History of the Avid

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Posted

Info related to the History of Avid.

 

By John Larsen

 

How the Mk IV and the Pursang, aka Avid Mk V came to be.
My association with Avid Aircraft began in the fall of 1989. I was a freelance author and went to Avid with the proposition that if they would give me a discount price on an Avid flyer, I would write up a series of ‘How-To’ articles for Kitplanes Magazine on how to build the plane. I had 20 years of experience writing for national publications at that time, so the agreement was made. I had pioneered the photo illustrated ‘How-To’ article style when I was contributing editor for four different motorcycle magazines in the 1970-80’s. I had worked as an engineer for Boeing in Seattle and soloed as a private pilot in1980 so was ready and willing to take on the building of the Avid. Avid liked the article series that was published in 1990-91 and when it was finished, they hired me to do R&D and re-write the Avid construction manual.
The factory was manufacturing the model D at that time, which suffered from an overheating problem. There were many upgrades from Model A to Model D, but power plant problems were persistent with the C&D models. The problem came about with the Avid the Model A as it was powered by a air cooled Cuyuna engine with a planetary re-drive turning the prop which proved unreliable.
To cure the problem, Dean Wilson adapted the plane to take the 532 Rotax and called it the B Model . This was the most important up grade included when the designation was changed from Model A to Model B. The B Model had the radiator for the liquid cooled engine on the passenger side of the cowl. It cooled well but made the plane look like it had a bad tooth problem with the swollen cheek. When Charlie DeArigo bought the company from Dean, one of the first things he ordered a Model C to be produced to cure the toothache. Jim Raeder, R&D chief was given the job of putting the radiator inside the cowl. The elimination of the passenger side radiator blister restored the sleek looks of the Avid, but the plane had cooling problems cause by the radiator being placed too close to the firewall.
By 1990, many changes had been made and the Model D was in production, but still had the overheating problems. My model D was no different, and since I had years of experience with 2-stroke engines and racing modifications, I began to make changes to cool the planes engine more effectively. I designed the cowling and cooling system that got rid of the cooling problems by placing two radiators in the nose of the cowl.. Changes were also made to the rudder getting rid of the parallelogram rudder for the rounded one. A trim tab was built into the elevator. Dean Wilson was next door building the Explorer so I would run over and get his sanction for many of the new design changes.
There was fierce competition between Kitfox and Avid at that time, and KF had just produced their Series 3 plane. Avid GM Jim Metzger chose to produce my design modifications of the Model D and call it the Avid MKIV just to get one PR step ahead of the KF series 3. As a result, there were few Model 3 KF planes produced as Dan Denny at KF began development of their Series 4. The Kitfox was outselling the Avid at the time as the KF had been a better looking plane to many of the buyers.
The MKIV was a real after market money maker for Avid, as most of the pilots owning Models A-D ordered up-grade kits to their earlier Models were fitted with MKIV kits to solve the cooling problem and to give them a appearance upgrade so they looked more like a ‘real’ airplane.
 
