Published April 2006

Program gets kit-plane buyers
flying in two weeks
Snohomish County Business Journal/JOHN WOLCOTT
Mikael Via (left) looks on as Marc Cook, editor-in-chief of Kit Planes magazine, works on his Sportsman 2+2 during a January session at Glasair’s Customer Assembly Center, the company’s newest program for building the Sportsman at the Arlington plant in two weeks, from start to first flight.

By John Wolcott
SCBJ Editor

Snohomish County’s largest aircraft manufacturer, the Boeing Co. at Paine Field, is doing very well these days. So is Snohomish County’s second-largest aircraft manufacturing company — Glasair Aviation LLC at the Arlington Airport.

Although Glasair’s numbers are smaller than Boeing’s sales statistics of thousands of jetliner orders worldwide, the Arlington plant also has sold all over the world, tallying more than 2,500 build-it-yourself airplane kits sold, with 1,200 planes finished and flying.

Those sales, in fact, have made Glasair — originally operated as Stoddard-Hamilton Aircraft Co. in Arlington — one of the world’s largest builders of kit planes.

Glasair’s president, Mikael Via, however, wants to not only corner a larger share of the kit plane market but also expand the market itself by promoting in-factory assembly for any buyers with the time and money to take advantage of his new “Two Weeks to Taxi” program.

“There are many pilots who would buy a kit plane if they could be flying it sooner rather than later. Many kit plane builders do the work in their spare time and spend three to six years or more finishing it before they can fly. We think a new program that gets buyers flying in only a few weeks will be appealing,” he said.

Via plans to announce the new program at the Sun ’n’ Fun Fly In this month in Lakeland, Fla.

Glasair already added potential new buyers to its market in late 2004 by attracting buyers to its factory to build their plane in a couple of weeks, with oversight advice and help from factory specialists. But since kit planes traditionally get built only up to the fire-wall, the buyer has to source his own engine, avionics and related flying items before he can actually get airborne.

“Based on a survey of our customers and a market analysis, we determined there is a bigger market for our planes if we can provide a single price that includes guiding owners through the building process as well as installing the engine, avionics, propeller and such so they can fly sooner,” he said.

When buyers spent a couple of weeks at the factory, using factory tools and advice from the production crew, the results were amazing, Via said.

In addition, builders have an opportunity to fly Glasair’s corporate plane so they can learn the flying characteristics of the Sportsman 2+2.

“Those experiences add immeasurably to both the flying enjoyment and flight safety once the owner leaves with the plane,” he said. “We’re changing the industry by offering a total price for everything, up front.”

Complete kit pricing for the Sportsman 2+2 listed on Glasair’s Web site is $39,950, plus $1,100 for shipping, but there are many options and variables that add to the cost, including the choice of landing gear, electric elevator trimming and other items. Via hasn’t settled on a total price for the fly-away version or a standard engine and avionics package, but he’ll have that figured by August when the program is ready for marketing.

If the experience of Kit Planes magazine editor-in-chief Marc Cook is any indication, Glasair has hit on a big new idea that should be popular with general aviation pilots. In January, after narrowing his choice for a corporate kit plane to Glasair’s Sportsman 2+2, Cook participated in a prototype test of the Consumer Assembly Center and the “Two Weeks to Taxi” program.

“I very much enjoyed the process. The program is very well organized and choreographed. The genius of the program is that so much is done before the builder shows up. The first plane I built — a Pulsar XP — took me three years in my garage and then at the airport. I don’t think I’d ever want to build another one that way,” Cook said in an interview.

He said 30 percent to 40 percent of the time compression comes from Glasair’s planning of the assembly process, but “60 percent comes from having all of the tools, jigs and parts for each stage of assembly laid out ahead of time ... organized for your use, with all the pages of the manual for that segment laid out with the right tools.”

“Because I’d built one before, I had some understanding of the whole process. I know it’s real easy for a kit plane builder to get bogged down in small things and waste hours, days and weeks trying to feel their way through. Here, you have people telling you what you need to do and how, watching you and giving one-on-one technical support. That’s done extremely well (at Glasair) and it’s very important to the outcome,” Cook said.

By early March, he had logged 20 hours in the air with the plane, about halfway through his flight tests.

“It flies beautifully. One big unknown was the performance of the engine and prop on this plane for the first time, one I chose myself rather than a stock engine from Glasair,” Cook said. “I was hoping that more speed from the extra horsepower would be noticeable. It was more than that. I’m getting a cruise speed of 145 knots, about 10 better than the factory plane, and exceptional climbing performance that certainly exceeded my expectations.”

With a 180-horsepower engine, the top speed of the basic Glasair Sportsman 2+2 is 140 knots (161 mph), with a cruise speed of 135 knots at 75 percent power at 8,000 feet and a stall speed of 51 knots. The plane has a rate of climb of 1,950 feet per minute, a range of 767 miles at 8.5 gallons per hour and a service ceiling of 20,000 feet. The plane easily converts from a taildragger to a trike, has folding wings and can be built as a floatplane.

At the factory, the buyer of the plane does the assembly work in a way that meets both “the spirit and the letter of the FAA’s regulations that require the builder to do 51 percent of the construction,” Via said.

“I don’t know if the rest of the industry will follow us or not. But we’re betting that because kit plane builders we’ve surveyed end up at 70 percent or more over their original budget, they will be attracted by a firm price and the opportunity to be flying in just a couple of weeks,” he said.

Via said the kit plane industry is still evolving.

“It started in the ’60s and ’70s, when you could buy a set of plans, source all the materials, cut and shape pieces and assemble the aircraft in your garage or hangar. This was usually an extremely long process. That’s changed dramatically today.”

For more information about Glasair, contact Alan Negrin or Harry DeLong at 360-435-8533 or visit www.glasairaviation.com.

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