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Manufacture of Tiger planes to begin in W.Va.

November 13, 2000|By BOB PARTLOW

Manufacture of Tiger planes to begin in W.Va.



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The ribbon was cut Monday to officially begin manufacture of the Tiger Aircraft plane at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

The plane is intended primarily for personal use, and comes with its own fan clubs, in 17 countries. Its enthusiasts, several of whom attended the ceremony, call the single-propeller plane speedy, sleek, simple and easy to fly.

The plane has had several incarnations and several manufacturers since it was first built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said John Witcher, president of Tiger Aircraft. One of the early designers of the aircraft was the man who headed the team that designed the lunar lander.

It went out of production in the 1990s. A combination of American and Taiwanese investors got together to begin production, and working with U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., since early 1997, located the plant south of Martinsburg.

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The plant now employs 20 people, will employ 50-55 people by May and eventually could provide paychecks for 200 people, said Rockefeller, who helped in dedication ceremonies Monday at the airport.

"This is the rebirth of a certain kind of aviation," Rockefeller told the crowd of about 100 people gathered in the company hangar for opening ceremonies.

"We have not manufactured aircraft in West Virginia as far as I can determine," Rockefeller said. "If all goes as planned, the first plane will be finished in January and 70 planes will be built the first year."

"The aviation industry, historically, pays higher wages," said Rick Wachtel, chairman of the airport authority. "While this will be a small company, it will have a significant impact on the local economy."

Steve Williams produces a newsletter for the 2,000-member American Yankee Association, the support group for the plane. American Yankee was the original name for the design.

"It's really great to see it go back into production," Williams said. "It's just such a pleasure to fly."

A video was shown of some people who own the plane. They have formed an informal kind of family across the country and hold regular fly-ins with their planes.

"These planes are almost always bought by individuals who fly them themselves," Witcher said.

The company will use a "slow but steady" approach to adding workers as it begins turning out the planes.

"I think we're looking at about two people a week," he said.

Rockefeller said the Eastern Panhandle was the ideal place for the manufacturing.

"It's near to the east coast, it's part of the eastern corridor and there's a sophisticated work force," he said.

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