Light-aircraft manufacturer Airplane Factory delivered its two-hundredth airplane in June, having started production of its light and light sport aircraft in August 2010, says Airplane Factory cofounder and director James Pitman.
The business, located at the Tedderfield Airpark in Eikenhof, Johannesburg, occupies six hangars and employs 135 people, he adds.
Pitman explains that the South African market has proven to be patriotic, as buyers are enthusiastic about buying local products. This is especially evident when buying airplanes, as it enables customers to visit the factory and engage directly with the producer, he adds.
However, overseas sales are increasing substantially, notes Pitman.
This has resulted in the company registering rapid growth, despite the global economic recession still continuing.
Pitman notes that Airplane Factory delivered its first two fully built up planes in December 2010, followed by 11 planes in 2011, 33 planes in 2012 and 35 planes last year.
Further, it has delivered more than 60 kit aircraft to home builders.
“We are on course to deliver a plane a week this year,” he adds.
Aeroplanes are currently built to order, and take three to four months to complete.
The planes use Austria-based engine producer, Rotax, aircraft engines and propeller manufacturer Warp Drive propellers, says Pitman.
He highlights that Airplane Factory itself punches and routes aluminium to form the aircraft parts. “Painting, upholstery, composite components and perspex canopies are also fabricated in-house,” he adds.
The aircraft are bought for several reasons, including flying-school training, recreational use and commuting by farmers, explains Pitman, adding that they are cheaper to run than cars.
Airplane Factory Craft
The Sling 2 is Airplane Factory’s two-seater aircraft, which is priced at R1-million. It has a wingspan of 9.165 m and weighs 360 kg, producing 73.5 kW at 5 800 rpm for a maximum of five minutes and 69 kW of continuous power at 5 500 rpm.
The Sling 4 is the company’s four-seater aircraft, which is priced at R1.5-million. It has a wingspan of 9.96 m and weighs 455 kg, producing 84.5 kW at 5 800 rpm for a maximum of five minutes and 73.5 kW of continuous power at 5 500 rpm.
Before commercial production of the Sling 2 started in 2010, Pitman and Airplane Factory director and cofounder Mike Blyth circumnavigated the world in the Sling 2 production prototype during July and August 2009.
“We were able to realise a dream by designing and developing an aircraft ourselves, before flying her around the world in 40 days,” says Pitman.
Covering more than 45 000 km, the pair stopped in 14 countries, including Sao Tome, Guinea, Brazil and Malaysia, as well as the US, where they attended the EAA Airventure Airshow, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Pitman says that accessing specialised engineering skills and knowledge was an initial challenge. However, the company received some help from the Industrial Development Corporation’s Support Pro- gramme for Industrial Innova- tion and has been promised additional help from the Department of Trade and Industry.
Further, he highlights that the company drew on the skills developed by employees of aerospace company Denel during the apartheid sanctions era.
Notwithstanding, or perhaps because of, South Africa’s isolation during the period from the 1970s to the 1990s, “the country did develop some independent skills and a spirit of self-reliance”.
It has been a long road, never- theless, learning how best to fabricate the myriad of components, which go to make up the aircraft, says Pitman.
Pitman says Airplane Factory’s plans comprise building bigger, more sophisticated aeroplanes that are attractive to markets throughout the world.