Working Week: The aircraft as a work of art

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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Having designed light aircraft for leisure and for racing, including the record-setting Monex, and with new models on the horizon, owner of Sonex Aircraft John Monnett is not ready yet to fly off into the sunset

Has your entire career been in aviation?

Most of it, yes. I started flying when I was 18. I'm now 66, so you figure it out! My college degree is in art education. I was a high school art teacher for nine years in the Chicago area.

I built my first home-built aircraft in 1969 and flew it at the first fly-in in Oshkosh back in 1970. When I left teaching, my aviation business was already going. It was originally based in Elgin, Illinois, and we moved to Oshkosh in 1982.

sonex aircraft 
 © Sonex Aircraft
Monnett: the jet-powered two-seater will appeal to the more adventurous

Is each aircraft a work of art?

Funny you should ask. I had two one-man shows where we had aircraft on display in art galleries. Aircraft are like art in many ways. I still mix a lot of art into the look of things here, the shape of the aircraft, the look of our branding and our website. It's all over.

Is it liberating to own your own business?

Now that I'm older and past retirement age, yes, I'm having a lot of fun. It's like I always say: "I'm just tired. I'm not retired." I don't know how you get retired. I'm still working at research and development, so I get to play a lot.

Whether it's development of the electric aircraft or the jet... new upgrades on our aircraft, there's just a plethora of interesting challenges.

Is there a frustrating side?

You can always do without the headaches of business, the waning of the economy or a soft market.

We deal in objects that are usually purchased with disposable incomes. When the income has been disposed of they don't buy a lot of aircraft. But we are fortunate that we are at that lower end. People do tend to still come to us.

Will the new aircraft expand your customer base?

I think it'll be a little different. The vast majority of our customer base are empty nesters - people who had always wanted to build an aircraft, although we do have younger builders. We consider our aircraft to be entry-level high-performance kit build aircraft, which means they're affordable for a large spectrum of people.

The idea is to make an aircraft within the parameters of what a car costs. Of course, the jet will appeal to the more adventurous, and the e-flyer will appeal to the more economy-minded people.

You sell the Sonex, Waiex and Xenos gliders, along with engines and other parts. Will you ever find the perfect product line?

We continue to not only develop new products, but also to improve the old ones. That's the challenge of the business, we need to have the best value for the dollar.

Are there perks to being in world-famous Oshkosh?

That's the reason we're here, because EAA is in our backyard. Logistically it's a lot easier during the fly-in. It sucks here in the winter. It gets really cold here.

Are you grooming your son Jeremy to take over some day?

I'm not grooming him, he's taking over now. He runs the business day to day.

He's an engineer and is involved in design. He's been here 10 years and knows the business in and out.

Hopefully when I do go away it'll all be in good hands.