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Article and images courtesy of:
Flight Evening News

NBAA ADDS UP FOR COMP AIR

ALAN PEAFORD

Merritt Island on the central Florida Atlantic coast is 1,000nm (l,850km) away from the Wichita global center of business aviation ­and for Comp Air Aviation chief executive Ron Lueck, when it comes to resources and investment support, it might as well be light years away.

But Lueck and his team of engineers come to NBAA this week determined to close the gap with the debut of their prototype Comp Air 12.

"It is a completely different world for us," says Lueck with a rueful grin. "Just getting the aircraft into NBAA is a large investment for us. But it is where our market is. It's where we see our future customers and where we meet the investors that we need to take us to the next stage."

The Comp Air team is very hands on. One visitor pulling into one of the several hangar/workshops scattered around the Merritt Island airport asked a worker up to his arms in grease where he could find the chief executive. "Right here," said the worker. "Where?" asked the besuited visitor. "It's me," the worker said. Lueck laughs as he tells the story. "I'm not so good dressing up in a suit, I am much happier with the aircraft."

Lueck is a prolific designer of aircraft. He has already designed, built and test-flown 14 different aircraft from a single-seat ultralight to a small business jet. He is also still the proud holder of the world speed record in the FAI's C3b amphibian class using piston engines and weighing between 1,3201b (600kg) and 2,6401b for takeoff. He reached 201.5mph (325km/h) in 1988 in the Air Shark he designed with his late father, Art, a talented engineer and metallurgist credited with developing patents for the LED technology.

AIR SHARK

"I started flying with my dad when I was a small child. We moved from a Skylane to a 210 and Twin Commander. We built a kitplane together and then looked at the Seawind and decided it was ugly and that we could design something better ourselves and so we built the Air Shark."

After Art died at 55, Lueck branched out, growing first a propeller business and building composite floats until boredom and a work­shop fire led him to re-evaluate and do what he really wanted to do - "build airplanes!" From that ambi­tious statement, a man with no aeronautical engineering or design qualifications began to create a remarkable family of composite homebuild

aircraft under the Comp Air banner. Remarkably, each one is test flown by Lueck himself.

 "It's the coolest feeling in the world making that first flight in something you have designed and built yourself. But it is as scary as hell. My heart doesn't beat for about 30 or 40 seconds before the aircraft climbs away and does what it is supposed to do. Well, you can't beat that feeling."

 The latest addition to the family - the Comp Air 12 - is completely different. It is the first aircraft that has been designed by Lueck for full Federal Aviation Administration certification rather than as an experimental.

 Lueck fervently believes that the single-engined turboprop will enter the market at just about the right time.

 He sees a major shift coming as accountants rather than flight departments study the effectiveness of typical corporate missions. "Most are in the 400 to 500 mile range. People are looking at VLJs but when they do the reality check they will see how that mission can be done in more space for half the cost with a single-engine turbo."

TEST PROGRAM

With the prototype already here, Lueck is looking at just 30 months from funding to certification. "When manufacturers look for funding it is usually for the first round of design. We've already done that. We know what we have to do to get the conforming aircraft built and into the test program."

 Comp Air is meeting potential investors from China, India and Taiwan during the next three days. The company's goal is to raise $100 million to get the Comp Air 12 to production in time to meet projected demand.

 They will also be analyzing a questionnaire from visitors to the static park, where the aircraft is on display (free prize draw every day), and also taking deposits from those who want to stake a claim on the early models delivered.

 Fifteen aircraft have already been ordered with a probable delivery price of $2.95 million, comparable to where Lueck believes the Eclipse will be by the prob­able 2010 certification.

 "The difference is what we can achieve," he says.

 The Comp Air 12 is powered by a Honeywell TPE331-14GR, 1,500hp (1,120kW) engine giving it a range of 2,535nm - coast to coast capability non-stop.

 "We climb at 2,800ft/min fully loaded and so are with the business jets. We save money in taxi, take-off and climb and average 71USgal/h [270 litres/h] fuel consump­tion. Our extra range means no refueling stop en route so we will get there before the VLJ competition."

Lueck also sees the cabin size making a difference. With a cabin 68in [172cm wide, 21ft long and 70in high, there is room for six seats, a table and reclining seat.

 "If people are in the air doing business they need space," says Lueck. "They want to stretch out, work on their laptops, watch a movie and get to where they want to go. We can do all that." The aircraft is also fitted with a lavatory and pressurized internal baggage hold space.

With cruise at 310kt (170km/h) at 30,000ft and a useful load of 5,000Ib, the Comp Air 12 could be adapted from an eight­ passenger business configuration to a 10- or 12­seat regional shuttle.

OPTICAL SENSING

Pilot comfort and needs have also been taken into account. The optical sensing interrogator will give the pilot an automatic weight and balance and centre of gravity check; the cockpit has also been designed to enable easy access.

 "I'm 49 and I had a look over a Lear 55. I couldn't work out how I could sit in the cockpit without treading all over the equipment. We know that a lot of our customers will be owner­pilots who are older and will welcome the ease with which they can just get into the seat of the Comp Air 12 and fly."

You can sense Lueck is keen to get back to the aircraft, get his hands dirty and start making it happen.

 "We have built hundreds of aircraft," he says. "A lot of companies bringing aircraft to market are not run by aviation people, they are run by beancounters. We are aviation through and through."

 Lueck's small company may be a million miles from the glass and chrome corpo­rate world of Wichita, but in spirit he is much more like a Walter Beech or a Bill Lear. He has the spirit and a dream.

Today at NBAA, that dream may come just a little bit closer to reality.

 

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