Last May, John and Debra McBean, former SkyStar employees and owners of Sport Plane LLC, an Idaho-based builder’s assist center, purchased the assets of SkyStar Aircraft Corp., makers of the popular Kitfox. The McBeans announced their intentions to continue manufacturing kits.
But as anyone who has been in the aviation business for even a short time knows, there is often a gap between what you say you are going to do and what you really can do — so when someone makes good on their plans, it is cause for celebration.
And they certainly are celebrating in Homedale, Idaho, where in just under a year the McBeans, together with a small cadre of experienced employees, have gone from the idea stage to production at Kitfox Aircraft LLC. The new company is turning out kits of the sporty high-wing design from its new 10,000-square-foot facility at Homedale Airport (S66).
“We never stopped production, even when we were moving in and getting settled,” John McBean noted with pride.
He spent several years as a Kitfox salesman, demonstration pilot and technical support representative. In 2004 he and Debra opened SportPlanes LLC, an after-market and quick-build facility that did extensive work with Kitfox owners. When Kitfox manufacturer SkyStar declared bankruptcy in October 2005, the McBeans were determined to see the Kitfox legacy, which began in 1984, continue. They acquired the bankrupt company’s assets and their first priority was supporting Kitfox builders and owners who needed parts.
“We are trying to support the Kitfox line in its entirety, but there are some items that we cannot support any longer due to fact we don’t have the ability to produce those parts,” he said. “We are currently trying to get relationships with people to make those parts.
“We have gone to great lengths to help owners, including having them send us the part that needs replacing, like having them send us a rib strut, and then we make a replica of it,” he continued. “We are trying real hard to support the Kitfox line. The last thing we want to do is abandon them. We want them to be more involved.”
The second priority was making sure kits were available.
“We are churning out kits,” McBean confirmed. “If you place an order today, you can take delivery within 30 to 60 days.”
At the present time Kitfox Aircraft is focusing on one design, the Super Sport.
“It is a refinement of the Series 7 Kitfox,” he said. “The design and performance sells it.
“The Kitfox is a two-seat aircraft with cruise and stall performance that is unbeatable,” he continued. “It has the cross-country ability of a Cessna 172 with the backcountry abilities of a Piper Super Cub.”
The aircraft have a reputation for being very safe because of their design, he added.
“The occupants sit within what is essentially a cage made of 4130 Chrome Moly steel all the way back to the tail. There has never been an in-flight structural failure of a Kitfox,” he noted. “Another thing that sets the Kitfox apart from other aircraft is that it uses push-pull tubes instead of cables. That adds to the simplicity of design and provides a hardlink between your ailerons and flaps.”
The experience of the kit makers also factors into the aircraft’s safety, he said.
“Currently we have five people who do the welding and construct parts,” he said. “The least experienced person has been doing it for 12 years, another guy has been doing it for over 15 years. They are true assets to the company.”
Builders have their choice of engine. They can go with a Lycoming, a Continental or a Rotax 912S.
“We recommend the 912S because there are lots of them out there so it is well-supported and it helps keep the aircraft’s empty weight down,” McBean said. “But we have the cowlings and mounts for the other engines as well.”
Like most kit manufacturers, Kitfox is constantly trying to improve its product.
“Some of the things we are looking at include Fiberglas wing tips, thermal formed plastic wing tops and ways to improve the design to make it easier and quicker for the customer to put it together, not to mention easier and quicker for us to manufacture.”
Is a ready-to-fly Light Sport Aircraft in the future?
It’s possible, said McBean.
“We are looking at options to enter the market, such as creating a quick build kit for the E-LSAs or setting up a builder assist center that would allow the customers to build their aircraft yet still adhere to the 51% rule for experimental aircraft,” he said.