Like it’s namesake bird, the Kestrel JP-10 turboprop is highly maneuverable due to its streamlined, sleek design and lightweight yet strong composite body. It can land on grass or gravel with short runways and fly at high altitudes at maximum cruise speeds. And the company owners of Kestrel Aircraft chose Maine over anywhere else in the world to start to manufacture their new aircraft.
“Maine has exactly what we need; it’s where we want to be,” said Kestrel CEO Alan Klapmeier. “When it comes right down to it, it’s about productivity and expertise. With the training going on here in composites, we will have the workforce we’ve been looking for. And we believe that Maine people have an outstanding work ethic; that’s why we decided to locate here.”
Klapmeier, who owns land in Greenville and eventually would like to build a home there, was the cofounder of Cirrus Aircraft Corp. He started that company in a dairy farm; got rid of the cows, and began to build aircraft.
“We started with three people and ended up with a workforce of 1,500,” said Klapmeier, who is well known as an innovator in the industry, for using composite materials in fuselages and building parachutes into the frame of planes to prevent crashes.
Brunswick Landing, the former Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS), is where Kestrel Aircraft plans to manufacture their seven seat planes, and they have signed a lease option for Hanger #6. The company initially will hire 50 to 70 engineers for design and prototype development. As they begin production of 75 planes, an additional 250 people will be hired.
“It’s a great, great announcement. It talks about high-tech, precession, expertise, and good paying manufacturing jobs and benefits,” said Governor John Baldacci. “The decision of Kestrel Aircraft Co. to locate their base of operations at Brunswick Landing is a testament to the diversely talented and sophisticated workforce here in Maine. Kestrel will complement the already strong composite technology cluster in the Midcoast and the development of the Maine Advanced Technology and Engineering Center.”
“It’s a $100 million deal,” said Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, MRRA, the group in charge of the civilian reuse of the 3,200-acre base. “We have an opportunity to make an aerospace industry cluster that doesn’t now exist. Studies show that each manufacturing job supports five jobs at suppliers and other vendors. It will be a huge economic boost for the area.”
Manufacturing jobs are a key component to the economic recovery.
“Bringing manufacturing jobs to the state is really exciting,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. “They could have brought this anywhere, but the fact that they chose to locate this in Maine and potentially create 300 new jobs couldn’t be more exciting.”
“This is huge. It’s a wonderful airplane,” said David Smith, Maine Instrumental Flight’s chief pilot. “It can fly here to the west coast with just one stop. It will put Maine on the map globally.”
Smith was so thrilled because he could see exactly how the plane varies from others and commented on its special design.
Anthony Galley, the owner of Farnborough Aircraft from England and Klapmeier’s partner in Kestrel Aircraft, said, “The design has been in the works for the past ten years. We built this prototype two years ago and showed it last October in the USA for the first time, at an air show. The response has been great.”
The innovation of any aircraft is a long process.
“Normally you have a book to choose wing designs from, but that’s a compromise,” said Galley. “We hired an airbus wing designer to design it from scratch. In all its tests it has preformed higher than expectations.”
Galley looked to America to produce the Kestrel, which is in the process of obtaining federal certification for both the planes and the production facility.
“We found that certification in the states would be easier than in Europe, and we needed someone who could lift the company off the ground. We found that partner with Alan Klapmeier, and we found the ideal location, in Maine. In order to build our aircraft we need a workforce that understands composites at a certain level,” said Galley. “We’re thrilled to be here and moving forward to the next stage, in such a great location.”
“She flies fantastic. She’s got the best performance envelope of any aircraft on the market. The magic on an airplane is the wing. She can go slow and land short, at the same time she has jet speeds and can cruise at high altitudes, but she’s not a big fuel consumer,” said Thorne, who flew the plane to the Middle East and across the Atlantic. Thorne flies to Africa regularly and sees a vast range of markets for the Kestrel JP-10.
“The market potential is great; it’s not just for a business executive, who will save on jet fuel — aid organizations could use it to fly into areas where there aren’t improved runways,” said Thorne, who has been with the project since 2002 and is hoping to move to Maine. “The only similar planes manufactured are in Switzerland and France. Both of those companies grew these last two years, despite the recession, because of fuel efficiency and performance. We will be the only company in America producing this type of aircraft; it’s a fantastic niche market for us. The future of aviation is in efficiency.”
Klapmeier said the Kestrel will likely sell for around $2.5 million.
BNAS is scheduled officially to close on May of 2011. Governor Baldacci, the Congressional Delegation, the Legislature, and the MRRA have been working to turn around the base closure since 2005 by making Brunswick Landing a model in economic development. Special area Pine Tree Zone status, which gives companies tax incentives for ten years and which Kestrel will benefit from, was approved by the Legislature.
“While the federal government made a mistake five years ago to decide to close Brunswick Naval Air Station, the state and region joined with partners to aggressively reinvigorate the economy of the area and to bring opportunity to its residents,” said Governor Baldacci. “The international appeal and worldwide demand we foresee for the Kestrel airplane will benefit jobs throughout the state boost Maine’s economic competitiveness and showcase Maine’s world-class innovation economy.”