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Special ReportSpecial Report

Safire Meets the PressSafire Meets the Press

AOPA Pilot: Who owns Safire Aircraft and what is the company's structure and organization? Michael Margaritoff: At this time, the Safire Aircraft Company is owned mostly by myself along with other members of my family in addition to key management members. My brother, Dimitri Margaritoff, manages the company as the chairman, CEO, and president along with David Humphries as our chief operating officer.

AOPA Pilot: Who owns Safire Aircraft and what is the company's structure and organization?

Michael Margaritoff: At this time, the Safire Aircraft Company is owned mostly by myself along with other members of my family in addition to key management members. My brother, Dimitri Margaritoff, manages the company as the chairman, CEO, and president along with David Humphries as our chief operating officer. We are surrounded by the best engineering services companies. In addition, we are surrounded by the best suppliers who also represent a wealth of highly sophisticated and specialized engineering experience and capability. Cooperation is greatly enhanced by the use of the Internet to allow each participant to work directly on the latest version of the electronic data fixture of the aircraft. Dimitri has an excellent track record with new ventures and David has outstanding engineering experience. We are also fortunate to have a team of highly experienced business and technical advisors such as Joseph Soderquist who has been the chief scientific and technical advisor for the FAA on advanced composite materials. Dr. Carl Hahn, former chairman of the board of Volkswagen, who is an authority on mass production techniques. As well as Mr. Klaus-Harald Fischer, former vice president and general manager of Grob-Werke Aerospace in Germany, who was responsible for the development, certification and large-scale series production of eight different composite aircraft. We also have the former astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon.

Pilot: How long had you been working on the design before making a public announcement?

Margaritoff: I started developing the concept and design of a six-place twin jet with my former company in 1995. The first public announcement was made in January of 1998. I started flying in 1973 and my vision of personal air travel began taking shape in those years. I spent a lot of time thinking about ways to simplify all of air traffic and travel including flight preparation, airports, car-train-air interfaces, navigation, communication, separation, and weather. My goal was always the safe, useful travel vehicle that everyone with a serious travel budget would be able to afford. In 1974, I saw a small composite, single-engine, single-seat jet on the cover of Mechanics' Illustrated. I thought that a four- or six-seat twinjet should be feasible along these lines as a simple production aircraft that would allow affordable state-of-the-art traveling for everyone. I spent years collecting information on relevant aircraft, engines and materials. This was, so to speak, the feasibility study and the aircraft were sufficient "proof of concept."

Pilot: Have you studied other aircraft manufacturers to pinpoint what they may have done right or wrong?

Margaritoff: Yes, as many as we could and quite intensely. I have met with U.S. as well as European aircraft manufacturers and have learned from their successes and their failures. The most important critical success factor is to start with the market: The reality of any economic venture is the money of the customers. Don't start with what you want to build. Start with what the largest number of capable customers in the world are going to buy. Second, is the right attitude: A touch of humility helps to fully appreciate the fact that the ones who have done it successfully many times before in the excellent companies will do it again in your team if you let them. We are thankful that our program is attractive to the best engineers and managers in the country. The third step is to develop a concept and plan that includes the whole economic, legal, and technical lifecycle of the aircraft: We are thus designing for the FAA (certification), for the high rate factory production (manufacturability), for the maintainability (ease of maintenance) and the customer (market). The company philosophy is further to design to cost, to weight and to keep it simple. Besides the aircraft and the type certificate we are pursuing another program with the same planning concepts. This program is just as complex and even more costly: The factory and the production certificate. Our third program is funding: This is an ongoing process that needs to be planned at least as well as the two others and will keep us busy throughout the whole project.

Pilot: Would you recognize that this project is a gamble?

Margaritoff: I wouldn't call a professionally, competently, and meticulously planned program a gamble. We are using the best heads in the country to help us mitigate and manage the risk. We have a conservative approach and are proposing a conventional, "keep it simple" design. We are seeking to avoid all unnecessary risk completely. We are using "off the shelf" systems as well as proven materials, design and fabrication methods. Everything we even consider is certified, certifiable, or has been certified before. We are consequently taking no more risk than the more boring projects in the industry. The greatest help in managing the risk is the huge market for our product and the great number of groups, institutions, and people who are supporting us.

Pilot: How many jets do you have to sell each year to turn a profit?

