At Lakeland, Florida, this past week, the annual Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In & Expo drew thousands of aviation enthusiasts to one of the biggest air shows in the U.S.
Epic Aircraft, of Bend, took its place among more than 500 exhibitors, including general aviation aircraft makers, airlines looking to hire and makers of propellers, aircraft engines, navigational equipment and the like.
“They’re a big presence,” said Sun ’n Fun President and CEO John Leenhouts. “Well, they’re one of the few that rent out a whole building.”
At its exhibit, Epic displayed a mockup of the revamped interior of its E1000 turboprop, the aircraft scheduled for flight tests this year and expected to hit the general aviation marketplace next year. The E1000 is based on the company’s kit aircraft, the Epic LT, which was also on display.
Because it comes early each year, the Lakeland air show attracts a fair number of buyers, Leenhouts said. More general aviation aircraft are purchased there than any other event of its kind during the year, he said.
Epic, in the final stage of certifying the E1000 according to federal regulations, already has more than 60 orders. It expects to start delivering the aircraft by early 2016, but orders taken now won’t be delivered until about August 2016, said Mike Schrader, Epic sales and marketing director.
“We’re not setting huge (sales) goals because of the later delivery,” he said. But, he said, the company is generating interest at the show “in what we have as a product.”
Epic, also listed as one of many event sponsors, set up its display at the Seaplane Pilots Association building for the six-day event, Leenhouts said. The annual air show at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, which concludes today, drew 200,000 attendees last year, said Sandy Bridges, the event communications director. She expected more this year.
The E1000 is a single-engine, 1,200-horse-power turboprop aircraft that seats six. The company expects to finish testing the structural components in its research and development department, and then fly the first prototype that conforms to Federal Aviation Administration standards for production aircraft. The FAA holds production aircraft, which are manufactured and sold in one piece, to a different standard than kit aircraft. Epic forecasts it will achieve certification by year’s end.
“We’re pretty confident this airplane will meet what we need to do for certification,” Schrader said last week.
Business fliers are the target market for the E-1000, which Epic pitches as a competitive and economical alternative to a small jet. The Cessna Citation Mustang, for example, carries five passengers, has a maximum cruise speed of 340 knots and a range of 1,388 miles, according to specifications on the company website.
The E1000 has a maximum cruise speed of 325 knots and a range of 1,592 miles. It can climb to 34,000 feet in 15 minutes. The Mustang has a higher ceiling, 41,000 feet, and gets there in 27 minutes.
“When you look at the performance of our airplane, because of its climb rate and speed, it outperforms everything in our category,” Schrader said.
Business aircraft, the type an executive may fly from manufacturing plant to manufacturing plant, for instance, grew in number worldwide between 2013 and 2014, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. However, the number of turboprop aircraft shipped worldwide actually declined by 6.5 percent in the same period while business jet numbers increased by the same percentage, according to the manufacturers association.
Some turboprop manufacturers saw increasing sales, however, as the industry recovered from the Great Recession. Daher-Socata, whose TBM-900 has characteristics similar to the E1000, peaked at 60 deliveries in 2008. Its annual sales slumped into the 30s until 2013, when it shipped 40 aircraft. Last year, it delivered 51 TBM-900 turboprops, according to the association Daher-Socata unveiled the TBM-900 in the U.S. at the 2014 Sun ’n Fun air show.
The TBM-900 lists for $3.7 million, according to a June comparison of the airplane by Flying magazine with its competitors. Cirrus Aircraft, whose Vision SF50 personal jet is also going through FAA certification, lists the aircraft at $1.96 million, according to the Cirrus website. A Cessna Mustang 510 sells for $3.2 million, according to Flying magazine. Epic set the E1000 baseline price at $2.95 million.
The final stage of FAA certification will assess the airplane’s performance characteristics in normal flight as well as at the edge of its performance capabilities, according to a company news release April 15. Meanwhile, Epic is gearing up an assembly line in Bend to produce as many as 50 aircraft a year, with the ability to expand that capability, Schrader said.
The firm’s fortunes were revived in March 2012 when it was purchased by a Russian company, Engineering LLC. Later that year, Epic purchased the former Cessna Aircraft manufacturing plant at the Bend airport. The firm now employs more than 160.
“I’ll put it to you this way,” Schrader said, “when I started with the company three years ago, we had 55 people.”