NBAA Convention News

Epic progress questioned as ‘major’ development awaits

 - September 30, 2008, 7:14 AM

Bend, Ore.-based Epic Aircraft continues to pursue certification of its $1.2 million single-engine, owner-built kitplane, the Epic LT, re-badged in certified form as the $1.95 million Dynasty.

Epic president Rick Schrameck said the company has collected “fewer than 100” orders for the Dynasty so far. The kit-to-certified airplane strategy has proved difficult for other OEMs in the past, but Epic plans to continue building the LT in Bend while pursuing certification, and eventual serial production, of the Dynasty in Canada.

Just how far the Dynasty has proceeded down the certification path is a topic of some conjecture. At last year’s NBAA Convention Epic announced a $200 million financing deal with Indian billionaire Dr. Vijay Mallya, CEO of Kingfisher Airlines. Kingfisher has ordered lots of Airbus airliners from EADS and was believed to be using those transactions to attempt to leverage technical and other assistance from EADS for the Epic program. While Schrameck insists that deal is not dead, the check is not in the mail either, and Epic’s goal of certifying the Dynasty by the end of next year may be overly optimistic as a result.

Mallya’s investment was apparently contingent on the appeasement of EADS’ Socata unit, whose TBM 850 stands as a direct competitor to the Dynasty. However, EADS has rather publicly hung a for-sale sign on Socata as it refocuses its core businesses and is likely in no rush to diminish the market value of its subsidiary by providing technical assistance to any company viewed as a competitor.

Meanwhile, Epic has delivered 22 kitbuilt LTs and claims 50 more are on order. Critics within the amateur-built aircraft industry assert that Epic’s LT production line violates the spirit, if not the actual letter, of the FAA regulation that requires at least 51 percent of the aircraft to be built by the individual owner. At this year’s EAA AirVenture, Acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell promised an agency crackdown on companies skirting the 51-percent rule.

“It has come to our attention that some companies are not following the letter of the law,” Sturgell said. “We cannot allow that.”

Sturgell declined to mention any companies by name. However, the FAA’s
ongoing difficulty in enforcing the 51-percent requirement has prompted the agency to propose changing the rules for amateur-built aircraft to require that at least 20 percent be “fabricated” by the owner-builder. How that would affect Epic is unclear, as the actual rule is still being drafted.

In July the company did not exhibit at EAA, but Schrameck cautioned against reading too much into Epic’s absence, pointing out that the company will be exhibiting at future shows, and that the company planned a “major announcement” regarding the Dynasty program here this week.  “The funding may be from a different source [than Mallya],” Schrameck said. Through June, an “aerodynamically conforming” Dynasty had been used in flight test and was being modified with longer-range fuel tanks and de-icing boots.

However, Epic’s absence at the largest gathering of its core customer market fueled the rumor mill that the company was in distress and prompted it to issue a press release in August announcing “Business Is Booming.” Nevertheless, the release was curiously quiet about the progress of the Dynasty’s certification program.

Schrameck said that “within the next six months” Epic would unveil “a vision of the next 10 years of turboprops.” He also said Epic is taking a “hard look” at the new Rolls-Royce RR500 turboprop engine, but declined to say if the company was developing an airplane that would use the engine. The 350- to 450-shp RR500 is based on the smaller turboshaft RR300 core with a higher mass flow compressor and matching turbine.

Schrameck said that Epic is building six copies of a 92-percent scale version of the LT called the Escape. For now, it will also be an amateur-built aircraft. Epic calls the 365-knot Escape a “Turboprop VLJ.”