Flying with Dale Klapmeier
I’m sure Dale Klapmeier needs no introduction here. However (or perhaps ‘And so’) the chance to spend 40 minutes with the co-founder and now ex-CEO of Cirrus Design Corporation is not to be missed.
The treat comes to us courtesy of London-based management consultancy ELIXIRR Consulting Limited, whose own founder and CEO, Stephen Newton, is an enthusiastic pilot himself. That, by default, puts him in the special category of people who move in three dimensions, put their faith in invisible forces, and see the world from a different angle.
From there, the idea of creating a video series that takes notable entrepreneurs for a flight over the places that influenced their lives and shaped their success seems an obvious way to explore innovative thinking… et voila! – Elxirr’s ‘Airtime’ series.
Straight off the comms
Given Klapmeier’s game-changing success in the General Aviation sphere, and the fact that Newton’s personal ride is a Cirrus SR-22, filming an episode in Duluth Minnesota was almost inevitable.
It may even have been the original idea… Newton’s excitement and slight apprehension as they fly to meet one of his heroes is almost palpable. However Dale Klapmeier soon proves relaxed and outgoing, and the result is an enjoyable interview recorded straight off the SR22’s internal coms. Cool!
Right off the bat, Klapmeier sets out the critical difference that gave Cirrus its edge – they are a lifestyle company, not an aviation manufacturing company. Their goal is to make GA a first choice for the passenger (read ‘spouse’ in 9 out of 10 cases), and that way the pilot will get to fly more.
As he says: “It’s easy to sell a pilot a slick new airplane but every pilot …has somebody else that they answer to.”
A barn in Baraboo
From Duluth, the team fly down to Baraboo, WI, to the Klapmeier family farm where Dale and elder brother Alan first dreamed of an aircraft company that would take on the incumbent giants of GA. With a mix of on-site commentary and rare personal photos, Dale tells the entire story from being driven to the airport as a baby (so his mother could get a break), learning to fly before he could drive, buying a wrecked Champ without his parents’ prior permission or knowledge …right through to the long years working on their radical VK-30 design, and how that experience tempered and steered them toward the aircraft that would become the Cirrus SR-20.
I have a theory that the very best aviators are those that rode their bikes to the airport when they were kids. It was heartening to learn Dale Klapmeier was one of those!
Back to the Cirrus factory
From Baraboo, we’re taken north to Oshkosh and the EAA museum, as Dale recounts his and Alan’s last minute decision to buy a Glasair I kit over the Vans RV-4 they’d gone to Airventure to purchase. Looking ahead to the sleek all-composite Cirrus line, Vans’ loss was GA’s gain.
Next, the flight heads back to the Cirrus factory at Duluth, where the interview continues over the highly distracting eye-candy of racked Cirrus components and Vision Jet fuselages. The Cirrus history is there, but the Cirrus product tells its own story.
‘Airtime’ isn’t edited in a strictly chronological sequence, so you have to pay attention. The upside is that there are no ‘slow spots’, and the connections between Klapmeier’s background and his later achievements is drawn much more clearly.
Overall, it’s awesome to watch an in-depth interview with both a Collier Trophy winning entrepreneur and a list of locations to die for: Cirrus cockpit, Klapmeier farm, EAA musuem, Cirrus factory… What’s not to love?
Officially, this is Episode 2 of the ‘Airtime’ series, Season One, which will be distributed globally on Amazon Prime later this year. Meanwhile, the first three episodes and background content are on the official Airtime website. Other guests include Alan Barratt of the UK’s Grenade and tech entrepreneur Michel Feaster of Usermind.
They each join Newton for a Cirrus flight back to the places that made them. So there’ll always be that fundamental aviation connection, and I’m sure the quality will make them all easily watchable.
But obviously a trip with Dale Klapmeier is always going to rank above the rest!
Plenty to learn
That said, if you’re a management student looking to gain business insights from a notable entrepreneur – they’re here. There are also immutable life lessons, as so often happens with aviation. But for me, as an aviation enthusiast, this is a superb aviation documentary first and foremost.
With all due respect to the army of YouTubers out there, it’s still rare to find content with this level of subject matter and the production values to do it justice.
My only complaint is that I wanted more. Lots more. It’s such a great concept, and an interview with such a great aviator, I’d happily settle in for a feature-length version. Unfortunately, I’m not everybody, and 41 minutes is all you get.
Inspiring future generations
Then again, one of the very best things about the video is waiting quietly in the credits:
As part of the program, Elixirr makes a donation to the charity of their guest’s choosing. Dale Klapmeier nominated the EAA’s Aviation Foundation, so this episode is also helping the EAA with ‘inspiring future generations, changing opinions, altering regulations and building The Spirit of Aviation’.
Amen to that.
Enjoy ‘Airtime’ with Cirrus and Dale Klapmeier…
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