Biplane business is buzzing

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Mark Marino finished designs of a newer, better Hatz biplane in 2005. He sells the plans and parts from Sky Harbor Airport, a small strip at the end of a picturesque peninsula connecting to Duluth Minnesota

Has your career always been building and designing in general aviation?

I worked for the Minnesota Air National Guard on several different fighter aircraft as an electronic technician for eight years. After developing several small businesses, my wife and I settled on the Portland Malt Shoppe, an ice-cream business we started 22 years ago on the north shore of Lake Superior. I learned to fly in 1982. Ten years ago, we started Hangar 10 Aero as a retirement business.

When did you decide to update a classic airframe, and why pick the 1968 Hatz?

I've always had the desire to build an aircraft from plans rather than a kit plane. Experimental aircraft building offers me the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of the airplane, from design to the finishing touches. It is very rewarding. The Hatz biplane has all the charm of a Waco biplane, but on a somewhat smaller scale. John Hatz really got it right when he came up with his design more than 40 years ago. More than 900 sets of plans have been purchased and no doubt hundreds of them flying. Flying an open-cockpit biplane can't be beaten and you can do it in a Hatz without draining your wallet. A Hatz is like a Harley, only three times as good. People who ride motorcycles would understand the concept.

What features make your Hatz Bantam competitive in a modern market?

The Hatz Bantam uses a lightweight Jabiru engine, allowing the plane to be light enough to qualify as a two-place light sport aircraft. That said, it still flies like a Hatz. This is not an ultra-light aircraft. The Bantam is the real thing and there aren't many LSA biplanes out there. The Hatz was originally designed with an all-wood wing. We took the same airfoil and made stamped aluminum ribs. Most of the people who are interested are not interested in spending 10 years building an airplane. This saves 800h.

They say it's simple to fly. Is running the business so simple?

Running any small business in this economy is a challenge, but the rewards are always there and worth the effort. Being in the airplane business is like candy. I'm just enjoying the whole thing. When you have a customer you can help, and you can make their goals happen and their dreams come true, that is really rewarding. It's not always about the money, though we've always been in the black. You're never going to get rich in the airplane business. You know what they say about how to make a small fortune - start with a big one.

Has it been easy working with the light sport aircraft rule?

The LSA rule is easy to comply with and offers an alternative to low-cost flying without compromising safety. The Hatz Bantam is gradually becoming a kit, but for now it's a plans-built aircraft.

What other aircraft do you work with, and what services do you offer?

Hangar 10 Aero distributes polyfibre aircraft covering materials and as much assistance as possible. We also are a Rans Aircraft kit dealer. We're putting the fibre covering on a PBY, a big twin-engine seaplane amphibian. I think it's about a 110ft wingspan and almost half that wing is fabric. It's just a huge covering project.

What goals do you have for yourself and the business?

I will work to make the Hatz Bantam a complete kit under the 51% amateur-built rule and eventually a SLSA version ready to fly. We've had parts available and have a wing kit that has just about everything to build wings. We've never had a fuselage.