New South African designed composite aircraft to take flight soon


The PCAD 700 composite aircraft, designed and built in South Africa, will soon take to the skies on its first flight after nearly eight years of development.

The PCAD 700 is the brainchild of Abrie Muller, whose company Performance Composite Aircraft Designs (PCAD) is developing the aircraft, along with his partner Pierre van der Walt, the owner of Wonderboom-based Sport Plane Builders.

The aircraft is very loosely based on the design of the Ravin 500, which is in itself a composite development of the aluminium Piper PA-42 Comanche, now also owned and built by Performance Composite Aircraft Designs. Muller started out in a joint venture with Ravin Aircraft but the PCAD 700 is a rather different aircraft with many upgrades and changes from the Ravin aircraft.

Like the Ravin 500, it is built largely from composite materials, which in addition to being lighter than metal, is cheaper to manufacture, results in fewer parts used and also gives a clean aerodynamic profile as rivets and other fasteners are not needed. Retractable landing gear also gives the aircraft a clean profile. An added benefit is that since composite materials do not interfere with radio frequency signals, external antennas are not required.

The PCAD 700 is powered by a turboprop engine giving an estimated top cruising speed of 250 knots (450 km/h) at 4 600 metres (15 000 feet). A fuel capacity of 700 litres should give an estimated range of 2 200 kilometres or endurance of five hours.

The aircraft was originally fitted with a Walter M601-B turboprop developing 690 hp, but the engine was never run in the aircraft and was changed for the fully certified General Electric 601-E in 2017, but the PCAD 700 will be offered with the General Electric H75 with FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control). Muller said the General Electric engine was chosen as it is imperative to deliver support through a reputable engine manufacturer – the company has been assisting. Engine runs and testing will be done soon ahead of a first flight planned for around November 2019.

As the turboprop engine allows high-altitude performance, the aircraft is built to be pressurised but the first one to be built will not be pressurised. Ceiling is planned to be 28 000 feet (8 535 metres).

The PCAD 700 comes standard with a six-seat cabin but this is reconfigurable (it could fit seven at a push). Payload is 2 500 lb (1 100 kg), with gross weight of 5 850 lb (2 650 kg). The cockpit is equipped with a modern Garmin avionics suite.

The PCAD 700 was unveiled to the public for the first time in 2016 and was displayed to positive response at the inaugural Aero South Africa aviation exhibition at Wonderboom airport between 4 and 6 July this year.

The aircraft will be available as a non-type certified (NTC) aircraft in order to keep costs down as certification is very expensive as well as time consuming. PCAD is not taking orders just yet as the company wants to first make sure the aircraft is up to scratch. Once flying successfully, it will be offered on the local and international markets.

Muller said the PCAD 700 will be a lot cheaper than any similar aircraft in the market and it will boast a great cost versus performance ratio. He said that aircraft with similar performance cost three times more – Performance Composite Aircraft Designs is aiming for a roughly $1 million price tag for the unpressurised, non-type certified version.