Six Chuter Celebrates 20 Years
An Interview with Dan Bailey, President, Six Chuter Inc.
Six Chuter Inc. President Dan Bailey. (Courtesy: Six Chuter Inc.)
The Legend XL is prepped for certification in 2008. (Courtesy: Six Chuter Inc.)
Dan Bailey-designed PPC construction technique shown on the underside of Six Chuter Legend XL. (Courtesy: Six Chuter Inc.)
Six Chuter Inc. is a light-sport powered parachute manufacturing business located in Yakima, Washington. Dan Bailey has been the owner and president of Six Chuter Inc. since early 1991. This year will mark 20 years in business, which is quite remarkable given the history of ultralight and light-sport aviation over the past two decades. Six Chuter Inc. provided Light Plane World with this interview with Mr. Bailey. Six Chuter Inc. can be reached at www.sixchuter.com.
Q: Dan, tell us about how Six Chuter got started.
DB: In 1991 there were six previous employees laid off from another PPC manufacturing company that banded together to start the new company, hence the name, Six Chuter Inc. It was an eclectic group to say the least with a mix of previous office personnel and manufacturing experience. Three of us had worked together before at an RV manufacturing company in Yakima, but for the most part our PPC experience was limited to the few weeks, or at most, months we had worked together at the previous company. Still, our enthusiasm was high, given that we believed that there was a business climate for that product in front of us. We just had to develop a market that created the demand for our supply side capabilities.
As with any new business, the first year was slow, even though we did capture some folks from our previous employer’s network to help get us started. But that didn’t prevent the first defections that would come that very first summer when three of the original six left the company to find full-time “paying” jobs. It was tough and there were many times we considered closing shop, but somehow the remaining three of us survived that winter and made it into 1992. Even still, new sales were sporadic at best, but between those and parts sales, we somehow survived until July of that year when we received an order for three units from a gentleman in Ohio. I can’t say for sure what really caused a difference, but from that point on our sales began to increase and we never had to look back again.
Q: Tell us about the evolution of the sport from your perspective.
DB: From the first days of my involvement there were times when I wasn’t sure exactly where we belonged or even if we did belong in any segment of aviation. Certainly the hierarchy of general aviation didn’t want anything to do with us, and the ultralight world, which at that time was a pretty strong entity in its own right, only seemed to allow us privilege of participation if and when we paid for advertising in a magazine or booth space at an air show. Even then, we were held in pretty low accord. By the middle to end of the 1990s, the PPC manufacturers had grown to three or four companies, and I can’t say we were ever on the same page or that there was any real unity between us. But in 1997 we had a very crucial meeting in Chicago that in my mind shaped our entire destiny. As a group we basically laid out the ground work for rule change and acceptance for PPCs that would finally come to fruition in 2004.
I know that there is a huge faction of pilots that take exception to these new rules, but I honestly believe that our sport would not have survived given the direction it was going by 2004. So for me our total existence depended on some of us realizing that acceptance required change. That change would move us closer to GA rules as opposed to demanding a separate set of rules just for our type product.
In one sense the latter did happen with our acceptance into the FARs, but within the context of working with the FAA to ensure our manufacturers, instructors, and pilots were actually credentialed. Even dating back to the inception of the basic flight instructor rules of the 1990s, most people don’t understand that because of better instruction, there were fewer accidents and deaths. We now have the best trained pilots ever, which is evident to me in fewer parts sales due to accidents. Certainly there has been an evolution in the design of PPCs over the last 20 years, and I don’t want to discount the importance of that. But to me the real evolution has occurred with our acceptance as an aircraft. As we move forward, all of those ideas that we considered in 1991 that might ultimately move more potential pilots towards our sport can now happen in this new environment that accepts our pilots, our instructors, and our product without limiting our market. In my mind, that is evolution.
Q: Talk to us about your design philosophy. What makes Six Chuter distinctive?
DB: Pretty simple. Light is right. I spent 20-plus years in RV manufacturing before getting involved in sport aviation manufacturing. During that time, we survived two different oil/gas embargos largely by building a quality product, but for sure about utilizing designs that were efficient and light weight.
Over the years, I have always felt the same about our product, and to this day I believe that saving a pound in aircraft weight could save someone’s life or limb. Less weight to me means better performance “when you need it most.” I have never accepted that you should design a unit to survive a rollover. As I’ve said for years, Boeing doesn’t build a 747 to roll over--neither will we. So, when you look at the Legend design we offer now, it is a culmination of design changes over 20 years that are directly pointed at providing a strong undercarriage in a lightweight overall airframe. Could it be lighter? Probably, and I would likely move that direction except for perceived market ideologies that believe an extra tube here and there is actually safer.
Q: What is in store for Six Chuter models, for Six Chuter Inc., and for Dan Bailey?
DB: Since the new rule changes in 2004, coupled with the down market and cost of R&D, you will only see minor changes in the current product line in the coming 2010 model year. We do plan to finalize our Rotax 912 unit this winter which will be added to the product line as the Legend Paragon. In addition we will mothball the XT side-by-side model as most instructors prefer the tandem with dual controls.
Beyond that, we will continue to finalize and clean up manuals and our manufacturing process. The changes we made this year which basically downsized my participation in the manufacturing process have largely been proven successful, although we’ve only had a limited number of units move through the system. But in the long run, I think we have positioned ourselves networkwide to handle the future nicely. More sales are always good, but in reality this time has been used to restructure ourselves for the future. I’m certainly not ready to retire, but there is a reality to the process that dictates we prepare for that eventuality. Until then, getting everyone else up to speed makes sense and that’s what we’re doing. 2009 has been a tough year for everyone and virtually every business. But as in all the previous years, we survived and in some ways grew stronger. I look forward to 2010 and I’m hopeful that our economy will begin to turn around, and with it, ours and everyone else’s fortunes. I think if you look at the numbers of new pilots and the numbers of potential new pilots, even in a down economy those numbers are pretty impressive in the markets that are active. The key as always will be to revitalize those dormant markets and get more folks interested in flying again.