Soloy, the Washington-based design and turbine conversion specialist, is negotiating with an unidentified airframe manufacturer to develop a Dual Pac powered utility aircraft to distribute goods for the booming Internet-spawned on-line shopping market.

The proposed aircraft will build on concepts developed for the stalled Pathfinder 21 Cessna 208B Grand Caravan modification programme, which the company hopes to restart within months.

The Pathfinder 21 is a stretched version of the 208B, fitted with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6D-114A turboprops and a Soloy gearbox which combines power from the two engines and drives the single propeller. Soloy plans to develop the Dual Pac-equipped aircraft as the first twin-engined, single-propeller fixed-wing aircraft to be certificated by the US Federal Aviation Administration as a multi-engine vehicle for commuter operations. The proposed utility aircraft, meanwhile, would be an all-new design of similar size to the stretched Caravan, but with a low wing, single cabin and the same basic Dual Pac propulsion package.

Although the Pathfinder 21 is FAA-approved to carry up to nine passengers plus cargo, Soloy ran into problems obtaining clearance for commercial operations with its maximum capacity of up to 17 passengers. "We over-ran on the budget and spent about $13 million," says company chairman Joe Soloy, who adds that the Pathfinder 21 project was "put on ice" for about eight months while the certification issues were resolved. With these problems apparently behind it, Soloy plans to kick start the programme "sometime in the second quarter of this year".

Soloy admits that the Caravan conversion is relatively expensive and estimates a maximum market for around 150 aircraft. The main emphasis of the project, he says, is as a concept demonstrator. "We think something like this is perfect for serving the growing on-line shopping type market. We believe there is potential for a new aircraft in the 14,500lb [6,600kg] maximum take-off weight class, and we are negotiating with an OEM [original aircraft manufacturer] to develop a Dual Pac, low-wing, fixed-gear, short-haul aircraft with a single cabin," he says.

Soloy declines to identify the maker, but says talks are advanced. It hopes to reveal new details of the project later this year.

Source: Flight International