MORE TO COME
 

                                                                                                     Chapter 2

                                                                                     MKIV to Pursang aka Avid MKV

According to legend,* the Avid Flyer came into being due to the ultralight plane surge in the 1970’s and 80’s.. Dean Wilson was working for Joe Terteling, a successful equipment dealer who had a collection of vintage airplanes. At that time, Dean was maintenance A&P for Tertelings planes. Dan Denny approached Dean with the idea of making a ultra light plane. Dean, who was an ag pilot, drew on his experience with studying the collection, designed what he called the Avid Flyer. The plane was too heavy to be an FAR 103 ultra lite, so they licensed it as an experimental. N99AF was the first Avid Flyer. The plane was an instant success, and was given the coveted “Best New Design “Award. Soon the plane was selling faster than Dean could build them, and a factory was opened on Hwy 55 in Boise. Dean Wilson and Dan Denny were a winning team, with Dean being the chef, cooking up design ideas and Dan handling sales, but a dispute arose between them and Dean bought out Dan’s part of the business. Dan signed a ‘non competition agreement’. It turned out that the agreement would not hold up in court, so Dan started Kitfox. There could be a book written about all the things and design changes that went on in the Avid-Kitfox feud up to this point. I have thought about writing such a book, but it would take a lot of labor, and might not have many sales. Most of the series 1-3 Kitfox parts were interchangeable with Avid parts until KF turned out their Series 4. One Avid owner needed a wing so got a KF 3 wing kit and flew with a KF wing on one side and an Avid wing on the other, and there was no difference in performance. When I came on the scene in 1990, I was used to being a problem solver. I had been able to do about anything I chose to do, so messed around in many different fields. After working as an engineer for Boeing, I became an investigator with Farmers Ins. Co. I wrote a motorcycle collision repair manual and caught the attention of the president of the company. I was offered a position in their investment group in L.A. but did not want to move to L.A. At this time, I owned 3 motorcycles franchises on the side, and was writing articles for 4 different MC magazines. From insurance, I went into real estate and had my own company with offices in 4 Idaho cities. I sold that and became production manager for Ste. Chapel winery, and set bottling production records. I was making guitars on the side and obtained a U.S. patent on top design and in1989 went to be production engineer for Stein and Volk Fine Instrument wood in McCall ID where we produced stringed instrument tops and made sound boards for Steinway and Yamaha pianos. I set production records there as well. While there I was writing articles about making instruments. Sorry to take up space on myself, I actually had more career adventures than these, but people have trouble believing this. O.K. with that background scenario, I came into Avid packing a considerable ego and was soon bumping up against their production-R&D manager Jim Raeder. If I were to hire a man to build a kit plane for me it would be Raeder. He is a skilled perfectionist and does excellent work. So here I am, seeing many things to change to improve the Avid, and he is working to perfect what we already have and seemed annoyed by my input. I continued writing articles for Kitplanes after the construction series was over. I have attached a 1991brochure to this e-mail so you can see where the company was at back then. Note there is no Magnum listed as it was still in the oven.

 

                                                                                                    Chapter 3

 

At this time, while working for Avid I became a contributing editor for Kitplanes, and went to Sun n’Fun, Oshkosh, Arlington and other events for Kitplanes Mag. Part of my job assignment there, was to test fly what planes were out there in the field that Kitplanes Magazine covered, and write up an evaluation of them  for the mag.  I flew most of what was for sale at that time so I knew what Avids competition had to offer.  I told them about changes I thought they needed to make to stay  competitive, and the R&D department headed by Raeder didn’t what to hear it. One reason was, in retrospect, , tried to force the issue which is always the wrong approach. The other reason was that Avid was beginning to manufacture the Magnum and this plane was Raeder’s personal pride and joy and seemed to think the MKIV was fine just as it was. Avid management had asked Dean Wilson to come up with a larger version of the Flyer which they would call the Magnum, as it could take up to a O-360 Lycoming as a engine. Dean Wilson had taken some time off from the Explorer to design the plane doing a full scale drawing on the upstairs balcony of the factory.  One reason they decided to build this plane is that past sales manager Jim Tomash  has quit the company and started building a large version of the Flyer which he called the Montana Coyote. Avid considered this a challenge and sought to build a  large plane that would be better than the Coyote. Jim Raeder took this design as his own and began to devote full energy
into making this the ‘Swiss Watch’ of the kitplanes. The problem arose from the fact that the Magnum was more than twice as complicated at the Flyer, got example where one man could turn out 3 sets of tail feathers for Flyer, it took 7 days for one set for the Magnum . The Flyer had three pieces of fiberglass for the instrument panel - firewall forward kit where the Magnum had 26. The company found they
were losing money of all the early kit sales. Avid was one of the most fun jobs I ever had, helped by General Manager  Jim Metzger  who had a delightful sense of humor. Metzger was an ex ag pilot (crop duster), who was an excellent pilot but not the best businessman. Metzger’s sense of purpose, however, was shifting. He felt the market for folding wing rag and tube planes has peaked and was devoting his
attention to a personal project where he was making a experimental licensed version of the Ag Cat crop duster which he called the Sea Cat and seemed to spend little time running Avid company.  In
1991 Avid was selling about 35 kits a month, and KF was selling close to 50. The market was beginning to soften, but there was still a lot of orders coming in. I had finished writing the MKIV and amphibian manuals, and a good part of the Magnum manual when Kitfox offered me a job working on their Series 4 manual. KF had been bought by Phil Reed who was a serious businessman and I thought things were a lot better managed than Avid so I took Kitfox up on their offer.