Margaritoff: To yield a sufficient profit the minimum production level needed, for the size of assembly plant we have designed, is only about one-fourth our anticipated annual production rate. If we anticipated much lower sales and planned the assembly plant and the whole company accordingly the sales could be as low as one or two hundred aircraft per year and still allow for a healthy profit.

Pilot: How will the project be funded going forward? How long can you continue your development efforts without seeking new sources of funding?

Margaritoff: We are currently in our third and last round of private funding. With the help of an investment-banking firm, Safire is in the process of securing an additional $35 million, primarily with large institutional and private investors. This will take us through first flight of a conforming prototype. Upon first flight and within 90 days thereafter we will be taking first payments from a, then, large customer basis. The ensuing cash will make Safire eligible for all the classical funding tools, offered by various states to attract new industries, such as Industrial development or revenue bonds, subsidies, grants, mortgages, tax rebates, financial training, hiring, and salary support. We have already been offered land, buildings, hangars, and free road and rail connections. With all of the above our funding will be complete. As we have received a large number of spontaneous investment requests on our Web site and from customers, we are also making two small offerings available for these groups at the moment. We could continue without this next round of funding for an indefinite time or until further funding becomes available. This is due to the ongoing funding by the Margaritoff family but would not allow us to ramp up the company to full-size and speed.

Pilot: How is this project being pitched to potential investors? Who/what do you view as your greatest potential source of future funding?

Margaritoff: The investors are shown: A real company with a real hot-selling product and a huge worldwide market. A huge cash-generating program. Real products with real profits that will continue to flow for generations. More than just another company, a new industry. More than just another airplane, a family of useful travel vehicles.

More than just the next generation of GA aircraft, but a new way to travel for everyone.

A safe, high-speed alternative to the saturated airline system and all other means of transportation. We believe that our greatest potential source of funding are strategic partners, institutional investors, high net worth individuals, and the state, county, and city that we choose for the factory. After first flight, the first payments on the aircraft will have the impact described above.

Pilot: Is it true that your original concept included the use of Williams engines, such as the EJ22 engines, and that Eclipse then signed an exclusive deal with Williams for the engines on this class of aircraft?

Margaritoff: We had planned using Williams engines based on the FJX-2. By the time Williams signed an exclusive contract with Eclipse, we had already discovered that we need 900 lbs. of thrust to safely power a six-place twinjet with a lavatory. With Agilis we are working on a simple, conventional, reliable, and robust engine that is certifiable and offers the required thrust.

Pilot: Does Safire have an opinion on the apparent conflict between Williams International receiving government monies to develop the GAP engine, and then limiting the apparent resultant technology to one airframe manufacturer?

Margaritoff: We believe, as many others do, that government funding should benefit everyone and still see this happening in the case of the FJX-2 despite the delay caused by the Eclipse digression. Initially, we were disappointed to see the engine go to our only competitor, Williams himself. Now we see that we would not have been able to achieve the mission profile of our aircraft with that engine so we are very glad that we were not tempted to pursue that path.

Pilot: Any negotiations with Williams/Eclipse to get access to the Williams powerplants?

Margaritoff: No. When you say Williams/Eclipse you probably mean the EJ22. That is exclusively available to Williams/Eclipse for now. It is a sophisticated engine with a five-stage compressor, an 85-pound dry weight, and an internal starter generator. This admirable technology still has to prove itself. The certification of new technology is not always easy. The thrust seems to be limited to 770 lbs whereas we need 900 lbs. The Safire philosophy is to use proven technology. That is what Agilis is using for their design of the TF 800. We are very satisfied with our choice. As for access to Williams powerplants, they will be available in the form of the FJ22. This designation was first used in an article a few months ago. It seems to be the natural progression of the Williams palette of engines. After the FJ44 and the FJ33, the FJ22 will be under 1,000 lbs thrust, available to the general market and adequate for our aircraft. It will probably use the, then mature, technology now being tested in the FJX-2 and the EJ-22. Williams is now committed to this sector in the engine industry and there is no doubt that they will eventually supply the whole market.

Pilot: You have chosen Agilis as your engine manufacturer and you have placed an order for 1,000 engines. Agilis has never built or certified a complete engine. Why did you choose Agilis?

