Monday, September 1, 2008
For Town & Country
A hybrid lands in the bush
|We’re on an Expedition. Two of them, actually. Four of us are aboard the Expedition E350, the new tricycle-gear bush plane from Found Aircraft (www.expeditionaircraft.com). The others in our party are aboard the Expedition E350XC, the conventional-gear variant—this one outfitted with amphibious floats—flying barely 20 yards off our right wingtip. We’re making a short hop to Ontario’s Muskoka Airport, a mere 27 nm southeast of Found Aircraft’s headquarters at Parry Sound Area Municipal Airport, also in Ontario.|
“Our hard-core bush pilots will scoff at that, but that’s the market,” Andrew said. “For us to move forward and for us to get the necessary (sales) volume, the tricycle gear had to be introduced.”
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|Built for bush ops, the Expedition features an interior that’s aimed at utility, but not at the expense of passenger and pilot comfort. The 52-inch-wide cabin’s carbon-fiber side and door panels reduce weight and cabin noise. |
In fact, the company expects to make three tricycle-gear Expedition E350s for every one Expedition E350XC (Extreme Country). In 1994, Bud made a last effort to get his bush plane back into production. One of the many people responsible for making that happen was Andrew’s father, Tony Hamblin, today the president of the company. Three years later, Found Aircraft began making the FBA-2C1 Bush Hawk and FBA-2C2 Bush Hawk-XP, updated versions of the FBA-2. Among the customers was the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). (I had the opportunity to spend many hours in the Bush Hawk during a USFWS aerial wildlife survey in Alaska.) “The Expedition is a culmination of all the feedback that we got from our [Bush Hawk] customers,” Tony had told me at the factory. “We put on more power, we made the cabin larger, we changed the interior, we changed the instrument panel. As I said, we listened to what our customers were saying.”
|Andrew Hamblin demonstrates the E350’s “four plus one” seating arrangement in the back. |
I’ve already explored some of the Expediton’s improvements with Ted Dirstein, Found Aircraft’s chief pilot. Our aircraft, C-FACX, has shown me it’s not just a gussied up, citified version of the Bush Hawk. What sets it apart and makes the Expedition an airplane all its own is power.
On paper, the 315 hp Lycoming IO-580-B1A offers only 15 more horses than the Bush Hawk’s IO-540. But it uses dual exhausts in place of a muffler, increasing horsepower by up to 3%, and the power boost gives the Expedition, at 3,800 pounds, a 250-pound-higher gross weight than the Hawk, bringing useful load to 1,500 pounds. That transforms the Expedition into what was almost a mythical beast in the general aviation world: a true four-place aircraft. With fuel capacity increased to 100 gallons, you can put four 200-pound people, 150 pounds of luggage and full fuel on-board the Expedition; clear a 50-foot obstacle in little more than 1,200 feet; and travel nearly 800 nm at about 160 knots with IFR reserves.
And if first impressions are really what counts, the Expedition’s JATO-like STOL performance will leave pilots suitably impressed. Flying with two, three and four people aboard during our time with the Expedition, it showed excellent short-field capability, and the 20-degree climb angle at Vy
(85 knots) helps keep pilots and obstacles away from each other in the bush.
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