RACINE — After years of designing, refining and testing a new type of aviation engine, the owners and executives at DeltaHawk Engines believe they’ll start producing and selling engines later this year.
DeltaHawk, 2300 South St., is a privately held developer of general aviation engines, whose majority owners are Alan and Chris Ruud of the former Ruud Lighting. When the Ruuds bought into the company in 2015, Doug Doers —one of DeltaHawk’s founders, who led the engine design and engineering —said: “This gives us the means to get the engine into production.”
Now, DeltaHawk executives are confident they will reach that stage this year. Company employment has grown from three when the Ruuds entered the picture to 45, and DeltaHawk is actively hiring. Most of those people are skilled engineers and different types of technicians.
“We struggled for many years because of a lack of funding,” Dennis Webb, director of marketing and certification, said Friday. “And we made false promises — not on purpose.”
About Alan and Chris Ruud, Webb said: “They are known for growing businesses and, specifically, being market disrupters … the lighting business they fundamentally changed, both through how they went to market and adopting LEDs before anybody else.
“And Al is a passionate aviator. He saw this (DeltaHawk engine) as a market disrupter to aviation.”
Its attributes, the company says, include:
- It burns jet fuel which is available worldwide, instead of gasoline.
- It is 40 percent more efficient.
- It requires much less maintenance.
- It has longer ranges and higher cruising speeds.
- It has a compact design with a smaller nose-cone design which further increases aerodynamics.
- It is more environmentally friendly than existing gasoline aviation engines.
There has been “no lack of interest both in the U.S. and around the world,” Webb said.
Webb said the DeltaHawk engine design is pretty well finished, so now the company is doing testing and Federal Aviation Administration certification, which Webb said will be completed this fall.
“Before, we thought we knew where we were at; now we know where we’re at,” Webb said. “We have passed some very brutal tests that we know pass FAA standards and regulations. We still have to show it to the FAA, but we’ve done the internal tests to show that we pass it structurally, and we pass it performance-wise … that’s why we know we’re going to get done.
“Literally every day I have communication with the FAA. It’s not like they’re going to walk in one day and say, ‘What’s this?’ ”
Another part of the process, he said, is FAA production certification. “Very simply, it’s ‘Your design meets regulations; now show us that you can make one of those every time.’ ”
Company executives expect to start slow production this fourth quarter, then ramp up production next year. Webb estimated they may need 30 to 40 additional employees when they start production, and DeltaHawk Chairman Alan Ruud said he expects they will employ hundreds of people within a few years.
The engines will be manufactured in cells — not assembly-line style.
Well before DeltaHawk manufactures its first engine for sale, it has a reputation, Webb said.
“I think in the general aviation world, our market space, which is light aircraft, I would say people are very aware of us,” he said. “Within the aircraft builders, they all know of us, for sure.”
With the Ruuds’ financial backing, DeltaHawk has been acquiring highly sophisticated equipment and rebuilding parts of its 72,000-square-foot building. Those investments include fixed-engine dynamometers, propeller dynamometers, data collection and analysis systems, a coordinate measuring machine that can measure to the two-millionth, a clean room for assembling precision components, engineering analysis tools and a new fabrication shop. A new research-and-development center also is planned.
“And things you can’t see as physical things,” Webb added, “and that’s extraordinary investment in computer simulation tools; we have state-of-the-art stuff, so that we can completely simulate what our engine will run like at this altitude, at this temperature, at this fuel flow, you know what it’s going to do.”
The formerly dingy office area has been transformed into a bright, modern area, and another such office area is currently being built above that will accommodate about 80 people, Webb said.
A general aviation engine can range in cost from the mid-$30,000s to $70,000 or $80,000, Webb said, “and we’ll be in that range. We have a huge focus on being competitive (on price).”
The first engine will be 180 horsepower, Webb said, and that basic model can be scaled up or down in horsepower with very few changes. They also have plans for engines that will have much greater horsepower and lower horsepower.
“When we’re all done, we expect to be in roughly 100 horsepower to 350 or so,” he said.
As the full family of engines is completed, aviation applications will range from small, two-seat light sport aircraft at the lower end of the power range to high-performance single- and twin-engine, fixed-wing aircraft and light helicopters at the high end.
Alan Ruud said the goal is to be selling at least 5,000 engines a year in three to five years. That would be in about the $200 million to $300 million range.
“We wouldn’t be investing the amount of money that we’re investing unless we really felt that this had a tremendous upside,” he said.
In that same time frame, Ruud said, he expects DeltaHawk will be employing hundreds of people.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said, “but we’ve got a great team. I think the team that we’ve assembled is spectacular, people from all over the country.”
“We’re trying to do something a lot of people said can’t be done,” Ruud said. “I think we’ve proven it can be done at this point, and now we just have to commercialize it and really start the sales and marketing of it.
“We’re pretty excited about what the future can be for this. It’s going to change an industry.
“I get a lot of satisfaction from doing things that people think can’t be done.”
“We wouldn’t be investing the amount of money that we’re investing unless we really felt that this had a tremendous upside.” Alan Ruud, chairman of DeltaHawk Engines