FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE

Fagen fuels future growth with fleet of 3 Citations

Minnesota company's XLS and 2 CJs expand biofuel, clean energy business.


CitationJet and XLS inside the company hangar at GDB, protected from the harsh Minnesota winters. Fagen also operates a Baron 58 and Bonanza A36 for local flying.

Not only does the company construct ethanol plants-it also has an engineering division to work closely with prospective clients. He explains, "Fagen Engineering is a national full service engineering firm offering complete civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical/ instrumentation design services.

We are ranked by Engineering New Record as the 13th largest design-build firm in the US. Our engineering experience covers biofuels-including ethanol and biodiesel-agricultural processing, food processing, power, grain handling, cogeneration, water treatment, wind turbines and many other heavy industrial projects.

We have been involved in the design of over 75 ethanol plants covering 17 states. Project experience includes green field sites, plant expansions, and plant modifications." If the energy crisis of this past summer did nothing else, it should have served as the latest in a series of wake-up calls to the US to start looking in earnest for alternatives to traditional fossil fuels.

Change has been taking place, but slowly. One thing noticeable on the drive from Minneapolis to Granite Falls is the number of gas stations offering E85 fuel-a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

While this may be common in this region, it is extremely uncommon in other parts of the US. In Brazil, Fagen notes, all cars are E85-capable. Every car that races in the Indianapolis 500 is fueled by 100% ethanol.

Go to an air show where Greg Poe is flying and you will see an airplane fueled by pure ethanol. (Reportedly, it took all of 3 1/2 hours to convert Poe's aircraft from avgas to ethanol.) According to Ron Fagen, it would cost the auto industry less than $20 additional per vehicle to ship a car that is E85 capable.

It costs relatively little to modify an auto engine, and Fagen considers that the obstacle standing in the way of more ethanol is a political one over the allocation of corn. Fagen dismisses the concern voiced by a segment of the industry that corn used for ethanol would take away from corn used for food for humans and livestock.

This, he claims, is absolutely untrue. For starters, the corn that is usable for ethanol is not the same corn used by Green Giant. This corn is used to feed livestock. Fagen explains, "All we want is the starch from the corn.

Once we process it, we're left with protein, which is used to enrich grain for livestock feed. Cows don't really care whether they get their protein from ears of corn or from grain enriched with protein as a byproduct of ethanol production. "We see it as a win-win situation," he continues.

"The world is long on starch and short on protein. Most of the farmers belong to cooperatives, in which they get paid for both the starch used in ethanol and protein used in feedstock.

This keeps them off of government assistance, which we estimate has saved the federal government some $8 billion." Fagen concedes that, if the US were to push to require all cars to run on E85 or pure ethanol right now, there would simply not be enough output capacity to handle the demand.

Mileage using E85 is less than 87-octane gasoline, but one can argue that the cost of ethanol is significantly less than gasoline. Either way, says Fagen, the government could be doing far more to encourage the development of alternatives to fossil fuels.

Warbirds 'R Us

Ron Fagen's second avowed passion is restoring and flying warbirds. From his childhood, he remembers his father's stories of how Lockheed P38s saved his life while he was pinned down on a beach in Normandy.

Ron Fagen developed a love affair with WWII aircraft. His first flirtation occurred in 1977, when he went to Central and South America in search of North American P51s being surplussed from the military in those regions.

He grins as he notes, "Fortunately, I didn't find any in decent shape, which likely saved my life, since I probably would have killed myself trying to fly one back!" It wasn't until nearly 17 years later that he finally realized his dream by buying a Mustang that had been used for racing, and restored it to its original specifications-after being properly trained to fly it.

Since then, he has purchased a P38 (one of only a handful still flyable), and a pair of Curtiss P40s (one flyable, the other in pieces). Fagen has over 10,000 hours in his logbook, and is rated in the P38, P40 and P51.

One of the company hangars at GDB is used for restoring warbirds-a venture Ron Fagen hopes to turn into a money-making proposition.

Looking ahead

Ron Fagen's company is increasingly involved with construction projects and exporting technology overseas, so at some point Ator sees adding an airplane with greater range than the XLS.

Already, he has taken the XLS to Europe in support of possible projects in Croatia, and the company has shown interest in projects in Argentina. In considering equipment options, Ator notes that longer-range aircraft each have their different strengths.

When the time comes, he says, the flight department will work closely with Ron, Aaron and Evan Fagen to identify the most suitable aircraft to meet their needs. At present, says Ator, the Citation Sovereign appears to be the front-runner.

He gives several reasons: "For shorter flights we can still operate it out of GDB, and for longer flights the 7220-ft runway at MML will be plenty long." Also, he notes, Cessna support is a known factor. "We could get a plane that would reach Europe from MML," he continues, "but how often would we really use it at its full capability, and at what cost?

The Sovereign will reach Europe or Argentina with a single stop, and once over there will get us around on shorter hops economically. Having said all of this, we're not quite ready to add any aircraft for the time being."

Meanwhile, Ron Fagen says that he is comfortable with the current size of the company. The door is always open to new opportunities, however, the greatest of which appears to be China. Says Fagen, "China represents almost unlimited potential, along with almost unlimited risks.

We're certainly interested in the possibilities there, but will proceed with extreme caution before making any large investment in resources into a politically and economically volatile market. So, for now, an aircraft that can take us to Asia is not even on our radar."

Meanwhile, the importance that Fagen attaches to corporate aircraft can be summed up by his statement, "I started this multimillion-dollar business with 1 pickup truck and a crew of 4. Without corporate aircraft, we would probably be up to 4 pickup trucks and a crew of 25!

Our use of corporate aircraft has been one of the most important reasons we've been able to grow as we have."

Jay Selman has been a contributing writer for Pro Pilot for 27 years.His aviation articles have also appeared in magazines and newspapers around the world. He currently works as a customer service supervisor for a major airline in Charlotte NC.

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