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.|
|A Garmin GNS 430 was installed on the aircraft we flew, but the 530 is standard, along with the Electronics International MVP-50 digital engine monitor. An optional glass panel will be available soon. |
At a 3,800-pound gross weight, rate of climb is an impressive 1,091 fpm. But most of us fly short of fully loaded. Found Aircraft provides performance specs for the E350 at gross, mid and light weight, reducing the need to trace your finger along the lines of a POH
chart if you need general-performance numbers. If you can keep your useful load down to 1,150 pounds (350 pounds under gross), count on a 1,400 fpm climb.
The high-lift, low-drag wing is integral to the Expedition’s performance. It’s the same wing the Bush Hawk used, but it’s put to better advantage with the power increase. It’s also the reason for the Expedition’s exceptionally docile stall characteristics. The wing is composed of two distinct airfoils. The inner section has a higher angle of attack than the outboard sections, where the ailerons are positioned. Thus, the inner section stalls first, but the ailerons retain control effectiveness. Dirstein has demonstrated a series of simulated backcountry stall scenarios: an accelerated stall while trying to outclimb rising terrain; a low-speed stall when turning to avoid an obstacle after takeoff; a power-off stall from misjudging the height above the surface when landing on water. In each situation, the stall was almost a nonevent. And the low 54 KCAS stall speed is a safety factor in its own right.
|The Helping Hands |
The main factory building at Found Aircraft is more of a 10,000-square-foot workshop than an aircraft production line. Found Aircraft bush planes are, after all, handmade, not mass-produced. The company builds no more than 30 aircraft per year. In the center of the hangar-like building, a massive one-piece wing sits in a jig. It takes 10 days to build this piece alone.
The company has been blessed with a stable workforce, some of whom have been with the company since it was resurrected in the mid-1990s. But none have been here longer than Leo Sipila. “I was the first employee,” Sipila said. A sheet-metal specialist, Sipila was recruited by Bud Found himself because of his knowledge of Found airplanes, gained while working at the now-defunct local carrier Georgian Bay Airlines, which operated a pair of pre-Bush Hawk Founds.
Would Bud Found be impressed with the Expedition? “Oh yeah,” Sipila quickly said. “Bud would be proud—he sure would be.”
Signature Found Aircraft features remain on the Expedition: Each of the four doors opens 180 degrees, providing easy access and quick emergency egress. (“Go ahead, slam the door, like you would a car,” said Dirstein; it’s a testament to the bush-worthy design.) Each door has an oversized, slightly bubbled window that extends almost down to the floor. This provides unparalleled lateral visibility (and even forward visibility by putting your face into the bubble). I know from personal experience with the USFWS that this is a huge advantage in any operation involving observation, such as surveys and search-and-rescue work. The flat floor, flush doorjamb and quick removable rear seats make it easy to get cargo in and out, and numerous attach points provide for secure stowage.
Yet the interior has been significantly improved. The 4130 steel cage framing the cabin is the same as in the Bush Hawk. But at 52 inches, the cabin is a half-foot wider, achieved by building out from the frame. Where the Bush Hawk took pride in being the only all-metal bush plane, the Expedition has carbon-fiber side panels and doors, reducing both weight and cabin noise. Meanwhile, the roomy two-place backseat has an optional raised, padded divider in the middle, giving the seat the look of an executive aircraft. In a matter of seconds, the entire bench cover can be unsnapped and removed, revealing three individual seats beneath. The center seat can be slid well forward, giving all three in back plenty of elbow room, an arrangement the company calls “four plus one” seating.
And with the rear seats taken out, more than seven feet of open space exists between the pilot and copilot stations—plenty of room to sleep in. You can leave your tent at home when air camping.
On the panel, analog “steam” gauges provide the primary flight instrument displays. An optional glass panel will be available, but not an integrated glass suite, avoiding the time and expense of certifying the installation. Standard panel-ware includes a Garmin GNS 530 GPS/NAV/COM/WAAS and an Electronics International MVP-50 digital engine monitor.
|The E350 is a perfect match for the Canadian wilderness; it easily tackles off-airport operations and can transport multiple campers and camping equipment. |
At Muskoka, the Expedition convincingly demonstrated its backcountry heritage on the turf. From the air, the grass looked well-maintained, but Dirstein assured me it was bumpier and more rutted than it appeared. He was right. But the flexible struts on the main gear and the polyurethane pucks acting as shock absorbers on the nosegear have what it takes to handle off-airport operations. The undercarriage feels stiff landing on and rolling over the uneven surface, but maybe it’s good to be reminded that you’ve arrived back in the bush. In a plane like the Expedition, how else would you know? And if you need to get in or out of any tight spaces on the ground, the 300-degree castering nosewheel provides for deft maneuvering.
The FBA-2C3 Expedition E350 was certified by Transport Canada in late June; FAA certification should arrive by the end of the year. The FBA-2C4 Expedition E350XC (Extreme Country) requires land certification testing, and will require more time. Both aircraft are priced at $485,000. Options include floats (straight and amphibious) and skis.
On the morning of our flight, Andrew brought along a friend to show off the new airplane. Christopher Bolton seems like the kind of person for which a hybrid like this was made. He’s a TV writer and student pilot from Toronto who just bought a cottage in the Georgian Bay area. Used to cramming into a Cessna 152, his awe at the Expedition’s comfort and performance was palpable. On our way to Muskoka, as we cruised beside the E350XC, he turned to Andrew. “You must be so proud,” he said. And deservedly so. SPECS: 2008 Expedition E350
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