In The Works: Explorer 500T

 - May 21, 2008, 7:47 AM

Explorer Aircraft, developer of the single-engine piston and turboprop Explorer airplanes, has moved from its temporary offices in Denver to Jasper County Bell Field in southeast Texas, just west of the Louisiana border.

“The Jasper Economic Development Council provided us with incentives, but the area’s central location, its unrestricted airspace and skilled workforce were also important factors,” Geoffrey Danes, director of operations, research and development, told AIN.

The Explorer proof-of-concept airplane, now powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-135B turboprop, is housed in an existing hangar on the airport and the company’s three directors (Graham Swannell, CEO;  Donald Joseph, president; and Danes) are occupying temporary offices in the city. However, plans are under way for the construction of a 14,000-sq-ft “certification facility” in an industrial park at the airport. “This is where we plan to do the engineering and construction of the conforming prototypes,” Danes explained. Later, he said, the company plans to build a 90,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility on the same 25-acre tract. The certification facility will have access to Jasper Field’s runways from two sides. Construction started on July 19 and is expected to take about 18 weeks, therefore finishing in November.

With efforts concentrated on facilities, development of the airplane has been slowed,
Danes said, adding that the certification program is estimated to take 2.5 years from completion of the building. If all goes according to plan, first flight of the conforming prototype would take place in October next year and certification in April 2005. The POC airframe has about 500 flight hours, of which some 400 hr were as an Explorer 350 powered by a Continental IO350 piston engine and about 100 hr were as a 500T, with the PT6. Current plans call for certifying the turboprop version first.

Danes said the privately funded company (all three directors are stockholders) has “sufficient funds to get the program going,” but that there is a need for further investment. A public offering is not in the current business plan, but may be considered later.

Explorer has yet to log any orders but is now ready to take deposits, set at $25,000. Deposits will be placed in escrow and are refundable, Danes said. Prices for the three Explorer models, all in 2000 dollars, are 500R (Orenda V-8), $820,000; 500T (PT6A), $1.035 million; and 750T (PT6A with stretched fuselage), $1.16 million.