Past meets the present
Wings correspondent Neil Macdougall recently flew the Expedition E350
with Wendy Lauzon of Canadian Backcountry Aircraft Inc., the exclusive
Canadian dealer for the Expedition. Here is Macdougall’s take on the
February 24, 2011 By Neil Macdougall
Wings correspondent Neil Macdougall recently flew the Expedition E350 with Wendy Lauzon of Canadian Backcountry Aircraft Inc., the exclusive Canadian dealer for the Expedition. Here is Macdougall’s take on the Canadian-made aircraft. -Ed.
|The Expedition can be configured to become a cross-country cruiser, a rugged backcountry bushplane or a high-performance float plane. PHOTOs: george kounis
Every new aircraft needs “ramp appeal” – that instant reaction that makes onlookers say, “I want one.” Judging from a recent fly-in tour of four Ontario airports, the new Expedition E350, a rugged, 315-horsepower, high-wing aircraft has just that . . . in abundance. Essentially three types of aircraft in one design, the Expedition can be configured to be a cross-country cruiser, a rugged backcountry bushplane or a high-performance float plane.
At most stops along the way, our striking yellow and white Expedition drew streams of pilots and onlookers, many of whom had never seen or heard of the aircraft before. And because for years pilots have slavishly accepted four-seat planes with two doors, or even worse, one, the Expedition’s four large floor-to-ceiling doors sparked the most comments. A closer look at the Expedition reveals a castoring nose wheel, three-bladed propeller, wide-track undercarriage, raked wingtips and a span-length row of vortex generators (VGs), which delay the stall and improve aileron control. All models have concealed float attachment points.
Nothing left behind
The Expedition’s useful load of 1,520 pounds is the best in its class in North America. And unlike many four-seat aircraft, the E350 carries four people easily. Adventurers can remove the seats and carry two dirt bikes, two white-water kayaks, four surfboards or three mountain bikes. (Only Australia’s Gippsland GA8 can better that. Still the safety rule for backcountry and mountain flying remains, “Take half the load and twice the deodorant!”) Another bonus for the adventure-seeker – the three-foot square rear doors and lack of wing struts make loading easy. Measuring roughly seven feet by three feet, the rear cabin seems large enough for a year’s supply of beer, or you can carry two bucket seats or three smaller ones. And if the middle seat is moved forward to improve elbow room, there is still ample leg room for all on board.
|Adventurers can remove the seats and carry two dirt bikes, two white-water kayaks, four surfboards or three mountain bikes. PHOTOs: george kounis
Adventurers who like flying to out-of-the way places often have rough dirt airstrips to contend with. Therefore, the Expedition’s prop-ground clearance of 14 inches is a comfort on the all-too-common gravel-covered paved strips in the Arctic and other remote places. True STOL performance, thanks to Fowler flaps and a low stalling speed (54 kcas), as well as beefed up landing gear, makes landings over a 50-foot obstacle achievable in only 1,378 feet, while takeoffs over the same obstacle need 1,268 feet. And every Expedition comes standard with float kits, so the E350 can easily be turned into a big payload, high-performance float plane.
Inside the expedition: safety first
In the cockpit, dual controls are standard, and flaps, rudder trim and cowl flaps are electrically operated. The aircraft we flew, C-GBXC, the first production aircraft, features temporary round instruments, a Nav-Com-GPS and transponder. An Electronics International MVP-50 displays engine parameters on an easy-to-read colour display. Enough space remains for a television and an e-book for each pilot. The E350 will come standard with the new Garmin G500 panel in which two 6.5-inch displays will replace the usual flight instruments; other options include synthetic vision, digital onboard weather radar and weather alerting. (“Steam gauges” are also available for pilots who dislike glass cockpits). A useful improvement for IFR, now almost standard, would be dual alternators. Less important would be a “both” position for the fuel selector (a proven safety feature) and moving the overhead switches to the spacious instrument panel. The optional autopilot is not integrated, which means hardware can be updated as new technology appears.
|The Expedition E350 is ideal for trips such as Toronto to Augusta, Ga. for a weekend getaway. Photo: Neil Macdougall
Both pilot and co-pilot have four-point seatbelts, a feature other manufacturers should copy. The leather 22-G seats contain NASA memory foam, which moulds to your body as it warms, and occupants are surrounded by a welded 4130 steel cage similar to ones that protect race-car drivers. Another desirable safety feature – all four doors open 180 degrees, even with the flaps down. (In some aircraft, doors cannot be opened when flaps are down, a dangerous feature if a seaplane overturns).
