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Wings from the South

Two new airplane manufacturers build factories in Santa Catarina

Electronic modeling of the Novaer U-Xc, to be assembled beginning in 2015 at the factory in Lages (SC).

NovaerElectronic modeling of the Novaer U-Xc, to be assembled beginning in 2015 at the factory in Lages (SC).Novaer

With capacity for two people, the single-engine Wega 180 airplane, built of carbon fiber, glass, and high quality resin was a highlight of the world’s second most important aviation trade fair, the Sun ‘n Fun, held in April 2013 in Lakeland, Florida. This small plane, only 6.5 meters long, attracted the attention of visitors because of its design and performance and was the subject of articles in specialized newspapers and magazines. Its 180 hp engine is the equivalent, in terms of power, of three Brazilian Volkswagen Gol 1.0 automobiles. During the event, businessman Jocelito Wildner received two purchase orders and answered about 300 e-mails requesting information. Wega, a company based in Palhoça, in Metropolitan Florianópolis, is Santa Catarina State’s first aircraft factory and the embryo of an aviation complex supported by the Federation of Industries of the State of Santa Catarina (Fiesc) and by the state government. A second manufacturer, Novaer, based in São José dos Campos in inland São Paulo State, has already signed a protocol with the Santa Catarina government to set up a factory in that state. Novaer plans to begin building a factory in Lages, in the hills of Santa Catarina, next year and start production of its first two-seater and four-seater aircraft at the end of 2015. Those planes are still in the development process.

“Santa Catarina has a strong industrial tradition and that is why it attracts this kind of investment,” says Glauco José Côrte, president of Fiesc. Besides incentives and investments, the state has a number of educational, research, and development institutions devoted to technology and innovation. “The Wega airplanes are proof of our ability to manufacture high-technology goods that enhance the competitiveness of Santa Catarina industry,” Côrte says. “Santa Catarina will be the birthplace of the second major aeronautical complex in Latin America,” he says.

WegaThe challenges involved in making this objective a reality are not inconsiderable. According to experts, occupational skills and the presence of specialized labor are the cornerstone for the formation of an aviation-related manufacturing complex such as the one in São José dos Campos, which was born with the founding of the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA). With that in mind, the Santa Catarina branch of Senai (National Industrial Training Service) established, in 2009, a school to train aviation mechanics in São José, a municipality near the state capital of Florianópolis. The idea is to train professionals who can master the basic concepts of this kind of work. As a result of negotiations held during the trade fair in Florida, aviation students and professors from Senai will also be able to participate in exchanges with the Central Florida Aerospace Academy (CFAA), a school in the United States that specializes in the aviation industry. Also available to them is the course in aerospace engineering given by the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).

A pioneer in the Santa Catarina industrial complex, Wega represents the realization of a dream by its founder, aircraft mechanic Jocelito Wildner, who was trained at the school run by Varig, once Brazil’s biggest airline. Passionate about aviation, at age 12 he, with a brother, built a delta-wing craft and launched themselves from the balcony of their home in Ijuí, in Rio Grande do Sul State. In 2006 he established Wega with the idea of manufacturing kits for light composite aircraft (composites use materials formed of two elements that acquire new properties), employing the latest generation of methods and components “These are small planes, experimental ones, used for recreation. They are like jet skis, but they fly,” Wildner jokes. His comparison may give people the impression that the Wega are “toy airplanes” but they are far from it. The single-engine plane can fly for as long as 6 ½ hours and cover long distances. On the trip between the Santa Catarina Aeroclube and Lakeland, Florida, the plane flew about 8,000 km, with nine stops.

Besides the Wega 180, Wildner also makes a version with a more powerful, 210 hp, engine. Both models adhere to international safety rules and legislation but are not intended for commercial use, only as private planes. Their landing gear is retractable and both aircraft have a one-piece low wing, which ensures good performance at a cruising speed of 350 km/h. The Santa Catarina company has an agreement with foreign partners to furnish certain parts, such as the propeller, which is made by the German firm MT Propeller, and the onboard instruments and motorization, furnished by the US. companies Dynon and Superior Air Parts, respectively. The Wega planes are sold as kits, which means that final assembly is the responsibility of the purchaser. The estimated price of the kit is about $83,000. To have the plane assembled, the new owner will need to spend a total of about $200,000. Wildner invested more than R$1.5 million in developing the planes and in setting up the factory in Palhoça. He has already delivered three units and has orders for another four. At present, his factory can produce only two planes a year, so Wildner wants to expand it. “We have plans to increase our annual output to as many as 12 units.”

