Sunday, December 29, 2013

DeltaHawk struggling before takeoff

RACINE — DeltaHawk officials have said it before and they’re saying it again: They will start making aviation engines — soon! 

Manufacturing should begin in April or May, DeltaHawk President Dennis Webb and Vice President of Manufacturing Steven Smiley said late this month. That’s a year or more later than they expected back in mid-2011, after the city approved $1.2 million in low-interest loans and the state had promised $720,000 in loans.

Webb acknowledged he’s become accustomed to some “eye-rolling” when DeltaHawk promises to start manufacturing or obtain Federal Aviation Administration certification in a certain time frame.

“In all candor, we have missed a lot of dates,” Webb admitted.

But he and Smiley voiced confidence DeltaHawk, 2300 South St., has dismantled its main technical obstacles.

DeltaHawk was founded on the development of a lightweight, diesel-burning engine that company officials say will use 25-75 percent less fuel than other aviation engines. Most engines in general aviation — which is everything but commercial and military — burn leaded gasoline.

Webb said the march toward manufacturing has been slowed in the past couple of years by two significant technical stumbling blocks relating to the engine. One has been resolved, and resulted in some “extraordinary” intellectual property, he said, and the other challenge is “basically resolved.”

He and Smiley said that gets DeltaHawk into production in April or May, with a slow ramp-up — and a large backlog of orders.

Customers waiting

DeltaHawk hasn’t yet achieved Federal Aviation Administration certification. But even without it, the company can sell to builders of experimental aircraft and sell test engines for certified manufacturers, both important categories.

“We have about 18 months of production in orders,” Smiley said. Webb said DeltaHawk is negotiating three possible larger projects: one military; one a domestic helicopter project; and one overseas.

“We have 40 customer projects underway, people who are developing their aircraft around our engine,” Webb said. Some are retrofits of existing aircraft; some will be new aircraft designs.

One of those brand-new aircraft is a radical new design, the Synergy airplane by inventor John McGinnis.

“He’s going to change aviation,” Webb said, “and he chose our engine.”

DeltaHawk is also getting interest from markets outside aviation, Smiley said, including a military boat project and military generators, “because our engine is so small and lightweight.”

He and Webb said they expect DeltaHawk, which has only about 11 employees now, to reach 40 to 50 by the end of 2014 and about 150 a year later.

The engines will be assembled and tested at DeltaHawk, but all parts will be made by others. About 70 percent of parts will be manufactured within 100 miles, including several Racine County companies. Every DeltaHawk job will support about three outside jobs, Smiley said.

Gateway partnership

As DeltaHawk pushes toward production, the first class of the two-semester DeltaHawk Certification Program is being groomed at Gateway Technical College.

“So these will be our production workers,” Smiley said.

The initial class contains 17 students but the next will have about 30, he said. The $644,592 Wisconsin Covenant Foundation grant will train up to 90.

Smiley said about those first DeltaHawk certification students at Gateway, “Most are older, seasoned people that are passionate about diesel engines or aviation.”

Before they started the class, the students had one orientation with Gateway and one with DeltaHawk, Smiley said. So DeltaHawk knows what it will get from the class.

The biggest drag on getting into manufacturing has been fundraising, Webb said. DeltaHawk has raised and spent about $22 million so far and needs about $3.3 million more.

“When all is said and done,” Webb said, “we will have developed an aviation engine for about one-fourth of what other (companies) develop an engine for.”

And a better one, DeltaHawk will tell you.

Story and Comments/Reaction:

Frank Laettner, left, and Andrew Findlay test an engine on a dynanometer on July 14, 2011, at DeltaHawk Diesel Engines, 2300 South St. The company makes diesel engines for airplanes. Each engine undergoes this load testing.

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