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In just over five years the Czech Republic’s Ibis Aerospace managed to launch a new design- construct a prototype and- since December 1999- advance flight tests toward an expected final FAA approval in February 2005.

Dave Higdon   |   1st July 2004
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Test progress to keep program on-track for early 2005 approval & first deliveries

In just over five years the Czech Republic’s Ibis Aerospace managed to launch a new design- construct a prototype and- since December 1999- advance flight tests toward an expected final FAA approval in February 2005.

Considering the tough vetting that faces most new programs- the partnership of the Czech Republic’s Aero Vodochody and Taiwan’s AIDC- has withstood fewer course changes than typical for most first-time projects and the 10-seat Ae270 turboprop airplane is progressing well.

Yes- the initial engine choice met with a reception less than one of outright enthusiasm- prompting a move to a higher-power version of Pratt & Whitney Canada’s signature engine- the PT6A. But the selection of the 850-shp PT6A-66 propjet powerplant gave the Ibis Ae270 greater appeal thanks to the higher speed and cruising altitude afforded by the increased power. Indeed- the decision to make and market the Spirit- a business-oriented model of the Ae270 with a five-seat corporate cabin- has elevated the design’s appeal.

Added to the improved performance- both size and price positions this model on the airplane market squarely between New Piper’s smaller PA46-500T Meridian and the larger Socata TBM 700. It is- therefore- not surprising that Ibis held about 80 firm orders as of late May. The Ae270 promises to fill a gap in speed- size- range and price that seems poised to give more buyers a choice about how they spend their business propjet dollars.

Offering a solution that fills an airplane market niche typically meets with high interest. Offering such a solution with known entities supplying key components at a competitive price makes for better odds of success – odds that often run against new entries to the business aviation market.

Making that solution competitively priced – just under $2.5 million- NBAA-equipped – again keeps the Ae270 in a competitive niche sure to help it attract customers.

Proven thinking & modern systems:
Back in 1998- when the world first heard of Ibis Aerospace and Aero Vodochody- the status of the single-engine turboprop airplane seemed in a bit of flux. New smaller- faster- less-costly jets for sale loomed on the horizon- raising questions about the future of both light piston twins and single-engine propjets.

New Piper’s Meridian was in development and both the TBM 700 and PC-12 seemed mired in a sales slump. 'Who'- voices asked- 'wants another new turboprop single destined to lose its market to the new jet aircraft?'

Yet progress toward legitimizing the use of single-engine turboprops for IFR charter flight expanded the horizon of the propjet single. A recognition of the special qualities of these business-turbine aircraft seemed to spark a revival – a revival that brought expanded sales of these turbine singles and even spurred resurrection of the dormant Piaggio P.180 twin.

Apparently- it seems- Ibis Aerospace came along at about the right time – at the onset of a growth period- and the savvy work to configure the Ae270 seems to work with the aircraft market.

For example- with a cabin size of 13.6 feet long- 4.5 feet tall and 4.8 feet wide- the Ae270 can take an interior configured to seat eight passengers plus two on the flight deck – making the propjet a nine-plus-one player in charter and commercial use.

The Spirit- however- employs an interior designed for five in a configuration that employs club seating for four- plus a fifth seat aft near the dedicated luggage compartment. A forward crew door allows the pilot to enter or exit the aircraft without squeezing past the passenger- passengers who get to enter and exit through their own combination air-stair/cargo door in the port side of the fuselage opposite the rear seat.

Sounds less than cutting edge- doesn’t it? Well- the Ae270 embodies proven technologies and philosophies. For example- the partners employ conventional metal materials in the construction of the airframe – most of it aluminum- with steel and other alloys used where they make sense.

The PT6A-66 engine hardly represents a leap into the technologically unknown- thanks to the design’s nearly five decades of use and improvement by P&WC. And since this application taps just over half of the engine core’s 1-583 shp thermodynamic rating- the power used to give the Ae270 its numbers should make reaching hot-section-inspection intervals an easy bet.

Raising the bar:
Despite the seemingly staid selections for airframe and powerplant- however- Ibis Aerospace opted for some advances that help distinguish the Ae270 from many of its competitors. For example- the airframe and powerplant combination allows the Spirit to cruise at a best-in-class 30-000 feet MSL – not only higher than any other propjet flying- but an altitude range in which traffic can be less and weather reaches with less frequency.

