MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) — The aircraft engines being produced at Syssa Aircraft Performance on North Colony Road will end up in planes all over the world, but the only local passenger on those planes is a stuffed "Beaker" doll based on the Muppets' character.
Syssa Aircraft produces model airplane engines and was started by hobbyist Todd Syssa, who occasionally pilots some of his airplanes at the Hub. One of the planes he's building has the Beaker doll in the cockpit.
Recently, the company got a contract to do work for the military.
"But I can't really talk about it," Syssa said.
Model planes of different sizes sit on shelves and partition walls at the North Colony Road shop. Blocks of aircraft-grade aluminum are piled in bins waiting to be transformed into parts that will end up in engines destined for customers in Florida, Ohio or Texas, the biggest markets for remote-controlled airplanes, according to Syssa.
Aircraft engines and other parts the company makes require precision to degrees much smaller than a human hair, Syssa said.
Other than the carburetors, the small engines are all produced in America, which is a selling point for many customers, according to Syssa, a city resident.
"It makes a big difference," he said.
Joe Acosta, owner of Build Right Fly Right in Wallingford, said he's known Syssa for many years and helped him get started on developing the engine about six years ago. Acosta told Syssa that there would be a market for good quality, American-made engines that are comparable in price to engines made in China or Japan.
"If the entire package is substantially better than the Chinese can produce, then you can do it," Acosta said. "There has to be a reason when you're asking people to spend extra dollars."
Acosta said thus far, the strategy has worked for Syssa.
"Last year I sold more of his engines than any other," Acosta said.
Acosta, who worked for 40 years in the aerospace industry, said Syssa exhibits a common tendency for engineers looking for ways to improve a product.
"They're never happy," Acosta said. "He wants to change it every week."
When flying at the hub, Syssa uses a small training airplane since his larger airplanes are louder.
"It would get people's attention," he said.
In his shop, there are models of civilian planes along with a World War II Tigercat F7F, a hefty twin-engine plane that he's working on.
Syssa's favorite is an acrobatic plane modeled on an Extra 300, able to hang in the air nose-up and go about 65 miles per hour. The 11 ½-pound plane is powered by one of Syssa's engines.
Hobbyists buy airplane frames and can engines from a number of companies that fit their plane's configuration. Syssa engines are sold through shops and online.
Sean Moore, Greater Meriden Chamber of Commerce director, called the shop "awesome" and a blend of "technology and fun."
While there are still large manufacturers in the city, Moore said small businesses like Syssa's are in the majority.
"The bulk of it does come from smaller shops just like (Syssa's)," he said.
Information from: Record-Journal, http://www.record-journal.com