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 cleverer 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 better mousetraps.
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, the company, through a series of unforeseeable setbacks, went out of business.
Then in 1998, Monnett and his design partner, Peter Buck, introduced the Sonex, a two-seat, side-by-side 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 Betty, John’s wife, 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’.”
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