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Volume 14,Issue 3 Autumn 2012

Experimental Aircraft Encourages Innovation

In the United States, a category of aircraft was created that allowed for individuals to design and build their own aircraft. This has shaped both the Experimental category, and to a large degree, the present certified aircraft category as well. The drive to come up with innovative, creative, and cutting edge aeronautical designs started at the beginnings of aviation and has continued ever since. Last year there were more Experimental single engine aircraft sold in the US than certified single engine aircraft.1 Part of the reason for the larger sales of Experimental aircraft appears to be the lower cost of this type of aircraft. Certified aircraft go through many years of very costly review by a national aviation authority. When a company decides to upgrade their aircraft in any significant way, a new review is completed, which again takes considerable time and funding to accomplish. This type of review and financial investment leads to aircraft being marketed for higher prices, which has resulted in limiting overall aircraft sales. For this reason, most certified aircraft have not typically kept up with advances in technology, aerodynamics, propulsion or fabrication methods. For example, it was not until several years ago that certified aircraft began to include digital instrumentation in the cockpit. The increase in revisions to certified aircraft in recent years is largely a result of the competition from Experimental aircraft. The latest in aerodynamics, materials, and propulsion has historically been tested and proven in the Experimental aircraft category, where people are free to try new things and test new methods more easily. It is this type of innovative freedom that has led to the first use of fiberglass, carbon fiber, digital aviation instruments, and many other elements that are now considered commonplace. Much of what you find in mainstream use in the latest General Aviation aircraft, including the aircraft of Cirrus, came first from Experimental aviation.2 Even Boeing is now using carbon fiber for most parts in their new Dreamliner commercial aircraft. This would never have come about if not for the work done by creative designers in Experimental aircraft. With proper instruction, it has been found that very airworthy vehicles can be built by amateur builders. Failure of the aircraft is a relatively small percentage of the causes of accidents in General Aviation, including the Experimental category. The largest cause of accidents (51%) of Experimental aircraft are due to pilot error. Mechanical faults count for 23% of all Experimental aircraft accidents. 3 Safety in aviation is always very important. This is why there is a mandatory 40 hours of limited flight for any newly built Experimental aircraft, even if it is the 7,000th aircraft of that type built. That way, if there is a problem with the vehicle, the pilot is kept within the vicinity of one airport so that he can quickly return to the airport for an emergency landing. Once the 40 hours of limited flight is done, the pilot is allowed to fly to other airports and destinations, having proven that the vehicle is capable of continued safe flight. Experimental aircraft have been leading the way in innovation for decades, and will continue to do so into the future. If the US did not have this class of aircraft, it is certain that aircraft design would come to a standstill. To build a thriving General Aviation community, it takes the combined efforts of airport authorities, airstrips available for use, adequate aircraft repair facilities, pilot training facilities, certified aircraft, and Experimental aircraft. Although Experimental aircraft cannot be used for commercial purposes in the US, some countries do allow this. Certainly, throughout the US and around the world, Experimental aircraft are used as transportation by businessmen to provide better service, reduce time spent traveling, and conduct business in a more professional manner. A prosperous future for aviation will be ensured by including Experimental category aircraft. Citations: 1. 2. 3.
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