|Edgley Optica G-BOPO at the 2008 Sywell Airshow|
|National origin||United Kingdom|
|First flight||14 December 1979|
The Edgley EA-7 Optica is a British light aircraft designed for low-speed observation work, and intended as a low-cost alternative to helicopters. The Optica has a loiter speed of 130 km/h (70 kn; 81 mph) and a stall speed of 108 km/h (58 kn; 67 mph).
Design and development
The Optica project began in 1974 with a company, Edgley Aircraft Limited, formed by John Edgley who, with a small team, designed and built the original prototype. In 1982, institutional investors bought into the project and set up a production line at Old Sarum Airfield in Wiltshire. Over the next three years, the company was built up to full manufacturing capability, the aircraft received UK certification, and the first customer aircraft was delivered. Despite this success, the additional investment necessary for the final phase of full production was not forthcoming, the business went into receivership, and John Edgley was forced out. With new owners, aircraft on the production line were completed, and the Optica entered service.
The aircraft has an unusual configuration with a fully glazed forward cabin, reminiscent of an Alouette helicopter, that provides 270° panoramic vision and almost vertical downward vision for the pilot and two passengers. The aircraft has twin booms with twin rudders and a high-mounted tailplane. It is powered by a Lycoming flat-six normally-aspirated engine situated behind the cabin and driving a fixed pitch ducted fan. Due to the ducted fan, the aircraft is exceptionally quiet. The aircraft has a fixed tricycle undercarriage with the nosewheel offset to the left. The wings are unswept and untapered. The aircraft is of fairly standard all-metal construction, with a stressed skin of aluminium.
The aircraft's distinctive appearance has led to it being known as the "bug-eye" in some popular reports.
The Optica, powered by a 160 hp (119 kW) Lycoming IO-320 engine, made its maiden flight on 14 December 1979 when it was flown by Squadron Leader Angus McVitie, the chief pilot of the Cranfield College of Aeronautics.
A total of 22 Opticas were built, while construction of a 23rd began but was not completed. Ten aircraft were destroyed in an arson attack at the factory.
The Optica went through several changes of ownership, until FLS Aerospace (Lovaux Ltd) took over the rights, together with the design and manufacturing rights to the Sprint: a two-seat ab-initio trainer that had been designed by Sydney Holloway in Cornwall UK at about the same time as the Optica. Lovaux had intended to develop both aircraft, with the Sprint intended as the military trainer for the UK forces. However, the Sprint was not adopted for this role, and Lovaux cancelled both projects.
The Optica and the Sprint together then passed through other owners until, in 2007, they were offered to John Edgley who formed a new company, AeroElvira Limited, with three former employees of Edgley Aircraft (Chris Burleigh, Fin Colson and Dave Lee) who at that time were working on both projects for the then-owners. The new company successfully put G-BOPO back into service as a UK demonstrator, with a first return-to-service flight on 3 June 2008. In August 2016 Interflight Global (IFG) announced plans to start a valuation of the dormant Optica programme with a view to relaunching production. In December 2016, IFG completed its valuation and in June 2017, delivered an LOI to AeroElvira to continue with due diligence, appraisal and further steps to re launch the EA-7 Optica aircraft programme in the 2018–19 timeframe. IFG planned to develop, market and support the Optica, outsourcing the fabrication and final assembly to an FAA/EASA Part 23 certified OEM. At the end of 2018, IFG modified its initial program re-launch efforts whilst, again, identifying and selecting a suitable OEM strategic partner to update the Optica TC and to bring the aircraft into production. As of the end of 2019, IFG continues to seek for a strategic OEM partner to re-launch the program aligned with optionally piloted and powered by electric or hybrid electric powerplants. As of 2022, IFG, in a post COVID 19 Pandemic re assessment of intent, remains active in the search for strategic partners to assist in the re launch the aircraft programme.
Accidents and incidents
On 15 May 1985, Optica G-KATY crashed, killing its Hampshire Constabulary pilot and his photographer passenger. The UK Department of Transport Air Accidents Investigation Branch found, inter alia, that: "There was no indication that either structural or mechanical failure had occurred or of flying control malfunction or jamming." and that "The final loss of control was caused by either the aircraft stalling in a turn at a high angle of bank, or the nose dropping."