Margaritoff: Working with Agilis gives us a unique chance to optimize the match between the engines and the airframe thus creating a well-balanced aircraft for our required mission profile. Historically, airframers had to design their aircraft around existing engines. The necessary compromises to achieve this meant adapting the mission profile to the engines more than to the customer. Upon incorporation, the concept of Agilis was to assemble the best engine specialists in the country under one roof. They have done this admirably and are now boasting hundreds of years of experience from nearly every U.S. engine program. They are the ones that the big players call upon when they run into trouble or time delays. Agilis provides an impressive number of references showing how they have solved demanding high-tech problems for other engine companies. They proceeded throughout the years to design and build more and more individual parts for very complex engines. Ultimately, they built such a substantial portion of some engine programs that they were required to send teams to the client companies to assemble the engines, guide the testing, and assist in the certification process of those engines. They have recently built a complete, very small jet engine for government applications. In this light, designing, building, and certifying a complete engine is the next logical step. The TF800 is the perfect engine for this next step because it is the simplest engine they have ever worked on. The team members of Agilis combined have participated in most of all the engine programs in the Unites States including the classified ones. Their experience and competence is hard to surpass. They are the ideal company for creating a new, small, simple, economic turbofan engine for a high rate of production specifically for our needs. They are a mere 10 miles away from us and the cooperation could not be better.

Pilot: Is your agreement with Agilis an exclusive one? To what degree is Agilis investing in the development/design process and to what degree is Safire funding the engine development effort?

Margaritoff: Our agreement with Agilis is not exclusive. Agilis can supply the whole market once the Safire orders are satisfied on a regular basis. Agilis is investing heavily in design hours for the engine and working closely with us in airframe integration. They are funded independently of Safire.

Pilot: What is the status of the Agilis engine project?

Margaritoff: The preliminary design of the engine is concluded. We anticipate testing of the core at the end of this year. A complete engine will be available, on time, for the first flight of the S-26 prototype. Type inspection authorization will follow shortly afterwards allowing flight testing to be continued by the FAA. Agilis is on schedule for the certification of the Safire S-26 in 2003. Their project philosophy is similar to ours: Proven, robust, and conventional concepts and components are used to design to cost, for a high rate of production, low fuel consumption, and a high TBO.

Pilot: Will your aircraft have digital engine controls?

Margaritoff: Yes, the engines will be designed for certification with full FADEC controls. This is another area of added safety and reduced pilot workload making the S-26 easy to fly.

Pilot: What are the Avionics planned for the S-26?

Margaritoff: The Safire Personal Jet is designed for an "all-glass cockpit" using three independent screens, two primary displays and a shared multifunction one. Our standard avionics package will include:

  • Full IFR capability, RVSM capable
  • Dual VHF com/nav radios with localizer and glideslope indicators
  • Dual GPS, IFR enroute certified
  • Dual air data computers
  • Dual attitude heading reference system
  • Dual pitot-static system, plus alternative system
  • Dual mode transponder (S, C)
  • Terrain avoidance and warning system (TAWS) B
  • Plus: electronic checklists, flight directors with integrated multi-axis autopilot, integrated cockpit/aircraft management system, engine monitoring and trending, and fuel management systems.

The package has complete redundancy in functions and power sources. In addition, as this technology is rapidly changing, we are also looking at new features such as weather and data uplink (we will offer traditional onboard radar as an option), highways in the sky (HITS) navigational capabilities, and traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS). We plan for certification without the, normally FAA required, old standby electromagnetic instrumentation. Complete instrumentation for both pilots will be standard in the S-26.

Pilot: No one has ever built an all-composite, pressurized airplane in quantity. The greatest effort was the Beech Starship, which ended after 50 units. Why are you planning a hand lay-up, all-composite aircraft? What other construction methods did you consider?

