Algie Composite Aircraft - 385 MPH at FL290 & 14.5 GPH?


The LP1, or 'Light Pressurized 1', began over 15 years ago in the mind of David Algie. It wasn’t just an idea 15 years ago tho, work actually began on this airplane that far back, and the basic shape has been frozen for quite a long time. The LP1 is a two-place, pressurized, carbon fiber kit aircraft powered by an adapted Chevy Corvette LS engine that is intended to operate at altitudes as high as 29,000 feet (with sea level cockpit pressurization) and cruise at 385 mph burning just 14.5 gallons of fuel per hour. Even more astonishing is the goal for a 1,080 pound empty weight which will give this aircraft the ability to carry two 200 pound people, 50 pounds of baggage, and 62 gallons of fuel… all with a gross weight of just 1,902 pounds. Imagine the climb performance with 300 hp under the hood and such a light airplane! 

When I first saw the airplane at Sun-n-Fun in April 2010, the claim of 385 mph on 14.5 gph along with that flashy engine compartment, and the general feeling that this airplane wasn't designed the way were used to in the aviation world is what caused me to shake my head and walk away. The 2-seat carbon airframe with an elliptical wing claiming crazy high cruise speeds, sea level pressurization at 29,000 feet, and with an automotive engine tightly shoehorned into the cowl (and an unusual looking prop/spinner nose) pretty much told me this was just another crazy dreamer.

I’ve been around homebuilt airplanes since the early 70’s, since before I was even a teenager, and I’ve seen a boatload of dreamers come along and make Bede-esque claims of wild performance coupled with low cost and build simplicity... but in the end, they all disappeared.

But a couple months ago I had reason to be curious enough to find out more about that ’crazy’ airplane, and the research that day opened my eyes to what just might become one of the most revolutionary aircraft of the last 40 years. The closer you look at what David Algie has not only conceived, but is getting close to having completed and ready to fly (expected sometime in 2011), the more it looks like this crazy guy really does know what he’s doing. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who’s not even a licensed pilot!

Don’t let the fact that David isn’t a licensed pilot deceive you, he’s got massive credentials to be doing what he’s doing. He’s had years of hands-on detailed experience working in the big-money world of high-end automotive racing. David has over 20 years of Indy Car design and fabrication experience. In fact, it’s the race work that kept the LP1 from being able to progress more quickly. [...] In the end, his experience with extreme (critical) carbon fiber fabrication, his exposure to high-speed full-scale race car aerodynamic wind tunnel testing, in-depth knowledge of automotive racing engines and electronics, along with intensive research in aircraft design details has all brought together a knowledge base that's likely never been combined and focused on a kit aircraft before. Possibly most important is the fact that David is very patient and has taken a long-term approach to achieving his goals with the LP1 project. 15+ years into it should be enough to convince you of that.

One of the most exciting things I learned about the LP1 in my research was that’s it’s actually being built just 2-1/2 hours away from me, in Indianapolis, Indiana. In October I was able to see the airplane up close and had the chance to speak with David for over an hour. What I saw that day was very impressive. I think the likelihood of success for the LP1 project is very high. And, in addition to the design details I’m about to share, we’re working to put together a phone interview that will soon be an AirPigz podcast… that’ll be a great way for you to learn more about this fascinating airplane and the race car guy, originally from New Zealand, that’s making it all happen.

The list of ideas and techniques that make the LP1 different than the ‘normal’ homebuilt kit aircraft is pretty long. If it wasn’t for the depth of knowledge and experience David has, I’d be thinking right away that he’s simply bitten off too much with this combined package of ideas. But again, the closer you look, the more you see how well these ideas all work together. For example, the claimed empty weight for the airplane is 1,080 pounds. Ok, how are you gonna pull that off? Especially when the posted engine weight (including cooling system, fluids, and turbo) is 480 pounds. That leaves only 600 pounds for the entire airframe with a pressurized cockpit, control systems and landing gear.