 

Chapter 4

 

On the road to the Pursang

 

Phil Reed was the new owner of Kitfox. He had sold Computer World, and bought out Dan Denny’s Denny Aerocraft Co. and called his new acquisition SkyStar Aircraft Corporation. It seems Dan Denny, like Jim Metzger were seeing the handwriting on the wall of a coming change in the market. This was when the rag & tube folding wing aircraft business was cresting at its peak and SkyStar-Denny-were selling over 50 kits a month. This made it a multi-million dollar company, and Phil Reed entered the business and began to do what it took to make it a top competitor. We had about 45 employees at this point which included two full time engineers plus a cadre of support people like myself to do the job ‘right’.Production had been so demanding on the old company, that a lot of the tooling needed to be updated or replaced. The Kitfox Series 5 was the Series 4 with all the necessary refinements. Phil proved that what you need to make a small fortune in the kitplane business is to start with a large fortune.

 

I was finishing the Series 4 manual, doing customer support and annoying the head of R&D here by making many suggestions on how to Improve the plane like I showed them how to reduce the pieces required to build the firewall from 10 to 6. When the Series 5 manual was started, I was asked if I wanted to do it and I turned the opportunity down. Sales were slowing and they soon ‘eliminated’ my position. I was still writing for Kitplanes Mag and overhauling Rotax engines for another company.

 

When I was still at Kitfox, I had an engine out with my MKIV and totaled out the plane. The damage to my plane was similar to what I had seen with other wrecked Avids meaning there were several points in the frame design that could be strengthened. I still had a friendly association with Metzger and the owners of Avid so when I designed the F7A modification for the Avid planes, I traded the design for a Avid frame they had in the attic that had some minor modifications done by a California builder. I faced a choice, fix my MKIV with a new frame or use the frame as a basis for a new design. I chose the latter.

 

I contacted Dennis Hagershorst, the engineer that had done the stress analysis for the KF Series 5 and had him work with me on what would be the Avid MkV or Pursang. No engineer had ever done an analysis on any of the Avids. Issue one, strength of the cockpit area. We changed the load paths so the frame would be more likely to crush on impact – better protection for pilot and passenger. Bungee landing gear bolted to the bottom of the fuselage is WWI technology. I had damaged the truss under the seat on my bungee gear Avid. Grove gear bolted to the bottom of a flat bottom frame will tear out of the frame without bending the gear. I worked with Grove to make a two piece gear that plugs into the airframe ala,. Cessna. It is engineered to bend before the fuselage fails making a bad landing easy and cheap to fix.

 

The bottom of the fuselage wais dropped 6 inches in the foot pedal area to keep your toes off the brakes and to make it a much more comfortable plane when taking long trips. Baggage belongs close to the CG as practical, so the linkage for the elevator and flaperons was designed to go under the floor with the new deeper fuselage. I asked Dean Wilson why he mounted the elevator upon the vertical stabilizer. and he said “To keep it out of the weedsâ€. I put it down on the fuselage where it is more stable and less effected by the airstream trailing off the flaperons. The fuselage was lengthened 18 inches for stability.

 

Chapter 5
 
The Pursang takes shape.
 
Having had the misfortune of trying to sleep in my MkIV due to weather and housing conditions in Wendover UT, I designed the Pursang to have removable seats. The seats come out so you can sleep comfortably in the plane.  This also allows you to shift the CG for balance purposes by being able to move the pilot and passenger forward or rear.  Some of you may recall, from Oct 1996 to April 1997 I did a ‘how to build your plane’ series for Kitplanes Mag . When I had taken the 90% completed plane to the Avid Fly Inn in the fall of 1995 It attracted many interested pilots. The plane first flew in 1996 and performed as designed. In 1996 The owner of Avid Charlie Derego agreed to purchase the manufacturing rights and was stepping around some resistance from Avid management by creating  a new company Aeroconcepts which would own Pursang and have Avid Aircraft , build and market the kits.  My Pursang was the first plane to have Avid MkV on the data plate and as far as I have been able to ascertain, it is the only FAA registered Avid MkV in existence.
 
