Designed by UK resident John Edgley for low-speed observation work and intended as a low-cost alternative to helicopters the EA-7 Optica had its first flight on 14 December 1979 when it was flown by Squadron Leader Angus McVitie, the chief pilot of the Cranfield College of Aeronautics.
To say the least the Optica has an unusual configuration with a fully glazed forward cabin, reminiscent of that of an Alouette helicopter. The rather unusual cabin provides 270į panoramic vision and almost vertical downward vision for the pilot and two passengers. The aircraft has twin booms with twin rudders and a high-mounted tailplane. It is powered by a Lycoming flat-six normally-aspirated engine situated behind the cabin and driving a fixed pitch ducted fan. Due to the ducted fan, the aircraft is exceptionally quiet. The aircraft has a fixed tricycle undercarriage with the nosewheel offset to the left. The wings are un-swept and un-tapered. The aircraft is of fairly standard all-metal construction, with a stressed skin of aluminium.
The Optica has a loiter speed of 130 km/h (70 kn; 81 mph) and a stall speed of 108 km/h (58 kn; 67 mph).
In 1982, institutional investors bought into the project and set up a production line at Old Sarum Airfield in Wiltshire in the UK. Over the next three years, the company was built up to full manufacturing capability, the aircraft received UK certification, and the first customer aircraft was delivered. Despite this success, the additional investment necessary for the final phase of full production was not forthcoming, the business went into receivership, and John Edgley was forced out.
Under new management the Optica was upgraded to the more powerful Lycoming IO-540 and entered production in 1983. Edgley Aircraft Limited obtained its initial Civil Aviation Authority certification on 8 February 1985. A total of 22 Opticas were built, while construction of a 23rd began but was not completed. Ten aircraft were destroyed in an arson attack at the factory forcing the closure of the concern.
After having gone through a number of owners in 2007 the company was offered to John Edgley who formed a new company, AeroElvira Limited, with three former employees of Edgley Aircraft. The new company successfully put G-BOPO back into service as a UK demonstrator, with a first return-to-service flight on 3 June 2008.
The program because of various reasons then went dormant until In August 2016 Interflight Global (IFG) announced plans to start a valuation of the Optica programme with a view to relaunching production in 2018 or 2019.
The Covid pandemic and various other reason delayed the project. However, by the end 2019, IFG continued to seek for a strategic OEM partner to re-launch the program aligned with optionally piloted and powered by electric or hybrid electric powerplants. As of 2022, IFG's re assessment of intent, remains active in the search for strategic partners to assist in the re launch the aircraft programme.
Two Opticas are believed to be in the U.S., with two in Australia flying aerial sightseeing tours and one that remains as a company demonstrator. Two, in the UK were involved in accidents. In one both pilots and passenger were killed whilst in the other, a apparent crack in the propeller hub, the pilot was able to land with serious damage to the aircraft.
With a maximum speed of 132 mph, a range of 650 miles, and a maximum altitude of 14,000 feet, the Optica's primary selling point was not as a leading-edge surveillance aircraft. But with capabilities akin to a surveillance helicopter with far lower noise and at one-third the operating cost, the Optica is a far more economical aircraft while still providing excellent ISR capabilities.