Klapmeier, Alan L. & Dale E.Enshrined 2014
Alan and Dale Klapmeier were the second and third sons of Larry and Carol Klapmeier. Alan was born on October 6, 1958 in St. Paul, Minneapolis with Dale joining the family on July 2, 1961 in Rockford, Illinois.
A difficult child, Alan spent most of his first two years crying unless either held by his mother or watching airplanes. As the kids grew, the three brothers built model airplanes, watched aircraft movies such as 12 O’Clock High, and continued to dream.
By the time high school in DeKalb, IL, rolled around Alan was visiting the local airport daily just to watch airplanes and to talk with pilots.
When Alan was a high school junior he joined the Civil Air Patrol, where flying lessons were economical. Shortly after graduating in 1976 Alan was a licensed pilot. Naturally, his high school friends were skeptical of his statements about starting a company to design and manufacture aircraft.
A few years later the brothers bought a 1947 Cessna 140 in which Dale began his flight training at age 15. Imagine having an airplane before your first car.
Following high school Alan attended Ripon College, graduating in 1980 with degrees in Physics and Economics. The summer before Alan’s graduation, Dale discovered a wrecked 1960 Champion 7GC which appeared to be a quick rebuild project for the pair. Like any good learning experience, their “short” project ended up taking 2 ½ years!
The fall of 1979, while Alan was still a senior in college, he began the design for what became the Cirrus VK-30. Alan’s interest in composites and laminar flow aerodynamics was showing.
As the next step in gaining experience, the brothers decided to build an airplane from a kit. While attending the 1980 EAA Fly-In at Oshkosh, they bought a Glasair kit. As part of the deal, Alan and Dale’s parents required them to write a business plan explaining how building the Glasair was necessary for their own business future.
Dale graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stephens Point in December of 1983 with degrees in Business Administration with a finance emphasis, and in Economics. The Glasair graduated from the family barn to the sky that following spring. During this time discussions of aircraft design and business futures continued with the forming of what became Cirrus Design Corporation.
Their first design, the VK-30, was a five-seat, composite piston-pusher prop craft with conventional wings and tail which became the first kit aircraft featured on the cover of Aviation Week and Space Technology in January 1990.
With their sights set on FAA certification, Cirrus left Wisconsin in 1994 for Duluth, Minnesota. There the brothers were better able to focus on a different design known as the SR20 – one intended to redefine aircraft comfort, safety, ease of operation and performance.
Building the team that achieved FAA certification was part of the challenge. Raising the money to finance that team was another. But perseverance won and the Cirrus SR20 was certified in October 1998. In 1999, when the first production SR20 rolled out of the factory, Cirrus was now competing with the likes of Cessna.
Both the Cirrus SR20 and the higher performance models that followed, like the SR22, revolutionized the small aircraft industry and won market share in the double digits. Transformative technology included use of composite materials and the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS). The first FAA certified aircraft to incorporate this innovation, CAPS has gone on to save over 90 lives.
In 2003 Cirrus introduced the first full glass cockpit Primary Flight Display (PFD) offered standard in a small aircraft line. Within three years all the major general aviation companies were following suit.
As some discovered (and Cirrus expected), their attractive, innovative high-performance products appealed to more than just experienced pilots seeking to fly more sophisticated planes. It attracted new pilots as well. Not surprisingly, Cirrus Design has become the world leader in its class of small aircraft.
The Klapmeier Brothers’ spirit of exploration has gone on to transform and grow the general aviation industry, making it more safe, competitive and innovative.