New plane has test flight over county

ARLINGTON — The skies over Snohomish County have witnessed many historic first flights of new airplanes, including Boeing’s 747, 767, 777 and 787.

Another joined the list Tuesday: Glasair Aviation’s Merlin.

The plane* is a bit smaller than Boeing’s twin-aisle jets. But it is just as important to its Arlington-based maker.

The light sport aircraft is the company’s first airplane that will be delivered fully built.

Until now, the company has built and sold kit planes — more than 3,000 of them since it began in 1979 as Stoddard-Hamilton Aircraft. When Stoddard-Hamilton went bankrupt in 2001, Glasair Aviation was created and purchased the defunct company’s assets.

China-based Hanxing Group, which is run by Chinese industrialist Fang Tieji, bought Glasair in 2012.

Test pilot Grant Smith put the Merlin through a battery of tests during Tuesday’s 57-minute flight, which started and ended at Arlington Municipal Airport.

Glasair Development Manager Ted Setzer said in a news release from the company that the tests went well.

Testing will continue in coming weeks.

The Merlin will be the company’s first plane certified as a light sport aircraft, according to the news release.

Chuck Hautamaki is the project’s chief engineer.

“Our goal was to design an LSA with exceptional flying characteristics, performance, great visibility, aesthetically pleasing lines with easy access,” he said in the release.

The Merlin has room for a pilot and passenger in side-by-side seats.

It has a high wing and tricycle landing gear, and is powered by a Rotax 912 iS engine. It has a cruising speed of 118 mph and a top speed of 138 mph, according to the company’s website.

It is fitted with Dynon’s Skyview glass-panel avionics. With an empty weight of 790 pounds, it is designed to take a Ballistic Recovery Systems parachute system, which is a parachute for the entire plane rather than just the pilot.

Glasair doesn’t list a sales price, but last October, Nick Frisch, the company’s director of sales and marketing, told aviation news site AVweb that a well-equipped Merlin would probably sell for about $139,000.

He said the company is using the airplane to move into the LSA market, specifically targeting a slice abandoned in 2013 by Cessna, when it pulled the plug on its Skycatcher model.

Prospective customers include flight schools, and the Merlin is designed to handle students’ sometimes rough-landings, he said.

The company’s development manager, Ted Setzer, said that the plane “fits perfectly into our product line, rounding out a rich history of successful product launches that started in 1980 with the revolutionary Glasair.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

* Correction, April 10, 2015: This article originally incorrectly described the Merlin. The Merlin is a fully built airplane, the first for Glasair Aviation.

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