Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The Epic LT
Do It Yourself Rocket Ship
In flight, the LT follows the axiom that if it looks right, it will probably fly right. Both the curved leading edges and turned-up wing tips help the aerodynamics. On the ground, the LT sits high on beefy trailing-link gear reducing the possibility of picking up ground FOD. The exhaust stacks are canted up and outward to greatly reduce exhaust stains on the sides of the airplane.
Once out of the flight levels, we took the opportunity to sample the flying characteristics. Handling in pitch and roll feels conventional for an airplane of this size—a bit heavy but very controllable. The rudder is lighter and provides ample control authority, so it's necessary to use your feet and pay attention to the ball. Steep turns at 160 KIAS worked fine, though a bit challenging due to the lack of visible cues out the front windshield—the nose is quite smooth and low in the field of view. We didn't get to try any stalls, but Finley insists that they're benign and occur at about 63 KIAS. Setting the power to 6% torque and letting the speed come back to about 130 KIAS simulates a prop-feathered best glide. The descent rate settles around 700 to 800 fpm with a very flat flight attitude. At that rate, it would be easy to make a distant airport in the very unlikely event of an engine failure in the flight levels.
Landing the LT is straightforward using an approach speed of around 100 KIAS on final and slowing to about 85 KIAS over the numbers. Touchdown attitude is fairly flat, and the stout trailing link gear made even my first landing look pretty good. My second attempt wasn't quite as smooth, but anyone with a little practice will grease it on with no trouble. With prop reverse, there's almost no reason to use the brakes and the airplane feels very stable even with a lot of reverse being applied. Use the brakes and you'll clear a 50-foot obstacle using only 1,840 feet of pavement.
It seems like there are "kit" pilots and "certified" pilots with little overlap between the two. However, the performance, quality and low completion cost of $1.9 million has made the LT a bridge airplane. The design is stable, the list of standard equipment is extensive, and there's simply no other "new" airplane of its size and performance available at anywhere near its price. Pilots who never thought they would consider building an airplane take one look and get pulled to the other side. The LT fleet is still small at only 35 airplanes, but today, the factory is full of airplanes working their way through the build process.
Owners typically spend about 14 weeks in the factory checking off 51% of the tasks needed to build the airplane. Note, that doesn't mean that owners have to spend 51% of the time needed to build the airplane. It also means that builders work at the factory where they're provided with gobs of expert assistance. Owners typically "finish" a very basic version of the airplane that takes a maiden flight around the pattern after receiving an initial experimental type certificate. After that, the owner can "hire" the factory to do upgrades, which often includes installing things like air-conditioning, avionics, retractable gear, deice equipment, an interior and such. The airplanes I saw in the plant all had exceptional fit and finish. In fact, the paint quality provided by Epic is hands down the best I've ever seen on any airplane—anywhere. Epic has worked closely with the FAA to develop and approve the whole process so that everything stays within the rules and owners end up with a high-quality end product.
Today, the Epic factory is full of airplanes working their way through the "production line." Owners show up everyday on the line as they build their own airplanes. Experts are always available to provide advice or assistance when needed. The resulting fit and finish of every airplane is nearly flawless.
It's no secret that the folks who started Epic produced an exceptional design but struggled financially and ethically when it came to running the company and dealing with the FAA. A very public meltdown and subsequent bankruptcy finally happened late in 2009. In April 2010, after a contested bidding process, a federal bankruptcy judge ordered a settlement between CAIGA and LT Builders Group. That settlement resulted in LT Builders Group purchasing all the assets of the old Epic companies and then licensing limited rights to CAIGA. On March 6, 2012, Engineering LLC, a prominent Russian aviation maintenance and overhaul company, bought out the LT Builders Group. They're currently pumping funds into the organization with the intent of fully certifying the LT, which will be marketed by the Epic Aircraft company as the "E1000" at a price of about $2.75 million. Epic LT Kits LLC will still sell the current airplane as a kit.
A lot has to happen before the airplane can be certified, but company officials are confident that they're well along and have set a goal to get it done in about two years. The certified airplane will be FIKI certified with an inertial separator, deiced windshield, standard emergency exit, stick shaker, RVSM certification and the next-generation Garmin avionics suite, among other things. So, stay tuned. Epic, the company, not only lives on, but appears to be healthy and growing. If they can certify an airplane based on the LT, it will be an exciting product that will surely shake up the market and provide a very interesting story well into the future.
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