BROOKSVILLE — Science fiction could soon become reality at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
Aircraft maintenance company Corporate Jet Solutions has signed a joint venture agreement with California-based Aerobat Aviation Inc. to begin constructing two-person flying saucers at the airport early next year.
Aerobat officials have visited Hernando County several times in recent weeks to test smaller, 6-foot-wide unmanned scale models of the aircraft. Last week, they tested the craft at Florida Classic Park, east of Brooksville, and the flights have gone well, according to Bradley Dye, vice president of Corporate Jet Solutions.
Dye learned of Aerobat through retired local executive Jimmy Lodato, who has contacts in aviation who were looking for a manufacturing and testing area. Manufacturing would take place at the airport, although a site has not yet been selected. Testing is not allowed there, but Dye said there are plenty of isolated areas nearby that would work.
"Aerobat has been courted by a number of states,'' Dye said. But he noted that the Brooksville airport has multiple advantages, including more clear days each year to fly under visual flight rules.
The plan is to bring a mock-up model of the saucer craft to the Experimental Aircraft Association's Airventure show in Oshkosh, Wis., later this summer. Then, the company will begin production of the two-seat craft. Initially, several would be built to send off for more rigorous testing by the Federal Aviation Administration; others would be produced as light sport aircraft, which do not require such testing, but include restrictions such as daytime flight and visual flight rules.
Pilot training would also be part of the plans.
Eventually four-seat and larger models of the Aerobat will be constructed, Dye said.
"Because this is unique for general aviation, the basic design could be used clear through to commercial aviation,'' Dye said.
The partnership also opens up new manufacturing opportunities for the airport.
"What we have is an introduction to aerospace manufacturing at (the airport) and the ability to lead to complementary businesses such as suppliers,'' he said.
The details of the two-seater are listed on the Aerobat website.
The craft would have a maximum takeoff weight of 1,320 pounds, a fuel capacity of 20 gallons, a range of 300 nautical miles and a wingspan of 7.6 meters; it would be constructed of carbon fiber and fiberglass.
The price tag for the standard version is an estimated $198,000.
Aerobat's CEO Travis Shannon said advantages to the round craft, as opposed to a traditional small airplane, include more stability, better handling in crosswinds and the ability to carry a larger payload.
Shannon said he was excited about Brooksville, taking note of the airport's long runways, rail for shipping, fuel availability, lack of congestion and areas for testing outside the 5-mile radius around the airport.
Dennis Wilfong, chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority, called the saucer-shaped craft "the wave of the future," which will "revolutionize aviation.'' He attended the last test flights last week.
"I was amazed at the thing,'' he said. "It's totally awesome.''
"I'm very impressed with the engineering of the craft itself. It's a pretty impressive scale model,'' said county Commissioner Dave Russell, a pilot himself and the commission's liaison to the Aviation Authority.
Russell, who once built and flew his own aircraft, said he was excited about the possibilities of the technology.
"I'd love to see the full-size model,'' he said.
Would he fly one if he got the chance?
"Hell, yeah,'' he replied.