A lot of activity was afoot in the kit plane world at this point in history. There were a lot of folding wing planes coming on the market. The Avid had spawned the Kitfox and the Pursang . The only Avid plane with a engineering drawing of the airframe was the Pursang. This prompted  the Mohawk which was a plans drawing  of the airframe so you could build a model  A or B for yourself.. There was the Raven, another Avid look-alike, plus the activity of the  Shrader Bros, Ken and Stace.
 
 Ken had  been part of the R&D on the Kitfox 4-5 and went over to Avid. His wife Kenna worked there as a parts person. This was during the time when Avid contracted with Barnaby Wainfan to design a flap-aileron wing for the Magnum.  We all saw Jim Reader working building the wing. Evidently Ken saw the way the wing worked and went to his backyard to design the Sky Raider which has the flap-aileron wing. Sky Raider sales took off so Ken quit Avid and went full time on the Sky Raider and his brother Stace was now working for Avid in sales. I was snooping around looking for article material for the magazine so was tracking down all these different efforts.  I wrote the wing manual for the Sky Raider. Soon Stace quit Avid and went in with Ken and wanted to be a part owner of the company. The Shraders father was working there at the time and some friction developed over issues and the father seemed to side with Stace against Ken. The boys actually got into a fistfight over the issue.
 
Things came to crises when  Ken and Troy Woodland (who went on to own Just Aircraft) were out flying chasing coyotes, Ken stalled his plane in causing a fatal accident. This left his wife Kenna running the company.  Concurrent with all of this going on, Charlie Derego had told the Avid factory to start manufacturing the Pursang as the Avid MkV. In fact, the Pursang test pilot Harold Dougal had spent a lot of time in the Magnum and told me he preferred it over the Magnum . A Magnum problem that was never properly addressed was it had,in my opinion, too high an angle of incidence on the wing. This caused the plane to fly tail high, and a lot of elevator mods had to be done to improve its short field landing ability. Raeder and the management there resisted making the MkV aka Pursang. The Pursang was threatening to bite into the Magnum sales.  To get things going, Jerry Matison one of the owners of Avid Aircraft purchased the manufacturing rights of the plane from me and he started Airdale Aircraft.  Steve Winder had been part of Avid management and joined Jerry to produce the Pursang now called Airdale. I kidded Jerry to not to blame me if they called his plane a dog.
 
Chapter 6
 
Going back in history
 
By the way, like where did the leopard get his spots? – where did the early KF get its radial type bump cowl? As long as we are on this kick, What’s a Pong Dragon? The Pong Dragon is not some Chinese ping pong champion but rather a radial engine that was designed by a fellow in the Seattle area. It was tested on the KF Series 2 and although the engine would not come up to standard, Dan Denny liked the looks of the plane with the bump cowl and pitched the engine and kept the cowl.  The biggest problem with the Dragon was it was a 6 cylinder radial design. Radial engines will not work well with an even number of cylinders, as it causes much torsional vibration. I worked with a Dragon engine adaptation for the Avid and soon gave up on the idea. Another problem with all radial engines is their large frontal area.  The drag caused by the design, regardless of what make of plane it is on, makes them less efficient than a same displacement horizontal boxer style engine with a aerodynamically shaped cowl.
 
This was a happy time for Avid as KF had cut about 2 in. out of the expansion chamber of the Rotax engine to shorten it up  and make it fit better under the bump cowl. What this did was de-tune the engine so it was off about 15% on horsepower so Avid could claim that the Avid 2-3 would out perform the KF and used this as a sales tool. KF soon corrected this problem.
 
There was an up side to when KF switched to the Harry Ribblet airfoil design as this got rid of the low pressure swirl back on the underside of the wing.  I ran the competition at the KF Fly inn when I worked there  in 1992 and saw the old airfoil compete with the new one.  The  planes with the Ribblet airfoil  gained about 10% top speed, The downside was the planes with the newer airfoil could never compete with the Series 1-3 in a short field takeoff  contest.
 
We have mentioned how the species continued to evolve. After  Ken Schrader’s death, Stace and their father started a new company with a version of the Sky Raider called the Ridge Runner. It was basically the Sky Raider with minor modifications.
 
