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Revving up the economy - Odessa American: Business

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Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2007 12:00 am

MIDLAND Trace Engines is racing toward production of an aircraft engine totally manufactured in West Texas.

“We’re setting up for manufacturing. We’re getting parts in,” Craig Hoover, Trace Engine chief executive officer, said, adding he expects the first engine to be completed in September.

Located alongside Interstate 20 in Midland in late August of 2006, the FAA now has approved the transfer of the OE600A Engine Type Certificate from Orenda Recip Inc. to Trace Engines LP.

When Midlander L.D. “Buddy” Sipes and other investors in the company went looking for a way to diversify the economy of Odessa and Midland, they chose the production of aircraft and marine engines, but they didn’t buy a company to relocate to this area.

Instead, they purchased the program to build the Orenda 600 horsepower V-8, liquid-cooled reciprocating aircraft engine.

“When we started more than two years ago,” Sipes said, “a lot of people saw it as a way to diversify the economy.”

Trace is primarily an assembly operation, Hoover said. The engines are assembled in a large metal facility that is kept free of dust and dirt.

The engines are built from “all new parts we manufacture,” Sipes noted.

To comply with FAA regulations, all materials can be tracked from the mining process to final usage.

Working with Midland College’s Aviation Department, Hoover said the company took applications from 200 people, selected the top 20, then hired the two best mechanics — Matt Tischer and Kerry Higgins. Hoover said his senior mechanic on staff is Melinda Martin.

The focus of Trace Engines — the OE600A engine — is a turbocharged, reciprocating, certified V-8 aircraft engine that Hoover says “is the only one like it in the world.”

He notes that while a turbine engine loses horsepower as it climbs in altitude, the Orenda V-8 maintains cruising power. Trace brochures note “an equivalent turboprop engine would need to be rated as much as 1,000 horsepower at sea level in order to match the Trace engine output at altitude.”

What’s more, Hoover said, the engine uses 30 percent less fuel than a comparable turbine engine.

Those are good selling points, even with the Orenda OE600A to be priced at “under $200,000,” Hoover said.

While the engine is intended for general aviation use, Hoover said, another potential market is military use in Predator drone aircraft now used for border surveillance.

“This engine is appropriate in size and power to the ones they are using now,” Hoover said.

There also is a possibility of using the engine in marine craft.

With 11 employees now on staff, Hoover and Sipes said they hope to have 30 employees as early as next year. Employees are screened and then licensed and certified.

Hoover said his goal is to eventually produce at least one engine per day at the plant.

The optimism extends beyond company officials.

“I think that Trace Engines is going to be an important part of our economic development efforts,” Odessa Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mike George said.

“The skilled labor that will be utilized will be highly compensated, which will add to our local economy and having an aircraft engine manufacturer in our area will add to the success and respect we are gaining throughout the nation,” he said.

He added that the chamber is pleased to have “such a well-respected management team and industry in the area.”

Hoover said there is an ample market for the engines. “The largest market for this engine is outside this country.”

Odessa, TX

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