There is no sound that gets an aviator’s attention more so than that of a turbine engine spooling at startup, and pilots who ventured to Oshkosh this year were in for a tempting treat.
With improvements in technology, the holy grail of an “affordable” turboprop engine for the light aircraft market, initially for the Experimental crowd, looks to be right around the corner.
TurbAero is an Australian company that is developing a small, lightweight, 200-horsepower turboprop engine, which will initially target those Experimental aircraft that utilize the IO-320 or IO-360 piston engines (think RVs and Velocitys). The engine makes use of a new design that includes a process called “Recuperative Technology.” The company was at Oshkosh AirVenture 2022 with the engine, though it didn’t demonstrate it at the show. That, TurbAero says, will come in time as they develop not just the engine but a platform, a Van’s RV-7A, into which they will install their engine, a process TurbAero plans to document as it goes. It hopes to have the engine running on a test stand by the early part of 2023 and to have a flying aircraft in about a year.
This technology takes the air which normally would enter the combustion chamber at 200 degrees centigrade and utilizing a heat exchanger, preheats the air twofold, with the resultant air entering the chamber at 400 degrees instead of 200. Since the engine requires a temperature of 800 degrees to generate 200 HP, this preheating or recuperative technology translates to an engine that can run more efficiently, burn less fuel and operate with a good balance between performance, size, weight and cost. A good balancing act, indeed.
Another reason us single-engine piston general aviation folks are chomping at the turbine bit is the desire to become less dependent on Avgas, which appears to be on the endangered species list, with dwindling supplies and fewer places to purchase. Jet A should continue to be readily available, with less of an environmental concern compared to Avgas.
The current timeline in bringing this engine to market is the plan to run the engine on an airframe towards the end of this year, fly it around the middle of 2023 and start production toward the end of next year. For those wondering when a certified version of this engine might hit the market, all indications would be to look toward mid-to-late 2024 as the earliest timeline for a certified version to be available, and that, to no one’s surprise, is an incredibly ambitious timeline for certifying a new turbine engine.
Initial manufacturer-published specifications include an expected TBO of at least 3,000 hours, with a fuel flow @ 150 hp of 12.6 gph. The installed weight including all fluids should weigh in at 270 lbs.
What is the price of admission to the turbine engine world? Industry experts expect the TurbAero TA200TP Talon to be priced around $85,000, though TurbAero hopes to get this price down over time. Certainly not pocket change for most, but if you crave the sweet smell of kerosene, this little engine that could just might just be the ticket to ride.