Unique career path
The second aircraft manufacturer to set up shop in Santa Catarina, Novaer, was founded in 1998 and already has a story to tell. It supplies the landing gear for the Tucano T-27 aircraft produced by Embraer and used by the Brazilian Air Force and the governments of several other countries. The company also helped develop a light military fighter plane for US Aircraft Corporation, which is based in Ohio, and designed the wings and landing gear for the EV-20 aircraft built by the U.S. company Eviation Jets. In February 2010, Novaer began developing the prototype of its own plane, intended for the civil and military markets and known provisionally as the T-Xc. Next, it began negotiations with the Santa Catarina government to establish its factory in that state.

Novaer“Novaer is a pioneer in the government of Santa Catarina’s program to create an aviation and defense-oriented technological complex, which certainly is a strong factor in attracting companies in that field to come to this state,” says Graciliano Campos, president of Novaer. The factory will be built in Lages, 220 km from the state capital, and should be ready at the end of 2015. The assembly line is being designed to handle production of as many as ten planes a month and will be devoted solely to the T-Xc, which will have two versions: trainers, and utilitarian. They will be 8 meters long and 9 meters wide—the latter figure being the distance between wingtips. The planes will achieve a maximum speed of 370 km/h when equipped with a 315 hp engine supplied by the U.S. firm Lycoming. The onboard instruments will also come from the United States, from Garmin. The entire fuselage and aerodynamic parts such as flaps and rudders have been developed and will be manufactured by Novaer.

The first model, a two-seater, will be designed for training civilian and military pilots and will cost $800,000. The second, with four seats, temporarily dubbed the U-Xc, will carry passengers and cargo—also at a cost of approximately $800,000. It will be sold to individuals, flying clubs, air taxi companies, and shippers of small loads of cargo. The T-Xc will be classified in the “general aviation” category, which includes aircraft from single-engine private planes to modern executive jets. The market for that kind of plane is huge, and Brazil now owns the second largest fleet. With 13,000 planes, it ranks behind only the United States. The U.S. general aviation fleet, the category in which the aircraft produced by Novaer will be classified, has 220,000 planes. According to the annual report by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (Gama), the general aviation category in 2012 generated $18.8 billion in sales.

“The T-Xc is made entirely of carbon fiber that has been cured in an autoclave. That is why it can be said to be innovative,” says Campos. “Carbon fiber is a well-known material that is increasingly used in aviation because of its light weight and strength. However, in most cases it is employed in aircraft structures in combination with fiberglass or metallic compounds.” According to the Novaer executive, Brazil’s only makers of the so-called experimental planes are the ones that serve the general aviation market. None of them makes a plane that has been certified by Brazilian Civil Aviation Regulation No. 23 (RBAC 23) issued by the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC). “Without that certification, experimental aircraft cannot be used commercially, not even to train pilots. Our biggest competitors will be the international manufacturers, such as the American Cessna, Piper, and Cirrus.”

NovaerThe first prototype of the T-Xc is expected to take flight in the last quarter of 2013. Thereafter, two others will be built for the certification test campaign, anticipated to be completed at the end of 2015. According to Campos, a large portion of the primary carbon fiber pieces are now ready and the components of the prototype are being assembled. “We are gluing the parts of the wings together and integrating them with the metal pieces that connect the flight control surfaces, such as flaps and ailerons,” he says. “The T-Xc is based on an aerodynamic conception by designer Joseph Kovács (a naturalized Brazilian from Hungary who has spent time at the Institute for Technological Research (IPT), the Aerospace Technical Center (CTA), and Embraer). The quality of its flight means that it can make bold acrobatic maneuvers.”

The development of the airplane by Novaer was done by the company’s own designers, in partnership with researchers from the Aeronautical Studies Center (CEA) at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), which was responsible for conducting the tests and making the aerodynamic calculations and analyses. The project was also supported by the Finep (Brazilian Innovation Agency) through its Technological Innovation and Economic Subsidy program. The company received about R$10 million to finance the design and building of the aircraft prototype. That money was supplemented by resources from Novaer to finance the development of the plane and, more recently, with investments by Santa Catarina State to advance the certification and industrial manufacturing phases of the program.

UFMG wins aerodesign competition

The design of an aircraft with space for four crew members, created by professors and students from the Aeronautical Studies Center (CEA) at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), was the winner of an international competition sponsored by Price-Induction, of France, a manufacturer of aircraft engines. The project, which required the use of two turbines made by the French company, was selected from among 11 finalists from different countries by a jury composed of international experts in aerospace innovation.

Paulo Henriques Iscold, coordinator of the CEA and professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at UFMG, said the award is the result of technological research done in the field of general aviation by the university over the past 50 years. “Few institutions in the world have the ability to work on the manufacture of an airplane,” he said. “Now is the time to seek partners in technology and investors so that in the near future, we can produce this aircraft at UFMG.” The team of degree candidates who participated in the project was composed of students Julliardy Matoso and Letícia Soares, from the aerospace engineering course, and mechancial engineering students Matheus Vinti and Sérgio Lopes.