The American Diesel Plane That Could Bring Private Flight to China

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If you’re the kind of person that In addition to costing less than avgas, diesel actually has advantages for aircraft: The extra weight is balanced
out by a lower burn rate that allows pilots to fly farther. Using diesel also means letting go of many levers and
dials usually needed to ensure smooth engine running: they use a single level throttle control and a constant
speed propeller. So it was a logical choice when Mooney started putting together the M10.

The Texas-based Mooney Aviation Company was founded in 1929 and is known for making blazing fast metal
propeller planes. In 2009, it stopped production due to financial difficulties, entering a sort of cryogenic survival
mode until it was acquired by a Chinese real estate firm a year ago. Back in action, the company, still
headquartered in the US, with some production of the M10 planned for China, got to work developing two
versions of the M10: the M10T, a 135-hp trainer, and the M10J, a 155-hp long-range tourer.
The engines they run on were actually first designed by Mercedes-Benz, for use in cars.
They were converted for
aviation by a now defunct German company called Thielert. Through a series of bankruptcies and acquisitions,
the design ended up with Continental Motors (itself recently acquired by Chinese state-owned aerospace
conglomerate AVIC), which counts Mooney as a customer.
The company is famous for making blazing fast metal aircraft, capable of hitting 240 knots (276 mph), but with
the price tag and convenience of a single engine piston. The two-seater M10 is expected to be a bit slower (160
knots for the T version, 180 in the more powerful J), and to offer 500 to 900 nautical miles of range.

While production of Mooney’s faster and pricier legacy models will remain in Texas, the M10 will be mostly
made in China, closer to what’s poised to become the world’s largest basic training aircraft market. With
certification and first deliveries due for 2017, Chinese future pilots have another fancy pair of wings to look
forward to. tends to notice these things, a fair weather weekend stroll in any Chinese city
or town lacks a distinct sound: the buzzing of light propeller aircraft in the sky. Outside the commercial and
military realms, aviation is strictly limited, and private citizens who just want to take to the air have few
options. That’s problematic, since booming growth in the country’s airline industry has generated a need for
pilots, and it’s easier to recruit when you’ve got a population of men and women who already know how to fly.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that the majority of Chinese airspace is controlled by the military, and thus hard to
access. Any fix on that front would come from the government (and rumor has it an overhaul is in the works),
but a new plane from American-Chinese company Mooney could help address the other problems that are
holding back Chinese aviation.
One problem is that airplane fuel is not only in limited supply, it’s extremely expensive—about double what it
costs in the US. That makes training pilots costly and impractical (many learn to fly outside the country) in a
place where flying even with a license is tricky. The Mooney M10, announced at China’s Zhuhai Airshow earlier
this month, gets around that problem: It’s a diesel.

“Avgas is really hard to find in Asia” and it’s very expensive, says Peter Claeys, Mooney’s head of sales and
marketing for China and a longtime champion of general aviation (the official term for civilian, non-commercial
flight) in the region. Only one refinery in mainland China makes high octane low lead avgas, and delivery needs
to be arranged ahead of time. It can cost more than $4 per kilogram (about $15 a gallon). Prices in the US—
where fuel is also a cinch to find—fluctuate, but are often about half of what the Chinese pay.

Diesel engines have been around for more than a century but are a recent addition to the light airplane world.
Traditionally, they’ve been heavy and offer short lifespans due to the higher compression rates in their cylinders,
not good qualities for powering aircraft. Today’s diesels are marvels of engineering with low fuel consumption
and emissions, and bulk and weight only marginally higher than those of conventional engines. And now those
advances are finding their way to aviation.

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