From what I can tell, the way the carbon structure is designed has a lot to do with weight reduction. Most everything is a carbon fiber and nomex honeycomb core sandwich. David has designed and built the tooling needed to be able to build components with an inner and outer skin of carbon and with the lightweight nomex core. But even more than just using this light and strong form of sandwich, the components are design to greatly reduce the overall parts count. For example, there are no ribs in the wing. The sandwich skin is strong enough to eliminate the need (and complexity) of ribs. In talking with David, he mentioned how he was somewhat surprised to see that homebuilt airplanes using composites were predominating applying metal aircraft building techniques to this newer more exotic material. Lots of individual parts built up and then fastened together. He saw this not only as creating a tremendous amount of needless work for the builder, but also adding weight and reducing the strength potential.

This is a good example of where the Indy car experience has opened the door to some different (better) thinking. It's also a good example of why the kit LP1 will likely be much easier to build than other more common high performance composite airplanes. Due to his experience and patience, David has taken the long road to build the tooling necessary to vastly reduce the number of parts, and that investment of labor up front will pay big benefits to the end builder. Another detail that makes a difference is the way that fillets are built into the components. An integrated fillet, like the one that can be seen in the fuselage picture above where the wing will attach, will not only make a better and stronger place for the wing to cradle into, but it also adds strength to the cockpit wall. Again, with a pressurized cockpit, anything that can create added strength without adding a lot of weight is a huge plus. Another interesting point is that he’s using high temperature cure resins which means the parts are cured in a small autoclave and a large oven. This allows for all the time that’s needed for doing great layups as well as meaning you’ve got much larger operational temperature ranges for finished parts. That should mean you can paint an LP1 almost any color you want and not have to worry about it getting soft on a hot summer day!

And how about that LS Corvette engine hangin’ off the firewall… that’s definitely not your standard powerplant. Even tho people have tried for years to successfully adapt a nice big automotive V-8 for experimental aircraft use you still don’t see more than a comparative handful of airplanes using one. I think a lot of the problem over the years came from people thinking they could easily make big horsepower for cheap money. But typically, the design, engineering and then the fabrication of the components needed to truly make an auto V-8 viable in an aircraft takes several wheelbarrows of money. And if you really wanna do it right, you’ll need at least one extra wheelbarrow of cash just to pay for some really smart thinkers to pull it all together. It would seem that getting the gear reduction unit right, and also taking advantage of modern electronic computer control for ignition and fuel/air management would be extremely critical elements to master if you really want to succeed.

 There are some other interesting and potentially viable V-8 engine conversions available for experimental aircraft these days, but I admit that I’m not familiar with the details on them. I’m hoping to do some research before long on as many as I can find and do an extensive post comparing them. But the reality is that considering there are millions of V-8’s moving cars and trucks around, we still see very, very few of them in the air.

 On the certified V-8 side, Trace Engines seems to still be getting closer to having their 600+ hp V-8 aircraft engines ready to either retrofit PT6 turboprop aircraft or be incorporated into new designs, but the effort to bring those engines to market is full of a long history of work that has its roots back in the ‘90s with the Orenda OE600 engines, which was actually an outgrowth of the old Thunder engines from the 80’s. On one hand, the prospect of realistic V-8 aircraft power is closer than it’s ever been, but it’s still uncertain if how close we really are to everyday V-8 power, whether certified or experimental.

After listening to this video of David at Sun-n-Fun 2007 (it’s long, tedious and not very good audio, but fascinating), I came away believing that he has the foundational knowledge needed to effectively harness Corvette power on the front of an airplane. The other factor in his favor here is that when it’s all pulled together, this powerplant isn’t cheap… it’s not meant to be a way to pull an engine from a salvage yard and make cheap, overnight horsepower for an airplane. The stated price on the LP1 website says $62,999 will buy the engine and prop package (NOTE: initially the engine is NOT sold separate from an LP1 Kit, but will likely be eventually). That isn’t a cheap engine, however, comparing it to a new TIO-540 from Lycoming, even a non-certified version, it’s actually a pretty good buy for 300 hp. It’s also important to note that David has the engine turbo-normalized, meaning that it’s turbocharged, but it’s designed to produce and maintain essentially the same power output regardless of altitude. So, making 300 hp at 29,000 feet means this is a pretty spectacular powerplant for the money.

