Another interesting part of the general-aviation outlook comes from a recent report from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Revenues were up 21.1% in the first quarter of 2004, with strong gains posted across all three categories—piston engines, turboprops and business jets.
And for the first time ever, upstart Cirrus outsold Cessna. Comparing the Wichita, Kan., manufacturer’s Skyhawk and Skylane sales for the first quarter of 2004 to the Duluth, Minn., composite maker’s SR20 and SR22 transactions, Cirrus sold 105 total units, compared to Cessna’s 89. Equally interesting is a look at composite aircraft sales numbers compared to the more traditional metal models. Just a few years ago, composite construction was considered exotic, but it’s now more than mainstream. Looking at strictly single-engine sales, New Piper sold 49 total aircraft in the first quarter of this year, Cessna sold 109 (excluding pure jets), Pilatus sold six, Socata sold 12, Mooney sold eight, Tiger Aircraft sold five and Raytheon sold seven Bonanzas. That’s an aluminum aircraft sales total of 196 units during the first three months of this year. Sales from composite makers—Cirrus, Lancair, OMF and Diamond—totaled an impressive 180 units. For more info, contact the General Aviation Manufacturers Association at www.gama.aero
And the numbers of composite sales will almost certainly increase in the coming months. Cirrus has begun efforts to increase production output to match the demand for its newest SR22 variant, the G2. Lancair received final FAA certification for its turbocharged Columbia 400 in April, and is ramping up to produce a new airplane every 48 hours before the year’s end. Both companies have added some new panache to general aviation. The new Columbia 400 is now the fastest certified piston-powered production aircraft in the world—single or twin—clocking in at 235 KTAS at 25,000 feet. Cirrus was the original champion of the glass panel and airframes with a rocket-powered parachute system.
In fact, the company reported two successful parachute pulls in the same week in April, the second and third real-life tests of its Ballistic Recovery System. One involved a family of four in Canada, the second, a lone pilot over Florida. When he advised ATC he was going to pull his chute, the controller said, “You’re going to do what?!” The first Cirrus parachute deployment occurred in Texas, north of Dallas-Fort Worth. In every case of BRS deployment to date, the occupants walked away from the airplane after it landed under canopy. While Cirrus originally suggested that customers shouldn’t expect the airframe to survive a BRS letdown, field results have been better than expected. In fact, Cirrus purchased and repaired the original SR22, N1223S, which crashed-landed in Texas, and put it back into service for company transportation to and from Duluth. For more, contact Cirrus at (218) 727-2737 or log on to www.cirrusdesign.com
Although Diamond Aircraft, another big contender in composite construction, just received certification in Europe for its DA42 Twin Star, U.S. certification for the aircraft has been pushed back to the fall of 2004. Sky watchers have more than a little excitement waiting for the new airplane. The Twin Star comes equipped with a full Garmin G1000 glass panel and can cruise at better than 180 KTAS while its two 135-hp turbocharged engines sip—and we mean sip—Jet A or automobile diesel fuel. Diamond plans on showing off the DA42 at this year’s Oshkosh fly-in and expects to move production from its headquarters in Austria to its London, Ontario, Canada, facilities in 2005. For more information, call Diamond Aircraft at (519) 457-4000 or log on to www.diamondair.com
Altitude records for composite aircraft, however, will almost surely go to Burt Rutan. The FAA has issued its first license for suborbital manned rocket flight to Scaled Composites of Mojave, Calif. Rutan plans a series of suborbital flights in his SpaceShipOne over the next year. To date, his spacecraft has already reached 212,000 feet at a speed of better than Mach 2. Rutan is currently the frontrunner for the X Prize, a $10 million award to the first person to launch a vehicle carrying three folks to a height of 62.5 miles, twice. And within two weeks! For more info, call Scaled Composites at (661) 824-4541 or log on to www.scaled.com
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