Did you dream of being an aircraft designer? What propelled you to your journey?
[FR]: I was born with a passion for aircraft. Probably because where I used to live as a child, airplanes flew over the house, then disappeared just two seconds later behind the building in front of us (in Naples there are many buildings close to each other!)… So this always increased the curiosity about “where they went” behind that building.
Then my father bought me a magazine with aircraft cutaways and he saw that I literally spent days watching those pictures… It was 1986, and I was 3 years old… I was constantly asking to be able to fly with a “small aircraft”, and finally I got this experience “present” when I was 13 years old when I flew in an old “Partenavia P66”. It was there that I found out that all “P” airplanes have been designed by a professor coming from Naples, my town! I started to read about him and his former company, Partenavia, as well as his new company, Tecnam, both founded with his brother… at that time I was 13, and professor Pascale was already 76! No chance to attend Engineering studies and catch him as my teacher! So more or less, at that time I started to dream of becoming professor Pascale´s “student”, a General Aviation aircraft designer, and a pilot!
For the first two, the chance would have been: becoming a Tecnam engineer… and this was my dream since I was 13: not just becoming an engineer, but becoming an engineer working at Tecnam, with the hope to spend as much time as possible with Professor Pascale. When he passed away, the time count was 12 years of everyday work together!
How does one become an aircraft designer?
[FR] Partially described above. Most certainly, a university and a pilot license are not enough… not even working with a big aircraft manufacturer! Becoming an engineer, becoming a pilot, at that time working with a small company with only 2 engineers inside, and designing the aircraft from zero until it is delivered to the customers, is instead the right path for me! I joined Tecnam in 2005, and in 2008 I started to put into practice what I was learning every day… and my free time was…designing my own aircraft!
When did you become a pilot?
[FR] I got my first license in 2001, then others and those called “rating”, for example, “multi-engine” and so on… I am now 39, and I am a pilot for more than half of my life, which makes me happy!
Do you test planes you design and fly them yourselves?
[FR] I used to fly the aircraft I designed for myself a lot. The FR-01 is my “kid”. I also have the pleasure and privilege to fly Tecnam’s new airplanes. Depending on the activity that needs to be performed, I used to fly with our test pilots or sometimes by myself with the experimental single-engine small aircraft like P92 MkII.
What is the path from the aircraft vision to the product?
[FR] The first idea is always to build a product that must be fit for the scope: whatever the end user is, a flight school, an airline, or a special mission operator, our design always start with their business in mind and, of course, with the need to bring Italian style to everyone! But designing with style is something almost automatic for “Italians”! The timeline varies and is heavily dependent on the aircraft’s complexity…
You have a wonderful role as a head of Research and Development at Tecnam. What do you love most about your job?
[FR] My role, as you said absolutely appropriately, is just wonderful: even if there are many responsibilities, the chance to always do, and learn new things is priceless. What I love the most is the very early stage of a new aircraft, or new aircraft version design, where you can see a mix of hand-made, CAD-made, and prototypes shaping what the next aircraft will look like… It is always curious to look back to those early stage drawings when the aircraft is already completed and on the market and think “how much work that was and what a great journey it has been!”…
What do I love the most? Every working hour or minute spent everywhere in the company that is not a “web call” (I hate those and luckily most of the time I manage to escape from them!).
Does Tecnam design a new aircraft every year?
[FR] Besides my “kid”, the FR-01, I started working at Tecnam in 2005, the same week the P2006T twin engine program was decided. P2006 was followed by P2008, Eaglet, P2010, Astore, P2012, Traildragger, P92MkII, P-Mentor, and lots, hundreds of variants, options, and versions! So yes, it is almost a new aircraft design every year while we keep all the others “forever young”!
How do you get ideas? What are the main challenges for you when envisioning a new airplane?
[FR] Ideas for a new aircraft or versions always come in the same way: NEVER through market investigations, but walking around the company with Tecnam CEO, Tecnam Managing Director, and my great colleague Michele… we started more programs and new aircraft talking in the hangars, than in meeting rooms!
What makes you stand out from the competition, how are Tecnam planes different? How do you look at competition?
[FR] We don’t use the term “competitors”. General Aviation Manufacturers are mainly friends, and we are always pleased to see and meet them during airshows and expos! We used to host them in our booths and they do the same to show our products to each other… We never looked at them as competitors, even if we are happier to see Tecnam in the flight schools or within special mission operators! The most important is always to deliver what customers expect from you: support, fast answers, the feeling of being part of a family, and to have bought a ticket for a lifetime partnership, rather than an aircraft!
Is sustainability now the main goal? Can design add towards low emission and is that a new trend, are you striving for that?
[FR] Sustainability is Tecnam mission since 1948, for a very simple reason: a sustainable and efficient aircraft is a machine that has lower operating costs, and this immediately turns into a profitable business for our customers… probably it is for this reason that we are the most fuel-efficient, and so the least emitting, flight training fleet from zero to commercial pilot license: if a flight school selects Tecnam for ab-initio training up to multi-engine and commercial pilot, every single student will procure 10 tons fewer emissions once graduated! This is possible with continuous investment in R&D and through extremely high-level programs that you can find on Tecnam website!
What are the greatest challenges in low-emission flight and how does the future looks?
[FR] Not sure but I hope it will look more real and there will be fewer hyped press releases.
What is your favorite aircraft and why?
FR] My favorite Tecnam is the P92MkII, a little jewel of accessible Italian style, where all the history of Tecnam condensates in shapes, materials, and “history” callback… It is also the aircraft that I love to fly the most, but I can tell you that the challenge is hard: when you fly a P2006, or a “Granlusso”, or a “Mentor”, it becomes hard to look back and say: that is my favorite….
What do you advise those who have a dream of becoming an aircraft designer?
[FR] If one has this dream, one knows how to make it happen… the only advice is to look at “reality”, not being just academically or just pilot-oriented: the aircraft design is also and mostly, learning how to build, how to weld, how to mill, how to assemble, rivet, laminate…
Author: Eva Kraš