Sonex Unveils a $20,000 Sport Plane
By James Grahame
This is the Onex, a surprisingly affordable single-seat kitplane that was unveiled at this summer's EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It's the sort of affordable yet desirable design that could reverse the flagging fortunes of general aviation.
Private flying has been in decline for years, threatened by the rising cost of fuel and the challenges of building affordable modern aircraft. Many of today's young pilots in the US learned to fly in elderly Cessna 152s and 172s -- hardly the cutting edge of aviation. When newly minted pilots decide to buy an aircraft of their own, it's not uncommon for that plane to be older than they are. And they cost an arm and a leg to buy and maintain.
Part of the problem is lawyers -- when someone crash-lands a plane, the aircraft manufacturer often gets dragged into an expensive lawsuit, even when the accident has nothing to do with the design and manufacture of the vehicle. Another problem is price. A modern two-seat carbon fibre aircraft such as the Diamond DA20, a popular club aircraft, costs about $175K.
The solution for many fliers is to build a kit aircraft. There are dozens of proven designs that can be completed for under $50,000, as long as you're willing to invest the time and effort. EAA chapters across North America are eager to help homebuilders assemble, test and license their creations.
One popular choice is the Sonex line of aluminum kit aircraft. Sonex Ltd. is the brainchild of businessman and kit designer John Monnett and Mechanical Engineer Pete Buck. Monnett's industry credentials are legendary -- he was inducted into the Experimental Aircraft Association's Homebuilders Hall of Fame in 2001. Buck, on the other hand, draws up the plans for Sonex designs "in his spare time." Scared yet? Don't be. Buck is a lead Engineer at Lockheed Martin's famed Skunkworks facility.
Their latest design is the Onex - an easy to fly aerobatic (+6/-3Gs) single-seater with folding wings. The company claims that 90% of sport flying is solo, making the Onex a sensible choice for building hours and skill. It's powered by an 80 HP AeroVee engine that burns about 3.5 gph. The kit will be available in tri-gear or tailwheel configurations, and the folding wing is designed to be trailered and fits through a standard 7' garage door.
I suspect the Onex will be a huge success and there should be hundreds flying within a few years.