Company kicks off aircraft engine development effortMore than 80 local leaders, investors and community members gathered Nov. 16 to help mark the official start of Engineered Propulsion Systems Inc.’s efforts to develop a new aircraft engine.
By: By Jeff Holmquist, New Richmond News
More than 80 local leaders, investors and community members gathered Nov. 16 to help mark the official start of Engineered Propulsion Systems Inc.’s efforts to develop a new aircraft engine.
The event, held at R&D Banquet Hall in New Richmond, featured check presentations from several groups — $222,000 from the New Richmond Angel Investment Network; $125,000 from the Chippewa Valley Angel Investor’s Network; and $600,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.
The initial capital will allow EPS’s Vice President Steven Weinzierl and President Michael Fuchs, who both are engineers, to create their first diesel-powered airplane engine that could eventually take the aviation industry by storm.
“EPS has reached a milestone in our dream,” Weinzierl told the crowd. He thanked everyone who has played a role in reaching the important stage in the company’s engine development project.
EPS will now be hiring additional employees to move the project forward, Fuchs said. By January he said they hope to have an engine prototype fully designed and begin creating the first engine.
“We think we’ll be able to present the first running prototype in the second quarter of next year,” Fuchs said.
After years of trying to secure financial backing for the project, Weinzierl said it’s a relief to be starting the actual work of creating a new engine.
“We’re kind of getting back to being engineers again,” Weinzierl commented.
Weinzierl thanked Paul Mayer, president of the New Richmond Area Economic Development Corp., for his help in lining up the needed financial backing.
“We were very lucky to have Paul,” he said. “It was a very steep learning curve for us.”
Because of his engineering background, Mayer said he could “understand the jewel they had in their hands” when he started working with EPS.
The efforts to secure investors hit a bump in the road in 2008 when the nation’s economy turned sour, Mayer said.
Since then, a group of 25 “angel” investors in New Richmond banded together to raise $222,000 in capital.
“We wanted to be part of this story,” Mayer explained. “They (Fuchs and Weinzierl) need us to be there and support them.”
The Chippewa Valley Angel Investor’s Network also stepped up to the plate and got involved.
The Wisconsin Department of Commerce also became a major player in the effort to raise capital.
Commerce Executive Assistant Darin Bielecki, who attended last week’s kick-off event, said the project will provide dozens of high-paying jobs and will help to rejuvenate the state’s economy.
“This is a very special program,” he said.
The $600,000 Department of Commerce loan is from the state’s Community Development Block Grant-Economic Development Program.
“Wisconsin has the highest-skilled workers and the highest-quality manufacturers in the world,” Gov. Jim Doyle said in a statement. “My top priority this year has been to continue to invest in our companies and create good paying jobs for Wisconsin families. I’m proud we are investing in Engineered Propulsion Systems’ efforts to develop innovative engines and create good jobs in New Richmond.”
Paul Johnston, chief engineer for Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth, attended last week’s event as well. He said Cirrus is excited about the prospects for the new EPS engine.
For the past 10 years, Johnston said, Cirrus has been working with various companies to develop an aircraft engine that operates on unleaded fuel that is readily available around the world.
Leaded fuels will no longer be allowed to be sold for airplane use in about nine years.
“The end of the road is here,” Johnston said. “That’s a problem for Cirrus.”
Until now, no company has been able to come up with a solution, Johnston said. EPS’s engine looks like it might be the answer.
“It really gives you hope that this will be the engine to power our airplanes into the next decade,” he said.
Technical advisor Dick Rutan was the keynote speaker for the evening.
Rutan, who is best known for his non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world in 1986, has been a pilot since he was 16 years old.
With all the advancements in airplanes over the past seven decades, Rutan said the aviation industry’s standard engine really hasn’t changed much since 1938.
The current engines still burn leaded fuel, they run rough and they are difficult to start.
Rutan said he has great hopes that the EPS engine will address all those issues.
“I’m really proud of all of you,” he said. “It’s going to save aviation.”
Rutan admitted that it takes courage to try and develop a new product, but applauded the persistence of EPS and its early investors.
“It’s not a crime to fail,” he said. “It’s a crime not to try.”
He drew a parallel between EPS’s story and his own journey into the record books.
Rutan said he faced challenges finding financial backing, and people thought he was nuts to devote so much time and energy into a world-record quest.
But two and a half years of hard work and testing eventually paid off, Rutan said.
Now his airplane, Voyager, is displayed in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. alongside the Wright brother’s plane and the Spirit of St. Louis, flown by Charles Lindbergh.