At a time when very light jets are all the rage, turboprops might seem “old school” or out of step with the times. After all, the new VLJs will fly higher and faster for the same or less money.
Well, not exactly. Regular readers of Pilot Journal
may recall that we flew the homebuilt Epic LT turboprop out of Las Vegas a few years ago, and even in those early days before the first VLJ had flown, the big turboprop showed all the signs of competing with the VLJs head-to-head in practically every area.
Rick Schrameck, CEO of Epic Air in Bend, Ore., believes his homebuilt airplane will nearly match the performance of most VLJs, and the price for both acquisition and operation will be considerably lower. The trouble with a homebuilt is that you do have to build it. As much as we may love the performance and concept of a homebuilt over a production airplane, most of us don’t have the time, the talent or the inclination to construct one, especially a sophisticated, pressurized six-seat jetprop.
In fact, the folks at Epic have turned that perceived downside on its head. Epic Air is in the process of certifying a version of the 1,200 shp Epic LT homebuilt, and the company may actually benefit from its shared experience with the homebuilt. “We’re doing something that’s relatively new in aviation,” says Schrameck. “We’re using the homebuilt program to help verify the market and the engineering on the production Dynasty certification effort. We’re benefiting from the experience of the homebuilders in our development program on the certified airplane. By using the feedback we receive from those homebuilt customers, we may be able to shortstop problems in the certification program, and that translates directly to savings of both time and money. We’re also using revenue from the homebuilt program to help fund the Dynasty production airplane.”
In this case, “we” refers to three aggressive entrepreneurs who’ve made their fortunes in various aspects of high-tech industries. Rick Schrameck has earned his money primarily in the computer and communications business. For the last 20 years, Schrameck has rescued and managed companies in trouble. He’s also an expert on auto emissions and standards and aircraft turbocharging. Mike Shealy is general manager of Intel’s Integrated Access Division, another product of the high-tech world, and has been a CEO and senior vice president of several major computer and technology companies. Jeff Sanders has started and sold 10 companies in the last 20 years and is now involved in land acquisition, primarily along the California coast. (Sanders also built and flies his own Epic LT.)
Epic operates a 100,000-square-foot facility in Bend, Ore., producing components for the Epic LT and providing builder assistance in the actual construction of the aircraft. The company currently employs 150 people at Bend, and nine Epic LT homebuilts have flown away at this writing. The backlog on the world’s most impressive experimental aircraft is nearly 30 airplanes, which means 40 pilots so far have written checks for more than $1 million dollars for an airplane they know they’ll still have to build. With a 4,000 fpm climb rate, 335-knot cruise speed and full six-seat payload, the Epic LT is probably the most exotic homebuilt ever offered. It’s also the most expensive, but that doesn’t seem to have inhibited sales.
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