July 30, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
- If you’ve ever had a question about any aspect of aviation, AirVenture
is the world’s greatest answer factory.
The exhibitor booths and displays are staffed
by experts who know every facet of their field and products, and are happy
to share their knowledge—and not just with prospective customers.
So if you’ve ever been curious about the
innards of a GPS or what goes into installing an aftermarket modification,
don’t hesitate to march into one of the display areas and chat with one
of the staffers.
Take turbine engines.
“We spend a lot of time with people who just
want to know which end the air goes in,” said Ronald Schwedland, at the
Williams International display (Booth 337). Schwedland, a retired manager
and now a consultant with the Walled Lake, Michigan-based turbine engine
manufacturer, graciously took on the issue of why turbine engines can cost
as much as the aircraft they power.
According to Schwedland, designing and
building the engine is the easy part. Proving its safety and airworthiness
is the real challenge—and that adds to the cost.
“You could have an engine (designed and
built) in 18 months.” said Schwedland, “But to get it certified takes
another three years and tens of millions of dollars.”
The certification process includes data
analysis and verification, spin testing for the rotors and, in addition,
destructive testing. The engine must be capable of ingesting a 4-pound
bird fired into it at 200 mph without exploding or breaching its housing,
and of continuing to operate after a 1-pound bird is fired into it. These
are the same standards to which airliner jet engines are subject to,
though Williams engines power much lighter jets, including Diamond’s
D-JET, the Cirrus SJ50, the PiperJet, and other single-engine “personal”
jets and twinengine light jets.
“You end up destroying three engines” in
the process, said Schwedland. “It’s just amazing all the things you
have to do.”
While Schwedland spoke, a trio of Russians
came in looking for a turboprop engine to power their prospective
Upon learning that Williams offers no
turboprop powerplants, they asked for Schwedland’s opinion on the
available options, and he patiently explained the pluses and minuses of
Pratt & Whitney and Honeywell turboprop engines for the thrust range
Williams, whose founder, Dr. Sam Williams,
passed away this year, is showcasing its FJ33-5, FJ44-3AP, and FJ44-4 at
AirVenture. All are currently in the last stages of the certification
process, and the company expects certification on all by year’s end.
GE Honda Aero Engines (Booth 377) is another
good spot for turbine enthusiasts.
“We get a lot of people curious about our
joint venture,” said Mel Solomon, manager of marketing for GE Honda Aero
Engines out of Cincinnati, Ohio.
“That’s the reason why we’re here,”
Solomon explained. “To let people know about the engine and that we’re
committed to this market for the long term.”
A partnership of GE and Honda, the company is
working on certification of the HF120 turbofan, selected to power both the
upcoming HondaJet and the Spectrum 33 from Spectrum Aeronautical.
An oversize labeled diagram on the back wall
of the GE Honda display shows the interior of the HF120, and staffers can
point out the hightech design features that enable the engine to target a
5,000-hour TBO, or time between overhauls. That TBO cycle is about 30
percent longer than competitors’.
Attendees interested in turboprops often put
Rolls-Royce (Booth 176) on their itineraries.
“A lot of those people come in,” said Matt
Haugk, the company’s director of marketing and strategy, from a display
filled with gleaming mock-ups of the company’s powerplants.
Last year at AirVenture, Indianapolis-based
Rolls-Royce introduced its RR500, currently undergoing certification.
The RR500 is expected to power new production
aircraft as well as supplemental type certificate (STC) retrofits. And
unlike turbofan engines, turboprops don’t have as rigorous a
certification process—no bird strike tests, for example.
One major appeal of the RR500 is cost—it
will sell for less than its predecessor, the venerable Model 250 B17. “We
have developed a low-cost supply,” Haugk said, explaining the lower
Certification of the RR500 is expected in
Meanwhile, the Model 250 B17 remains popular,
and several aircraft with STC conversions—a Cessna 206, Cessna 210,
Vulcanair Aviator, and Tradewind Bonanza—are on display at Rolls-Royce,
along with a Maule sporting a factory B17 installation.
Yesterday Rolls-Royce and rotorcraft
manufacturer RotorWay announced that the RR300, also on display, has been
selected to power RotorWay’s Eagle 300 helicopter.
One question the exhibitors above can’t
answer: How much does it cost?
None of these manufacturers make their prices
public, as they negotiate individually with qualified buyers.
But for these exhibitors and attendees who
crowd their display areas, AirVenture makes an ideal meeting place.
“We like this venue,” said Williams
“A lot of people here supported (the
development of) smaller engines, so Oshkosh is a great place for us.”