AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 16

WAYPOINTS

Tale of two centuries

BY THOMAS B. HAINES
Editor in Chief

Using legacy designs to map the fleet of tomorrow
THE RED-AND-WHITE PIPER SUPER CUB snuggled up
next to the cranberry-red Cessna 170. Inside, Senior
Photographer Chris Rose began working his photographic magic, capturing the 65-year-old Super Cub
in its glory over the West Virginia mountains as the
late summer light was just starting to soften and turn
a beautiful golden color.
I observed the mid-century Super Cub getting her
close-ups from a couple of hundred yards away, just
out of the photographic frames. My perch was a very
twenty-first-century airplane, a Van's RV-12. Its Dynon
displays showed me on a large moving map exactly
where we were over the terrain, pointed out the nearby

Will late twenty-first century pilots
look aghast at the RV-12's fossil-fuelburning engine, as efficient as it may be,
and wonder, what were they thinking?

Editor in Chief
TOM HAINES has
been reporting
on the aviation
industry for more
than 35 years.

16 | AOPA PILOT February 2021

traffic, and kept me informed about the health of the
efficient Rotax 912 engine, which was loafing as we
poked along awaiting our turn for the close-ups.
As we observed, I couldn't help but compare and
contrast the two airplanes, designed more than six
decades apart. The tube-and-fabric Super Cub with
its strutted wings, tailwheel, and 150-horsepower
Lycoming engine is an excellent backcountry airplane
and warms the heart of any pilot. It is rugged and reliable and highly repairable. But despite its narrow
cockpit and tandem seating, it still struggles to hit 95
knots or so while burning 8 or more gallons per hour.
The RV-12 with its spindly (although surprisingly sturdy) tricycle gear is no backcountry airplane
and, with its oddball narrow nose, does not evoke the
nostalgia of the Super Cub. But its wider cockpit and
glass canopy make it a delight to sit in. Its aluminum
skin is durable and smooth. With wheel pants on, the
100-horsepower Rotax will pull it along at near 120
knots while sipping less than 4 gph.
Both airplanes have their missions and do them
well. The Super Cub design may be beyond retirement age, but it is copied left and right by newer
" cubalikes. " The efficient RV-12 is making a place for

itself as a new-century replacement for the Cessna
150/152-a highly capable trainer.
The Super Cub breaks away and heads back to the
barn, and I hear a radio call urging me into its place
next to the 170. As I maneuver into Rose's viewfinder,
I wonder what the next 60 years will bring in aircraft
design-and especially propulsion. Will the Super
Cub still be a working airplane, or a scrap-heap relic?
Will late twenty-first-century pilots look aghast at the
RV-12's fossil-fuel-burning engine, as efficient as it
may be, and wonder, What were they thinking?
Electric propulsion is finding its footing in ground
transportation, but issues with batteries-energy
capacity, weight, recharge times, and environmental
impact-have yet to be solved for aviation. As recently
as 18 months ago, big companies were betting heavily on battery-powered electric aircraft, especially for
urban air mobility vehicles. However, today the reality seems to be setting in that hybrid solutions-maybe
not even involving batteries-are the likely solution
for the near- to mid-term future. The combinations
abound-perhaps battery powered for small, shortrange aircraft; maybe an internal combustion engine
(ICE) and a battery-powered motor working in tandem
for longer-range and larger aircraft; an ICE generating electricity to drive efficient electric motors; even
hydrogen fuel cells seem to be gaining more and more
respect as a possible source of airborne electricity.
Hydrogen-powered test flights are underway.
Historically, engine design has driven airframe
design. But today we see designers stuffing electric
motors and batteries or fuel cells in Cessna Caravans
and Skymasters, Piper Malibus, and de Havilland
Beavers, among others; some are even already in
commercial trials. Conventional airframe designs are
surely a compromise for engineers working on new
propulsion concepts, but what a cost-effective way to
gather data and test market acceptance.
It's been said that Orville and Wilbur Wright used
up 80 percent of the magic of flight back in 1903 and-
from Super Cub to RV-12 to some quadcopter-we
continue to tinker with the balance. Seeing the versatility of our legacy airframes suggests there's some
truth to that.
AOPA
EMAIL thomas.haines@aopa.org

@tomhaines29



AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 7
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 8
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 9
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Cover4
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