Blois 2012: The Pulse of French Ultralight Aviation
By Marino Boric, EAA European Correspondent
September 6, 2012 - The first Blois fly-in took place in central France 32 years ago. Since then this event is the reflection of French ultralight aviation. The event, which took place on the Aerodrome Blois - Le Breuil - Vendome (LFOQ), approximately 100 miles south of Paris, September 1 and 2, was once the biggest and most important ultralight fly-in in Europe, and for 30 years it was called the Salon de Blois. Last year the event's official name was changed to Festival International de L'aviation Ultra Legere, and in this year its name was ULM Blois, Salon & Rassemblement, ULM indicating that - once again - major changes in the organization have been made. Since 2011 the sole organizer of the event is Jean Marie Carré.
Attendance was higher than anticipated; last year's event was heavily affected by rain and bad weather. This edition was blessed with marvelous late summer weather, clear skies, and temperatures around 80°F. Despite the uncertain economic situation in Europe almost all vendors (their number was approximately the same as last year or slightly less) left Blois fairly satisfied. This "satisfaction" might be based in much lowered expectations of all subjects because of the economic situation and the bad experience last year. The camping area was full and many visitors came by car. Comparing this year with 2011 we could say that only the number of foreign exhibitors - specifically those from Italy - was lower. With a lack of official numbers, it seemed that the total number of visitors and airplanes was more than than in 2011. The unofficial prediction just days before the event was 120 vendors and 800 airplanes. According to most vendors, the quality of visitors at this fly-in and trade show was much better than in the past.
This Belgian helicopter manufacturer is well-known to the helicopter community since the early '80s. Dynali brought its light aviation-type helicopter with a MTOW of 1543 pounds, the H2S helicopter powered by a Subaru engine. The company used this event for the world premiere of its H3 helicopter, a European UL version of the H2S powered by a Rotax 912 with 100 hp and fitted with the Finestron tail-rotor. The H3 prototype features an unusual cabin access possibility; almost the whole cabin fairing (including all glassed surfaces) opens on top and swivels forward with the "cabin" hinged on the floor almost on the nose of the helicopter. H3 weighs 635 pounds so it has to lose another 22 pounds to be French Class 6 legal. According to Dynali marketing director Noel Howard-Jones, the first production unit of this two-seat, 995-pounds MTOW helicopter will be manufactured by the end of this year and the H3 should sell for 100,000 Euro - an extraordinary competitive helicopter price in Europe.
The LH 212 Delta, a two-seat ultralight helicopter, was the biggest surprise in Blois in 2011. The North Italian manufacturer, LCA s.r.l., presented the almost-finished LH 212 last year; since then it has been developed to the serial production level. According to Roberto Lamanna, CEO of LCA, the LH 212's empty weight is now 617 pounds including the Rotax 914 turbo engine. The complete titanium tubular frame weighs only 35 pounds, and it carries the carbon composite cabin in front and a 17-gallon composite fuel tank. The quality of the transparent surfaces is now near perfect. The helicopter features a two-blade main rotor (with a diameter 22 feet) and cruises at 87 knots. Its range is three hours or 240 nautical miles. The company says it has 15 orders for the LH 212, and three helicopters are in the final production stage. The price of the ready-to-fly LH 212 is now 165,000 Euro; one kit version will follow shortly.
Cicare, the well-known helicopter pioneer from Argentina, premiered the Spirit two-seat tandem ultralight helicopter. The Spirit is the evolution of the CH-6 and CH-7 Angel design, powered by the Rotax 914 turbo engine, which is included in the kit for 98,000 Euro. A ready-to-fly version costs 27,000 Euro more. Cicare is evaluating the possibility of showing the Lycoming HIO-360-powered version at AirVenture 2013.
This well-known German manufacturer of electronic and communication devices brought the full range of its aeronautic equipment to Blois. To the U.S. it might be better known under the name Tru-Track, which is importing the comm devices. Besides the last version of the comm device KRT 2 that sells for 1,150 Euro plus tax in France, we saw the Dittel Mode S transponder KTX 2 with ADS-B out. This very compact and short transponder is packaged in a same way as the KRT 2 and should be available to European customers by the beginning of 2013 and will cost 1,400 Euro (before tax). The version with the detachable front plate will follow.
Vija Aircraft Engines
To the U.S. customers, this small French engine manufacturer will be probably unknown; this is possibly going to change soon, because Vija is considering a display during AirVenture 2013. Vija is a French company that, since 2008, offers Suzuki motorcycle engine conversions for aviation use. Vija displayed a brand new engine that might be interesting for U.S. customers. The turbocharged version of a Suzuki four-cylinder engine develops 155 hp and weighs only 200 pounds. The turbocharged 1.2-liter turbo engine should cost 19,500 Euro. Vija presented a new gearbox for its 100- and 120-hp engines last year that considerably lowers the propeller axis for use in pusher configurations. The new engine/gearbox is now selling for 9,500 Euro/14,500 Euro for the 100-hp/120-hp units.
Also Worth Noting
BRP Rotax is slowly closing the gap of countries in which its new fuel injection 912iS engine wasn't officially presented. The Rotax 912iS was in Blois, though its French dealer Avirex displayed the fuel-injected engine statically and installed in an ultralight.
LX Navigation from Slovenia was present at AirVenture 2012 with its new hybrid pointer/digital instruments on board the Pipistrel Alpha Trainer. In Blois, the company showcased its whole production range that comprises the already mentioned engine and air data instruments packaged in a standard instrument size (57-millimeter and 80-millimeter) plus its whole little-known EFIS and GPS navigation range. The Nesis 5.5 and 8.0 complete flat-screen solutions with 5.5- and 8-inch diagonal displays can display GPS navigation as air data end engine parameters (similar to the Dynon SkyView) and has even the Flarm/ADSB option. The 5.5-inch solution goes for 3,200 and Euro the 8-inch for 3,900 Euro.
Pipistrel presented the French audience the Pipistrel Alpha Trainer. The airplane was unveiled during AirVenture 2012 and shown at a European event in flight for the first time. The airplane in Blois was almost identical to the Oshkosh airplane, but had slightly different instrumentation manufactured by LX Navigation using the "classic" round LX Air data instruments in addition to the square LX Eng 80 EMSIS engine-monitoring flat display.
Dynon debuted its D1 Pocket Panel in Blois. It is probably the first official appearance of this GPS-based artificial horizon in Europe.
Randkar is a French manufacturer that is selling aeronautical construction materials, the whole range of the X-Air airplanes (kits), plus the D-Motor airplane engine. This year at the Randkar booth we admired the Sensation ultralight airplane that claims to be one of few French-made airplanes. This all-metal, low-wing airplane cruises at 100-plus mph powered by the 80-hp Rotax 912 and is modestly priced at 56,800 Euro (tax excluded) for the ready-to-fly airplane.