Margaritoff: Raytheon is building the Premier I,the Hawker Horizon, and its successor as composite aircraft. Other manufacturers of pressurized aircraft are also setting out to build series production aircraft out of composites. Apart from that, the Cirrus SR 20 and the Lancair Columbia are all composite aircraft, the Lancair IVP is pressurized. Composites are used in the RAH 66 Comanche helicopter, the C-17 wings, flaps, ailerons and aft fuselage, parts of the F-18 hornet, the F-22, the B-2 bomber, the Airbus 320, 330, and 340, and all the moving surfaces and wing panels of the Boeing 757, 767, and 777. Most kitplanes and all gliders are being built entirely from composites, some for 30 years now and at a relatively high rate of production. All military rockets as well as the Delta 5 solid rocket booster are all composite. Because they are highly fatigue resistant, composites are proven to be the best material, by far, for pressure vessels and nearly all other parts of aircraft and other stressed vehicles and machinery. Their complete resistance to corrosion and their other qualities make them far superior to the usual alloys that reigned in the aerospace industry. Their other qualities are well demonstrated by a few hundred thousand boats and yachts of all sizes, skis, golf clubs, tennis rackets and bicycles. To get a glimpse of their versatility think of bulletproof vests and the poles of pole vaulters. The future will show that they are the material of choice for aircraft. Composites are easily certifiable. The Safire jet uses advanced composites on all structures where it is most advantageous and on all surfaces that are aerodynamically relevant. By weight, however, the aircraft is only about 75 percent composite. Metal is used in engine mounts, seating, landing gear, and any area where a machined component is more cost effective and not subject to corrosion. Dr Hahn and I will continue to review other options to help accelerate production levels and potentially reduce delivery lead times. Dr. Hahn is introducing us to the best advisors and potential team members in the world when it comes to supplier management, the design of the production floor, and high-rate production. He usually smiles when he hears "high rate" as he is used to 500 times larger numbers.

Pilot: What is the projected maximum gross weight, empty weight, and full-fuel payload of your airplane?

Margaritoff: The Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 5,130 pounds. Empty weight is 3,230, yielding a useful load of 1,900 pounds. The full-fuel payload is 314 pounds. Maximum payload is 1,400 pounds, with a minimum 500 pounds of fuel. Note: Safire could have designed the S-26 for a much higher full-fuel payload by simply reducing the size of the tanks. The range would have remained nearly the same for all payloads save the smallest ones (one or two people). In light of the statistics that show a substantial number of flights with only one pilot and the many confirmations we received from our customers, we opted for the increased range with one pilot, at the expense of the full- fuel payload.

Pilot: It seems as if the NBAA IFR range of 630 nm (with 1,000-pound load and 100 nm alternate) is rather limited. Are there any plans to add fuel capacity? Do you foresee this short range as a problem?

Margaritoff: We foresee no problems. We are proud of the performance/payload/range envelope of the S-26. A fuel capacity of 237 gallons allowing a maximum range of 1,550 nm, plus reserves for pilot-only operation is great for this small jet. We hear from many of our customers that they often fly alone. Because of Safire's low price and operating costs they will be able to maintain this habit. This is truly a personal jet. When it comes to filling the seats, today's average business jet flight is around 500 miles (comparable to the average airline leg) with an average of only 2.9 passengers. Because of its lower price, greater simplicity, flexibility and ease of use, the Safire jet will compare in its mission profile to smaller aircraft that have an even shorter flight average with even fewer passengers. (The average for cars is 1.2 including the driver.) Our payload/range diagram shows that we outperform the aircraft in our price range and even those that cost two or three times as much. We can even fly most of the missions now flown on the four times more expensive, entry-level business jets. Let's not forget that you can easily operate three or four Safire jets for the price of one CJ-1. Our customers will be ecstatic about the performance and handling of these little jets and fully enjoy the mobility and freedom they allow.

Pilot: What are some of the key features of your aircraft?

Margaritoff: It's affordability. The cost of using the Safire jets throughout the year is comparable to using the airlines whereas their flexibility and comfort is comparable to your car. Even more important is its safety. Two highly reliable turbofan engines with sufficient power for good single-engine performance and no trouble with asymmetric thrust are the basis. They also provide the power to go over, or the speed to go around, the weather. The all-composite fuselage will not wear or tear even on some hard or very hard landings. The cabin will protect the passengers better than an aluminum one. Equally important are the avionics. They offer everything to separate you from weather, traffic, and the ground. They make situational awareness and navigation as well as IFR flying simple, thus providing a greater leap for safety in GA than any cockpit panel before.

The best part is that this Personal Jet is also beautiful. From the razor foil wings to the cruciform tail, it has the look and feel of an elegant high-performance aircraft. You don't just get to your destination, you make an entry. The all leather interior and "club seating" for the passengers creates a luxury atmosphere. A must for business charters. Another "must" is the screened lavatory. Lastly, things that you expect to be standard are standard, such as full copilot instrumentation.

