Getting off the ground: EPS aviation engine completes historic first flight
After first forming Engineered Propulsion Systems (EPS) in 2006, and researching, engineering, building and perfecting their Graflight V-8 diesel aviation engine, company founders Michael Fuchs and Steven Weinzierl can now confidently say they have gotten their venture off the ground.
As a Cirrus SR22 single-engine plane outfitted with the Graflight V-8 and piloted by aviation legend Dick Rutan took to the Southern California skies on Friday, May 2, it carried with it the hopes, dreams and hard work — not to mention dollars - that Fuchs and Weinzierl have invested in the 17-employee New Richmond-based company.
“It’s the biggest milestone we have achieved so far,” said Fuchs, who serves as the president and CEO of EPS. “The industry started to recognize what we are doing, and they started to recognize the types of technical advances that our engine would bring to the market. But one of the biggest drawbacks we had, which was mentioned also by our competitors, was that it hasn’t flown yet. We can now say that it has flown, and it has flown perfectly fine for its first flight.”
Rutan, the first pilot who flew around the world nonstop in 1986, served as the test pilot at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., for both the initial runway flight on April 27 and the go-away flight on May 2. For the runway flight, the plane took off a few feet into the air and immediately touched down. It was during the go-away flight that Rutan put the EPS engine through a battery of strenuous tests.
“He said it was a busy test card, everything went well and it’s running smooth,” Fuchs said.
Weinzierl said that it’s unusual to even complete a full test card on such a flight.
“There are several elements to a flight like that,” said Weinzierl, who serves as EPS vice president and chief technical officer. “Of course, we had an objective for altitude, so he flew to 5,000 feet above ground level. He checked the oil system operationally. The one thing we can’t check on the test end is how the g loads will affect the oil pickup, so he was doing a variety of turns and pitch maneuvers, and even a 2 g turn.”
After Rutan landed he declared the EPS engine as a “new paradigm in aviation propulsion,” and Stu Witt, manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port, said the engine ran so quietly that he couldn’t hear it over the roar of the chase plane.
The moment was the culmination of weeks of work Rutan, Fuchs and Weinzierl had put in since the engine first arrived in Mojave on March 29.
“From that day on, we basically worked at least six days a week, 12 hours a day to do the complete installation and the preparation of the aircraft until we had our first flight,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs said the main reason the test flight took place at the Mojave facility is because that’s where Rutan operates. Fuchs also noted that the Mojave runway is three times the length of the typical runway and it is surrounded by empty desert, in the event that something goes wrong.
Another benefit of testing at Mojave is the ability to keep a low profile. With similar aircraft tests happening all the time all over the airport, the EPS project doesn’t stand out too much.
“If we were to do this testing at the New Richmond airport, everybody would be looking at us,” Fuchs said. “If you go to Mojave, there’s Scaled Composites, there’s Virgin Galactic, there’s Orbiter. So, everybody is doing something every day, and you just blend in.”
With its inaugural test flight completed, the Graflight engine will undergo months of work during a lengthy flight test program that Rutan will manage. The goal, according to the EPS website, is to log more than 40 flight hours over the next three months to meet the FAA requirements for the Cirrus to complete its maiden voyage to the 2014 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, which will be held at the Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh July 28- Aug. 3.
Beyond this summer, EPS hopes to get its pre-production engines running in the short term with a long-term goal of getting those engines through testing by mid-2015 and beginning production in 2016.
“Michael and I know what type of facility we would prefer. We have a vision for that,” Weinzierl said. “That type of facility would be producing many of the components in house in New Richmond on the location of the east side of the airport. That’s what we would like to see. A facility like that could employ quite a number of families in the area, and that’s another goal not only for us, but also our investors had the same vision.”
Weinzierl also wished to express his thanks to the investors already on board with the company, including about 50 people from New Richmond.
“What they’ve done to help us invest in this for what we believe is a community business is just fantastic,” Weinzierl said. “We’re always amazed how generous they are.”
Fuchs and Weinzierl indicated that investment opportunities are still available for accredited investors, and those interested should contact EPS CFO Paul Mayer at 715-246-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video of the May 2 go-away test flight can be viewed at eps.aero/the-eps-engine/flight-testing.