John Edgley, founder and designer of the Optica observation aircraft, is seeking manufacturing partners to help relaunch the aircraft for the commercial market. Edgley acquired the jigs,tooling, design rights and two aircraft last year from its former owner Aviation Group International. The deal also included the rights to the FLS Sprint two-seat aerobatic trainer, which Edgley is also hoping to relaunch.
"I have always been passionate about the Optica," says Edgley. "When it finally came up for sale last year my initial aim was to get an aircraft back in the air for the first time in 10 years. This was solely for historical purposes." One of Edgley's aircraft, formerly operated by the Spanish government, made its maiden flight in July. "The aircraft - G-BOPO - is fully reconditioned and flies very well. We now have a European Aviation Safety Agency certificate of airworthiness," he says.
The aluminium Optica made its first flight in 1979 and entered service in 1985. A total of 22 aircraft were built - a 23rd remains unfinished. Edgley left the company in 1985 shortly after the fatal crash of a police Optica G-KATY. The company was acquired by Brooklands Aerospace, but an arson attack at the factory the following year destroyed all but one flying Optica. Production ceased in 1990 when Brooklands was declared bankrupt. The programme was then acquired by UK company FLS Aerospace, which completed its US certification. However the acquisition and subsequent development of the Sprint trainer shortly after drained resources from the Optica programme. The Optica and Sprint were acquired in 1998 by UK company AGI, however a lack of investment thwarted plans to relaunch both programmes and the Salisbury UK-based company sold both aircraft to Edgley's company AeroElvira in 2007.
"The Optica has consumed a lot of my life. I just wish its former owners would have worked with me to get the aircraft back into production. I know the Optica better than anyone," says Edgley.
"There is a good market for the Optica and the Sprint, but I simply don't have the money to put them back into production," says Edgley. "We live in a surveillance-hungry and environmentally-aware era. This aircraft is perfectly suited to both markets. Its bubble canopy observation platform gives the pilot a perfect field of vision. It has a long range, slow cruise speed, low fuel consumption, low noise and low emissions. The only thing that needs updating now is the instrument panel," he says. "The Sprint would make an ideal replacement for the Scottish Aviation Bulldog trainer."