There's a touch of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory about Grob Aerospace, which I visited yesterday. You get the feeling that the owners and managers of this Bavarian company - which made its name manufacturing all-composite military training gliders in the 1970s and is now transferring that expertise to an ambitious business and utility jet - do what they do because they love building things that fly. And that's refreshing in today's beancounter-run, quarterly performance-obsessed aviation industry.
"We won't build toilet seats for Airbus or Boeing," jokes chief operating officer Andreas Strohmayer, explaining why this vertically-integrated business has turned down countless offers of subcontracted work using its expertise in carbon-fibre structures. Instead, Grob, a small offshoot of the family-owned industrial machinery company of the same name, takes the attitude that, unless there is a very good reason for outsourcing any part of its production process, it will do it itself.
The aerospace company's eighty-year-old founder, Burkhart Grob, is still very much involved in the company, and, because of the success of the family's main business, can afford to run Grob without having to squeeze out a profit every year. That is not to say Grob is not a well-run and highly-successful manufacturer. It has spent decades finessing its skills in carbon-fibre manufacturing from making gliders to the company's latest product, the SPn, the only all-composite business jet on the market and its new flagship.
If you remember the book, one of the most fascinating things about Wonka's - other than its owner's enthusiasm for his products - was that nobody had ever seen inside the factory. Grob managed to keep the SPn project secret from everyone other than a few select suppliers right up until it unveiled the aircraft at last year's Paris show. "There's only cows around here," remarks sales and marketing director Hans Doll of the factory and airfield's remote location on the outskirts of a farming village, one hour's drive from Munich. "And they don't talk."
One of the greatest pleasures of seeing round the factory was being invited to give a mighty kick to the SPn. Being carbonfibre, rather than leaving a size-ten indent, your boot bounces back.
I'll be writing more about Grob in the 25 April issue of Flight International, our business aviation special.