Monday, September 1, 2008
Epic LT: King Kong Turboprop
Rick Schrameck’s single-engine turboprop has incredible power, performance and payload—and it’s a homebuilt
|Nearly 30 years ago, I spent several days at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, participating in a Red Flag exercise and flying the amazing F-15 Eagle with Lieutenant Colonel Timothy O’Keefe, veteran fighter pilot and then-commander of the 433rd Fighter Weapons Squadron. For a general aviation pilot, the F-15 experience was an eye-opener into the world of the ultimate fighter, an exercise in maximum speed and seemingly limitless power.|
As with so many composite designs, the Epic’s wing is a truly beautiful airfoil, minus slots, slats or other aerodynamic Band-Aids to interrupt its finely sanded, brilliantly polished finish. Wingspan is 43 feet, same as the Piper Malibu, but the chord appears to be shorter, suggesting a higher aspect ratio.
Climb aboard through the aft left airstair door, and you enter a cabin that’s more spacious than most other singles. It’s also a study in contrasts. For a change, the best seats in the house aren’t the front two. The fuselage is about four-and-a-half feet across, providing a wide aisle to the front office and all the elbow room you could ask for. Up front, however, the taper on the sides of the fuselage cuts in a little too quickly. This dictates slightly reduced headroom on the outboard roof for pilot and copilot. Cabin length is more than enough. A major gap between the first and second row of seats allows the seats to recline; it can also provide space for the installation of a refreshment or entertainment center. The extra space between the pilot/copilot seats and aft-facing seats can also fit two kid-sized jump seats or a lavatory.
Folks in the center, aft-facing seats seem to have the best of all vertical and horizontal worlds. Similarly, floor space between the conference-style second and third row is impressive. There’s no reason for footsie between facing passengers, unless they just happen to be into that sort of thing.
Once you’re settled into the front buckets, you’ll note the airplane’s unusual visibility, especially to the sides. The two-piece windshield wraps all the way around to the shoulders of both pilots, à la Learjet, though the Plexiglas isn’t especially tall. Overall, it’s a bright, roomy, comfortable place to fly.
Predictably, the panel is as modern as the rest of the airplane. The first demonstrator I flew four years ago was fitted with a compact and innovative Chelton system. The customer airplane I piloted at this year’s Sun ’n Fun (the personal LT of NASCAR driver Bill Elliott) was also decked with Chelton avionics. Production airplanes may be fitted with a Garmin G900X flat-panel display with the usual trio of two-inch backup instruments directly in front of the pilot.
Certainly a major part of the Epic LT’s attraction is its “King Kong” powerplant. The LT flies behind one of the most powerful turboprop engines in general aviation, the 1,200 shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67A. This is essentially the same P&W that was used on the futuristic but unsuccessful Beechcraft Starship. It’s also similar to the one employed on the current $4 million Swiss Pilatus PC-12, a corporate single intended for the pilot looking for long range and exceptional loading flexibility. The big Pilatus weighs in at nearly 10,500 pounds gross weight and features a huge main cabin that may be configured with up to nine seats (plus two pilots) or, alternately, a cargo area that may be loaded with a forklift.
In contrast, the Epic LT need lift only a little above 7,300 pounds and a 10-foot-shorter fuselage that accommodates six souls in sumptuous comfort. Payload is one of the plane’s strongest points, a feature virtually unmatched by any other airplane. Even with a full load of people, the airplane can still carry full fuel and a little baggage. Specifically, the airplane’s full fuel payload is about 1,200 pounds. Epic likes to use the catchphrase, “Fill it up. Go the distance. Leave nothing behind.”
Despite the heavy load, the airplane sports climb performance in competition with many light jets. Power loading is barely over six pounds per shaft horsepower. All other factors being equal, low power loading translates directly into good acceleration and climb, and the LT’s takeoff performance will flat out knock your hat in the creek. If you haven’t flown fighters or corporate jets, you’ll see numbers on the VSI you may never have seen before. Hold the nose high to maintain 160 knots, and you’ll experience something like 4,000 fpm up on the VSI.
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