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Posts: 235
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GA Aircraft - Why So Little Progress?

Mon Jan 20, 2003 2:56 pm

I happened to be at a minor airport the other day watching student pilots doing touch and goes. Some were excellent and others, naturally, less so as the law of averages demands but one stood out. One pilot to be flared way too high, landed heavily and bounced. Did he bounce - he went back up in the air another 6 or 7 metres and then repeated the process before I imagine the instructor intervened.
All part of the learning process I hear you say and no doubt you are right but is this not too dangerous for words? Why have not GA aircraft evolved into something safer and better?
Some panels are just bad. Look at the fuel cut off in a PA28 ( the red banana near the pilot's left ankle) - really easy to find at 200ft in a forced landing and you want the fuel off. Or how about trying to navigate with ADF and VOR in bad weather. Why do we still use this stuff to navigate? Surely something cheap and more intuitive in the age of cheap computing is available. I know that GPS is becoming popular but in most of the GA machines I have seen it is a hand held Magellan. Why is it not built in?
Anyway getting back to the bouncer. Why is it that only Mooneys or some home builts have spoilers or air brakes? It can't be expensive, it could be activated with a micro switch on the main gear or armed form the cockpit a la the "heavies". A skip is better than a near fatal bounce.
And another thing - why are we still flying or Pipers and Cessnas with piston engines? Is a turbine really that much out of the reach of the GA operators? Is it all just cost or a lack of vision? What do you think? Are progress and general aviation mutually exclusive? What would you like to see in GA in the future?
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RE: GA Aircraft - Why So Little Progress?

Mon Jan 20, 2003 3:08 pm

The biggest problem is that you're dealing with what is mostly a highly elastic and limited budget group of consumers. Whats out there today is for most pilots, good enough. For those who don't believe so and can afford it, there are things that meet what you have proposed. New aircraft and retrofits are getting panel mount GPS. There are numerous turboprop STCs out there for birds such as Bonanzas and C210s. It all comes down to what you're willing to pay for.
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RE: GA Aircraft - Why So Little Progress?

Mon Jan 20, 2003 3:43 pm


Is the reason GA aircraft are mostly piston powered and not turbine aircraft. There are a lot of panel mounted GPS out there but they cost thousands instead of hundreds. Why no speed brakes on small GA aircaft? Because they don't need them.

The Mooney has them to slow down in the air because they are a very clean (aerodynamically) aircraft that is hard to slow down and descend at the same time. (Oh and by the way this process is complicated by the problem that just cut the throttle back from cruise power to idle will shock cool the engine and cause problems.)

The bounce in a small aircraft is really not that much of a problem. The aircraft typically has flying speed and the application of power will result in a go around without trouble. As you get into larger aircraft this gets to be a bigger problem, especially as the aircraft weighs alot more and thus puts lots of stress on the gear.
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RE: GA Aircraft - Why So Little Progress?

Mon Jan 20, 2003 4:02 pm

Flyf15 pointed out some of the reasons, I'll elaborate on more.

The biggest is cost. Certification of aircraft and systems that go in them is astronomical- air conditioning is a $20,000 option on new skyhawks. That is not a misprint, 20 grand. Why? Because Cessna had to prove that it wouldn't adversly effect performance in any failure mode; it couldn't get stuck on, in any way. And there is a very small market to recoup this investment on.

GPS is getting very common in GA aircraft; most new airplanes come with it standard, and its getting harder and harder to find a privatly owned plane without any kind of GPS in it.

Some of your other ideas though, just don't make sense in all airplanes. Example- spoilers. SOME Mooney's have them because they need them. They are very clean designs that are very notorious to slow down for descent, and they have a low gear operating speed. Most GA singles just don't need that kind of extra drag on top of flaps and gear to slow down.

Another reason is safety. I know I wouldn't fly a GA airplane that had some kind of automatic lift dumping system installed that was activated by a microswitch on the gear; too many bad things can happen when it activates at the wrong time. And I can garuntee you that that kind of retrofit would not be cheap, retrofit on a Mooney is close to six grand.

And then, why would it be needed in the first place? In most light aircraft, speed brakes are used to slow the plane down and descend without having to pull the power back much. They aren't used like on airliners to dump lift. And bounces are trained-away for the most part. No need for expensive solutions to problems that aren't there; I don't think I've ever heard of a fatal bounce, and I've seen/had some bad ones.

Piston engines are going to be around for a long time for light aircraft though. Turboprops just aren't affordable yet in the 90-300hp range yet. There are conversions, but mainly for planes that are designed for traveling long distance. The turbine engine shines when it can get up to the thin air where it can take advantage over its greater power to size ratio to make up for its attrocious fuel burn. I don't think you'll ever find a turbine powered 172.

Safety has made large leaps forward in the past, but most improvements will continue to come in the form of pilot training. Perfect example is the new Cirrus airplanes; they have the "foolproof" airplane saving parachutes installed, they've been involved in 5 accidents since they've been introduced, only one has used the parachute successfully.

