US Airplane Factory Team
Matt Liknaitzky grew up in South Africa and had a passion for aviation at an early age. He started flying Microlights at age 16 and at 19 went to work for a small aircraft manufacturer. After working in many areas of the company he joined the marketing team and in 3 years became the head of the department. In 2000 he moved to California to run several aviation-related businesses in partnership with Mike Blyth, the founder of The Airplane Factory.
Matt holds Private Pilot ratings in Airplane SEL and MEL as well as Glider and Weight-Shift Control (WSC). He is also a Flight Instructor in Airplane, Glider and WSC. Matt was selected as one of the early FAA Designated Pilot Examiners for Sport Pilot and maintains examiner authority in Airplane, Glider and WSC for both Pilot and Flight Instructor. His passion for aviation is broad and his favorite aircraft to fly are light airplanes and his aerobatic biplane.
Matt is a member of various ASTM committees for Light-Sport Aircraft, is strongly involved in the aviation industry and is excited and proud to be able to help bring the aircraft of The Airplane Factory to the US and to introduce aviation to more of the general public.
Ryan Ruel is a graduate of the University of Southern California. Go Trojans! He majored in Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship and Finance. Before graduating from USC he attended the United States Air Force Academy, but after two years of service decided that military life was not for him and went on to pursue other passions. Since graduating he has worked for Northrop Grumman (NGC), one of the “Big Four” Aerospace Defense Contractors in the country as a Planning Analyst for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
While working for NGC in December 2010, he achieved a long time goal of becoming a pilot. His first certificate was the Sport Pilot Airplane which he received after a nominal 21 hours of flight time in the congested airspace that we all know as Los Angeles. Aviation has run in his blood since his Grandfather’s days, and he was very excited to finally carry-on that tradition since he knew that he had found something that he was extremely passionate about. After leaving Northrop Grumman in March 2011, he decided to pursue his passion for flight with full force. Under the close supervision of some very good instructors he became a Sport Pilot Instructor for both Airplanes and Gliders again in record time. Now he plans to use this knowledge coupled with his educational background and The Airplane Factory to help “Bring the Spirit of Aviation to the Masses.”
Jim Gates grew up in northern Illinois. From a very early age, he had a focused interest in anything that flew. He built and flew many model aircraft, a few small rockets, and some small hot air balloons. At the University of Illinois, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Systems Management from USC.
At age 16, he soloed in a Piper J-3 and went on to earn a private single airplane license and instrument rating. He was recently awarded the FAA’s Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” Award for over 50 years of accident-free flying.
Over a 40-year career in the California aerospace industry, Jim gained broad experience in project management and business development. He retired as Manager of Field Marketing in Boeing’s Los Angeles field office, focusing on Air Force customers at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center for launch systems, satellites, rocket engines, and other space-related businesses.
Jim is currently building his third airplane and has joined The Airplane Factory as Manager of US Assembly Operations to organize and manage assembly of the first US-built Sling.
South African Airplane Factory Team
Mike Blyth is one of the owners of The Airplane Factory in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a fifth generation South African with a passion for aviation. A pioneer of early microlight aviation in South Africa, Mike has been involved in the aircraft business, designing, building and selling aircraft, aircraft engines and accessories, for over 25 years. Mike is a past aviation world champion and has received numerous awards both for his contribution to aviation in South Africa and his aviation feats, as well as the films he has made to record them.
Mike has owned the Rotax agency in South Africa for more than 20 years and is also the owner of Comet Aviation Supplies based in Johannesburg. The Airplane Factory is Mike’s latest, and he believes greatest, venture. For five years Mike has been pouring his passion and dedication into the development of the Sling. He is absolutely delighted with the results. If you would like to check out some of his other exploits, please go to www.trike-expeditions.com, www.noneedforparking.com, and www.cometaviationsupplies.co.za.
James Pitman is a principal in The Airplane Factory. He grew up on a farm in the Kwa-Zulu Natal midlands of South Africa. He is a qualified lawyer who completed a BSc Degree in Science prior to studying law at the University of Cape Town. More recently James has worked as a VP of a mining exploration company listed in London and Toronto. Following the successful sale of the mining business, James was able to give expression to his love of flying by joining Mike as his business partner in The Airplane Factory.
At a young age James developed a deep love of the outdoors and adventure. He has also always been a keen sportsman and traveler. He received multiple honors for athletics, including canoeing and hockey. Over the last several years James has taken a big interest in rock climbing and other extreme sports. In 2005 he was part of the first South African team to scale the Trango Tower of the Pakistan Karakoram Mountains. For more background information on some of his adventures see www.noneedforparking.com .
He has now fully dedicated himself to the success of The Airplane Factory which, along with his two children, he considers to be his most exciting project yet. He is a licensed pilot with many hours in light aircraft, including his Sling and his Extra, as well as helicopters.
Born in 1963 to a mother who was in the South African Air Force (SAAF) during the Second World War and a father who was technical wizard in all practical fields, he grew up loving aircraft and what made them fly. From an early age his father taught him the numerous mechanical skills underlying the creation of machines. By the age of eight he had designed, built and flew several model aircraft. By thirteen he was building and racing motorcycles which became his passion. At eighteen, he matriculated at Pretoria Boys High and was intimately involved in motorcycle racing both as a rider and as a mechanic. By modifying and maintaining motorcycles he made extra money and honed his mechanical skills.
Before serving his two year commitment in the SAAF, he enrolled at South African Airways (SAA) as a trainee aircraft technician with the aim of becoming a flight engineer. He was awarded the top student prize in all subjects including practical. At the age of 23 he bought his first semi complete home-built aircraft as an entry into aircraft building. He began learning to fly and loved it so much that he redirected his life to full time flying.
He started a flight school with a partner teaching students about flight by starting them on model aircraft, then hangliders, then microlight aircraft, before putting them into heavier machines. At that time he became an Approved Person (AP-similar to US A&P/IA) for the inspection of tube and fabric aircraft in South Africa. In 1998 he bought and built a kit aircraft which caught the attention of the owner of Shadowlite Aircraft, a company which builds, distributes and supports the Jabiru aircraft in South Africa. This landed him the job of inspector and test pilot at the company. This led him to upgrade his AP privileges to include composite and aluminum airframes as well as wood and fabric. As the quality controller and test pilot at Jabiru for a period of eight years he supervised the building of, inspected and test flew over 200 aircraft.
Since September 2009 he has been working on aircraft development and as the manager of production at The Airplane Factory. His role has included structural testing of the aircraft, part improvement, flight testing and implementation and improvement of manufacturing procedures. He is now a director and shareholder in The Airplane Factory.