Flying has nothing to do with high tech. This is one of the very first things that a new entry into flight training learns. Flying is about weight and reliability. Reliability equals safety and it is achieved through redundancy (which creates weight issues again) and through proven concepts. Every novelty requires a lot of very costly testing and still has an inherent risk of new, unforeseen, previously unknown reliability issues. Combine this with an extremely small market and you have an environment which is very averse to innovation.
My trusted Rider MD3 aircraft is powered by a Rotax 912 engine. It is a very popular modern engine for light aircrafts. If compared to the engine in your new Toyota Corola however, it is anachronistic. Relatively inefficient, no electronic engine management and not even fuel injection. It and it has a carburetor despite the fact that it was developed in the early 90s.
But it is light, it is very reliable and every certifyed technician can fully understand every aspect of it. It can handle the constant mix of hot and cold that comes with changing altitudes and the pilot can hear if the engine is happy or not. These qualities are worth something. After all, if the engine in your Toyota stops the worst thing that can happen is that you are stranded by the side of the road.
My precious power plant costs about 15.000,- Euros. Sounds like a lot? It is a lot compared to the Toyota again. But Rotax has probably sold as many 912s since they were introduced 20 years ago as Toyota does in a month. Maybe less. The market for airplanes and all of their parts is tiny compared to cars or other industrial goods. Every airplane is hand made and there is almost no automation in the production.
Pilots have a very attentive relationship with their engines. Of course they want to avoid engine failure but they also want to make sure that their expensive power plants remain in working order for many years and thousands of operating hours.
Most airplanes are flown for decades. It is more rule than exception that a new student will be taught on equipment that is older than himself. But airplanes age well and they are constantly checked and updated and if all anuals are current, they can generally be considered safe.
So the development of the Rotax 912 is about 20 years old and the development of the airframe of the Rider MD3 is about 10 years old. Both is considered modern in aviation terms and I’m sure I’ll encounter some much older equipment as I gain more experience in flying.
To be continued…
(Originally posted on March 1, 2011 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/rotax-912/)