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

The test airplane wasn't fitted with the optional ventral cargo pod, but if it had been, the 18-cubic-foot container would have allowed us to stow an extra 440 pounds of whatever outside the cabin. GippsAero suggests there's no performance loss with the pod installed, and we'll take their word for it. The Cessna Caravan typically sacrifices at least five knots to its belly pod.

Before we flew, I did a walkaround with George Morgan, and he pointed out the myriad of little design features that make the airplane stand out from other flying machines. This was a clean sheet design. Morgan and Furlong consulted with dozens of bush operators in Australia, Africa, Canada and Indonesia on optimum features for a bush airplane, then incorporated those features into their airplane.

The GA8-TC's Hartzell prop resembles the designs in use on many aircraft today, but it's actually unique to the Airvan. It's a three-blade tractor, semi-scimitar in shape and 82 inches in diameter. Despite its large track, it's mounted high, so tip clearance isn't a problem, an important consideration on a bush aircraft.

There are two engine options on the Airvan, both Lycoming IO-540s previously employed on the Piper Saratoga HP. The first is the standard, 300 hp IO-540-K1A5. The second adds an AiResearch TEO-6 turbocharger to the same powerplant and upgrades takeoff power to 320 hp (up to 5,000 feet density altitude). This is a well-proven mill that's been in service for over three decades.

The nose gear employs a spring inside the strut that won't allow it to collapse, a valuable hedge for aircraft destined to operate off-airport much of the time. Main gear legs are tube steel, designed to absorb the shocks of a hard landing without excessive rebound.

Also in keeping with its bush mission, the Airvan uses a 6.00x6 nose gear but mounts 8.50x8 mains. Even larger tires are available. If you need to land on a beach or other soft surface, you'll stand a better chance of success with the wide-tread, semi-balloon tires.

There are cabin doors for both pilot and copilot that open a full 180 degrees and fold forward against the cowling on both sides. The designers incorporated small locking brackets on the engine cowling that allow you to lock the doors open in case of strong winds. The sliding cargo door at aft left is a tall, double-stop utility portal for loading large items. If your cargo is palletized, you could use a fork lift to put it on board.

Labels: Piston Singles


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