While AERO is billed as “The Global Show for General Aviation,” a more apt description in 2017 might have been “The European Show for General Aviation.” Because while European aviators were gathered for AERO at Bodensee-Airport in Friedrichshafen, Germany, many of their counterparts from around the globe, and particularly in the U.S., were taking part in similar exercises at Sun ‘n Fun on Lakeland Linder Airport in Florida. Though AERO remains the grandest of its kind across the Atlantic.
Flieger fascinations at AERO 2017 included something from every class of winged vehicle. There were ultralights and gyros, singles and twins, bizjets, rotorwings, gliders, and drones fulfilling pilot’s fantasies in abundance. Ensuring that aviators were well-provisioned with everything from aircraft to training to attire, more than 34,000 participants turned up exchanging products, ideas and camaraderie.
AERO 2017 proved to be the largest ever since its start in 1977. At a glance, the show looks a lot like an AirVenture or Sun ‘n Fun; it is indeed similar. However, AERO has a different feel than the big celebrations you’ll find in the U.S.
History of AERO
AERO began 40 years ago (early on it was not an annual event). In attendance then was a small posse of exhibitors, just gliders and pilot accessories. The collection was a sideshow to the Rennsport, Motor, Freizeit exhibition (German for Racing, Motor, Leisure). AERO later became a show in its own right, adding business and general aviation segments plus avionics, maintenance and services. Today, it’s “the world’s leading exhibition for innovation in general aviation,” according to its planners—a title likely to badger a few eagles in Wisconsin.
Although the event takes place adjacent to an airport (Bodensee-Airport Friedrichshafen, IATA code FDH), access to the airfield is limited to arrival/departure passengers from elsewhere—one example of why it’s different. Pleasure flying such as around-the-patch and demo flights are not part of AERO, with one exception—the Zeppelin airship.
Housed in a large hangar at the airfield’s center, the Zeppelin makes frequent roundtrips allowing passengers a unique tour of the Alpine region. Flights range from half an hour to two hours with fares priced from €215 to €810. Despite the separation between exhibition center and airfield, flying in in one’s own plane is very practical and growing in popularity.
2017 was unique for AERO in that the show did feature an actual airshow, in celebration of its 25th anniversary. The brief aerobatic performance took place on Saturday which offered excellent weather. Initially scheduled to perform were Walter Eichhorn in his North American AT-6 Texan, his son Toni Eichhorn in a new North American T-28 Trojan, an all-electric helicopter Volta, Henry Bohlig in his MDM-1 Fox glider, and Frank van Houten flew a Sukhoi 26MX. The program, AERO-Flightshow, was later expanded to include:
- Klemm 25, D-EBMX, Ulf Siegert
- Magnus eFusion, HA-XEF, Fabian Gabor
- Magnus eFusion, HA-XEH, József Gajdán
- Extra 300 Elektro, D-EPWR, Walter Extra / Walter Kampsmann
- Volta Elektro Helicopter, F-WALG, Edouard Maitre or Philippe Antoine (aforementioned)
- e-Genius, D-KGEN, Len Schumann / Klaus Ohlmann
- Antares 23E, D-KVLS, Jochen Polsz
- T 28 Trojan, N343NA, Toni Eichhorn (aforementioned)
- T-6 Texan, D-FHGK, Walter Eichhorn (aforementioned)
- SIAI Marchetti, D-EDUR, Ralf Niebergall + Sohn mit Modellflugzeug
- MDM-1 Fox, D-9107, Henry Bohlig (aforementioned)
- Sukhoi, SU-MX 26, Frank van Houten (aforementioned)
Reinforcing the uniqueness of the airshow, AERO is chiefly, and historically, a business event. Whether or not the airshow spectacle continues, we’ll see. However, one need not look too far to find validation that an airshow is more about entertaining the public than offering a trade venue for active pilots. An April 2017 poll by AOPA shows buyers generally attend aviation expos to shop for the latest there is to offer. Watching aerobatic performances lands in fourth place with only 10% of the votes.
AERO now takes place annually at Messe Friedrichshafen, a stylistically and functionally modern airport-based expo center. Both Bodensee-Airport and Messe are a scant four-kilometer drive to the shores of Lake Constance (known locally as Bodensee) in southern Germany.
