Glasair Aircraft Production Manager and pilot Ben Rauk gets ready to fly a four-seat, pre-production Merlin on July 12 in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald )

Glasair Aircraft Production Manager and pilot Ben Rauk gets ready to fly a four-seat, pre-production Merlin on July 12 in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald )

Glasair of Arlington to deliver new airplane model soon

ARLINGTON — The alarm klaxon cut through the whirring noise of the airplane engine. The digital speed gauge dropped steadily toward 39 knots — the two-seat plane’s stall speed, indicating it would be going too slow to stay in the air.

As the plane stalled, its nose gently dipped toward Puget Sound about 1,500 feet below. The plane descended ever so slightly. As it lost altitude, it picked up speed. The gauge’s dial climbed above stall speed, and the plane smoothly returned to level flying. The whole thing lasted less than a minute and was hardly noticeable but for the alarm.

“The plane wants to stay in the air,” the pilot, Ben Rauk, said.

He banked the Glasair Merlin right toward Arlington Municipal Airport, Glasair’s home for more than 20 years. Rauk is a production manager and test pilot for the company.

The light sport airplane marks a major shift for the company, which has made more 3,000 kit airplanes since it began in 1979. Unlike kit planes, which are assembled by their owners, the Merlin will be sold ready to fly.

It is the first step in Glasair Chief Executive Nigel Mott’s plan to transition the company from selling kits to making turnkey airplanes.

The company is simply following the market, he said.

Private pilots increasingly want turnkey planes. While kits have never been a huge portion of small airplane sales, demand “is probably stable for now, but slowly declining” in the near future, he said.

The addition of the Merlin makes Glasair the state’s third-largest airplane maker, behind Boeing and Cub Crafters of Yakima, but with roughly 45 people, Glasair is a far cry from Boeing.

The Merlin has an all-composite material body — as does the 787.

However, its production line looks nothing like the highly-automated, super-sized assembly lines at Boeing’s Everett plant.

“It’s still a fairly labor-intensive process,” Mott said.

The Merlin’s airframe is made on site using molds built by Bayview Composites, a tooling and fabrication company in Mount Vernon. The carbon fiber hardens at room temperature, so no need for a costly and large autoclave to bake it.

Glasair is still refining the plane’s production process. It’s a huge change in mindset from doing kit planes, Mott said. “With the kit side of the business, we’re really a job shop,” making plane parts on demand.

Mott hopes to have Merlin production running smoothly within 12 months. The company is shooting to deliver the first plane by October to Rainier Flight Service in Renton.

The flight school has ordered three of the $150,000 airplanes. It also is selling them for Glasair.

Training schools play a big role in the Merlin’s market, Mott said.

The plane is built to be durable and forgiving, key features for new pilots. A Glasair customer, Chuck Hautamaki was its chief designer. The plane first flew last year, and the Federal Aviation Administration certified this past spring.

Glasair had considered the Merlin for a few years before moving forward on the project in 2014, Mott said.

The decision to go ahead was backed with money for tooling and other production costs from Glasair’s owner, Jilin Hanxing Group. The industrial conglomerate is based in Jilin City in China’s northeast corner, between North Korea and Russia.

Hanxing’s owner, Fang Tieji, bought Glasair in 2012 from Thomas Wathen, a hands-off owner who had raised the airplane maker from the dead when he purchased the assets of Glasair’s defunct predecessor, Stoddard-Hamilton Aircraft in 2001.

Wathen named the new company for Stoddard-Hamilton’s oldest model airplane, the Glasair.

When Fang acquired Glasair, the company had plans to fully certify its successful Sportsman as a production airplane, rather than a kit.

However, when Cessna stopped production of its two-seat Skycatcher in 2013, “we saw an opportunity” to step in with the Merlin, Mott said.

The company plans to start this fall on the process of moving the Sportsman into production, an effort which could take three years, he said.

Beyond that, Glasair could possibly develop a six- or eight-seat production model, Mott said.

The Merlin “is a good airplane,” said Bradley Donaldson, co-owner of Rainier Flight Service. “It flies very smoothly.”

Given its durability and stability, “it’s going to be a good training airplane from what we’ve seen so far,” he said.

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

Glasair Merlin specifications

Max speed: 120 knots (138 mph)

Cruising speed: 105 knots (121 mph)

Stall speed (full flaps): 39 knots (45 mph)

Wing Span: 31 feet, 9 inches

Length: 21 feet, 8 inches

Base price: $149,950

Height: 8 feet, 8 inches

This story has been modified to reflect the fact that Glasair is the third-largest airplane maker in Washington.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

Everett
Everett courthouse garage briefly closed for ‘suspicious package’ report

A man drove his car into the Snohomish County Courthouse garage and reported he believed the package was in his car.

High-capacity magazines at The Freedom Shoppe gun store, which was holding a sale in anticipation of new gun control measures, in New Milford, Conn., April 2, 2013. The store is liquidating their stock of weapons expected to be banned. Months after the massacre of 26 people at a school in Newtown, Conn., legislative leaders in the state on Monday announced what they called the most far-reaching gun-legislation package in the country. (Wendy Carlson/The New York Times)
WA high court leaves ban in place for now on high-capacity ammo magazines

Monday’s decision will keep the law in effect until the court hears arguments, possibly this fall, on the bill sponsored by an Edmonds senator.

Firefighters respond to a 911 call Tuesday morning in Mill Creek. (Photo provided by South County Fire)
Mill Creek house fire displaces 3

Firefighters responded to a house fire in the 14100 block of 30th Avenue SE early Tuesday morning. No one was injured.

Alyvia Nguyen, 8, climbs on leaf shaped steps at the new Corcoran Memorial Park playground on Friday, July 12, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Bothell-area park ‘could not be a more fitting dedication’

In 2019, Jim Corcoran donated $1.5 million worth of land to become a public park. He died before he could see it completed.

Cars line up for the Edmonds ferry in Edmonds, Washington on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Ferry line jumpers face a $145 fine — and scorn from other drivers

Law enforcement is on the lookout for line cutters. It’s a “hot-button issue that can lead to something worse.”

Mother charged in Stanwood toddler’s fentanyl overdose death

Morgan Bassett woke up in January 2022 and found her daughter wasn’t breathing. Last week, she was charged with manslaughter.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.