Top Gun Slinger

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One of the best things about going out to visit kit companies—aside from the airplanes of course—is meeting the people that make up our community and industry. I have spent time at so many kit companies that it is hard to visit with all the acquaintances I have made over the years when I get to AirVenture every year! Great folks, and every one of them with their own story – just like the builders and pilots who buy kits and airplanes!

Such is the case with my new friends from Sling Aircraft. When I visited South Africa a couple of weeks ago, it was to fly the new High Wing and see just how they build all of their kits and aircraft. But to accomplish those goals, I also had to learn about the backgrounds of the company founder and chief designer, Mike Blythe. Mike is a pilot and engineer with a serious bent, but also someone with a wry sense of humor that comes out when talking with his many team members or over a beer at an airport evening barbecue,  or Braai as they call it.

Then there is another key man in the office, Chairman James Pittman, self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie and corporate lawyer—two things that don’t seem to go together until you meet James. James likes flying, climbing, cycling—if it can give you a rush, he’ll be there. That Braai I mentioned? James arrived by parachute after jumping out of a Trike a couple of thousand feet over the airport… at sunset.

With guys like this running the show, it was no surprise that when I showed up, they were chuckling over a little film they were making, riffing on the trailer for the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” movie. Not ones to be left out of the fun, they re-enivsioned the quick-cut action trailer, envisioning themselves in the roll and having a lot of fun with their variety of airplanes, bicycles, and an airport local with cameras and special effects skills. I was privileged to join in the “practical effects” team when a little shaking of an airframe was required, but I don’t think my name is in the credits. Oh well…its all in the name of art!

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Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor, as well as a former member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

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