Since 2002, Messe has brought a modern ambience with lots of natural lighting to AERO, and a host of other “fairs” year-round. The indoor space is large, accommodating events over 900,000 square feet—on par with a show the size of NBAA’s annual convention. Recall that the “B” in the acronym is for business, a correlation that the planners of AERO are well aware their exhibitors appreciate.
In all there are 12 halls plus two foyers at Messe. One foyer contains an atrium and dais at its center complete with seating and surrounded by aviation themed art exhibits. Upstairs are numerous rooms for conferences, meetings and press gatherings. Here nothing feels cramped.
Despite the luxury of so much indoor space, AERO also offers outdoor space to exhibitors. Aircraft on “static display” in 2017 included the recently completed, flying example of a Junkers F13. Built by Rimowa (the luggage maker), it’s a replica of a 1920s classic. There was also a small collection of military aircraft, helicopters, light cabin class offerings, and business jets outside. But like the airshow, this was a sampling outdoor display in comparison to the big shows aviators have grown accustomed to in the U.S.
In between the two rows of halls at Messe is a voluminous courtyard with wall-to-wall windows. Occupying one corner of this space were a striking, if diminutive, pair of Pitts S1-D Specials. Part of the Trig Aerobatic Team, these aircraft are German-registered and have been flying exhibitions for three years. Trig Avionics had its booth just inside the glass separation.
The Innovation Class – UL, VLA, LSA, Gyro, Glider, & VLR
At AERO 2017, four of the halls of Messe were filled with the most rapidly growing segment of aviation in Europe—Ultralight, Very Light Aircraft (VLA), and Light Sport Aeroplanes (LSA, the European equivalent to America’s Light-sport Aircraft). This is where much of the innovation in European aviation is taking place.
Include Gyrocopter, Glider, and the new offerings of Ultralight Helicopters and Very Light Rotorcraft (VLR) in the segment and you discover half of the show’s indoor floor space was dedicated to this class of aircraft. Together they represent the incubators of design and development in aviation in Europe.
Often misrepresented, there’s more than meets the eye with respect to gliders, ultralights, and sport flying in general. For years, EAAers and the “experimental” side of aviation have infused innovation into the long-in-the-tooth industry. This too is happening with the “innovation class” of aircraft in Europe.
From outside the aviation community, perceptions of light and experimental aircraft range from nuisance to dangerous. Among non-aviators there’s a prevailing disrespect despite enormous strides in safety that have resulted from experimentation and innovation. Faith in advancing engineering, regulations, maintenance and operations is key to stabilizing perceptions and turning back the notion that innovative aviation is precarious.
While gliders, ultralights and sport aircraft (and increasingly electrics) are widely popular, it’s not entirely reflective of fuel costs, environmental issues, or noise alone. The appeal of experimental, light or the innovative side aviation simply relates to accessibility, a stark contrast to the burdensome rules of certifying aircraft and licensing pilots. This is true in the U.S., and exceptionally so in Europe.
The two newest technologies, personal rotorcraft and drones, are shaking things up. Still far from evident in everyday life and searching for public acceptance, they remain a popular hobby.
PPL or No
Licensing to fly ultralight aircraft in Europe is done on a country-by-country basis under the guise of EASA. Due in large part to their lighter requirements, the ultralight pilot community is growing faster than the private pilot licensing (PPL) segment.
More to Offer
AERO 2017 offered visitors everything imaginable at a general aviation event, and it’s done mostly indoors. Activities included indoor drone racing, a Tent City (inside a hangar, with dry floors and air conditioning), Avionics Avenue, an engine area, and e-flight-expo, plus numerous peddlers of aircraft related services and gadgets.
Many exhibitors were the same names you’ll see at U.S. shows, with the addition of some European manufacturers such as f.u.n.k.e. Avionics and Flybox (think Dynon), also Becker Avionics and AvMap (think Garmin).
Flybox of Italy offers a selection of digital displays that encompass everything from the six-pack and engine watch to electronic controls for autopilot, propeller and flaps. Their Oblò, the “most compact EFIS on the market,” integrates digital attitude indication, primary flight data and optional autopilot in a compact, lightweight instrument sized to fit in a standard 3-1/8” cutout.
