Centurion 2 engine
On the face of it, Thielert AG of Hamburg appeared to be a well-positioned company, leveraging respected German engineering to modify a Daimler diesel engine for use in aircraft. The ability to use “heavy” fuel offers light civilian aircraft a convenient, less-expensive option, and can also be an important asset for armies who want a single fuel supply chain for land vehicles and UAVs. That commonality offers lifetime cost savings of its own, less operational risk, and more operational flexibility – which is why the US Army’s flagship MQ-1C SkyWarrior UAV uses Thielert’s 135 hp Centurion engine. By many accounts, the engine itself performs well, though some reports say the engines have some reliability issues and suffer from poor field support. The aero-diesel niche has few competitors at the moment, but several new competitors are expected to unveil products over the next year.
Those alternative options have now become a more urgent matter, given recent developments in Germany. In brief, Thielert is facing advanced stage criminal investigations for serious accounting fraud, providing false evidence, and more. The alternative explanation is that a long list of firms including General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin each left millions of dollars in supplier invoices unpaid for over a year.
Regardless of which explanation is true, Thielert faced financing needs that the firm’s own April 10/08 release described as “an urgent liquidity crisis.” As a first step, the founder tried to sell his entire stake to a Russian hedge fund. Even so, the firm’s own statements confirm that much more cash will be needed, and shareholder lawsuits enabled by German court rulings that have voided their financial reports could drive that figure higher.
The latest developments are three-fold: the dismissal of the CEO and CFO for cause in light of criminal investigations, the collapse of the new investors consortium, and the firm’s filing for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the US Army says it was unaware of the situation at Thielert, which raises questions concerning its contractor General Atomics’ communications and program risk transparency with the US military.
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