Pilot: Why has your company chosen to maintain a low profile from a marketing standpoint, relative to the massive marketing efforts by Eclipse? When do you expect greater marketing efforts to kick in? What marketing efforts are planned? For example, VisionAire sponsored NASCAR races.

Margaritoff: The money entrusted to us by our investors will be used directly and exclusively to make efficient progress in the design, development, and certification of the S-26 as well as in the preparation of the factory. The marketing of the product is necessary to reach the sales we projected. With over 700 deposits to date, we have eclipsed the competition and achieved this first marketing step at a very low cost. Increasing the marketing budget and efforts at this time would make everything less efficient: The cost per sale would increase, our lean mean engineering team would be burdened by the interaction with the marketing team, and additional customers would wonder when we can deliver their aircraft. We are already projecting a billion dollar company. It is more efficient to pursue a clear goal than a moving target. We expect another surge in sales after first flight and a third one after first deliveries. These will be our second and third marketing steps. We intend to take full advantage of the newsworthiness of these and other events to become the best brand in this new class of aircraft. Satisfying the ensuing demand is what we planned for. It is an adequate challenge. It will fill our factory and provide a great return on everyone's investment. There is a possibility advocated by many experienced players in the industry that the demand after first flight and after first deliveries may be higher than we projected, thus exceeding our production plans. If this doesn't happen, then once we are fully funded and can demonstrate a production plan that reduces the present delivery lead times for our customers we will resume more dynamic activities. Even then there are much more efficient ways in the Internet age to sell Safire jets than airshows. Our marketing plan stresses publicity over advertising. We will not sponsor car races.

Pilot: It would appear that the Safire and the Eclipse target the same potential users. What do you forecast as the demand for this new class of aircraft? Do you think that any benefit will accrue to the first manufacturer to market with an aircraft of this type, or will the market be strong enough to support several manufacturers?

Margaritoff: Driven by increasing wealth and the need for high-speed travel, the market demand is huge and growing. Coupled with an aging GA fleet, an overburdened airline and congested highway system, there is an opportunity for us alone to sell well over 1,000 aircraft per year. We expect to be one of two or three players of various sizes. First to market is an important goal for us with the typical benefits of creating a brand and becoming the leader in the market. But as this is a new industry that will continue for generations the excellent companies with the best publicity and the best products will prevail.

Pilot: What is your projected price for a standard-equipped aircraft? On what escalators is the price based, and what will the price be at time of delivery? How many units are available at this price and what do you project the cost of subsequent blocks of aircraft will be?

Margaritoff: Our targeted price has remained unchanged at $800,000 (in year 2000 dollars). Final pricing and delivery dates will be set after first flight. This is consistent with our deposit program.

Pilot: Is there a bail-out clause for buyers if the price rises any higher?

Margaritoff: Until first flight, our depositors can ask for a refund at any time. We don't ask our depositors to risk anything until we have proven the performance specifications of the Safire jet. Period.

Pilot: What are you doing with customer deposits and how many have you received?

Margaritoff: An independent escrow agent manages our current deposits of $8,000. No one will ever touch that money except for the depositor himself. Deposits pay a reasonable interest and are refundable at any time, for any reason. They are also transferable. After first flight each depositor can add his deposit to the first payment that will be required with the, then, firm purchase contract. So far, we have received 736 checks.

Pilot: How many nonpilots have placed deposits or at least expressed an interest in Safire?

Margaritoff: So far the number of non-pilots is small but a large percentage don't intend to fly their jet themselves. These are the many companies who have become aware of us through the pilot or pilots in their ranks, but intend to leave the serious travel use of the aircraft to the full-time professionals. The remaining aircraft may well end up in companies where they will be flown by the owner or the owner and a copilot or a professional crew alternating with the owner. The total number of people or companies that have expressed an interest in the purchase of an S-26 meanwhile exceeds 5,000. In this large number it is visible that the number of nonpilots is growing.

Pilot: Since this airplane is a turbine aircraft, the pilot will need a type rating. Is the training necessary to get the type rating included in the purchase price?

Margaritoff: FAR 61.31(a) indeed dictates that a pilot may not be pilot in command of a "turbojet-powered aircraft" unless he holds a type rating for that aircraft. We do not offer free training. Since our customer base varies in flight experience, and one of the most important features of the Safire jet is its low price, it would be unfair to try to calculate an arbitrary, average training price into the purchase price. A pilot with a few hundred jet hours and ample, preliminary flight, ground and simulator training should obtain the type rating in a very short time or by simply demonstrating his proficiency during the checkride. The others will have to pay as they go but they will love every minute.

