The 6 to 8 place 400mph turboprop Kestrel at Oshkosh 2010
One of the hazards I face covering nearly every aspect of aviation is that there's a lot going on out there to keep up with! Plus, there's a relatively recent span of years where I wasn't keeping entirely up to speed on every project in development. So, when I saw Kestrel pictured here at Oshkosh, I was a bit confused. I read a little about it in the official daily newspaper of Oshkosh, so I knew it was destined for certification rather than the homebuilt market. I also read that former Cirrus Aircraft co-founder Alan Klapmeier was stepping in to head the project, but it obviously looked like an Epic LT, so I assumed that somehow the two were directly related.
My confusion was complicated by the fact that at Oshkosh, the Kestrel Aircraft Company (KAC) display booth was right next door to the Epic Aircraft booth. In the picture above, the airplane in the background is an Epic LT, that's how close together they were. This actually made is easy to compare the two, and while I could see some small differences, it was clear that they were essentially the same airplane. And, even after talking a bit with booth people, I was still confused.
Well, after some research, it appears that the two airplanes are kinda like cousins that used to live on the same street as kids, but these days they're living far apart and don't talk anymore. The Kestrel has been in development in the U.K. by Farnborough Aircraft as a certified airplane intended for air taxi work. The aerodynamic work they did for the Kestrel was also used to develop the Epic LT. For a period of time between 2003 and 2005, Farnborough and Epic were in some form of a joint venture. Both airplanes use the same basic wing, and while the fuselage is almost the exact same shape, the Kestrel's is a little longer and has increased interior volume. A comparison also reveals that the airstar door on the Kestrel is located quite a bit farther aft from the wing trailing edge.
To complicate even further the path these airplanes have been on is the fact that Epic went thru bankruptcy issues in late 2009 and into 2010. They were also in the process of trying to get the LT certified with the FAA under the name Epic Dynasty, but that project never reached the goal. Epic has recently been re-formed by a combination of LT aircraft builders, and if the wikipedia entry is correct, a Chinese company that plans to market the Epic aircraft around the world. Apparently the U.S. marketing and support for Epic is to be provided by the LT Builders Group operating out of the original Bend, Oregon location.
The Kestrel crew on Sunday setting up the booth for Oshkosh 2010
But back to the Kestrel. Farnborough Aircraft has somehow morphed into Kestrel Aircraft Company, with Alan Klapmeier as CEO, and is actually planning to built the aircraft here in the U.S. A recent deal has been struck to set up shop on what used to be the Brunswick Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine. It also appears that some changes are coming to the design of the Kestrel as it moves further into the certification process, including a wing re-design that will remove the curved leading edge that can be seen in the picture above. One of the goals of KAC is to also downsize the engine from the 1,200 hp Pratt & Whitney PT6 currently installed to a slightly smaller version that will help reduce costs. With additional aerodynamic tweaks, they may be able to get essentially the same performance on a smaller engine.
One of the big advantages of an aircraft like the Kestrel is that it can offer the speeds of the smaller jets (350 knots or about 400 mph) while having a roomier cabin and offer better short field performance because of the turboprop. Even tho the turboprop has the disadvantage of the extra weight and complexity of the gearbox and propeller, the gains in shorter takeoff and landing distance potentially make the airplane much more useful to many operators.
The one big advantage I see in the Kestrel compared to the other really big single turboprops is that is absolutely beautiful to look at. With a silky smooth carbon fiber airframe and all the curves in the right place, there should be no trouble getting people of the financial means to take a really serious look at what the Kestrel has to offer.
The spacious cabin, which is scheduled to get a complete interior overhaul, will also likely be the kind of airborne environment that will really attract potential buyers. There's so much to like about what the Kestrel will have to offer that it's pretty easy to imagine it as a great success. However, the journey of great ideas thru the burning hoops of FAA certification can be very difficult. These challenges have taken the wind out of the sails of many potentially great airplanes over the years. Only time (and cash on hand) will tell!
Hopefully Klapmeier and crew will be able to take this excellent foundation of an aircraft and tweak the entire package to a whole new class of 'world class'.