The Sling aeroplane, manufactured by The Airplane Factory, is known as one of the most reliable and affordable light sport aircraft in the world. Company owners and airplane enthusiasts, Mike Blyth and James Pitman, have written the plane into aviation folklore after flying it around the world twice. (Image: Aaron Gautschi)
• Andrew Pitman
The Airplane Factory
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The little two-seater Sling 2 aeroplane buzzes through the amber sky, high above the town of Meyerton in Gauteng. The 3-D display screen indicates that it is flying at an altitude of 6 700 feet and at a speed of 120 knots – about 220 kilometres an hour. Holding the lever of the plane, you cannot help but be awed by the raw power at your command. It gives you the sense that you are holding your – and your co-pilot's – destiny in your hands.
The Sling 2 is one of South Africa's best aeronautical exports in recent years, with 160 planes sold worldwide. And its story begins with a bit of aviation romance. It was designed and developed by Mike Blyth and James Pitman, two aviation enthusiasts looking to build the perfect light sport aircraft (LSA). Once it was finished, in 2009, they took their homemade plane and flew around the world in 40 days.
Covering more than 45 000 kilometres, they stopped in 14 countries, including the United States, where they attended the Airventure Airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Sao Tome; Guinea; Brazil; and Malaysia. "The amazing thing was that we could design and develop an aircraft ourselves, get into it and in 40 days zoom all around the world in this little aeroplane we dreamed of making, " says Blyth.
But the trip led to something even bigger. When Pitman and Blyth returned, they decided to turn their passion into a business venture and started up The Airplane Factory. The company produces some of the world's most reliable light aircraft out of its hangar in Tedderfield Airpark, situated in the dusty town of Eikenhof between Johannesburg and Vereeniging. To prove just how stable the plane is, the team flew two more long distance flights in 2011 and 2013.