Pilot: What about insurance requirements? What experience and training do you anticipate that insurers will require? How will you help customers meet insurance requirements?

Margaritoff: So far it is showing that our opinion about rigorous training and high proficiency is very much in line with the desires of the underwriters and directly impacts the rates and conditions. We intend to focus on the issue of minimum required flight hours by demonstrating that efficient flight training and the character and attitude of the pilot as well as check rides and recurrent training are more important than flight hours alone. It may turn out that the best quotes can be obtained within an S-26 owner insurance program offered by Safire. Here again we would require a high level of training and proficiency. The Safire jets may well turn out to be among the safest aircraft in the world allowing insurance carriers to write policies that are more favorable than, e.g., for twin engine piston or even turboprop aircraft. Nevertheless insurers base their conditions on existing statistics and company, as well as government regulations. The best safety records come from the corporate jets and the worst from the private pilots. Safire could fall into both categories. Training is the only thing that can tip the scale. As usual at Safire, we are starting years ahead of time, to prepare the playing field. Training and insurance go hand in hand. Our presentation to one of the biggest insurances in the world, specialized in aviation, is presently being prepared on the basis of a list of core items that the underwriters wish to evaluate. We anticipate the first meeting this year and the visit of our company thereafter. We will have the firstquotes in due time so that final quotes will be available long before first deliveries.

Pilot: Will there be company-sponsored or supervised training available for purchasers through Safire, or are you contracting with an outside company to provide this training?

Margaritoff: As we said above, the company will not sponsor the individual training but we will invest heavily in helping to prepare the best possible training methods and curricula. All materials will readily be available on the Internet including simulation software for home computers. The real training will be contracted out to a renowned training centerwith a sufficient number of training centers throughout the country. Simulators are already being planned for installation at these centers. The good news is that these simulators will be far better and less expensive than today's. A glass cockpit panel produced at a high rate already contains most of the ingredients of this simulator. In addition we are hoping that every aircraft will have a simulator mode, as today's technology easily lends itself to this. With a relatively straightforward installation, the controls can be used to interact with the panel allowing every owner to fly any mission in his own aircraft without leaving the hangar. With ground power there is no reason, any longer, not to be able to operate your state of the art avionics or fly the most complex IFR procedures "with your eyes closed." I have been a CFI for many years. Safety is my passion and my concern. No one will take delivery of a Safire S-26 without having passed the type rating, the complete training course, and a rigorous checkride. I prefer to be in trouble with a live customer demanding delivery of his jet than with his relatives. In addition, we will do everything we can to make the recurrent training as effective, interesting, and satisfying as possible. The Safire jet may be one of the safest aircraft ever built, but pilot error is by far the most important cause of accidents. Safire is determined to take full advantage of every new insight and technology to create the best training ever.

Pilot: Will you or the engine manufacturer provide maintenance training with the purchase price or is this contracted with an outside agency?

Margaritoff: Training will be provided. It is yet to be determined who will carry the costs. In the case of Agilis, this question will have to be answered by Frank O'Neill, the president of Agilis. It is not a part of our contract. It is possible that Frank may have a similar view on this as Safire.

Pilot: Is Safire planning a cargo version with a big door? Why limit this technology to only passenger travel?

Margaritoff: No. A large door opening in a small fuselage like the S-26 would cause added complexities in structure and pressurization. We fully expect that this technology will be available for numerous other uses besides passenger travel. In the next years and especially after first deliveries we will learn about a multitude of further uses for the S-26 even without a cargo door. We will stay focused on our growing market for now.

Pilot: When do you expect to have a conforming prototype or a flying prototype of any kind?

Margaritoff: First flight of a conforming prototype is scheduled for August of next year. (2002)

Pilot: When do you expect to deliver the first airplane and how long do you expect to work on each production/certification phase between now and then?

Margaritoff: We anticipate delivering our first production aircraft in the second half of 2003. The flight testing for the type certification of the S-26 will take 12 to 13 months. The high rate factory production is a separate project and timeline that we have long since been planning and that will go into full preparation upon the next round of funding ensuring that Safire will deliver aircraft shortly after obtaining the type certificate.

