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The Triton takes off: Local man's design gains international attention

Posted: Friday, Apr 11th, 2014

Templeton resident Charlee Smith stands with a model he built of his design for the Triton aircraft at his office at Bill Smith Industries in Atascadero Wednesday. Smith's design was recently featured in 'Flight International' magazine.

TEMPLETON — Local aviation enthusiast Charlee Smith says he wants to give more people the experience of what it really feels like to fly.

“Just about every design that’s on the market is built for the pilot,” Smith said. “But they don’t have hardly any consideration for the passenger. They just stick you in the back and you’ve got a little hole to look out and you just don’t get the experience.”

For the past four years Smith, a Templeton resident, has been working on designing an aircraft that will provide a thrilling flying experience for passengers. The plane, called the Triton, features a unique design that focuses on passenger comfort, views and safety above all else. Two passenger pods situated under each wing, giving passengers a panoramic view unobstructed by the plane’s control panels and propeller, would be capable of holding one large and one small person at a time. The plane would be powered by a 450 horsepower turboprop situated at the rear of the plane, out of the view of those on board, with a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour.

Smith says he was inspired by the virtual reality rides at theme parks like California Adventures that give riders the illusion of low-level flight with a panoramic view.

“I felt that I needed to design a plane that does that for real, that gives people that experience,” he said. “And I knew for that to be a success the plane would have to be much more comfortable than a standard aviation design.”

Smith says he sees the design being used primarily for air tours at places like the Grand Canyon and Hawaii. Although it won’t be included in the prototype, Smith says he would also like to eventually add a second, battery-powered engine that would allow the plane to fly completely silently for up to 20 minutes at a time, possibly giving the plane access to areas that are off-limits to normal aircraft due to noise concerns such as below the rim of the Grand Canyon.

“The views would be phenomenal and it would give each passenger the feeling as if they’re flying,” he said. “This design doesn’t have a priority of speed, the priority is passenger comfort.”

Smith says the plane would also be perfect for those who are afraid to fly in helicopters and other conventional aircraft and would be one of the safest rides in the sky. In addition to redundant engines, the plane would also have a built-in parachute capable of lowering it gently to the ground even in the event of complete engine failure.

“Just a person off the street is the most excited when they see this because they say ‘yeah, I would fly in that,’” he said.

For the complete article see the 04-11-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 04-11-2014 paper.

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