Additionally, their Vigilus display helps to manage engine inputs, while the larger Flybox Eclipse display unit can serve as IES, PFD or both. Built-in is a graphical datalogger that records and shows all available operating parameters. Datalogger can also export GPS data for viewing a trip profile on Google Earth.
A full set of 2-1/4” instruments round out the Flybox product line. These include: constant speed propeller regulator, electronic flap controller, digital altimeter/variometer, fuel computer, fuel level indicator, and tachometer with timer plus manifold pressure readout. Flybox has been around since 2003 and their entire production cycle from development to manufacturing is done in-house.
Ultra EFIS from the Italian company AvMap combines nine instruments in one. AvMap presents a compelling alternative to GPSMAP and aera models from Garmin—the U.S. leader who’s earned its position through solid support.
There are good reasons to consider AvMap. Among them are price, size and a growing set of features. AvMap is a company that has historically owned the roads and plowed the fields with their GPS tools. They bring to pilots a unique perspective of mapping and navigation with all the expected visual references and functionality.
In the aforementioned e-flight-expo area, Siemens displayed its all-electric Magnus eFusion aircraft, including the recent world speed record setting Extra 330LE. With the infinite approach these days to what is a “record,” it’s safe to say that plotting a course suitable to one’s competencies is more a challenge to others than one for the archives. Nonetheless, proving electrics in aircraft operations will further propel that expansion of the industry and contribute to its science. While premature to say electric was everywhere, electric was on display at AERO and the emerging technology is alluring.
Furthering the experimental aspect of European aircraft design, several manufacturers have recreated aircraft classics as offerings in the unbelievably slight ultralight class. For example, the UL-39 Albi, JH Corsair, and Stampe SV4-RS each borrow from the namesakes of their predecessors. The likenesses are astounding and each build drew steady crowds.
If a true classic is what you treasure, at least one firm is producing replicas of the certified Bü-131 Jungmann for the nostalgia-minded PPL pilot. The original Bücker Bü-131 Jungmann was conceived as a basic trainer. The all new T-131 PA Jungmann is being built by parts supplier Air Res Aviation of Poland and will serve a role as a recreational flivver and a bonus logbook entry for those who perform training in it.
The Rimowa-Junkers F13 replica is a meticulously accurate copy of the 1920s all metal German passenger aircraft. Currently undergoing flight testing in Switzerland, it made an appearance at AERO and is expected to make is way to the U.S. soon. Hopes are that it will be at AirVenture next year.
Rimowa is using the airplane to promote its luggage line which resembles the trademark corrugated duralumin wing and fuselage skins of Junkers aircraft built in the 1920s and ‘30s. Appearances aside, this Rimowa-Junkers F13 is in fact all new—a perfect, historically accurate replica. A limited number may be manufactured.
Fascinating for its history, the F13 project was launched after the Armistice of Compiègne in 1918. The original idea was to construct a passenger airplane that would link countries peacefully, thereby precluding any possibility of future war. Fledgling airlines worldwide adopted it. The airplane succeeded in reducing long distances. It was in production for 14 years. In following suit (suitcase pun intended), Rimowa continues to promote the linking of countries.
One of many replicas in the aforementioned ultralight class, the JH Corsair by JH Aircraft offers an example of experimenting in lightweight construction with recognizable styling on the exterior.
The JH Corsair complies with the UK’s SSDR microlight initiative and the FAR Part 103 ultralight class. Target design weight is an unbelievably low 254 lbs. empty (120 kg.). This aircraft resembles the famed Vought F4U Corsair, an American fighter aircraft flown by the Navy.
The highly prized Stampe et Vertongen SV.4 was a French and Algerian primary trainer/tourer airplane that is now available in replica form as the Stampe SV4-RS from Belgium with three engine options. This one is significantly lighter at 290 kg., versus 500+ previously.
Only 35 SV.4 aircraft were built before the company was closed during the Second World War. After the war a further 65 aircraft were built as trainers for the Belgian Air Force. Later, under license, the SV.4C was built in France and Algeria completing a combined total of 940 aircraft. Widely used by French military units as a primary trainer, many also served in aero clubs in France, then later sold second hand in the UK and other countries.
