April 14, 2011
By Thomas A. Horne
Every year at this time, the general aviation faithful from around the world—but mostly those in Europe—flock to Aero Friedrichshafen, which is located in the city of the same name in extreme southern Germany. Normally a summer vacation spot on Lake Constance (or the Bodensee, as the natives call it), each April the air is alive with the sounds of aviation. And not just the Zeppelins that are built hard by the Friedrichshafen airport. The Aero show is one of the world’s few events that focus solely on general aviation—showcasing everything from ultralights, sailplanes, motorgliders, light sport aircraft, piston singles and twins, helicopters, and light turboprops and business jets. You won’t find any airliners or military aircraft on display here, the way you most certainly would at any other large European airshow.
This year some 630 exhibitors are represented at Aero’s 14 spacious display halls, which are built to resemble stylish hangars. Some of the exhibitors would be familiar to American pilots: Garmin, Lycoming, Teledyne Continental Motors, JetProp LLC, CAV Aerospace, Cirrus Aircraft, Van’s Aircraft, Diamond Aircraft, Jeppesen, Cessna, and Piper, to name just a very few. In fact, more than 60 percent of exhibitors are from outside of Germany.
Of course, AOPAs from around the world also participate at Aero. Representatives from the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) convene in policy discussions having to do with user fees, alternative fuels, airspace restrictions and a multitude of other issues.
AERO has earned a reputation as being on the cutting edge of light aviation technology. Long before the light sport aircraft movement gained a foothold in the United States, it was given prominent play at Aero. Ditto paragliding, powered parachutes, and other innovative new designs. Most recently, the emphasis at Aero has been on “green” technology—more specifically, electrically powered aircraft, although solar power is also addressed. Thus the “e-flight expo” moniker that Aero has hung on the last three shows.
This year, two aspects of the show have underscored this eco-friendly slant. One is the Berblinger Flight Competition, which pits some 20 competing electrically powered single-seaters against each other for a whopping 100,000-euro (about $140,000) prize. The competitors fly a prescribed course and are evaluated by judges on a 100-point scale that takes in noise levels, performance, energy consumption and other factors with an impact on the environment. Another event is the award of three prizes by the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize (LEAP) organization, which is headed by Erik Lindbergh—grandson of Charles A. Lindbergh. LEAP awards prizes for the most notable contributions to electrically powered aviation, the best electric aircraft design, and the best electric aircraft systems and technology.
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.
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