Monday, February 27, 2017

Airplane builders aim for the wild blue yonder in Caro, Michigan

CARO, MI - If you love to fly and dream of owning your own airplane, three men who share your passion now build airplanes for sale in a hangar at Tuscola Area Airport near Caro.

Andy Enos, a licensed corporate pilot, Rick Hayes, a retiree from DuPont Paint and Steve O'Connor, an automotive mechanic, started a company called Midwest Sky Sports to build Sling 2 certified light-sport aircraft and the bigger four-seater Sling 4 experimental aircraft.

The Sling airplanes are manufactured by The Airplane Factory, a Johannesburg, South Africa-based company. Midwest Sky Sports assembles them in Tuscola County.

In a large hangar, Enos, Hayes and employee Norman Shoultes are attending to different parts of a Sling 2 aircraft.

Enos is preparing the tail of one plane for a paint job. Shoultes is assembling and riveting the body of another while Hayes, the company's chief builder, puts together the parachute box, a safety device that will deploy a parachute that can carry the entire aircraft safely to the ground in the event of an engine failure. 

Hayes says it takes more than 800 man-hours to assemble one Sling 2 aircraft.

According to O'Connor, director of sales and marketing, the light-sport category was created by the Federal Aviation Administration to allow pilots to fly without the required medical cards needed by private pilots. A valid driver's license and the proper flight training is all that is required to be a light-sport pilot but they are limited by weight, speed, altitude and number of passengers.

The Sling 2 is also popular with more experienced pilots because of its relatively inexpensive base cost of $135,000 and its ability to fly in and out of smaller and remote locations.

Enos, who is a full-time corporate pilot, said, "When you fly one of these planes, you're down low, you're having fun. You fly around at 3,000 feet and enjoy your day." He added that when flying larger planes you're up higher and the plane can almost fly itself.

Midwest Sky Sports also does customer-assisted builds in which they assemble the first 49 percent of the plane and then help the customer build the final 51 percent.

Under FAA rules, if 50 percent of a plane is built by the owner, it is placed into the experimental category. 

The advantage of this, according to Enos, "Is the customer learns the ins and outs of the plane and becomes their own repairman."

It also allows an owner to customize the aircraft to their own specs.

In addition to its assembly business, Midwest Sky Sports is also a repair and service center for light-sport and experimental aircraft. They are also an authorized repair center for Rotax engines that power the Sling aircraft and many other light-sport planes.

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