Motor manufacturers at AERO still show a favoring towards diesel—a more popular fuel also on the roads in Europe. However, American producer Lycoming was at AERO to talk about the regulatory changes in lead-free fuels now taking place. They are hopeful that a simplified method of fuel choice will be approved soon as the current regulatory process would be positively onerous.
A delightful new addition to the event center was Messe Alm. Though more broadly recognized as a German ‘biergarten,’ an alm is a typical wood structure of the Alpine region. Unabbreviated, almwirtschaft literally translates as seasonal mountain pasture, one that caters to visitors. The alm structures appear in mountainous areas and offer a place to dine on traditional dishes while sitting in beer garden fashion. Situated between the expo halls, Messe Alm was a popular sunny spot on both Friday and Saturday.
Baden-Württemberg is a state in southwest Germany bordering France and Switzerland. West of Bavaria, with Austria at its border, Baden-Württemberg is the other southern Germany. Here grapes for wine, obst (fruit) for schnapps and other comestibles are grown in abundance. The Lake Constance region is damp and sunny—ideal conditions for growing fruit.
ASTM vs. STC
Innovation is coming to customers more quickly with a new risk based, collaborate approach. Much has been written about the Accepted Method of Compliance Supplemental Type Certificate, or AML-STC. Much is anticipated. The commercial parts alternative to PMA and achieving STC has arrived. What was once an arduous task of winning FAA acceptance for a new product, now is a path of “low-risk applicability.” A precedent set effectively allows regulatory agencies to talk more openly about low-cost safety-enhancing equipment options.
The fruits thus far are: 1) AOA, a learn and live tool that teaches pilots how to better manage pitch, 2) G5, showing that solid state trumps the vacuum pump, 3) TruTrak autopilot, putting straight and level in the co-pilot seat when it’s most needed. New products are being approved almost weekly. Each shows how overwhelmingly their benefits enhance safety.
Experimental vs. Part 23
The experimental aircraft mindset does indeed exist in Europe and as previously mentioned it derives from the ultralight class. Innovative design and construction techniques under employ are numerous. Where we have EAB and LSA in the US, Light Sport Aeroplanes and Ultralights are driving new ideas in flying in Europe.
EASA, like the FAA, is realizing this plight. The burdensome process of Part 23 certification is shifting to accept new methodologies. Single and two-seat aircraft with takeoff weights up to 600 kilograms (1,320 lbs. in U.S. regulations) are the essential link between innovation and conventional. With safety as the measuring stick, both the experimental/ultralight and type certificated aircraft classes are striving for the same goals.
Part 23 Rewrite
There’s also the EASA CS-23 rewrite, counterpart to the FAA’s Part 23, that will affect the design of small airplanes weighing less than 19,000 pounds with 19 or fewer seats. There’s a global effort to lessen regulatory barriers. Europe moved recently, finalizing its CS-23 rule rewrite for small airplanes. Though not yet available, from these changes new products were promoted at AERO.
New & Improving, yet Unavailable
The P2 Xcursion prototype is high-performance hybrid aircraft introduced by a student at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design in Norway. Working in parallel with German company ENIGRO, the Equator Hybrid Propulsion System is said to be revolutionary. The P2 Xcursion also proposes to use a simplified hands-only control stick that incorporates rudder inputs, and it floats.
Equator Aircraft has built a proof-of-concept and the engine specific project is being co-funded by Transnova. With so many partners and technology on board, this one might be characterized as an idea consortium. The cockpit displays are from MGL Avionics combined with an iPad. Then there’s a power/brake control center console completing its comprehensive and compact panel. What more could one want?
The Volocopter from e-volo, a Germany company, showed its flying prototype. At AERO, special guests were invited to get an up-close look at the 18-rotor vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle powered purely by electricity and capable of carrying two passengers.
Looking like it came straight out of the movie Planes, the Stream Turbo TP100 by TL Ultralight, in partnership with Wezel Flugzeuge, was hanging high in desert cammo.
New and Available
The Viper SD-4 is an all-metal 2-seat microlight and LSA. This one looks a lot like—I can’t count them all on my ten fingers—how many others?
Cubcrafters Europe appears to have an elite boy’s club following. At 239,000 euros “negotiable,” apparently, I’m told 14 fliers have bought in to the idea.
