James Labouchere, Managing Director, Warrior Aero-Marine
James Labouchere has a
dream. His company, Warrior Aero-Marine, hopes to revolutionize
marine aviation with its Centaur seaplane. That's more than some PR
drivel. The aircraft, with folding wings and a multi-hull design,
could well be an everyman's aircraft. It will operate from sea
bases as well as land-based facilities.
ANN asked 20 questions of Mr. Labouchere. Without editing (well,
we did spell-check), here are the answers:
1. Aero-News: The Centaur is a unique,
multi-hulled seaplane. What advantages does that afford a
Labouchere (right): The hull form is derived from
slender-hulled yachts and cuts waves and rides rough water with low
shock-loading. This improves the whole deal for a pilot - better
ride quality and a wider range of wave conditions in which a pilot
can operate both safely and reliably.
2. Aero-News: Do you foresee the Centaur as
being at the forefront of a revolution in marine aviation?
James Labouchere: Yes. In making aviation
entirely compatible with the marine sector, a major expansion in
the application for aviation is inevitable.
3. Aero-News: What price points do you hope to
hit with the Centaur?
James Labouchere: Current purchase contracts
tie us to $550k for a basic amphibious aircraft. This prices
capacity competitively, but for it you get lower operating cost and
many new types of destination to access.
4. Aero-News: What options will be available
and at what cost?
James Labouchere: Options include 350hp
(turbo), hydraulic wing-fold, electric or combustion-engine for
auxiliary drive (used for low-speed maneuvering in marinas etc),
and the usual options on navigation, communication and interior.
Options and their prices are not all defined yet but we are making
commitments in relation to their costs.
5. Aero-News: What sort of design challenges do
you face on this project?
James Labouchere: I think there are twice as
many design considerations in an amphibious aircraft than a land
plane, which makes it four times as difficult to design.
Challenging us still further, we have set high target
specifications in terms of function, accommodation and practical
operating needs. The configuration now melds very nicely, but we
are still up against detail. The undercarriage and doors have taken
at least four times as long to define than we expected, there being
many failure modes and cases driving the design of a fail-safe
concept that can be driven up beaches, bumped into floating debris,
pressed down into the water even when taxiing on water at moderate
speed. . . . this is difficult iterative design.
6. Aero-News: How did you hit upon your ideas
for the aircraft?
James Labouchere: They come from engineering
and sailing racing yachts. I have been out in rough water in fast
multi hulls yacht, 'flying' hulls and touching on speeds that an
aircraft needs to take-off. These circumstances are much the same
as a seaplane at the point of take-off, but yachts do it in a far
wider range of conditions and usually with very docile handling.
Hence, in ignorance of conventional texts on seaplane hull design,
we found ourselves taking an original approach. The first round of
comparative tests showed up the potential of major advantages, and
7. Aero-News: Does the multi-hull concept
detract in any way from the Centaur’s performance in the
James Labouchere: The stub-wings and sponsons
pay a slight penalty in terms of cruise speed, but these serve a
multitude of other purposes in housing fuel and landing gear,
lifting hard in ground-effect and providing an on-water platform.
These advantages allow a tidier fuselage which in turn tends to
recover any penalty. Greater than this, the main hull is
aerodynamically cleaner and lighter to engineer, which reflect on
cruise and payload.
8. Aero-News: What sort of performance will
pilots derive from the Centaur?
James Labouchere: We could have competed for
top speed if we wanted and may some day, but as long as the Centaur
can compete reasonably amongst existing land planes, speed is
secondary to essential functions. We have an airplane that will
reliably deliver greater load, further, safer and at lower cost to
more types of destination than any equivalent aircraft. With
maximum load, the acceleration, take-off distance and climb will be
conventional. Loaded with the maximum that a conventional 300hp
amphib can take (light in respect of the Centaur's capacity), it
should out-perform everything equivalent in terms of take-off
9. Aero-News: How cost-effective do you believe
this aircraft will be to operate?
James Labouchere: The short airframe lives and
intensive maintenance schedules of metal seaplanes in salt water
generally prevent their application - especially in the tropics.
With the use of composite structure identical to high-specification
yachts and with wing-fold enabling the Centaur to use ordinary boat
docks and marinas (as opposed to high-cost specialist facilities),
fundamental cost advantages are achieved. These accumulate with
greater capacity per horse-power to suggest that 20% to 40%
reductions in cost of ownership and life-cycled cost-per-seat-mile
may be typical.
10. Aero-News: As with most aviation projects
– especially those that involve revolutionary concepts, such
as the Centaur – you have to convince people that the idea is
sound. How has that process gone for Warrior?
