Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gipps Airvan: Don’t Call It A Caravan

This innovative Australian single emphasizes the principle that less really can be more

When you think of dedicated utility airplanes, what's the first machine that comes to mind: a Cessna Stationair, a Cherokee Six, a Cessna Caravan? George Morgan of GippsAero in Moreland, Australia, has a slightly different answer to that question. "In many parts of the world, utility applications for general aviation are more the rule than the exception. Airplanes are graded more on what they can carry and where they can go than how fast they can get there," says Morgan.

"A few years back, my partner, Peter Furlong, and I decided to design a new dedicated utility aircraft that could perform a wide variety of missions without compromise, and do so at a lower operating cost than anything else on the market," Morgan explains. "The GA8 Airvan is the result of that effort." Furlong and Morgan initiated development in the early '90s and finally earned Australian certification of the GA8 Airvan in 2001 after eight years of R&D. Since then, nearly 170 Airvans have been sold in places that have need for the airplane's special talents. Airvans have found unusual applications in remote sections of Congo, Botswana, New Zealand, New Guinea, Canada, Alaska and dozens of other outback locations.

Morgan and U.S. General Manager Randy Juen recently offered editor Jessica Ambats, SMO pilot Michelle Kole and me a day in their unusual bush bird, and we loaded up tents, mountain bikes, chairs and miscellaneous camping gear plus six people, and launched for a California backcountry experience.

The Airvan wasn't new to me, as I'd seen several of them in Australia while delivering aircraft Down Under in the early 2000s. From a distance, you might mistake an Airvan for a Cessna Caravan, and that's exactly what ATC called us most of the time.

In fact, the GA8-TC is a smaller aircraft, though you might not know it by the airplane's generous useful load. By the time you read this, the Airvan will be certified in the U.S. with up to eight seats at a gross weight of 4,200 pounds. The GA8 I flew had an empty weight of just over 2,400 pounds (replete with Garmin 650/750 avionics and an Aspen PFD), so useful worked out to slightly under 1,800 pounds. Fill the 88-gallon tanks with 100 octane, and you'd be left with an impressive 1,278 pounds of payload.

Furlong and Morgan designed the GA8 with a flat floor and a quick-change interior that allows you to add or subtract seats in a flash, the better to switch from hauling people to freight or a team of huskies to a piano. That's exactly what we did, without the huskies and the piano to contend with. We left out two seats in favor of mountain bikes and camping gear.

The cabin measures 50 inches across by 45 inches tall, and that was easily enough to accommodate our load. For convenience, the aft cabin is configured to allow long items to be stored back into the tailcone. Despite all the equipment and six outdoor enthusiasts, our load worked out to roughly 1,100 pounds departing Santa Monica, still at least 150 pounds under gross.

Labels: Piston Singles


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