|Take the venerable Cessna Skyhawk, stir in a mix of Diesel power, modern avionics, and a supportng cast of businesses ranging from insurers to leasors and you have Redbird Flight Simulations’ new concept for lowering the cost of flight training: the RedHawk. (photo by Michael Steineke)
|Redbird Simulations founder Jerry Gregoire chats with EAA Chairman Jack Pelton shortly after he landed the Project RedHawk prototype to show at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. (photo by Michael Steineke)
By J. Mac McClellan
July 28, 2013 - The RedHawk 101 is a highly modified Cessna 172 that made is public debut on Sunday here at Oshkosh when EAA Chairman Jack Pelton landed the airplane on Runway 36.
Redbird Flight Simulators is spearheading the RedHawk project that mates a Continental Centurion diesel engine to an existing Cessna 172 airframe. The engine-airframe combination is fully certified.
Other companies participating in the RedHawk project are Aspen and Bendix/King for avionics, Brown Aviation for lease options, and Starr Companies and Aviation Insurance Resources for insurance.
The goal of the RedHawk program is to create an effective training airplane for the global market using a mixture of existing and new technologies. The Continental diesel resolves the avgas issues that are critical around the world, and provides excellent fuel efficiency in any environment. The Skyhawk airframe has decades of proven experience as a durable and effective training aircraft. And by totally reconditioning an existing airframe, the RedHawk can be priced more than $100,000 less than the cost of a new 172.
The RedHawk has Aspen flat glass PFD/MFD to teach new pilots to fly with the latest technology. Plans call for Bendix/King to supply a stack of avionics as soon as certification is complete.
The lease and insurance plans will allow flight schools to lease the RedHawk by the hour rather than invest a large sum for acquisition. Packaging the cost of the airframe, plus major maintenance items, along with insurance creates a known hourly cost when a school puts the RedHawk on the flightline.
I flew along with Jack on the RedHawk debut trip from Fond du Lac to Oshkosh and say the diesel engine is very smooth and quiet. Its electronic controls automate all engine operation, so it truly is a single power lever operation. And I can tell you that the boss made a perfect landing right on the Runway 36 centerline, so we know the tried and true Skyhawk flying qualities are exactly the same.
The RedHawk 101 is the brainchild of Redbird Flight Simulator founder Jerry Gregoire, who also created a flight training laboratory in San Marcos, Texas, to experiment with including simulator training alongside flight training for primary flight instruction. Gregoire calls this operation Skyport; it has completed a year of operation and people are earning private certificates in one-third fewer flight hours than average because of the integrated simulator training.
Gregoire realized that the cost of new training airplanes is beyond the budget of many students and flight schools. But by installing the new-technology engine and avionics in an existing proven airplane the cost can be cut dramatically while capability actually goes up. Each Skyhawk airframe is reconditioned to essentially new standards as part of the conversion.
Gregoire is also the main punster responsible for the RedHawk paint scheme that labels all of the major components of the airplane. Not only are components such as flight controls, landing gear, and pitot tube labeled in big letters with arrows pointing when necessary, there are often comments added. For example, under the label "propeller" on the cowling it says, "If you can read this you are standing too close." Other comments note that the main gear should touch first, and include suggestions on how to pronounce pitot tube. And under the label "rudder" it says, "Otherwise it's pointless."
"We wanted a paint scheme that gets attention," Gregoire said. "And we came up with an airplane that is a classroom that is teaching while it's standing still."
The Continental diesel engine is an updated version of the Thielert engine used on the Diamond Twin Star. Continental's parent recently purchased Thielert assets out of bankruptcy. The engine had a troubled maintenance history with the most critical issues involving a clutch system linking the crankshaft to the gearbox. Continental is eliminating the clutch and believes the other significant engine life issues are resolved.
The Continental Centurion in the RedHawk is rated at 135 hp compared to the 160-hp avgas engines installed in most 172s. Much of the thrust difference between the two engines is made up by the Centurion having a constant-speed prop and turbocharging. On a cool day at low elevation airports the avgas engine will have a performance advantage over the diesel, but at higher altitudes and warmer temperatures the diesel can actually perform a little better because of its turbocharging and more efficient propeller.
The RedHawk 101 here at Oshkosh is fully certified and ready to go to work in the Redbird Skyport flight school right after the show. Three more airframes are undergoing the conversion process.
You can see the RedHawk at Redbird's Exhibit 98 located just on the south side of Celebration Way.