Reinventing the Plane

By Beacon Staff

Since its unveiling last spring, John McGinnis’ prototype aircraft, the Synergy, has been hailed as a visionary project that could exemplify the future of personal aviation.

McGinnis and a team of designers in Kalispell are in the early stages of developing a full-sized aircraft that could seat up to five people, travel safer and faster than average small airplanes and with 10 times more fuel efficiency.

After a scale model was introduced and flown in April 2011, videos have spread across the Internet, grabbing the attention of the aeronautics community. The early prototype garnered the “Most Innovative” award from Sport Aviation Magazine in June.

McGinnis describes Synergy as a catalyst in aviation.

“We haven’t paid attention to aircraft design in 50 years,” he said. “We need better airplanes.”

The aircraft’s design is based around a breakthrough aerodynamic “double box tail” that reduces drag and aids fuel efficiency. The slick design looks straight out of a science fiction movie, blending fighter jet with sailplane.

Yet there’s nothing fictitious about it. The Synergy project is moving forward with initial fundraising to help get development off the ground. Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website that allows creative projects to set a financial goal and reach it within a certain period of time or lose the funding, reconsidered its initial rejection of Synergy after people rallied around the project. Synergy earlier this month began its quest for $65,000. By May 24, 435 backers had already pledged $56,835 for the project. The outpouring of support led McGinnis to up the ante and aim to raise an additional $100,000.

“This is a multi-million dollar project,” he said. “The more fundraising we can achieve, the more we can get done.”

The Kickstarter fundraising will end June 4. The initial funds will go to developing part of the plane’s engine and landing gear.

“We’re ecstatic that Kickstarter will now help,” McGinnis said.

McGinnis believes more financial support and large market opportunities will arrive when Synergy begins to fully materialize and people realize its capabilities.

McGinnis has already seen grassroots support emerge from across the globe, and it’s helping his vision come to life.

“We were sure that we would have the support,” McGinnis said. “If we could put this in front of the people there would be money coming in.”

The goal all along has been to build a state-of-the-art airplane using the latest modern technology. McGinnis and his team are focused on practicality, comfort and efficiency. Though the Synergy appears overly simplistic, McGinnis has pored over 80 years of aeronautical history, studying past breakthroughs like the Gossamer Condor, the first human-powered plane capable of sustaining a controlled flight, and the Gossamer Albatross, a human-powered aircraft that successfully crossed the English Channel in 1979.
Here in the Flathead Valley, McGinnis and his team are trying to develop the latest icon in flight.

Using a 200-horse power DeltaHawk diesel engine, the aircraft has flown higher than 25,000 feet in simulation exercises, according to the company. Early predictions are that Synergy could get 40 miles per gallon.

“No manned aircraft intended for volume production has ever come remotely close to such fuel-efficient high performance in the 100 to 450 MPH speed range,” according to the project website. “Synergy clearly promises the largest practical fuel economy breakthrough in history.”

Eventually McGinnis plans on allowing universities and those in the aviation industry to study the project openly. Until then, it’s a proprietary gem.

“We feel it’s worth the minimal remaining build cost to find out how high the bar has been raised, and in doing so, we create maximum value,” the website reads. “Time to build it!”

For more information about Synergy, visit www.synergyaircraft.com. To pledge funds for Synergy on Kickstarter through June 4, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/launchsynergy/synergy-aircraft-project

UPDATE (5/29) — More than 600 people have now contributed an average of $120 each to advance the Synergy aircraft prototype toward flight test demonstration, according to Kickstarter. The project has now raised over $73,000 with one week remaining.