Pilot: Does your engineering team have people with prior experience certifying brand-new aircraft designs?

Margaritoff: We only hire engineers with this kind of experience. In fact this is the forte of Safire Aircraft Company. Not only do we hire people with "prior experience certifying brand new aircraft designs" but every one of our engineers has decades of experience in his field, they are all "total airplane people." Above and beyond that we take full advantage of the fact that our program is attractive to the best engineers in the country. We hire the best in their respective fields and we make sure that they fit harmoniously into our lean, mean team. By practicing this strategy at Safire I would personally deem it fair to say that we have a 23-year (average aerospace experience of our team) old company with the added flexibility, creativity and responsiveness of a young one.

Pilot: Once certification is complete, how many aircraft do you expect to deliver in the first 12 months, the second 12 months?

Margaritoff: We plan to have our factory at full capacity within three years of production and are currently reviewing means to bring this forward.

Pilot: Where will your production facility be located? Will it be a new facility? Will Safire build the airplane, or will it built by a subcontractor?

Margaritoff: The factory will be a new facility located in the state, county, and city that offers the most appropriate site, policy, and financing tools and aids. Of course Florida has a head start because relocating our whole team and families is a burden. So far, other states have more than made up for that in their offers but we still hope that Florida will liven up by decision time this June. Safire will do the final assembly in this factory. Excellent supply chain management and all the other techniques and strategies that allow high rates of production in the automotive world will help Safire surround itself with the best suppliers, integrators, and subcontractors. We will not subcontract the whole aircraft.

Pilot: Has a scale model of the Safire been tested in a wind tunnel; if not, when and where do you project that to happen?

Margaritoff: We have been performing computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis using NASA's full Navier-Stokes method. This state-of-the-art process allows optimizing aerodynamic flow to such a high degree of accuracy that the wind tunnel tests, early this year, will only be necessary to confirm the CFD analysis. This high-tech approach is especially gratifying when used on a composite aircraft because even the smallest flow irregularities that are found can be adjusted. Composites allow this near "perfect" precision that has allowed composite gliders to achieve glide ratios above 60 to 1, a feat that could never be achieved with metal aircraft. The site for the wind tunnel testing has been selected and will be confirmed shortly.

Pilot: How many vendors have you selected? For example, who will make the landing gear, avionics, pressurization system, etc.?

Margaritoff: We have narrowed down our key suppliers to a "short list," but I'd prefer to keep that in our pocket for now.

Pilot: Describe the flight control system for the Safire.

Margaritoff: The control system on the Safire jet will be similar to that on many smaller aircraft and entry-level jets: a simple mechanical system with cables, pulleys, and pushrods.

Pilot: Why were center control sticks selected instead of side sticks or control wheels?

Margaritoff: As with all other systems and substantial decisions, we have, within the scope of the relevant trade study, looked meticulously at all the alternatives. The center stick has all the advantages. It is the lightest, simplest system. It can easily be designed in a failsafe, redundant outlay for dual controls leading through the bottom of the center fuselage. It allows an undisturbed view of the entire panel at all times. It has the leverage needed for this aircraft. It can be operated with both or either hand allowing all systems of the aircraft to be operated on both sides without having to fly hands off. A well-molded handle can look fast and beautiful and contain all the necessary switches, buttons, and features. The operation is intuitive and, unlike the yoke, activates ailerons and elevator in a single movement for a turn. No aerobatic, fighter, glider or helicopter pilot would want it any other way. Not one of our over 700 depositors or the additional hundreds of potential customers has actively voiced any other opinion. We will be very surprised if we ever see evidence that a customer steps back from his S-26 purchase because it doesn't have a yoke or a side stick. The main reason, though, is that the center stick conforms to Safire's philosophy of "keeping it simple" which in this case ultimately makes it safe and allows the lowest cost design and construction. After all, one of our greatest challenges is keeping down the weight and the cost of the aircraft. Every gram and every dollar count.

Pilot: Given that many expect the FAA to eventually initiate RVSM operations over the continental United States, what is your approach to RVSM certification of the Safire jet?

Margaritoff: The companies chosen for the Safire avionics are, by their nature, well-prepared for all FAA plans. The S-26 will be certified for RVSM (reduced vertical separation minimums) operations when the time comes.

For more on Safire, see the Web site .

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