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 June 01, 2012
The 4 events I am waiting for in my crystal ball on the future of diesel aircraft.
They are: initiatives of Cessna;
progress of the drone market; R&D addressing innovative helicopters, and
opening of the Chinese GA low altitude market.
Let’s see the ‘big picture’:
Major actors and long-term trends. Since 1945 when the last German diesel
planes were destroyed, we have seen no diesel aircraft flying until 1998 when
both SMA Engines and Thielert Motoren (now Centurion) flew a demo plane with
their prototypes. Since then, aero diesel lived a long incubation and witnessed
several start-ups, and then the still tiny market came to be dominated by
Thielert/Centurion. We are working on an update of world population of diesel
aircraft, but the figures we had by end 2011 were of some 2,500 diesel planes
flying, a majority of them being made by Diamond Air, and a big majority of
them being equipped by the Thielert/Centurion of 125 and 155HP and some with
the Austro Engine of 170HP. Meanwhile aero diesels made by Centurion and
DeltaHawk found their way on the defense market, in Drones (UAV, or unmanned
aircraft). The Drone market cautiously adopted the diesel engine because it
uses the standard diesel fuel which is common to U. S. arms, to NATO, as well as to
virtually all weaponry/defense aerial, terrestrial or marine vehicles.
Meanwhile, a wild card of this
minuscule market is the one of LSA, Ultra lights and Experimental. I guestimate
(any data are welcome) that it represents worldwide a couple of hundred flying
machines equipped with Wilksch WAM 100HP 2-stroke engine or with an automobile
diesel, from Renault/PSA, Suzuki or Opel. These are interesting (see our story
of last month) because they are by far the cheapest diesel planes, and they
silently but surely accumulate data and hours of flight which contribute to
defending the case for aero diesels. It is difficult to assess how many of such
diesel airplanes are flying today because no data are issued whenever an
enlightened amateur installs a recovered automobile diesel in his homemade.
Most of them seem to be located in France,
Germany, the UK, Australia,
and New Zealand.
I haven’t heard of any of them in the Americas but may be missing
The North American market is
remarkably inactive in aero diesel applications because the huge majority of private
pilots flying piston-engined aircraft (around half a million U. S. pilots) actually
fly very little (less than 50 hours a year) on a very old airplane (average age
36 plus?) and cannot afford a new plane; or, when they can, will purchase an
Avgas plane. This for two reasons: as long as Avgas remains available at any
price, because Lycoming and Continental still can offer a widespread maintenance
service which no diesel supplier offers; and even id one of them did, said pilots do not fly sufficient
hours to justify the economy of flying with diesel and Jetfuel.
A few firms are experimenting on
a diesel helicopter, each time considering a totally innovative engine (see the
OPOC or the FairDiesel projects we talked about here).
Last but not least: China, which I
visited in late April. The Chinese government made a commitment 2 years ago to
a major plan opening the low altitude airspace to privately-owned, GA aircraft.
The plan includes creating or making available some 1,500 small airfields within ten years or so. China today has
on its register about 1,000 piston-engined planes. 100LL Avgas is not available
and will not be made available: Chinese aviation gasoline is and will be of
same octane than their auto fuel. Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC)
acquired Continental Engines stating their interest in Continental’s
development in aero diesel (inherited from SMA). Sunward Corporation, a major
privately-held manufacturer of industrial vehicles, decided to diversify in GA,
joint ventured with DeltaHawk to finance certification of their existing diesel
engines, and developed from scratch their own trainer, the Aurora, equipped
with a 100HP Rotax for the time being. Cessna, Diamond Air and several other GA
manufacturers have an industrial presence or are planning one in China.
Cessna Aircraft Company has a
unique position on the world GA market because it is the only manufacturer offering a
range of products covering at same time the simplest certified piston-engined
planes (162 Sky catcher and 172), the General Purpose turboprop airplane with
the Caravan, and a complete range of business jets, while being the clear world
leader: Over 43,000 Cessna 172s were produced, a world record, making of it the
most ubiquitous plane on the planet. Regarding aero diesels, Cessna hesitated a
long time, and then decided in 2007 to market a 172 Thielert thinking mostly of
the export markets. Unfortunately Cessna decided in May 2008 to suspend sales
because Thielert was going through the financial troubles that eventually lead
the firm to be financially restructured under Centurion’s management. This was
bad news for the whole aero diesel industry.
Remark on the general aero
diesel paradigm: All present competitors are dramatically under-capitalized and
short of cash. Yet the gross figure for any investment for marketing at full
scale (distribution, sales dealership, spare parts, customer service including
training…) a new aero engine which is certified as such, STC’d for several
applications and OEM’d successfully by at least Cessna as world leader, amounts
to between 200 and 500 million dollars. None of the big ones (neither Centurion,
nor SMA backed and owned by Safran, nor Continental now owned by AVIC) has invested this amount
And now for my updated crystal
ball. If you have different or supplemental data please email me.
Cessna will come back with a
single-engine plane OEM’d with a diesel. The question is not if, but when. Could it be a Skycatcher
with a 100HP 2-stroke? A 172 again equipped with a Centurion, probably the
155HP model? A 182 equipped with the SMA or a Continental derived from the SMA? A 206 equipped with same but beefed-up engine?
In any case Cessna will be aiming first at exports to countries where Avgas is
unavailable and where demand is growing, and to professional markets beginning
with flight academies. But any of these moves will mean that the aero diesel is
now recognized as the long term solution for piston-engined aircraft, and other
manufacturers will then follow the lead.
The Drone market will grow, and
not only for military applications although they will remain the main ones. Simply
because, to execute any attack, defense or security mission, a Drone is the
cheapest platform in terms of dollars and human resources. A Drone of the
future must burn Jetfuel. And the cheapest way to produce a Drone is therefore
with a diesel engine. Drones offer two advantages: The engine doesn’t need a
long TBO; and any unmanned vehicle is much faster to certify. So any news that
a manufacturer is developing Drone sales or winning a new Drone tender means
more resources to help developing GA diesels.
Until 2009, helicopter was
viewed as a controversial application for diesels despite its advantages. Skepticism
was based on vibration patterns and on weight per HP. But the main industry
actors are aware that if an innovative diesel concept can overcome these
concerns and offer an even better fuel efficiency, it would allow helicopters
to reduce capital cost while becoming far more fuel efficient than with
turbines, which dominate the market today. Several market niches within the
general rotary wing market would then open and grow into significant market
André R. Teissier-duCros, Publisher
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Every month: news, facts, and comments on the coming revolution for piston-engines aircrafts between 130 and 400 HP: Retrofitting a diesel engine to run on Jetfuel or Kerosene, reduce Gallons/Hour by some 30%, eliminate ignition systems (magnetos, spark plugs) and their problems, eliminate mixture control, increase TBO to 2,400-3,000 hours, increase performance between 6,000 and 12,500 ft., and drastically reduce Operating Costs.
The letter is intended for piston engines aircraft owners, manufacturers, fleet operators and FBOs, re-manufacturers of engines for these aircrafts, manufacturers of engine components and ancillaries, and all professionals acting in decisions of engine exchange or refitting at TBO, in North and South America, Pacific Rim, African continent, and all parts of the world were Avgas, Mogas, Kerosene and Jetfuel are available.
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