Company to manufacture plane with movable wings

January 16, 1992|By Leslie Cauley

The idea of replacing the standard stationary airplane wing with a rotating one for a smoother ride has been around for many years, but so far nobody has been able to push the concept through to commercialization.

But that was before Freewing Aircraft Corp. grabbed hold of the idea.

The company, which got its start in the University of Maryland's incubator program, has been working on making the "freewing" aircraft a commercial reality for three years. This afternoon, the company will come a step closer to the payoff when it unveils its first pre-production freewing aircraft at a rollout ceremony in College Park.

Freewing Aircraft, which is based in College Park, plans to go into full production of the revolutionary aircraft this summer, marking the first time they have been produced commercially in the world, said Hugh Schmittle, the company's president.

These movable-wing aircraft have been used by recreational pilots for years, but the concept has yet to catch on among more serious aviators. Many pilots who have grown up with stationary wings apparently don't like the idea of riding in a plane with wings that wobble.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a need -- or a market -- for the freewing aircraft, Mr. Schmittle said. "This freewing technology answers a fundamental problem in aviation," he said. "It is not as if it's a solution in search of a problem."

Anyone who has ever flown in a small aircraft during turbulence is familiar with the problem: Wind currents catch the wings and cause the aircraft to rise and fall, sometimes dramatically. In a strong wind, the results can be disastrous.

That doesn't happen with freewing aircraft because their wings automatically pivot -- up to 18 degrees -- to let aircraft ride with the air, not against it. The movement, which is barely discernible to the eye, means the plane is not affected by most air turbulence. The result is a smoother ride for passengers and less wear and tear on the aircraft.

Freewing Aircraft plans to begin production later this year, although the manufacturing site has not been selected. The company is considering sites on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland. The new facility will initially employ about 40.

Mr. Schmittle said it would take about a year to produce the first aircraft after the plant is built. The first planes, which will seat two, will be targeted at recreational pilots, farmers, police departments, surveillance organizations and other customers that have specialized aviation needs. The company hopes eventually to produce planes for larger commercial customers.

Airplane kits will cost about $15,000. Assembled, ready-to-fly planes will cost $20,000 to $25,000, Mr. Schmittle said.

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