NBAA Convention News

Farnborough t-prop facing fiscal hurdles

 - June 20, 2008, 4:45 AM, the UK company that is developing the single-turboprop F1 air-taxi, business and utility aircraft, quietly withdrew from the NBAA Convention even before the show was canceled.

Because of low financial and labor resources, a preliminary design review–earlier set for this month–has been delayed to next September. Conceding there is “an awful lot to do on the bigger-than-envisaged” project, a spokesman said finances are “critical” and that expenditure would “rise dramatically.” He acknowledged that, which dubs itself one of the “first new-generation parallel aerospace industries,” has lived “fairly hand to mouth from just-in-time financing.” The project is “as complex as a small airliner. It has been a big learning curve” and the start-up company has faced “a series of smaller problems,” the spokesman added.

Powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-60A, the developmental F1 is predicted to have a laminar-flow wing and a 329-ktas cruise speed. The composite-construction airplane would compete against the Socata TBM 700, Piper Meridian and Pilatus PC-12.

A critical review, needed before a production go-ahead, is provisionally scheduled to occur in about two years’ time. The configuration was frozen in 2000 and the next review will “freeze the outer mould line and all system concepts and interfaces [and] ensure the position and size of everything,” said the spokesman. First flight of the F1 is now not likely until the end of 2004, with deliveries beginning in mid- to late 2006, after “18 to 24 months” of certification work to achieve FAR Part 135/European JAR 135 approval.

The company must double employee numbers to around 100 by the end of the year: “We have to expand engineering, marketing and administration,” said the spokesman.

After burning his fingers on the previous ARV Super 2 light-aircraft venture from which bankers withdrew support, chief executive Richard Noble has eschewed such financing sources. He is exploring additional funding, previous financial support having come from sales of stock and private investment through a Web site.

‘Enthusiastic Response’

Although the company had chosen not to attend NBAA, officials claim an enthusiastic response from attendees at other events, including the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual fly-in and convention at Oshkosh, Wis. “[That] was very worthwhile from the engineering viewpoint alone,” said the spokesman. “There’s an awful lot of knowledge there. For example, seat technology and aileron-flutter analysis.” It also was valuable for contact with industry representatives and operators, he said. exhibited at the last Paris and Farnborough shows and at this year’s European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition in Geneva.

Noble said his company needs orders for some 500 aircraft at $2 million each before first flight to go ahead with the project. He claims a market for 19,000 single-pilot, single-engine IFR models to provide on-demand public-transport service to carry 5 percent of the domestic business traffic in North America, Europe, Asia/Pacific and southwest Pacific. By late August the company had raised $6.5 million against an estimated $92 million needed to reach the first-flight stage. At that time, refundable $12,000 deposits had been taken for only two of the single turboprops.

The company sees the F1’s laminar-flow wing as a key design element, providing good low-speed handling, a short takeoff roll and low drag in high-speed cruise mode. Given that icing could compromise the aerodynamic efficiency, a decision is expected by year-end on whether the wing will be equipped with de-icing fluid or an electric-pulse ice removal system.

Use of composite materials will provide a long-life structure for the pressurized aircraft, said Noble. Controls would be by conventional manual cable or pushrod links. Sidestick control has been adopted to “keep the [instrument] panel uncluttered.”

Also to be decided around year-end is the “glass cockpit” panel. The first F1 will have an unspecified off-the-shelf instrument fit, while number two will be “bespoke.” The spokesman also said that decisions on the choice of suppliers for the landing gear and the propeller were close.