Moss Point – Freedom Transport Inc. (FTI) expects the new mountain bicycles that will be produced here to fly – or at least be as close to flying as is possible on two wheels. The company is gearing up to start production here on a top-of-the-line graphite composite mountain bike designed by the company`s CEO, an aeronautical engineer, to be a sleek, fast, very lightweight competitor.
“We think we have a design which will surpass anything that is out there right now,” said John Burwell Wilkes, president of Freedom Transport. “Graphite is very light and strong, and one of the new composites used a lot in the cutting edge of aviation technology. People who have seen the prototype are very excited about it. We are looking forward to being able to build and market them.”
The bike was designed by CEO Darius Sharifzadeh, who is an airplane designer and former airline captain. Currently, molds for the bike are being manufactured in California, and the company plans to start production in a month at its new plant located just north of Interstate 10 in the Escatawpa area of Moss Point.
Wilkes said the amount of production will be geared to demand.
“We`ll just have to see,” Wilkes said. “We know there is great interest, but we don`t know how big the demand is.”
The company is targeting both competitive mountain bike racers and recreational users as customers. The bicycle will have the lightest and strongest one-piece composite frame on the market, weighing less than four pounds prior to build up.
Wilkes said the bicycle will certainly be a candidate for some of the top mountain bike racers because the bike will be extremely strong and durable for its weight.
“Every pound you save is a pound you don`t have to move with that bicycle,” he said. “That also appeals to the non-racing public. Lots of people drive Porsche automobiles, but few race them.”
The bike is a tri-suspension, single-piece carbon fiber frame mountain bike with fully active progressive self-link suspension. All of the frames hardened attach points are engineered to receive and use quality components and accessories. All attach points are manufactured from state-of-the-art alloys and attached to the frame using stringent FAA standards. This process ensures a degree of reliability and maintainability unsurpassed in today`s market. The rider has the option to `mix and match` all mechanical components and accessories to easily achieve optimum performance and comfort in any environment.
The frame has a repairable, super-hard, “top coat damage layer” which prevents most intrusions to the carbon fiber core. A quality finish is then applied over the top coat creating a durable finish available in a variety of colors. As with other popular mountain bike designs, the FTI bike has a replaceable derailleur hanger and the frame design accommodates most popular high-end configurations. Cabling is integral to the frame and routed for near friction-free operation.
Wilkes said carbon fiber composite materials are increasingly being used in applications where superior strength, ultra-light weight and virtual indestructible abilities are required. According to the “lay-up” of carbon composites, a structure can be made to flex, remain rigid, or in the case of the FTI mountain bike, do both, as in it`s progressive suspension system.
Wilkes said employment at the plant will depend on demand. “If there is a big demand, we`ll be employing more people,” he said. “Also right now we are looking for people in the area that have experience with advanced composite work. They are kind of hard to find.”
A bit of history
Both Wilkes and Sharifzadeh have interesting business backgrounds. Sharifzadeh, trained in aeronautical engineering at Oxford Technical School in England, has 25 years of flying experience as an L-1011 and Boeing captain. A native of Iran, he worked for Iran Air becoming that airlines` youngest Boeing 747 captain. He accumulated thousands of hours in several large aircraft types before leaving Iran at the start of the Islamic revolution. He was the founder and CEO of Advanced Aerodynamics and Structures Inc. (AASI), responsible for the Jetcruzer and Stratrocruzer business aircraft. He resigned from AASI to devote his efforts to the development of the Freedom Jet.
Wilkes is an attorney who spent several years as executive vice president and general counsel of Capitol International Airways. He also served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of an aircraft leasing company in Ireland, and as president and CEO of Buffalo Airways, a cargo airline operating Boeing 707s and Douglas DC-8s. He is a retired colonel from the Marine Corps Reserve, and commanded an artillery battery in Vietnam. He is a squadron commander and mission check pilot for the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
Wilkes is also the managing director of the Americas Cargo Enterprise, Inc., which has recently built and equipped a new air cargo terminal at the Gulfport/Biloxi Regional Airport.
The Freedom Transport business plan call for aircraft parts to also be manufactured at the Escatawpa plant sometime in the future.