Christmas came early for Joe Whisenhunt and his family on Monday as they picked up a shiny new jet in a shiny new building in Duluth.
“It’s a day we get to celebrate with Joe and his family,” said Cirrus Aircraft CEO Dale Klapmeier. “Most of you have seen Joe around. This is Cirrus number 11 for Joe.”
The Vision SF50 was delivered in front of hundreds of employees and company friends - this was the first Cirrus jet to reach a customer after more than a decade of work, after all.
“There’s a number of things we’re celebrating today - certainly the first delivery of the jet,” Klapmeier said. “This is a major step in the growth of our company.”
The company has also grown its footprint at the Airpark with the completion of the 70,000-square-foot finishing center, where Monday’s festivities took place.
There was no shortage of showmanship at the afternoon’s event. From the warehouse’s lighting and the hype video to the theatrical smoke pouring out from under the first Vision jet to be delivered, it was as much a party as it was a ribbon-cutting.
“Why did we build this building? Because we like to throw parties,” Klapmeier said to laughter from the audience, complimentary beer and wine in their hands.
The expansion will soon fill up with Vision jets getting their final touches for the 600 or so customers who have put down $100,000 deposits.
Whisenhunt, a commercial real estate developer from Arkansas, was able to get to the top of the list for the nearly $2 million plane. He thanked everyone who had a hand in the production of the first single-engine jet built for personal use.
“Duluth is where my heart is,” he said. “I appreciate all the efforts.”
Cirrus employees - who number more than 750 in Duluth - had pride in their eyes as company officials and politicians touted the new finishing center and the Vision jet.
“When you put the lights on, it’s shiny; it gives you a feeling of pride,” said materials and processes engineer Rita Tellers. “I know the hard work that went into it, all the overtime. There it is, finally.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Rick Nolan were on hand to congratulate all those in attendance and announce the Federal Aviation Administration had finalized its “Part 23” regulations the two had fought for. Such rules streamline the process for aviation certification.
The FAA gave Cirrus final approval for its Vision jet in October. The company had been working on the plane for about 15 years, and the jet had been in the mind of its founders since Cirrus was born 32 years ago.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said she was “grateful and proud” of the work done at Cirrus and the new $16 million finishing center that will add another 150 employees in Duluth.
The city lent Cirrus about $8 million in bonds in return for a promise to keep production in Duluth for at least the next 20 years. Cirrus is to pay off those bonds over the next 15 years.
The company also has facilities in Grand Forks, N.D., and a new delivery and service center in Knoxville, Tenn., is expected to open next year.
Cirrus leads sales of personal aircraft in its category and is famous for being “the plane with the parachute.” The company is owned by China Aviation Industry General Aircraft, which in turn is owned by the Chinese government.