Oct 6, 2021 - Business
Bentonville stunt plane is like a sports car for the sky
A GameBird 1 stunt plane flies upside down.
Edan Shalev's GameBird 1 flies upside down over NWA during a test flight this year. Photo: Courtesy Edan Shalev via Game Composites.

Cristian Bolton likes to see the world upside down, if only for seconds at a time.

The big picture: Bolton is a test pilot and salesman at Game Composites, maker of aerobatic airplanes, which took off in the U.K. in 2013 and landed in NWA three years later.

  • Now the company is doubling the size of its production facility by the end of the year and expanding its team from about 70 to 150, Bolton says.

Why it matters: Airplane manufacturing is a highly technical industry requiring skilled labor and engineering know-how. The success of one maker could attract others to start up new companies or relocate to the area, creating an innovation hub for aerospace and further driving diversification in our economy.

Details: The company's product, the GameBird 1 (also GB1), is a two-seater that's lightweight yet powerful enough to do stunts in the air.

  • The GB1 has more range than similar planes — up to 1,000 miles. It fills a narrow but unmatched niche for flight enthusiasts who perform acrobatics and also want to fly themselves for weekend jaunts.
  • The plane and its components are made almost entirely in the U.S. and are hand-built from tip to tail in Bentonville.
  • A base GB1 starts at $425,000. Customized paint and electronics are available.

The company’s growth means instead of making one plane a month, Game Composites will soon be able to produce two.

The intrigue: The GB1's fuselage, wings and the trusses that give the wings rigid structure are made entirely of carbon fiber composites. Most aircraft of this type are made of aluminum and have structural trusses that take up precious room.

  • Its top speed is about 270 mph, and it has a cruising speed of about 230 mph.
  • It can hold 81 gallons of fuel, giving it the 1,000-mile range, but is rated to handle only 33 pounds of luggage. The trunk is tiny, so no golf bags.
  • The GB1 is FAA-certified, meaning it meets high criteria for safety and can be used for flight instruction.

It's also certified in Europe, where Bolton says many buyers live. Unlike similar planes, the GB1 has two wings, making it easier to ship and reassemble.

Flashback: The company was founded by ​​Steuart Walton and Philipp Steinbach, who also serves as the chief designer.

  • It relocated to Bentonville in 2016 because airspace above and around NWA isn't crowded, making it great for aerobatics and test flights, Bolton tells Axios.
  • The company has built 35 GB1s so far but plans to complete No. 41 by the end of 2021.

What they're saying: Edan Shalev, chief technical officer for a medical database company, flew aerobatic planes competitively when he was younger. He uses his GB1 to fly between California and Idaho, and to do stunts for fun.

  • He waited about a year for his GB1, traveling to Bentonville three times during the process.
  • The 1,000-mile range, its being made in the U.S. and testimony from a friend who owns four GameBirds were tipping points for Shalev to make the purchase.

Plus, "I feel safer in this plane than in any other plane," he says.

Cristain Bolton, a test pilot, shows of a GameBird 1.
Cristian Bolton, a test pilot, shows off the Oz Trails GameBird 1. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios
A worker assembles parts of a GameBird 1 fuselage.
A worker assembles parts of a GameBird 1 fuselage. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios
A worker preps part of a plane for painting.
A worker preps part of a plane for painting. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios
Cristain Bolton lifts an unfinished tail of a GameBird 1 with minimal effort.
Cristian Bolton lifts an unfinished tail of a GameBird 1 with minimal effort. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios
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