Intracom committed to the 'Viper Piper' project

 - March 29, 2007, 1:03 PM

Despite a business dispute with Tekhnoavia (AIN, February, page 10), Geneva-based Intracom General Machinery has vowed to continue the Viper project. The GM-17 Viper is a modified Piper P Navajo, from which the two wing-mounted 425-hp piston engines are removed and a single 750-shp Walter M601E turboprop is placed in the redesigned forward fuselage, among the improvements.

Intracom General Machinery president and CEO Dr. Nik Schmidt told AIN that his plans to produce at least 30 GM-17s remain viable, and that he will continue the project with or without Tekhnoavia. He hopes, however, that Tekhnoavia general director Slava Kondratiev “comes back to his senses” and returns to the venture. Schmidt is “open” to negotiations with both Tekhnoavia and the Smolensk aircraft production plant. He said Tekhnoavia is in breech of their contract, and if it comes to a court hearing he believes that Intracom General Machinery would prevail.

Schmidt allowed AIN to view the original contracts, dated November 2001 and May 2002, and bank transaction documents proving that Intracom has fulfilled its financial obligations with Tekhnoavia. “I swear I do not know why Kondratiev bailed out of the project,” he told AIN.

In February Schmidt met with a number of Russian state officials and top managers of the Smolensk plant to discuss the future of the Viper project. Smolensk had been involved in the project through Tekhnoavia, but now has moved to forge direct links with Intracom General Machinery.

Under Tekhnoavia supervision, Smolensk has converted two P Navajo airframes into GM-17 Vipers, which flew last year. A third airframe is nearly complete and conversion of a fourth is under way. Schmidt claimed that the original PA-31Ps were ferried to Russia in good condition.

Before going to Tekhnoavia, Intracom worked for three years with the aviation department of Khrunichev State Space Center, headed by Eugeny Grunin. State aerohydrodynamics institute TsAGI has assessed the Viper and issued a positive report. TsAGI performed airframe stress analysis and wind-tunnel testing of a scaled-down model at its Zhukovsky facility near Moscow. Schmidt estimated that the whole effort has cost Intracom General Machinery about $3 million.

Contract Details

The major points of the two contracts signed by Intracom General Machinery and Tekhnoavia involved supply of drawings, preparation of tooling at the Smolensk plant and flight tests on three experimental aircraft. Tekhnoavia would receive in excess of $200,000 for work on the airframe, excluding the costs of engines and onboard equipment for the experimental aircraft. By the end of last year, Tekhnoavia delivered to Intracom some 500 drawings out of about 900 “in existence” at Tekhnoavia’s and Smolensk’s offices.

Although in dispute with the Russian firm, Schmidt spoke highly of Tekhnoavia’s engineering capabilities, and considerable market potential for the Tekhnoavia SM-92 Finist and SM-92T Finist turboprop. Intracom continues to consider various possibilities to take part in the marketing and production effort on these designs.

Intracom General Machinery is talking to various Russian design houses about completing the R&D work on the Viper. If it doesn’t find a suitable partner in Russia, Intracom will consider aviation companies in other countries to finish the project.

Intracom wants to certify the Viper, and Schmidt said he keeps in touch with top Piper managers. After the R&D phase, Smolensk would build the GM-17XL, an all-new version of the Viper with extended fuselage and larger wing, in 2006 or 2007.