STOL performance Takeoffs in the Expedition are made with 20 degrees of flap. During our flight, we bounded into the air in just a few hundred feet with three people and half fuel on board. (We could have climbed at 1,500 feet per minute, but lowered the nose to look for traffic). At 3,500 feet, 8 C and 76 per cent power, we reached 149 knots TAS.
The Expedition doesn’t fly like the Cirrus SR22 or the Cessna 206, nor should it. Each has its own character. The Expedition has what most pilots want: an uneventful stall, fine stability and predictable handling. Overshoots are easily managed because of the modest trim change.
How does it stack up to the competition?
Expedition sales are aimed at sports people with families of four or five, pilots who have dirt airstrips or cottages on water, and backcountry pilots . . . indeed, anyone who wants to haul a big load quickly and conveniently. Typical flights, for example, might be: Vancouver to San Francisco, Calif.; Toronto to Augusta, Ga.; Winnipeg to Vail, Colo.; or Regina to Jasper-Hinton, Alta. – all non-stop trips with four 200-pound occupants and 100 pounds of luggage. Want to get away? The amphibian on Aerocet 3,400 floats can do an un-refuelled return trip to a resort 250 nautical miles each way with 500 pounds of passengers and baggage.
|The E350 has four large floor-to-ceiling doors. And with a useful load of 1,520 pounds, it carries four people easily. Photo: Neil Macdougall
Selling for US$495,000 (IFR versions cost US$500,000), the Expedition considers five aircraft as worthy competition: the Cirrus SR22 GTS X, the Mooney Ovation and the Cessna 182T Skylane, Cessna 206H and Cessna 350 Corvalis. OEMs that compare their models with competitors’ often omit unfavourable figures in their specification sheets. Remarkably, Expedition compares nine performance and weight figures with all five competitors. Now that’s confidence!
According to the Expedition performance tables, the E350 has the best useful load (1,520 pounds) and the shortest take-off distance over a 50-foot obstacle (1,286 feet). Its cabin width of 53 inches compares with its competitors’ 42 to 49 inches. And only the Expedition can carry five 180-pound passengers while carrying full fuel. Its useful load is a surprising 570 pounds (about three occupants) more than the Cessna 350 Corvalis. Cruise speed at 75 per cent power (159 knots) exceeds that of the Cessna 182 and 206H, but lags behind the other three aircraft. Range (750 nautical miles) is better than the Cessna 206H even though the E350 has a larger payload. Inexplicably, Expedition shows no figures for service ceiling, although the E350’s 18,000-foot ceiling matches that of the Corvalis and exceeds that of the Cessna 206 (15,700 feet).
Steeped in heritage
Expedition Aircraft of Parry Sound, Ont., has a rich heritage. It is part of Found Aircraft Canada Inc., which started producing rugged backcountry aircraft in 1996. But the story goes further back than that. The E350 can be considered a third-generation aircraft that traces its roots back to Found Brothers Aviation.
The Expedition line of aircraft was launched at EAA Air Venture in Oshkosh, Wis., in 2007. The E350 received Canadian Type Certification on July 29, 2008, and FAA Certification on Dec. 23, 2008. Production began in 2009.
Inspired by Maule Aircraft’s practice of making several models from one airframe, Expedition offers the E350 with tricycle landing gear or amphibious floats. And Expedition reportedly has more options in its future – an E350 Turbo with a 320-horsepower Lycoming TIO-540, and an E350XC with a tail wheel and a choice of either engine.
August 11, 2010, was the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the Found FBA-2A aircraft, and in all that time, only three airworthiness directives were issued on the airframe. That heritage augurs well for the Expedition.
The Expedition E350 has a unique and dynamic history. For more on this remarkable Canadian plane, and to read more about the aircraft and its Canadian dealer, visit www.wingsmagazine.com and go to the web exclusives section.