Sling 4-4-40 Challenge

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- Stephen Haupt, Images courtesy of TAF


 Day 1




Day 1 - Night Shift


Day 2


Day 3





Starting with flying the Sling 2 prototype around the world in 2009, The Airplane Factory (TAF) has consistently set higher milestones for itself through the years. The Sling 4, a four seat model of the original Sling, was first flown in 2011, and promptly flown around the world in the opposite direction, as one does with a prototype aircraft. In the same year, TAF decided to show the aviation community just how simple it is to build a kit Sling, by assembling a Sling 2 kit in 7 days, with 5 factory employees, and 5 people who had never touched a pair of pliers, no matter a rivet gun. The Africa Aerospace and Defence show, held at AFB Waterkloof this September, was the perfect setting for an even bigger challenge.

The Sling 4-4-40 challenge –
build a Sling 4 kit in 4 days with 40 factory staff,
all in the midst of a world class airshow, far from the factory.

The build was set to start on Wednesday 23 September, but the planning for this huge undertaking had taken weeks. The kit was packed at TAF’s home base of Tedderfield Airpark, including some preparation such as prebuilt fuel tanks due to the drying time of the sealant. Mounds of paperwork was completed to allow this build to happen on an active air force base, and logistics had to be arranged to have catering for the staff available throughout each day, transport of the kit and all tools, as well as the daily transport of both day and night shifts of factory workers from Tedderfield to Waterkloof.

At 09h00 on Wednesday, the build was started inside a fenced off area under gazebos in the general aviation area of the show. Fantastic progress was made on day 1, with the centre and rear fuselage being constructed and joined, the undercarriage assembled, and the engine wired and awaiting assembly. During the half hour handover period between the day and night shifts, there were up to 32 people working on the aircraft at once! The night shift exceeded all expectations. During their 14 hour shift, the undercarriage was installed, the engine was mounted, and the wings three-quarters built.

Day 2 started with an inspection of the aircraft by Mike Blyth, who then called the staff together to announce that the build was so far ahead of schedule, that there was no need for a night shift that night.

The build continued with instrument panel and engine wiring, ballistic parachute installation, and huge progress was made on the wings and empennage.

Day 3 saw the wings and empennage being mated with the fuselage. The cowlings and spats were fitted, all fluids filled, and the lights and avionics tested. Hordes of people watched the build from behind the crowd control fences, all giving great words of support, and urging the team on. The aircraft was wheeled out of its fenced confines for a celebratory team photo. James Pitman gave the team words of encouragement, and emphasised how it had taken Mike and himself four years to build the first Sling. At this point, it was discovered that even after completing reams of paperwork, writing countless motivational letters, submitting test flight action plans and flight plans and actually receiving confirmation that the initiative is fully supported, the planned test flight on Sunday had not been put into the programme. 

With day 4 being the first day of the public airshow, the team was surrounded by onlookers at all times. Both local and international media were vying for interviews with the team at all times, and publicity for the company went through the roof. A final inspection was done, the aircraft fuelled, leather interior installed, decals applied, and all paperwork issued. With Andrew Pitman’s fantastic work, a slot was secured for an engine run that afternoon and for the test flight the following day. The Sling 4 was released from its cage again, and pulled through the crowd to show centre, where the key was turned and the engine burst to life to great cheers and applause from the crowds. A Sling 4 was born in 4 days!

The completed Sling 4 ZU-TES (a test registration assigned to the factory) was on static display on Sunday before the big moment. At arguably the biggest airshow on the African continent, James Pitman took to the skies before thousands of people to complete the first flight; the aircraft performed flawlessly.

Having a close look at ZU-TES, one will find that the quality of this aircraft is absolutely top notch. Throughout the build the team insisted that speed does not mean lack of quality, and this is definitely true considering that after returning to the factory for paint, this aircraft will be shipped to the USA to become the demonstrator aircraft for the US distributors in California.

Huge congratulations are in order for every one of the forty staff that contributed to this massive achievement, showing just how capable the South African aviation industry is.

 Who will be the first EAA member to build a Sling 4?


Day 4