The control feel of the airplane was pleasing, with enough force required for an airplane of its size and light enough to afford easy control. I loved the Ferris-size trim wheel, and the elevator was strong and smooth. If the GA8 is a bit of an ugly duckling on the ramp, it is an exceptionally pleasing airplane to fly.
This is even truer when you slow it down. If the Airvan isn’t the best slow-flying airplane I’ve ever flown, it has to be right up there. And it flies very slowly. It’s a 4,200-pound airplane that stalls at 57 knots. We slowed it down with and without power, did good-rate turns in both directions and stalled it power on and power off. It maintained excellent control feel throughout the stall and recovery, to the point where I would have felt comfortable flying it on approach slightly on the backside of the power curve.
At one point on the flight I had just gotten done doing some decent steep turns when George asked for the airplane, saying, “Let me show what it can do.” He proceeded to demonstrate what I can only describe not as turns around a point but as turns on a point, perhaps a pinpoint. It felt as though we were riding a wildly spinning top (no, not that kind of “spinning”) rather than an airplane. George was clearly proud of the airplane he’d dreamed up.
Pattern work was, as you might imagine at this point, extremely unremarkable, and I got the distinct impression that, by the time a pilot had gotten used to Airvan flying, maneuvering tight approaches in mountainous terrain wouldn’t just be doable but an absolute pleasure.
As I mentioned, by the point where we were ready to head back to the airport, I was so comfortable with the Airvan that I felt as though a single landing would likely suffice. Using the big Johnson bar lever to select a handful of straight flaps, I adjusted the power on the big Lycoming to give us between 65 and 70 knots over the fence, enjoying the excellent forward visibility with the nose lowered. I flared over the displaced threshold, hoping to touch wheels down just beyond the line, but still, much to my surprise, floated around 150 feet. Once the wheels were down, I retracted the flaps to put the weight on the wheels and put the effective brakes to good use. We were stopped in right around 900 feet on my first try. No doubt, a pilot experienced in the airplane could cut that figure by a lot.
I’ve flown a few airplanes over the years, but I’ve never been more surprised by the excellent flying manners and capabilities of an airplane as I was with the Airvan. Looking at it on the ramp tells one story. Flying it tells quite another. I look forward to flying it again, maybe on a gravel strip somewhere far from cities and highways (though not too far from 100LL).
The company’s fortunes are looking good. It recently delivered its 200th Airvan, and its parent company, the Indian firm Mahindra Aerospace, is solidly behind the product, which GippsAero has already begun to market in India, where it sees a bright future for the Airvan and derivatives.
Mahindra’s might has allowed Gipps-Aero entry into the South Asian market as well, a key component to GippsAero’s long-term growth, Morgan pointed out.
GippsAero hopes for success in North America too, where the company knows it has to improve its marketing presence, sales and support tremendously. The good news is that it is working to start that process, having recently added dealerships and service centers in several new U.S. locations. A commitment to support is critical, since the track record of offshore companies that have failed to offer sufficient support for their products in North America is perfect; there’s never been a successful one.
Getting the word out can only help too, though it’s probably even more important to get people into and flying the GA8, since it’s not at all obvious looking at it from the ground that this would be a great flying airplane. From behind the control wheel, however, there’s simply no denying it.