Merritt Island, Fla.-based Comp Air is developing an all-composite, pressurized single-engine turboprop called the Model 12. CEO Ron Lueck estimates that it will cost $150 million to get the airplane certified. Lueck has been designing homebuilt/kit aircraft since the 1980s, but the Model 12 will require a separate corporate structure and production facility to meet FAA standards. Lueck said that a new facility will be built in Melbourne, Fla.; that Comp Air already has secured all the necessary funds for the aircraft’s development and serial production ramp-up; and that the company is taking refundable $100,000 customer deposits on the $2.95 million airplane. It had about two-dozen deposits in hand at the end of August and plans to make the move to Melbourne by January 1.
Rather than significantly expanding his small company during the Model 12’s design and certification phases, Lueck has hired two outside engineering firms as well as Auburn University’s aeronautical engineering department to handle those chores under the leadership of Dr. Gil Crouse, Jr. Crouse is an associate professor of aerospace engineering at Auburn and the founder of DaVinci Technologies, the developer of AirplanePDQ aircraft design software.
The cooperative program with Auburn will bring as many as 60 aeronautical and mechanical engineers from the university to the Model 12 project. “Most are [students pursuing master’s degrees] and some are Ph.D. candidates,” said Lueck. “These guys are right on the cutting edge of everything.”
A preliminary prototype of the Model 12 first flew last year and Comp Air has accumulated approximately 200 hours on it; however, the production model will undergo significant changes, including a 42-inch fuselage stretch and a four-inch larger fuselage diameter. The latter will provide a true, six-foot tall stand-up cabin.
Plans call for three basic cabin layouts aft of the cockpit: a luxury executive configuration with six seats; a double-club layout with eight seats; and a high-density design with 10 forward-facing seats. The cruciform tail on the prototype will be dropped in favor of a conventional design. The main door may also be enlarged, but not on the order of the massive cargo door on the Pilatus PC-12.
Power will come from a 9,000-hour TBO, 1,650-shp Honeywell TPE331-14GR.
Honeywell will also provide its Apex avionics suite and pressurization system for the aircraft. Comp Air and Honeywell are expected to sign an agreement on the avionics here at the convention.
Comp Air is planning the first flight of the larger Model 12 by July 2009 and hopes to have the aircraft at next year’s Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis.
Lueck said he thinks the eventual market for the Model 12 is 50 to 100 airplanes annually and is not shy about explaining why: Pilatus’s production caps on the PC-12 limits the Swiss company to manufacturing about 100 airplanes per year. “They can sell all the PC-12s they can make and we want the overrun,” he said. “We will cost $1 million less, be faster and more fuel efficient.” Lueck said the Honeywell engine in the larger Model 12 will be 18 percent more efficient than a comparable Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6.
Lueck predicts that the Model 12 will be certified by the end of 2010 and he said he needs to sell only 50 per year for the program to turn a profit.
But he thinks the market for the airplane is even larger. That is why the company will set up the Melbourne production line to handle up to 100 airplanes per year. Lueck thinks “most of the market is overseas.
“There’s lots of pent-up demand from people who couldn’t own airplanes before in places like China, India and Russia,” he said.