By the way, the fast build kit for the LP1 is currently posted at $86,999, and delivery positions can be secured with a $5,000 deposit (refundable, transferable, and escrowed)… approximately 9 slots have been purchased so far. In all, the projected cost to purchase and complete and LP1 kit is currently $160,000 to $199,000. If the airplane performs anywhere near the goals, and for the level of technology and advance work put into the project, that’s a very good value.

One of the really big issues when dealing with an automotive V-8 is the liquid cooling. Here again, David has an approach to handling challenging issues that seems very well thought out. As can be seen in the pic above, the radiators are mounted behind the cockpit rather than trying to make the big compromise of somehow squeezing them into the front end. The blue caps indicate where the two stacked radiators are positioned. They are fed air from a NACA inlet on the fuselage bottom, and then the air exits out the rear thru a smooth opening on the lower fuselage. The exhaust piping for the engine also runs thru this general area with the outlet also ending at the same spot as the radiator exit. This position for the radiators takes great advantage of the relatively large space behind the cockpit while also moving some weight aft to offset the large engine in the nose. If the ducts working with the radiators are designed properly, this should provide for very efficient handling of cooling for the engine. This setup certainly makes the most elegant and uncluttered installation I’ve ever seen for liquid cooling in a homebuilt airplane.

As is obvious in these pictures, the entire aft fuselage section is a separate component that is not currently attached. The way the large pieces fit together is designed to be far easier to line up and affix, which not only makes the job of building more enjoyable, but reduces the time required as well.

In the [above] pic you can see the cockpit section and the early work being done to produce the tooling for making the instrument panel and center console parts. Much work on these items has recently been completed and more pictures can be viewed [in the photo gallery].

You can also see in the pic above the large opening for getting into the cockpit. The door will be a plug style that will seal from the inside, distributing the pressurization stresses around the entire edge of frame. The exact geometry of the how the door will move inside the cockpit is still being worked out. As the previous pic shows, the door opening extends fairly far toward the center of the fuselage allowing you to somewhat stand in the cockpit and then move down and into it.

The wings for the LP1 have a beautifully classic shape. They are also amazingly simple and robust looking. Again, the nomex core sandwich construction is used which allows for no ribs in the wing at all. The front and rear spars are molded right into the structure, and are actually an integral part of the skin. Lightweight fuel bladders will be installed which eliminates the concern over wet wing fuel leaks. The wings will also be fitted with fowler flaps.

Total wing area is 82.5 sq ft with a 23 lbs/sq ft wing loading. The span is 27 feet and the LP1 is 21 feet long. The airplane is intended to be extremely fast (385 mph) in high altitude cruise, in part due to the turbo-normalized Corvette engine, and in part due to the very light weight. That light weight should also help the airplane on the slow side of the speed spectrum as well. With a 42” wide pressurized cockpit, room for some bags, and what might wind up being an interior noise level low enough to fly without headphones, plus an airframe that should be able to be assembled in a very reasonable amount of time, the LP1 is promising a lot. In reality, can David Algie’s design live up to all of this? There’s really no way to know until it leaves the ground… but after having seen the airplane up close and talking to David, I think there’s a very good chance it will. But as with any project of this magnitude, and especially one that’s living pretty far outside the ‘normal’ box, the number of challenges and hurdles yet to clear might be great. Regardless, I’m very impressed and really excited to see this project reach the point when the fly-by-wire throttle will be advanced and that Corvette LS engine enthusiastically pulls the LP1 into the sky for the first time! If I had the money, there's no doubt I'd be putting my $5,000 deposit down on one today : )

Watch for lots more detailed coverage of the Algie Composite Aircraft LP1 in the future, including an upcoming podcast interview with designer/builder David Algie.

-Martt Clupper