Over time, some very good things have come out of Australia-boomerangs, koala bears, and Fosters Lager, to name a few. And now there's a new addition to that list. This past summer, Gippsland Aeronautics, based in the Latrobe Valley in southeastern Australia, received FAA certification for its GA-8 Airvan-an eight-seat, utility aircraft that was designed for flying in the bush. Or, as the bush is known in Australia, the Outback.
The Airvan was designed to fill a perceived gap between the Cessna 206/207 models and the larger, turbine-powered Cessna 208 Caravan. In fact, the Airvan looks very much like a shrunk-down version of the Caravan, with a boxy, big-window fuselage, but a Lycoming IO-540 piston engine instead of the Caravan's larger, turbine powerplant. But if the airplane's nose also looks a bit familiar to EAA enthusiasts, it might have something to do with the fact that Peter Furlong, who designed the GA-8, was also the first person in Australia to build a Wittman Tailwind.
The Airvan's performance numbers are certainly adequate-even at its maximum takeoff weight of 4,000 pounds (including a useful load of 1,760 pounds), the Airvan has a cruise speed of 125-130 knots, a range of 5.5 hours, takes 1,800 feet to clear a 50-foot obstacle and 1,200 feet to descend and stop from the same altitude, and can have a takeoff ground roll as short as 525 feet. On a "normal sort of day," according to Gippsland demo pilot Gerard Lappin, the Airvan could operate quite happily out of a 1,000-foot strip.
But what's truly impressive about the GA-8 is that it was obviously designed by experienced Outback pilot/mechanics who'd had more than their share of frustration with existing aircraft models. The visibility from the Airvan, for example, is simply wonderful-for both pilots and passengers. The wing is set back a bit from the pilot's door, offering remarkably good up-and-down views, and each of the passengers gets the benefit of a large, rectangular window.
The GA-8's cabin is also big enough to have an aisle in between the seats-a welcome relief from the squished-in feeling that smaller bush aircraft have. And, perhaps even more important for pilots flying passengers in rough, backwoods conditions-the ventilation in the Airvan is superb throughout the entire cabin. If a passenger does get sick, the upholstery and carpet are all assembled in modular sections, to make removal, cleaning or replacement a quick and painless process.
In fact, everything in the Airvan is designed for easy access and maintenance. The seats can be removed simply by slipping four metal, tab-like tools into slots under their legs. And all of the airplane's wiring, control cables and other maintenance-required items have been plumbed along the sides of the aircraft fuselage, where they can be reached through ergonomically designed pop-out panels along the cabin walls. Like I said, this airplane was obviously designed by pilot/ mechanics who'd been there.