Thursday, May 5, 2011

Made in Chinamerica

As the previous post suggests, I'm a bit of a Burt Rutan fan. So I was extremely pleased to read in the AOPA online magazine an article on the resurrection of Adam Aircraft under the guise of a new company, Triton Aircraft. Originally one of the many Scaled Composites' iconic designs, descendants of the A500 might yet be buzzing around our skies as common as Long-EZs and VariEzes seem to be here in NorCal.

Coming soon to a field near you? Except that the future version probably won't have a prop on the front; lead (re)designer, Thomas Hsueh wants a "jet nose." He also wants to drop 800 lbs off the A500. I reckon it'll look pretty darn hot either way!

As if that wasn't sufficient news to bring a smile to my face, the story of Adam's white knight had me beaming. You see, Thomas Hsueh is a Chinese-born American businessman and aeronautical engineer. He's set up shop in Washington state and is hoping to turn out a refined A500 prototype in the next two years. He wants to replace the two piston engines with a single pusher turboprop and lop 800 lbs off the empty weight. At which point he'll do some "soul searching" to see if manufacturing can remain in the US. (I hear Mexico is the new place to build aircraft.)

Whether or not the production run can afford to happen in America, it's gratifying indeed to see this particular aviation story come full circle: a Chinese immigrant rescues an American-designed plane from the hands of a bankrupt Russian company, and brings all the essential tooling, rigs and other equipment back to the US of A. A win for the home team!!

What broadens my smile further still is that Chinese connection. Cessna's had a lot of stick (okay, I'll stop with the puns soon I promise) recently for manufacturing the 162 Skycatcher in China. But it seems to me the Chinese-American collaborations in aviation are doing a lot more than providing cheap(er) manufacturing. Innovations abound, too. Yuneec seems to be doing pretty darn well with its electric planes, for example. It won last year's Lindberg Electric Aircraft Award.

Although the company is based in Shanghai, Yuneec's prime markets are clearly in North America and Europe. As stated in this AOPA interview, Tian Yu, the company's founder, is aiming for a 4-place variant of their e430, called the e1000. Mr. Yu freely admits that the real challenge for his and all electric aircraft is the energy density in batteries, but it's not stopping him from doing everything he can with aerodynamics and weight savings elsewhere in the mean time.

Anyway, I'm rooting for Mr Hsueh and his new venture, Triton, as well as for Yuneec and electric planes generally. I'll be very excited to see a revised A500 design. Perhaps there'll be an electric version one day, too.

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