When I arrived at GippsAero this morning, one of the first things I photographed was the company’s turbine-powered GA 10 taking off for a test flight. The company is best known in the United States for its boxy, purpose-built GA8 (“GA” for Gippsland Aerospace, and “8″ for eight passengers) Airvan utility airplane. That wasn’t the company’s first certified airplane, however–that would be the GA200, a two-place, side-by-side agricultural aircraft. Some of its elements, including the wing design, are evident in the newer GA8.
The company is very traditional, in terms of both design philosophy and construction practices. For example, its airframes are constructed of metal, primarily aluminum; carbon fiber is used ingeniously for fire protection and in a number of nonstructural applications. George Morgan, who founded the company with Peter Furlong in 1983, said the Airvan was designed to meet the specifications of its primary market: Bush pilots. After building a prototype, “we flew it around to operators and said, ‘Climb in and tell us what you think.’” Those sessions led to the decision to lower all the passenger windows, to match the pilot’s, for better passenger visibility–among other changes. The GA8 received Australian certification in 2000.
More recently, the company has developed a 10-seat, turbine-powered airplane: the GA10. “Basically it is a stretched turbine version of the GA8,” Morgan says. The stretched fuselage adds value to the cabin in terms of volume/payload; one stretch is in the forward fuselage to adjust the airplane’s center of gravity–the turbine engine is lighter than the piston engine it replaces–and another is behind the main spar to move back the tail surfaces. The main reason for the much more expensive turbine engine is not performance, but the ability to burn more widely available Jet-A fuel, said Morgan, adding that the company is watching developments in the aircraft diesel engine arena with interest as well. Its four tests flights scheduled for the day of my visit were to evaluate aircraft performance during split-flap conditions.
Later in the day, Dave Wheatland–a pilot for and longtime employee of the company–offers a demonstration flight in the GA8 Airvan. With just the two of us aboard, the airplane is at its forward center of gravity limits; this is the worst control situation for the airplane, he explains. It does feel a bit heavy and trucklike on the ground, but it’s very pilot friendly once the wheels leave the runway. Although the Airvan requires a little more aileron than I expected, the ride is very smooth, and the visibility out the big, flat lifting-body windshield and the large side windows is incredible. My second landing on the Latrobe Valley Airport’s gravel Runway 27 has the airplane down and stopped in less than 400 meters–very impressive, in my opinion, especially because I am not a bush pilot and don’t practice short-field landings as often as I should.
The turbocharged GA8 I flew certainly didn’t feel like a 4,200-pound airplane. Its handling is not unlike that of a Cessna 206–right up until you park, turn to look over your right shoulder, and see six more seats–and a cavernous cabin–behind you. “And the GA10 is even bigger,” Wheatland comments.
There’s a lot more to say about GippsAero, but that will have to wait for a future article in AOPA Pilot magazine. Now it’s time for bed. Tomorrow, my only day off on the trip, is filling up; I’ve been invited to a noon barbecue at the Latrobe Valley Aero Club. Sounds like fun!