Meanwhile in my hanger off Thompson road, North of Marsing ID, Steve Winder began building the tooling for the Pursang-MkV. I was marginally involved in the construction of the tooling. The main welder doing the work was Joe Trujillo who was one the fastest and best welders I have ever seen. More on Joe later.
 
Steve Winder was a Renaissance Man. He could be a one man aircraft factory. He could take the mission from writing out the parts list clear through  to nailing the crate and shipping the final kit.
The only task he did not do is finish welding. I agreed with that as when designed a part or an assembly I would tack weld it together but wanted a certified welder to finish the job. If you do not get good penetration, you can do a weld, that looks good but can be actually weak. When did I designed the Pursang prototype, I hired Howard Knauss to finish weld as he had done  welding on the KF series 4-5 tooling.
Stay Tuned as next time we will get caught up on the different variants of the Avid and the birth of Just Aircraft.
 
Chapter 7
Idaho Folding Wing Genealogy
 
There was one year 1998-99 that Canyon County Idaho had 6 different airplane manufacturers. There was Avids by the Avid Aircraft Co., Kitfox models by -SkyStar Aircraft Co. , SkyRaider –by Sky Raider LLC, Ridge Runner by Rocky Mtn.Wings, Airdale by the Airdale Aircraft Co. and Just Planes by the Just Aircraft Co. Dean Wilson was to design the Elipse folding wing plane in Grangeville ID and in 1992 Dan Denny went on to design and build the Papa 51 ¾ scale P 51 replica in Nampa ID,
l took some time and checked in with Stan Sells to get refreshed on the history as Stan at one time worked for four of the above companies. Stan is a tall, thin, red haired, mild mannered and reserved technician who was production manager for Avid starting about 1989. He was the one I would go to with an new idea on some part to the point he complained to management, as he had a lot of planes to build at that time. Through the years we have become very good friends. When Avid sold to the company to Jim Tomash and moved to Montana, Stan did not want to move up there so he went to work for Sky Raider and was there when Ken Schrader was involved in the fatal plane accident. He confirmed that Ken’s wife Kenna was not interested in running the company so Troy Woodland and Kathi Jo Zehr took over the company management. About this time a fellow came over from the UK and was looking for a company to develop an FIA Type S plane for the European market.
Kenna was not interested nor was Airdale manager Steve Winder which surprised me as he was a UK citizen as well. Kathi Jo and Troy evidently saw this as an opportunity to get into the kit plane business and took on the project. When the Type S Plane project was finished, Kathi Jo and Troy began to sell US kits which were similar to the Type S plane and Just Aircraft was born. Their main welder on the Type S project was Joe Trujillo who had done the welding on the Airdale planes. Quite a few of the Airdale ideas wound up in the Type S, but such is the kit aircraft world, as there are few things that one could actually patent. I own a patent, and have petitioned for several more but none of them pertain to kit planes.
Kenna sold SkyRaider to Fred Parker. Stace Schrader, went on to establish Rocky Mountain Wings and his first planes were called Ridge Runner. Stan Sells went with the SkyRaider company when Fred Parker bought it, and built SkyRaiders until he went to work as production manager of the Airdale Aircraft owned by Jerry Matison and managed by Steve Winder.
Meanwhile over at Kit Fox, as previously mentioned, in 1992 Dan Denny sold the company to Phil Reed who changed the company name to SkyStarand that company developed the Series 5 Kitfox aircraft. Phil had a large staff of employees and was doing things right, the only problem was the market was turning away for the folding wing rag and tube aircraft and warming to planes like the Rich Vangrunsven’s RV. The company was struggling and in 2000 SkyStar was aquired by a group of employees who continued to operate the company releasing the updated Series 6 and Series 7 aircraft.
One of the last ventures for the company was to host a group of builders who would all build a number of KF planes together at the same time. This was thought to be a great idea and I covered their progress for Kitplanes Magazine. As I recall there were ultimately 12 builders who tackled the project. it was a fun venture to be involved in and I enjoyed hanging around photographing the progress. A serious
problem arose from the fact that when this project started in 2003, the company agreed to deliver the kit components on an as needed basis. About the last major item needed was the engine. The price for the kits was agreed on in 2003, and by the time the engines needed to be delivered in 2005, the price of the Rotax 912 S had increased by about 2200 dollars each. There were only one or two Rotax engines available for the kit builders and the company did not have enough money to purchase the rest. In 2005 they had to declare bankruptcy. John McBean who had been part of the Kitfox effort for many years bought the company. When I did a write up of a Kitfox for the magazine, he often used his Cessna for a camera plane. John had been involved enough with the company that he ‘knew the ropes’ and has been able to keep the Kitfox plane in the winners circle. When Airdale was sold to Brian McKenny in 2007, Stan Sells was hired by John McBean to work at KF.
Coming up, Chapter 8 Where are they today?
 
