Cobalt Valkyrie Certification Uncertain Despite Strong $50 Million in Orders

By Woodrow Bellamy III | February 22, 2016
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[Avionics Today 02-22-2016] Cobalt’s Co50 Valkyrie five-seater, single-engine piston aircraft has not yet obtained FAA Part 23 certification, but that hasn’t stopped the manufacturer from achieving $50 million in pre-orders of the Valkyrie and Valkyrie X within the first 90 days of launching both. David Loury, founder and CEO of Cobalt, says the company has a solid avionics package in place and that Cobalt is working with several external suppliers to ensure that, when it is certified, it can be an aircraft that brings disruption to the lower end of the general aviation market. 
Cobalt Valkyrie cockpit. Photo: Cobalt Aircraft.
Cobalt’s parent company is based in France, but the majority of the development of the aircraft occurred in Canada, where Loury located the operations after Cobalt raised its first round of capital in 2008. In 2014, Loury relocated Cobalt to San Francisco, Calif., and the company publicly launched the Co50 Valkyrie and experimental version, Valkyrie X, on Nov. 12, 2015. Currently, the experimental version is available for $595,000 and can be secured with a $15,000 deposit with an estimated production time of six months. Loury is targeting 2017 for availability of the fully certified Valkyrie, which he said has completed 85 to 90 percent of the testing needed to obtain an FAA airworthiness certificate, though the FAA has stated it has not yet received an official application for certification for the Valkyrie. 
“All the compliance documents for most of the Part 23 requirements are present, they have begun and we have not yet reached a technical maturity where we can submit them for FAA type certification,” Loury told Avionics Magazine. “We are working to avoid mistakes that we have seen in the past for a new aircraft manufacturer. But we do need to get those aircraft in the field and flying because with our aircraft currently flying under an experimental type certification it goes nowhere as it is today.”
Without Part 23 certification, the aircraft cannot be used for business or as an air taxi. However, Cobalt’s order book, as it stands today, is still quite impressive; more than 80 percent of existing orders are from CEOs of small businesses and technology companies, such as Apple and Google. 
According to Cobalt, the aircraft is the fastest single-engine piston aircraft with the ability to travel up to 260 knots. On the exterior, the aircraft is shaped like a sleek fighter with a unique one-piece canopy providing a 320-degree worldview. In the cockpit, for the certified version, Cobalt is featuring the Garmin G3X touchscreen avionics package.
“In single-engine piston airplanes, Garmin has the monopoly, de facto,” said Loury. “Before switching to Garmin we had the Smart Deck, which was originally developed by L-3 and then sold to CMC Electronics, but the development was eventually dropped because it did not pick up enough traction. The fact that we have Garmin today is the result of us not having any choice, everybody is asking for Garmin because Garmin is the only glass cockpit that is out there massively. Initially, there was a choice between Avidyne, L-3 and Garmin and now everyone wants Garmin. So, as an air framer, we are excited to see new initiatives like Aspen Avionics, and other new companies that try to shake things up a little because monopolies are not good for anybody. But right now we are with Garmin because we cannot select any other option.”
Beyond the avionics package, Loury said the company is also working on some innovative usage of the iPad and broadband connectivity to make flying the aircraft easier for private pilots. 
“We are located in Silicon Valley and over there you can see the progress being made with the Internet of Things and Internet connectivity in general, between virtually any two devices that you can think of,” said Loury. “We are working actively on the use of the iPad in the cockpit of the airplane. For example, we are actually currently working with a start-up company on an app that will communicate with the aircraft engine, fuel system and electrical system and provide the pilot with very reliable information that he or she needs access to based on the phase of flight they are in or during the flight planning phase as well. We are basically ‘iPhone-izing’ the plane.”
Loury, who is a private pilot himself, said the company is constantly talking to GA pilots about how to optimize the user experience of flying the aircraft and how that can be achieved using iPads, apps, and broadband connectivity. Most importantly, he believes cockpit avionics and the use of tablets such as the iPad need to become more simplified and not provide any information that a pilot would not need or would become overburdened by.
“We are looking to make the experience of flying as simple and as seamless for the pilot as possible. On the iPads what we are showing, in terms of engine information, is the percentile amount of the fuel remaining by time, so the pilot would know, for example, if there are two hours of fuel left. That is the only information you really need as a pilot if everything is green. Now, if there is any abnormal parameters then you display more information, but you don’t need to display this information at all times because it can distract your attention,” said Loury. 
For the remainder of 2016, Loury said Cobalt is focused on getting the Valkyrie flight test aircraft flying in “real world conditions to build reliability.”

“We are looking for our early adopters and building a community of people that understand what we are doing, and understand that what we are doing is good for aviation. I’m pretty happy with the feedback we have received from the market early on, so we will just look to keep working to bring careful disruption, while respecting all the regulations to the letter,” said Loury. 

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