James Labouchere: Good question and yes, it has
been a struggle. We have used every analytical method available,
copied the development procedures used by the big seaplane
developers of past (Saunders-Roe and Lockheed Martin particularly),
used the best qualifications and obtained the most professional
market assessment. Thus our level of technical and commercial
confidence could not be higher. This is not enough for most
financiers or customers. Fortunately, the few that put aside time
to read our information, that ask questions and that do not draw
judgments from negative experience in the over saturated land plane
arena, become converts and invest. We owe these few investors
everything, and I believe that we are going to please them
11. Aero-News: Saltwater is, of course,
terribly corrosive. How will the Centaur grapple with that?
James Labouchere: Both becoming more favorable
in respect of cost, we have the use of titanium and
fiber-reinforced plastics to remove the problems with short lives
and intensive maintenance schedules associated with aluminum in
saltwater. These will leave the powerplant and some systems as the
maintenance issues. Much can be done with conventional marine
engineering principles and the powerplant can easily be maintained
within other inspection/maintenance cycles. We are helped by the
fact that the Centaur generates much less spray than conventional
hulls and this passes below the propeller arc when tracking
12. Aero-News: Another unique concept in the
Centaur is the hydraulically powered folding wings. What advantage
does this feature offer to pilots/owners?
James Labouchere: Seaplanes can generally not
access coastal marinas and boat docks. They thus can not be
protected from waves or weather, and only in exceptional
circumstance can they be re-fuelled and loaded in populated
waterside areas. The Centaur can approach any marina and any
dockside just as any other boat, with wings folded and using a
small auxiliary thruster engineered into the stern and controlled
from the cockpit. This gives it easy access to at least five times
as many coastal facilities than any equivalent seaplane.
13. Aero-News: What is your timetable for
bringing the Centaur to market?
James Labouchere: We can not fix a schedule yet
as it is sensitive to funding and partnering. We expect to have the
Centaur Certified and in rate production within two years from
being fully resourced.
14. Aero-News: What segment of aviation do you
plan to address with this revolutionary aircraft?
James Labouchere: The Centaur's content is
similar to the most popular categories of privately operated land
plane. However, it has the capacity and economics to work hard for
a living amongst much bigger machines. Hence, we have a wide range
of markets, from personal/family transport to Part 135 taxi
operators and other service providers. Much purchase interest has
come from Bonanza and Bell 206 owners in addition to frustrated
15. Aero-News: What do you see as your biggest
challenge in bringing the Centaur to market?
James Labouchere: The one that we most want
done and dusted is the financing and partnering. Provided you do
not hang your hat on an unproven engineering technology,
Certification once reasonably resourced can be achieved quite
reliably, as others will support.
16. Aero-News: The aviation industry is largely
depressed right now, yet you continue moving toward bringing the
Centaur to market. Why now?
Labouchere: The industry is depressed because new land
planes achieve less practical purpose than most 1950's aircraft,
being more constrained than ever to prepared runways and thus a
diminishing 'box'. Speed is not important, because the average
private pilot in the US flies less than 40 hours a year!The market
needs a product that is compatible with spouse, family, other
outdoor activities, summer holidays and both urban and remote
destinations. Water is the biggest common factor amongst these,
whether boating, fishing, lounging on a beach or making a business
meeting or shopping trip to town-center. We have a product which
will do this in addition to everything a land plane does. Our
reason for existing is the very same reason that mainstream
aviation is depressed.
17. Aero-News: How do you plan to manufacture
and support the market?
James Labouchere: We intend to supply the
Americas from the USA and both Europe and Asia from the UK, using
supply chains as sought by partner companies for original
components. Manufacture will be carried out in subassemblies for a
low-time final assembly and for ease of repair/replacement. We
fully appreciate the importance of market support and we are thus
engineering with standard systems to make it easier. We expect to
have a go-anywhere 'ambulance' team to fix any other problem in a
hurry until we have built up regional expertise.
18. Aero-News: Do you foresee a difference in the needs of
marine aviation markets in the US and Europe?
James Labouchere: No. Identical boats and aircraft succeed well
both sides of the pond and we are all up against exactly the same
kind of waves and practical issues.
19. Aero-News: Which domestic or international
market do you expect will become the focus of your business?
James Labouchere: North America is the
immediate focus as it is most accountable and has a large practiced
and educated aircraft-operating population. We have also been well
supported in Maine, where the company is registered. Global markets
are potentially just as great, but these must follow as business
20. Aero-News: What is the regulatory
atmosphere surrounding the Centaur?
James Labouchere: All design work has been
carried out with FAR part 23 in the right hand of all our
engineers, many of whom have lived a life Certifying more demanding
aircraft than the Centaur. There will be some negotiation on
details, particularly the automation of the wing-fold and lock.