August 28, 2020 - What does a mechanical engineer do in his spare time?
In the case of the late Fred Erickson, over the course of 25 years he built and perfected a new type of engine, one that could have military and commercial uses.
Erickson, a Purdue graduate, was a mechanical engineer for Magnavox (now Raytheon) for 30 years, working on Sonobuoys, which were used by the military.
But he had an idea for a new engine design, one that he spent 25 years perfecting. The Erickson Migrating Combustion Chamber engine is the product of all that work. It is a multi-fuel, cost-effective, and, most importantly, quiet engine that doesn’t even need a muffler. It can operate on many fuels, including biofuels, E85, JP-8, JP-4, diesel and standard gasoline.
So why is the government so interested in a quiet engine?
Drones. With the increasing use of covert drones in military applications, the quieter the engine, the better. The MCC engine also has uses in commercial applications.
But back in the early days, when Fred Erickson was working on his engine in his garage, he didn’t have such lofty goals. “At first it was a hobby,” said his son Jeff Erickson. Then it became a business when the engines were made and sold for use in model airplanes. Jeff Erickson said the goal was to sell 100 to 1,000 a month, but to their dismay, kids were tired of radio-controlled airplanes and becoming more interested in drones.
However, the engines the Ericksons were making were for larger-sized drones — like the kind used by military and for commercial use.
And the hobby turned into a business, Engine Research Associates, or ERA, which is the military division of the company, focusing on military and government research and development programs. Erickson Motors in the commercial division of ERA.
Unfortunately, Fred Erickson did not live to see the progression of the business, but his family is carrying on where he left off.
And it really is a family business.
Rick Erickson, Jeff’s brother, is ERA co-owner and president. Jeff Erickson is co-owner and principal investigator, and Erickson Motors general manager. Rhonda Godfrey is ERA co-owner, vice president and controller and is Fred Erickson’s daughter. George Lewis is an ERA co-owner and vice president.
And Rick Erickson’s sons, Derick and Andrew, also work for the company.
The company got its start through funding from Small Business Innovation Research grants. They moved out of the garage and into lab space at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, a facility for entrepreneurs. Jeff said a few times they hit a rough patch and had to move back into the garage, but currently they are back at the NIIC.
Right now they are not selling a product; the company is focusing on research and development. Military contracts are tough to land, Jeff said, because of extreme standards, such as EPA requirements.
“Our goal is to get to commercial,” Jeff said. The engine should be of interest to commercial businesses because it’s quiet, has good power to weight ratio, has a low production cost, and can operate on several different fuels.