For the Ae270’s panel Ibis initially selected the new Chelton FlightLogic solid-state system- the first approved with both Highway-In-The-Sky (HITS)- a Synthetic-Vision system (SV) and a 12-channel GPS navigation system enhanced with the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) for precision-level approaches on GPS alone. No other system approved today combines all three first – though others are catching up.

And late next year- after the initial round of Ibis Aerospace Ae270 Spirits are delivered with the FlightLogic system- Ibis Aerospace plans to shift to a system with even more integration and larger screens – Honeywell’s all-new Apex electronic flight deck.

According to Honeywell- the Ae270 installation will include three full-color screens measuring 10.4 inches diagonally – one each in front of the pilot and co-pilot’s chair serving as a PFD and air-data display- the third mounted center-panel as a full-function back-up for the PFDs as well as its main job as a MFD for navigation and aircraft-systems monitoring.

The early decision to go with a modern solid-state panel greatly improved the market appeal of the Ae270 across the board – particularly in a world where fewer and fewer aircraft are even offered with a now-old-style steam-gauge panel.

Taken as a whole package- these qualities of the Ae270 serve only to enhance its competitiveness. But even the most modern of business aircraft designs can’t compete if its performance sags or its value-quotient lags. Indeed- it is on the performance front where the Ae270 reinforces its value.

Going places with rapid paces:
At 278 knots true at FL300 – among the highest of any propjet on the market – the Ae270 matches or exceeds the cruising capabilities of all but one propjet single- the Socata TBM 700 and all but one propjet twin- the Piaggio P.180 Avanti.

The Ae270’s speed capability matches its ability to go far. Fueled and flown for its best-range numbers- the Ae270 offers a still-air distance of 1-338 nautical miles with NBAA IFR reserves. Flown to VFR reserves and the Ae270 can eke out another 206 nautical miles for a total of 1-544 nautical. Viewed through some real-world mission profiles- these numbers give the Ae270 operator tremendous flexibility.

For example with the typical business-turbine aircraft flying a typical one-way mission distance between 350 and 500 nautical miles- the Ae270 holds the ability to fly out and back on the same day without refueling. With many operators buying fuel in bulk at their home fields- this capability can bring considerable savings when time comes to top off.

Even with the seats filled- the Spirit still retains an enviable mission capability- able to fly more than 1-100 nautical miles on available fuel. For most operators- this shorter maximum range still gives the Ae270 the ability to fly across a continent with one stop – or fly an 'average' mission and back home again – on available fuel.

The Ae270 also turns in its best performance numbers with a high degree of efficiency- needing a fuel supply of only 304 gallons to safely make its speed and distance potential. With a best specific range of up to 0.92 miles per pound of fuel burned- the Ae270 stands as one of the most-efficient flyers in its class – a class with specific-range numbers that vary from a low of 0.53 to a high of 1.8 miles per pound of Jet A.

Flexibility for maximum utility:
Best of all for the Ae270 Spirit buyer is the runway flexibility of this speedy single. Yes- it is good runway performance that stands among the most-mentioned reasons of many operators for sticking with a turboprop when a jet might be available for comparable costs- but even among the strong numbers of most single-engine business-turbine aircraft- the Ae270 comes in near the top of the pack.

In fact- with runway numbers of 1-800 feet to clear a 50-foot obstacle- the Ae270 Spirit bows only to one other propjet single where airport flexibility if concerned. However- the class leader- Walter Extra’s EA-500- is a much-lighter- all-composite design of just more than half the weight flying behind a Rolls-Royce 250 of barely half the power. Even then- the 400 feet the Spirit gives up to the EA-500 is less significant than the distance superiority the Ae270 enjoys over the rest of its class.

Think about it: Of the 5-500 public-use airports spread around the United States alone- upwards of 90 percent boast at least one 2-500-foot strip. A smaller percentage offers 3-000 feet – and the percentage continues to shrink as runway lengths grow. This means that a tiny fraction of the country lacks the runway needed for an Ae270 to safely come and go.

Combine that flexibility with the class-leading speed- range and payload numbers (3-300 pounds) of the Spirit- and this joint-effort product stands poised to compete for a major chunk of the market.

With its steady progress toward certification- the partnership of Aero Vodochody and AIDC of Taiwan now need only to stay on track- hit the new certification mark of February 2005 – and deliver a plane as glitch free as it is attractive – to stay in the game. With a price point under $2.5 million- it appears this team is poised to make it happen.

More information from website: www.Ae270.com

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