One thing that made me a little bit uneasy about this whole project was the fact that Glassic Composites was a relatively new company, and the SQ2000 was a new aircraft with no history. When I went to Tennessee for my test flight, the principal designer and test pilot, Stan Montgomery, assured me that the flight testing phase was complete, and they were satisfied with the final aircraft design. (A later conversation with another builder indicated that the prototype aircraft was flying around with foam core wings and the as-advertised rib and spar wings have never been built -- this turned out to be true.)
As it turned out, my uneasiness was justified. About a month after I received my kit, I noticed that the factory was no longer responding to my email messages. Soon thereafter another builder called and informed me that Glassic Composites had closed its doors due to financial difficulties. The company was placed into Chapter 7 bankruptcy leaving all of us builders with incomplete kits and no factory support.
Since I only have the fuselage and spar subkit, and it is unclear at this point whether I will be able to obtain the future parts I need, who knows if this airplane will ever get off the ground. The plan was to order future subkits as progress dictated: landing gear kit, canard kit, wing kit, and strake/cowling kit. The best case scenario now is that the company is reorganized with new investors and future parts will be made available. Worst case is that the company simply dissolves, and I'm stuck with a useless $12,000 fuselage and spar in my garage. Not to mention the $3000 deposit the company required, which is most likely gone no matter what happens. Of course, this is an experimental aircraft, and I am an aerospace engineer, so I could design my own parts. But realistically, the time and effort required to design and build new wings, canard, landing gear, etc. would be immense, and probably more than I'm willing to invest. After all, one of the reasons I chose the SQ2000 was because it was a low-time kit, and I could be flying much sooner than if I bought a Velocity. Ha. It could be worse though: some builders paid for their entire kit up front, and never received the wings and landing gear. Financially, they took a much harder hit than I did.
So now I'm in a holding pattern, waiting for the outcome of the bankruptcy proceedings. I'm still working on the fuselage, but at a slower pace and with slightly less enthusiasm. I won't let that affect the quality of my work, however.
March 1999 Update
Keith and Larry have reopened the original factory space, hired back several of the original employees, and teamed up with Stan Montgomery maintaining his position as chief designer (and basically running the factory since they both live in Florida). While all the legal stuff was going on, they were quietly building several shipsets of wings (both foam core and rib/spar), cowlings, and strakes. It seems that all major components are nearly ready to ship, with the exception of the retractable landing gear and flight testing of the new wing.
The wing looks very good. At right is a photo of an in-process wing before the upper skin was installed. The finished product will ship completely closed and bonded, winglet attached, antennae installed, and surface gel-coated. It looks like the extent of the work imposed on the builder will be to finish the leading edge, cut out, install and rig the ailerons and rudders, install and wire up the lights, and of course do the final surface prep.
For the static load test, the wing was mounted to a (near) production spar in a normal fashion and mounted upside-down. One end of the spar was secured to a column in the factory, and the other end supported and clamped by a floor jig just inboard of the wing root. 25 pound lead weights were used to load the wing, and spaced to approximate actual span-loading.
Just short of a 5G load factor, the spar began to fail. It wasn't a catastrophic failure, but began popping and disbonding right at the holding jig (area denoted by a red circle in the below right photo). I think this failure can be explained as follows: Since the wing is swept, the MAC (mean aerodynamic chord)--and hence the center of lift--is aft of the spar axis which imparts a twisting action on the spar. Normally this twist would be reacted across the length of the spar, but since it was restricted from twisting at the jig, there was a large concentration there. In an actual installation, the wing strake would also absorb some of the twisting. It would have been nice to take the test fixture up to 10 G's, but 5 G's is still respectable, and more than I ever intend to subject myself (and my airplane) to.
All that remains now, as I mentioned above, is to do the flight testing to verify the wing's aerodynamic performance and flutter resistance. I think they also need to update/revise the Builder's Manual for wing installation. Can't say when the new company (KLS Composites, by the way) will actually start shipping parts, but I'm sure they'll let us know. I also couldn't get a price out of them, but suspect prices will be slightly higher than those advertised by Glassic Composites .
Keith and Larry seem quite committed to making this business successful. They've purchased a ton of raw materials and seem intent on producing parts well into the future. Their immediate goal, as I understood it, was to first get wings, strakes, etc. to the current builders so that we can get airborne. Then they will begin accepting new orders.
April 1999 Update
I recently received a package from the new company, KLS Composites, declaring that they're ready to begin shipping parts. "We have set our number one priority to serve the present customer," the cover letter reads. "Once sufficient time has been allowed for present customers to be serviced, we shall open our doors to new sales."
As expected, prices have increased. Here's the breakdown:
This is a 25% overall increase from Glassic's previously published prices. Compared to other high-perfomance, quick build kits on the market I wouldn't say this figure is unreasonable. But $45,000 is a lot of money for an airframe and I hope the sticker price doesn't frighten off too many potential builders.
By the way, if you want to get ahold of the company to order some parts (or a whole kit), their phone number is 423-451-0209 and their fax number is 423-451-0208. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As of my February visit to the factory, they still hadn't resolved the landing gear issue. The prototype aircraft has Infinity landing gear, which, according to KLS Composites, is unnecessarily complex for use in the SQ2000 (the strut compresses during gear retraction--required only for smaller aircraft). Whether their reasons were solely technical, or based more on sour grapes I can't say, but it's unlikely that future kits will ship out of Sale Creek with Infinity gear. Instead, KLS Composites may produce their own landing gear. I saw a prototype of their main gear design, but it was far from complete. Larry and Keith, having been frustrated with the landing gear situation a long time ago, opted to install fixed gear on their airplanes.
Aside from the landing gear issue, the only major outstanding task for the company is to flight test the new wings. They've already built several shipsets of wings--demonstrating their confidence in the design--and are willing to ship them out right away, but I think the other builders are holding off until the flight testing is complete. A wise move in my opinion: I would hate to install the wings on my aircraft only to learn later that an aerodynamic or flutter modification was required. But I'm sure that by the time I'm ready for wings, several kits will be flying and any bugs will have been worked out. I'm more concerned about the landing gear right now, because I envision installing the canard next, and then the gear.