Get extra lift from AOPA. Start your free membership trial today! Click here

The Aero show

Go for the innovation…and a beer

For most general aviation pilots in the United States, Europe’s Aero expo doesn’t ring a bell.

Photography by Peter Herr
Zoomed image
Photography by Peter Herr

Our show sequence follows the familiar HAI Heli-Expo (February), Sun ’n Fun (April), EAA AirVenture (July/August), and NBAA-BACE (October/November) pattern. The Aero show takes place on a large convention site next to Friedrichshafen, Germany’s International Airport (EDNY).

Aero takes place over a four-day period every April, and sometimes its dates overlap with Sun ’n Fun. But there’s quite a difference between the two events. Where Sun ’n Fun and AirVenture have airshows, Aero’s main attractions are indoors, in 11 huge hangar-inspired exhibit halls, along with a smallish static display on an adjoining ramp, a grassy concourse with beer gardens (yes, you read that right), and the nearby, monstrous Zeppelin hangar. You can book flights on a Zeppelin based there.

But the Aero show doesn’t dwell on past European aviation accomplishments. Its focus on the future is one of its hallmarks. For example, two of those big hangar-halls are devoted to what’s called an “e-Flight Expo.” There you’ll see all manner of newer eVTOL designs. It was at Aero 2012 that I first saw a Volocopter prototype on display. This year, Calin Gologan, who once developed a solar-powered single with a 27-meter wingspan, was on hand to debut his new battery-powered Elektra One, a two-seat trainer that uses a trailer-mounted set of solar panels to recharge its batteries. Electric motor companies like H55 were also there; H55’s plan is to retrofit existing piston singles like the Bristell B23 and Piper Archer. JMB Aircraft had its new VL-3 Turbine, a Jet A/100UL/Avgas/biofuel/Diesel-burning Turbotech R-90 turboprop engine, with what the company calls a “regenerative” design that uses FADEC and a heat exchanger to produce 160 horsepower while burning just 5 gph in economy cruise/10 gph at 75-percent cruise power. And like so many other high-performance, retractable gear singles made in Europe, the VL-3 classifies as an “ultralight,” which limits only maximum takeoff weight and stall speed.

There’s a unique academic aspect of the show. There was a day-long symposium on hydrogen power, and several of Germany’s technical universities had exhibits staffed by students working on projects such as the Würzburg-Schweinfurt Technical High School’s hydrogen-powered Taifun 17 H2. A student talked through how a hydrogen powerplant of their own design will replace the piston engine of the Taifun motorglider. Other academic exhibits had posters defining futuristic hydrogen-powered airliners.

Sure, big-league players like Textron, TBM, Piper, Garmin, and others are there—and this year a first, a Gulfstream G500 at the static display—but the soul of the show is grounded in the future. If you can make it, go. If you want to see a glimpse of general aviation’s future, this is the place. Got kids? No problem. Aero has a kindergarten. Got a dog? The show is dog friendly. Don’t speak German, French, Czech, or Italian? No problem. For most Europeans, English is a mandatory subject from age 8. And did I mention the beer gardens?

[email protected]

Thomas A. Horne
Thomas A. Horne
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
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.

Related Articles