By Jeff Holmquist
What started as a vision for two local engineers is slowly becoming a job-creating plan for the region and state.
On Friday, in front of investors, aviation experts and elected officials, Steven Weinzierl and Michael Fuchs of Engineered Propulsion Systems, Inc. provided an update on the progress the company has made toward the development of a new diesel engine for general aviation aircraft.
The Flat Vee engine, which has been inching closer to reality since 2006, would provide airplane manufacturers with a durable, cost-effective engine. The new engine would run on diesel fuel, which would cost pilots about $4 per gallon compared to higher-priced aviation fuel that such aircraft now operate on. In some parts of the world, officials claim, avgas can range up to $20 per gallon.
Weinzierl said about 200,000 general aviation aircraft currently fly across the U.S. and many of those airplanes might want to purchase a new engine when they become available. But much of the potential market for EPS lies outside our nation’s borders, he said. Countries in South America, Africa and Asia could be more important to EPS’s success because of the ready availability of diesel fuel in those locations.
At Friday’s event, Mark Tyler of OEM Fabricators in Baldwin was introduced as a new member of the EPS Board of Directors. Tyler was added to the development team due to his extensive manufacturing experience, Weinzierl said.
Weinzierl also thanked the many other partners who have worked with EPS over the past few years to help make the new engine a reality. Among those people he thanked were First National Community Bank, the City of New Richmond, State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, aviation industry experts and others.
“We really stand on the shoulders of giants here,” he said.
Weinzierl had to stop and compose himself at one point before continuing. He said he gets emotional thinking about all the people who are trying to help the company get off the ground.
“It breaks me up sometimes” he said. “We’re trying to realize our dreams here.”
To update everyone in the room, Fuchs said 2012 was an encouraging year for the engine’s progress. A $3 million grant from the Air Force helped accelerate the development process. The military hopes to use the emerging technology for aircraft and other equipment purposes.
Also, EPS sold its first actual engine to a military contractor in 2012, Fuchs noted. That contractor hopes to use EPS engines in various military applications.
“This was a very nice accomplishment for the whole team of EPS,” he said.
Weinzierl said 2013 is looking equally as promising. A key step EPS has taken is the purchase of parts manufacturing equipment.
Because the company is not ordering a lot of parts right now, EPS often has to wait upwards of three weeks for a simple part. Being able to manufacture its own parts speeds up the development process, he said.
As for the immediate future, Weinzierl said the company hopes to have its inaugural flight by late summer or early fall. The company also hopes to begin constructing an engine assembly plant near the New Richmond Regional Airport by the end of the year. The company is expecting to hire upwards of 100 new employees when production of the engine begins in earnest.
At the close of Friday’s presentation, the crowd walked to a city-owned parking lot to watch a demonstration of the Flat Vee engine in action. The engine performed well, and those on hand had plenty of questions related to the manufacturing process and the inner workings of the engine.