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EPS secures military contract

Steven Weinzierl (seated) vice president of Engineered Propulsion Systems, Inc. in New Richmond, and Michael Fuchs, president, are riding a wave of good news related to the development of a new diesel engine for the general aviation market.

It wasn't part of the company's original business plan, but the owners will take the good news nonetheless.

Engineered Propulsion Systems, Inc. in New Richmond has secured a multi-million dollar agreement with the U.S. military to create and deliver a test aircraft engine that may eventually be mass produced.

"We didn't envision this initially," EPS President Michael Fuchs said of the military interest. "We hoped to do it, but we didn't know."

EPS Vice President Steven Weinzierl said, when the local start-up company first began developing the first-ever diesel powered airplane engine several years ago, the military really didn't have aircraft small enough to incorporate their light-weight engine.

Now the U.S. government has a use for it, so officials began showing an interest in the company's engine. The light, high-efficiency engine could help the military save millions of dollars in fuel costs, thanks to the lower price and ready availability of diesel.

Because EPS had already designed and developed its first prototype engine late last year, Weinzierl said it was easy to demonstrate their new product when military officials came knocking.

"We were mobile," he said of the engine mounted on a trailer for testing purposes. "We took a 5,000-plus-mile journey to California in June and demonstrated it to the military contractors."

He said the contractors admitted it was helpful to see the working engine in person.

Since their trip, EPS has received a commitment of $2.9 million in Rapid Innovation Funds (RIF) from the military to continue the development of the engine.

The goal is to deliver a test engine to the military in the spring, with the hope that test flights can be completed. If the tests go well, the local company could eventually see a contract to mass produce the engines for the U.S. government.

The military interest is important because it could create a revenue stream that will help keep EPS on track for bringing its engine to the general aviation market.

The military is not restricted by Federal Aviation Administration certification rules like general aviation is, Fuchs said, so the military version of the engine will likely take flight sooner than the commercial version.

Fuchs and Weinzierl have been patiently working on the diesel engine plan since 2008. EPS was formed and work seriously began in 2010. Funds from two rounds of investors and a Wisconsin Department of Commerce loan helped keep the company moving forward with its plans.

EPS finished its first prototype engine and tested it for the first time a year ago.

Fuchs said the new engine has met all of the weight, speed and performance standards that the company was trying to achieve, which bodes well for the success of the project over the long term.

EPS continues to work toward FAA certification for its general aviation engine. The company also continues to lure investors to bring the future engine into full production, and Fuchs said more and more people are stepping up to invest money in the business.

"Things are moving forward," Fuchs said.

Over the past year, the company has been operating with eight employees. They've added another engineer and expect to hire two more in the near future to help meet their deadlines with the military contract.

As the need for more engine assembly space draws nearer, Chief Financial Officer Paul Mayer said EPS is searching for open buildings that might work well for them.

"It will be in town here," Mayer said. "It needs to be convenient to our offices. We want to try to keep things close together."