit back now and watch the situation before deciding anything final,” says Cessna communications director Doug Oliver. CEO Jack Pelton says the coming months will determine if Thielert’s assets can be put back to work meeting Cessna’s needs. “I don’t see Cessna buying them, but we’ve been in contact with other companies that are very interested in potentially buying Thielert. We’re very interested in the product but we’re going to make sure they have a path forward,” he says. Thielert holds a supplemental type certificate for the Skyhawk, allowing Cessna to offer the factory-installed Thielert FADEC-equipped Thielert Centurion 2.0s liter turbo engine. The 155 hp engine also operates on Jet-A fuel, and was the focus of an extensive market survey that found high interest in a diesel-powered Skyhawk.
By Contributor Jeffrey Decker
posted at 11:07 AM
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