Blackshape, based in Monopoli at the heel of Italy’s geographic boot, showed its high performance two-seat carbon fiber aircraft. It’s said to be for leisure aviation and military training, a unique combination that makes sense given its sex appeal. The Blackshape BK 100 Prime has been on the market since 2011 says company CEO Angelo Petrosillo: “More than 60 units have been sold and are flying in over 27 countries.” The newer Blackshape BK 160 Gabriel was unveiled at AERO in 2017 with deliveries to begin by the third quarter of 2017.
Diamond studded its latest DA50-V prototype, four, five or seven-seat single, in gold livery. By its side was a silver (metallic gray) rendition of their diesel piston twin DA62. The company made a big show highlighting the diversity of offerings in both engine and airframe configurations.
In its mock-dirty paint scheme, the Shock Cub by Zlin Aviation kept the crowds flowing in. A video wall behind the airplanes held their attention. It’s easier to imagine a snow skier being towed by an airplane when you actually watch it. Oversized shock absorbers, slatted wings with double slotted flaps, a “hyper-STOL airfoil,” and up to 180 HP and 680 kg MTOW are extreme measures, yet common for extreme takeoff-and-landing backcountry adventures. Flanked by mock beasts, up close one finds out the Shock is another rendition of the Cub.
An Italian built Cub look-a-like, the Groppo Trail was present and available, completed and in kit form. It’s compactible and trailerable with folding wings. The Groppo is a smartly done ground-up re-think of high-wing light aircraft.
Missing in action at AERO 2017 was Next Aircraft and their MD3 Rider. I had flown this one previously and was expecting an update on the numbers flying. It had some enjoyable flying qualities. With good visibility, the comfortable cabin had a sporty, racing feel with its semi-reclined seating. A distinct difference from a leisurely low-and-slow Cub experience.
The MD3 closely resembles the CT by Flight Design that has logged a steady lead on the bydanjohnson.com market share study. Flight Design was said to be in receivership a year ago, but 378 aircraft are in the field according to last report.
A highly polished 1947 vintage Cessna 140 was on sale for €59,000 (roughly $63,000) at the booth of AERO 2017 exhibitor Plane Fun Inc. of Snellville, Georgia. fepresented by their European Liaison Office, the company assists non-US citizens with flying N-registered aircraft in Europe.
Prologue and highlight of my trip to AERO was a visit to Rundflüge—at least that’s what I thought the name was as it’s emblazoned large on the first hangar. I passed the airport by initially, eager to start my journey home. But having taken in more than a passing glance, I convinced myself to make a U-turn and give it a closer look.
The airport, opened in 1955, was bought by Hermann Beck bought from original landowner/farmer who owned a Cub he kept nearby in Switzerland. Following WWII, “when the Americans re-opened airspace in Germany,” the farmer created the airfield and moved his plane to Wildberg.
Flugplatz Wildberg, or Wildberg Airport, is nestled in a rolling landscape near Lindau, in the Baden-Württemberg state of Germany. There you’ll find Hermann Beck, a pilot retired at the age of 41, he’s now logged 18,000+ hours and his age has since increased a bit too. Hermann gives airplane rides (Rundflüge stands for sightseeing or literally “roundtrips”) among other “airport manager” tasks taking place at the field.
Other auxiliary stops on my mission to AERO included visits to two outstanding aviation-themed museums in the area. First up was the Zeppelin Museum. Situated on the waterfront of Lake Constance, is a collection and chronicled history of the Zeppelin airships. Inside is a life-sized section of one.
Two impressive—as one might imagine—structures house and tell the stories of the famed Zeppelin airships. The museum is located in a repurposed Bauhaus-era train station building. The location, building and exhibits contained within are a definitive “must-see” for visitors to the area. An actual Zeppelin resides in the Zeppelin hangar situated next door to the fairgrounds at Messe.
Count Zeppelin, as he is widely referred to, was Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and later aircraft manufacturer. He was a scion (fancy word for descendant) of a noble family, hence bearing title of “Count.” His story along with stories of his airships are fascinating. Perhaps this is especially true given that these great aircraft are generally relegated as things of a past era.