The problem you run into with trying to make a light GA plane "pilot-proof" is that many people who purchess and operate them do that because they WANT to be pilots. We like knowing that the sucessful outcome of the flight depends more on our skill and training than the fancy gadgets designed to make the airplane foolproof.

And you want bad panel layout? I've flown a modified J-3 Cub with bush tanks; long range tanks installed in the wings (the orginal tank was located between the firewall and the insturment panel, sitting in the front seater's lap.) To reach the selector valve from the back seat involved unfastening my harness and half stand/lean over the front seat. The solution is to not run a tank dry at 200', and to be aware of this limitation of the aircraft.

Light aircraft technology will continue to be in terms of evolution, not revolution for a number of years to come.

- Mike
Happy contrails - I support B747Skipper and Jetguy
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RE: GA Aircraft - Why So Little Progress?

Tue Jan 21, 2003 7:35 am

Auto speed brakes on GA aircraft? I understand the sentiment, but no thank you! Let me give you an example.

A European front line pilot may take 3 years of training before they reach the front line squadrons (this includes brief period of flying a desk, though). So, you would have thought that they would be fairly proficient by then. After all, 10 years ago, it cost £3 million to train an RAF pilot plus, say, £30 million for the aeroplane.

They fitted auto deployment of the spoilers etc to the Tornado GR1. The GR1 also had the advantage of having incredible suspension, on account of it needing to land with lots of bombs still attached. Yet several of our German colleagues (I'm told this also happened in the UK but I've never seen the accident reports) still managed to bounce the aircraft. Now picture yourself, 30 degrees nose up, heading upwards but with huge drag and no lift... The GR1 seemed to like coming down nose first afterwards, resulting in the aircraft snapping in two. £30 million sprayed across the runway (not to mention the munitions...).

Now put that deployment system in the hands of someone with 7.5 hours (that's what it took me to go solo... and I bounced a couple of times before and afterwards...) and, in my opinion, we will be flying around trying to find a runway that it still open.


As for the poor design... well, I have a career trying to spot those and take them out at the design stage (it's a nice little earner!). Designing for the user seems to be quite difficult for some...
The definition of a 'Pessimist': an Optimist with experience...
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RE: GA Aircraft - Why So Little Progress?

Tue Jan 21, 2003 10:26 am

As far as New Piper is concerned... the company I work for is the Piper dealer for the southeast. I don't know the details yet, but i fly the executives around pretty often and have gotten wind of something big that is going to be happening this year having to do with their skunk works.

The only thing that they can tell me- "It's going to be something that will completely blow your mind." Piper skunk works has been reeeeeaaaaallly busy.

Keep your eyes open, because it's coming this year.
Chicks dig winglets.
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RE: GA Aircraft - Why So Little Progress?

Tue Jan 21, 2003 3:26 pm

A lot of your engine/avionics/instrumentation questions have to do with economics and practicality but I agree with your basic point. If you trace today's C172 back, it goes like this: a 2003 172 is fundamentally the same airplane as the 1955 172; the 1955 172 was just a 170 with a nosewheel; the 170 was just a 140 with 2 more seats and a bigger engine; a 140 was just a 120 with metal wings. Agreed that the 2003 172 has lots of cosmetic improvements but it still flies at about 115kts, still has about a 16,000ft service ceiling and it still won't carry full seats, full fuel and full baggage. The biggest changes in the whole history of the 172 were the elimination of the spring-steel gear, the addition of the rear window and swept-back vertical stabilizer and the switch from a generator to an alternator. Big deal; back to the future.

By the way, I deliberately did not include the few years when the 172 had a rear-view mirror. Whatthehell was THAT all about?
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RE: GA Aircraft - Why So Little Progress?

Wed Jan 22, 2003 3:31 am

By the way, I deliberately did not include the few years when the 172 had a rear-view mirror. Whatthehell was THAT all about?

Why,so the pilot can look back and see how cool he looks of course!

Seriously, I never knew the 172 had the rearview mirror, only planes I saw with it were some 150's, but I always thought it was so you could look back and moniter your centerline tracking on climbout.

- Mike
Happy contrails - I support B747Skipper and Jetguy
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RE: GA Aircraft - Why So Little Progress?

Wed Jan 22, 2003 3:58 am

I can answer this question in three words:

Lawyers and bureaucrats.

GA aircraft and parts do have fewer economies of scale than, say, cars.
However, Liability and regulatory costs are THE main reason aviation is so expensive and slow to modernize. Notice that there is plenty of innovation, at reasonable prices, in the homebuilt and ultralight/sportplane market. The difference is in the liability laws and in the regulatory burden.

I'm sure there is a good purpose for much of what the bureaucrats and lawyers have imposed on this industry. We can't live (literally) without ATC, for example. But its gone way overboard.

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