Those who know John Monnett would say he has an acerbic wit
and sometimes acts like a relative of Don Rickles. But he’s also a genius,
passionate about flying and far more clever than a room full of Boeing
engineers. John Monnett has had a fascinating career in aviation…without
any formal training. He’s more of an artist than engineer and yet he builds
John went through the traditional experiences with balsa, tissue and glue. Before long he was designing his own
model airplanes, supplementing them with daydreams about air racing. When he wanted to get into the sport, the
only way he could afford it was by building his own racer. The Sonerai was born. It had a 1600cc Volkswagen engine.
At first it was a single seat, mid-wing racer. People liked the design and began asking for plans. John accommodated>
them and soon found himself in the business of shipping plans and before long he was developing and shipping
some of the more difficult parts for the design. Monnett Aircraft was born. The Sonerai II evolved, also featuring
VW power, with two seats in tandem in both low wing and mid-wing configurations. It began as a taildragger and
became a tricycle. The “kits” began to grow in size and the number of fabricated parts. The builder got plans, but
not much in the way of instructions. John then designed the Monerai sailplane with or without a self-launching
engine. He also created the Moni Motorglider. Both were successful. The Monex, a high performance raceplane was
never put into production. Eventually, a bad business partner put the company into bankruptcy. John went to work
as a graphic artist.
Then in 1998, he and his design partner, Peter Buck, introduced the Sonex, a two-seat, side-by-side
John Monnett Betty Monnett Jeremy Monnett
taildragger designed for an AeroVee, or Jabiru engine.
He was back in business…this time with his son, Jeremy.
Together, they built up a thriving business, working their
way up from plans sales to one of the most sophisticated
kits in the homebuilt market. It’s a kit designed “for IKEA
customers”, where you need little more than a wrench and
a screwdriver to put one together. There’s little fabrication
anymore; mostly assembly, and the illustrated instructions
are elaborate. The Sonex, which now sells for $27,670, with
an AeroVee engine kit, is available as a taildragger or tricycle
design. There is an option of being able to purchase a Jabiru
80 or 120 hp assembled engine. The Waiex is a Sonex with
a “Y” tail and the Xenos is a motorglider. The company has
sold over 2,000 sets of plans and about 1,800 kits. They
know of 365 completions that are flying today. The Onex, a
single seat Sonex with folding wings, is available for about
$25,000. It was designed and developed by Jeremy.
There have been two other projects that John devotes
most of his time to these days (Jeremy, Sonex’ CEO, and
John’s wife, Betty, keep the company running while John
focuses on R&D with input from Jeremy). First, and perhaps
the most challenging, is an electric powered version of the
Waiex. To get into electric flight, there are three components
that have to be developed: the motor, the battery and
the controller. The project has been in Sonex’ “Hornet’s
Nest R&D Center” for years and has eaten up tremendous
quantities of time, money and effort. The airframe was the
easy part, being a proven design. Harnessing electricity for
flight is another matter and has led the design team to the
creation of clean sheet designs for all three components.
John still refers to it as “a long-term project”. It has already
flown, but is a long way from being market ready.
Before the Onex was started, John began a project that provided more excitement than he had ever
experienced before: the Jet. It’s called the “Sub Sonex”. John designed a new, smaller “Y” tailed airframe with a PBS
jet engine on the aft fuselage. It flies beautifully, exceeding the BD-5J in speed and range.
Among his revered accomplishments, John included: “Setting some world records, flying an all electric
aircraft and becoming a jet pilot at 68.” He has flown the jet-powered Sub Sonex and is working on a second
prototype. He expects to market a complete kit, including the turbine engine, for under $120K…sometime in the
future. Speaking of accomplishments, John spoke of a couple others that merit repeating: “Marrying a saint who
allowed me to work on airplanes and having my son and wife run the business while I ‘play’.”
For more information on Sonex Aircraft, visit: www.SonexAircraft.com.