A temporary “Streamline” exhibit at the Zeppelin Museum featured a race edition of a Messerschmitt KR 200 Super, a.k.a. Cabin Scooter, built in 1955. This three-wheeled bubble car was designed by aircraft engineer Fritz Fend and produced in the factory of German aircraft manufacturer Messerschmitt from 1955 to 1964.
The Streamline special exhibit “When Everything Suddenly Became Streamlined. The fascination of low resistance.” ran through April 23, 2017.
The second museum stop, likewise compulsory on a trip to Friedrichshafen, is the Dornier Museum. It sits on the opposite side of the runway from Messe, though on the same side as the commercial air terminal. Like Count Zeppelin, the name Claude Dornier is synonymous with aviation in Germany.
Dornier Flugzeugwerke created many civil and military including the Comet, the Mercury, the Whale (a flying boat), and the Flying Pencil. The company would go on to form many commercial partnerships with other aviation and space related interests, including U.S. firm Fairchild Aircraft. The Dornier Museum does a detailed job of chronicling the research, development and eventual production of many Dornier designs.
2017 was unfortunate in that AERO and Sun ‘n Fun were held at the same time. There is indeed quite a bit of overlap between the two shows and the aviation patrons they speak to—the heart of general aviation. Fortunately next year, each will have its own slot. Sun ‘n Fun will be held on April 10–15, 2018 and AERO will be held on April 18–21, 2018.
In the mind of the conscientious aviator, both events are obligatory, at least once in a lifetime. For some, it’s an annual commitment and an exciting opportunity to continue to explore their passion for flying.
What to Watch For
With advances in micro-electro-mechanical devices driven by tiny computers (i.e. Raspberry Pi), the possibilities are limited only by imagination. Currently apps manage devices like Switchbox Control for engine preheat and, the digital-meets-analog, IceBox for cabin cooling. Stratux ADS-B too shows that homegrown technology is accessible, affordable and practical. EFIS panel inserts now nearly universally serve as attitude/gyro/horizon/6-pack replacements. With names of places, like Aspen and Grand Rapids, these solid-state-replaces-vaccum devices are everywhere.
And more of the ADS-B good stuff is already arriving. SkyEcho from uAvionix is a portable ADS-B Out solution for UK/Europe. Their EchoUAT dual band is for U.S. experimentals and LSAs. There’s a SkyFYX WAAS GNSS sensor add-on and an EchoESX remote Mode S transponder with ADS-B Out. The entire ADS-B system is intended to manage vast amounts of airspace and increasing amounts of air traffic.
These so-called “disruptive” technologies are merely leveraged solutions developed elsewhere. They are transforming avionics design plus reducing its size, weight and cost. A few examples are receiver/transmitters, simply the reincarnation of walkie-talkies, and transponder signal decoders used to intercept are re-purpose data on a radio frequency.
Wireless Wi-Fi communications, now common everywhere, work to unite portable devices. Behind the scenes, high precision WAAS GNSS sensors with integrated processors offer resilience to jamming, spoofing and errors. It’s all seemingly happening invisibly, yet it’s effectively making the skies safer.
Looking back two years since my first and last visit to AERO, not much had changed in aviation. In a general sense, this is true of the last 27 years since I began working in the industry. Fixed and rotary wing aircraft of the GA, as well as commercial, variety are still cabins hurling through the atmosphere with the aid of Bernoulli’s principle.
What has changed are the materials, the study, and the science that refine its application. Electronics and avionics advance at a blinding pace. Ever improving techniques allow manufacture—emphasis on man—of these vehicles to grow in performance. The challenges set by predecessors are vast.
I’ll continue to visit these shows, whether for business or hobby. AERO will hopefully continue to evolve as an event that feeds my interests and those of other pilots. Here’s why:
- It’s easy to get to, and coming here in your own plane is simple and uncomplicated
- The common bond among participants and the easy-going, relaxed visitor atmosphere
- To share a great passion for the sport of flying
- To collaborate with colleagues from all across Europe
- To open doors in European aviation
- It’s well organized and provides a nice setting
- To meet people, customers, and to see new technologies
- To have face-to-face meetings and to see aircraft up close
- To cultivate existing relationships and create networking opportunities
- And for the comfortable atmosphere AERO affords.
See you soon!