Locally built light-sport aircraft flying high: For two!Two are often better than one. For that reason, the 2018 version of SkyRunner is better than the 2014 version.Four years ago, The Forum News introduced you to the combination all-terrain vehicle/light-sport aircraft being built by Shreveport businessman Stewart Hamel. Then, each SkyRunner had a capacity of one and operated with one engine.Fast-forward, and SkyRunner – sometimes referred to as a “flying car” – now has room for two people and is powered by two engines.
“Going from a one-seater to a two-seater allows you to share the experience and gives you more redundancy,” Hamel said. “If you ever had a failure, if something ever happened to your aircraft engine, you could drive back. If something happened to your drive system, you just fly back.” Last July, SkyRunner received an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration allowing for increased takeoff weight. This allowed SkyRunner to expand to a two-seat machine.
Hamel said those changes and others – a bigger and more rugged chassis, carbon fiber body panels rather than aluminum, and a military-grade wiring harness – have made SkyRunner more appealing to more people. In fact, the improvements came at the people’s request.
“We weren’t building this in a silo. We built it off the feedback of what the market said it wanted, which is pretty interesting.”No, SkyRunner is not being built in a silo. It is, however, being built by a team of 11 people in the old AT&T center on Mansfield Road.“It’s a perfect place to do assem-bly,” Hamel said. “We looked at the Michoud plant in New Orleans. We looked at Tulsa and Albuquerque. Af-ter reading the Forbes and KPMG’s assessment of Northwest Louisiana, we were one of the most competitive, if not THE most competitive place for light-sport aircraft manufacturing in the United States, so that got my attention.”
Hamel noted Shreveport’s location to several ports, as well as its relatively equal distance to both coasts.
“We are central, so we’re not on one side of the country and have logistics problems shipping it to the other side. We’ve done two-day air, packaged them up, put them on an aircraft and shipped them overseas.”
Hamel said approximately a dozen SkyRunners have been sold, with a backlog of 30. Because of “what” SkyRunner is, as well as its price tag ($139,000-$154,000), the market for individual buyers is limited. Therefore, Hamel has focused on selling his product to two entities – military and police. Hamel would not discuss specifics when it comes to the Department of Defense, only saying, “Money has been exchanged between them and us.”
However, Hamel did point out that law enforcement agencies have needs that SkyRunner can meet— and for a lower than expected investment.
“There are 18,000 police agencies. Three hundred have the ability to get in the air,” Hamel said. “We are 60 bucks an hour operational cost. That’s fuel, insurance, maintenance, unscheduled maintenance, TDO—that’s the whole package, about $60 an hour versus a helicopter for about $1,800 an hour.”
“We have done demonstrations for border security,” Hamel added. “We’ve had purchase requests from five different countries for their border security.
We’ve done demonstrations for our own border security.”
“Most aircraft are not designed to preserve life,” Hamel said. It’s inevitable things are going to happen, but we build these chassis to be tough. The quality assurance has to be there because it’s our friends – our family. I built it initially with my kids in mind – to take them on adventures and have these memories – be familycentric.”
SkyRunner has spent much of the past four years in research and development. However, during the next four years, Hamel believes the sky is the limit.
“I expect (sales) to be hundreds a year. Right now, we’re heading toward five to 10 a month. All of our bays are full now of vehicles that will be shipped out.”
To learn more about SkyRunner, you may visit their website at www.flyskyrunner.com.