 
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Posted

I enjoyed the history write up I like to heir Moore...

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Posted

Hey Joey , did you get my PM?.  I still have the copy of the Sept 1992 Sport Pilot magazine I"ll send you.  It's got the Avid Mark IV on the front.  The article is by John Conrad.  Maybe you could put that article on here too.  I'm not sure how to do it.  Let me know how to get it to you, if you'd like it.

 

Jim

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Posted

There was an article (I think in Kitplanes) written by John Larson, about designing his Pursang, which became the Airdale - I have it somewhere, but only the Big Pilot in the Sky knows where it is now!

EDMO

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Chapter 2 added to original post up top. Jim I sent you a PM with my address. I will scan it and post it if you send it to me.

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Posted

I read a completely different story about the merging and split of Denny and Wilson - It was in the courts - Seems like the #1 already-sold Avid was sitting on the loading dock and Denny made off with it - then the fights started, with Denny winning in court.

No proof of this on my part tho!

EDMO

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Posted

The posted story is the one that I have heard from several sources.  The only addition that I have heard is that they were shirt-tail related somehow when Denny approached Wilson to design a quickly foldable "airplane like" ultralight.

 

Avid S/N #1 (N99AF) is currently sitting in a friend of mine's hangar, 15 miles away...

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Posted (edited)

The posted story is the one that I have heard from several sources.  The only addition that I have heard is that they were shirt-tail related somehow when Denny approached Wilson to design a quickly foldable "airplane like" ultralight.

 

Avid S/N #1 (N99AF) is currently sitting in a friend of mine's hangar, 15 miles away...

I heard that Dean had already designed the Avid - Took Denny in for a business and sales partner and got screwed?

EDMO

Edited by Ed In Missouri

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Posted

Nope.  From a very close inside source:

 

Dan was watching his ultralight buddies fly one day.  Noticed how long it took to setup their planes.  That day, by the time they were all set up, the wind had kicked up and was no longer flyable.  He had an idea, what if a plane had wings that could quickly and easily fold to be transported.  He went to Dean and told him the story and the idea.  

 

Dean made it work and came up with the genius Avid design.

 

Dan couldn't design a doghouse on a good day, but he could sell ice to eskimos.

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Posted

The only way the truth of the split will be known, is if someone publishes the transcripts of the trial, Wilson vs Denny.

EDMO

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More added

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Posted

Great to see John's perspective as an 'insider', but it would appear history proves Phil Reed was not the cure-all.

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Chapter 4 added

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Chapter 5 added

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Joey,

 

Thanks for this great history.  Too bad Amy Laboda doesn't take time to do a little research before writing her version of it.

 

I have a guy up here who just rented a tiedown spot from me (for a C150 he is working on and just needed to get it tied down in a safe place for the winter) but he knows Dean Wilson pretty well and is in the process of building an Explorer.  He showed me some pictures of it and he went to Canada and flew two that are flying; one has a turbin on it.  I plan to get over to his place and get a first hand look at it and will get some pictures of it when I do.

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Posted

Chap 6 Added

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Chapter 7 added

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(Brett Mc Kinney bought Airdale in 2007)

Interesting to see that he feels the "group build" is what put Skystar over the edge into bankruptcy. I know a couple of those guys. Many of them lost thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.

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Posted

Thanks for posting.

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Posted

That's interesting history. I was born up in Boise and had no idea that after my family moved from there it became such an aviation hotspot.

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Posted

Speaking of, where is the next (final?) chapter?

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Posted

Nice Read :)

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Posted

Thanks Joey!

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I also say a GREAT read!!!! Good info and history for a new guy like me.  Thanks Bucky

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