On 11 March 1990, G-BMPL, while in flight, sustained damage to the ducted fan and hub assembly and minor airframe damage. The pilot performed a successful forced approach landing: there were no injuries and no further damage to the aircraft. A subsequent investigation discovered cracks resulting from metal fatigue on the fan hub. The manufacturer issued a service bulletin calling for a hub inspection before further flight, and the UK Civil Aviation Authority issued a Mandatory Airworthiness Notice (No. 004-05-90). The Optica fan has now been replaced by one designed and manufactured by Hoffmann Propeller.
Data from Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1988–89
- Crew: 3
- Length: 8.15 m (26 ft 9 in)
- Wingspan: 12.00 m (39 ft 4 in)
- Height: 2.31 m (7 ft 7 in)
- Wing area: 15.84 m2 (170.5 sq ft)
- Aspect ratio: 9.1:1
- Airfoil: NASA GA(W)-1
- Empty weight: 948 kg (2,090 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 1,315 kg (2,899 lb)
- Fuel capacity: 250 L (66 US gal; 55 imp gal) useful capacity
- Powerplant: 1 × Textron Lycoming IO-540-V4A5D air-cooled flat-six engine, 190 kW (260 hp)
- Propellers: 5-bladed fixed-pitch ducted fan
- Maximum speed: 213 km/h (132 mph, 115 kn)
- Cruise speed: 130 km/h (81 mph, 70 kn) (loiter speed, 40% power)
- Stall speed: 108 km/h (67 mph, 58 kn) outboard flaps up
- Never exceed speed: 259 km/h (161 mph, 140 kn)
- Range: 1,056 km (656 mi, 570 nmi) at 130 km/h (81 mph; 70 kn) (45-minute reserves)
- Endurance: 8 h (at loiter speed)
- Service ceiling: 4,275 m (14,026 ft)
- Rate of climb: 4.1 m/s (810 ft/min)
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
- Abrams P-1 Explorer, also a twin-boom pusher observation plane
- Brdischka HB23 Scanliner
- Heston JC.6
- Seabird Seeker
- Flight International 12 May 1979, p. 1591.
- Flight International 12 May 1979, p. 1594.
- Flight International 29 December 1979, p.2111.
- Flight International 21 April 1984, p. 1111.
- Taylor 1988, p.294.
- Sarsfield, Kate (16 July 2014). "FARNBOROUGH: Edgley seeks buyer for Optica observation aircraft". Flightglobal.
- Aero Elvira. Accessed 23 March 2008
- "Optica flies again in UK Archived 22 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine". Flyer. 5 August 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
- "Farnborough: Optica moves a stop closer to relaunch". Flightglobal. 13 July 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2016.
- Sarsfield, Kate (5 July 2017). "IFG gets Optica production launch in its sights". Flightglobal. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
- McKinley, R C (1986). "Report on the accident to Edgley Optica G-KATY at Ringwood, Hampshire, on 15 May 1985" (PDF). cabinet-office.gov.uk. London: HMSO. p. 24. Retrieved 2 January 2016., paras 6 & 10
- Air Accidents Investigation Branch (1990). Brooklands Aerospace Group plc OA7 Optica, G-BMPL (PDF).
- Taylor 1988, pp. 294–295
- "Optica—the bug-eyed observer". Flight International. Vol. 115, no. 3660. IPC Business Press. 12 May 1979. pp. 1591–1594 – via Flightglobal archive.
- "Optica enters production". Flight International. 21 April 1984. pp. 1111–1114 – via Flightglobal archive.
- "No cause found for Optica crash". Flight International. 30 August 1986. p. 54.
- Donald, David, ed. (1997). The Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. Aerospace Publishing. ISBN 1-85605-375-X.
- Taylor, J. W. R., ed. (1988). Jane's All the World's Aircraft, 1988–89. Coulsdon, Surrey, UK: Jane's Information Group. ISBN 0-7106-0867-5.