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Shreveport startup SkyRunner sets up shop in former GM plant

SkyRunner LLC Facebook

A flying dune buggy has Shreveport roots.

Credit Kate Archer Kent
SkyRunner CEO Stewart Hamel (left) wants to scale up to producing 1,000 vehicles annually by 2020. He sees a growing military customer base led by SkyRunner's head of military development, Blackwater alum Danny Zanelotti.

Startup flying car maker SkyRunner LLC is moving into the former Shreveport General Motors plant this week. An assembly line is being prepped for a pre-market, all-terrain vehicle with a powered parachute.

SkyRunner is able to convert from road to flight mode in a few minutes. It’s to be operated on beaches and open fields not on airport runways. SkyRunner goes 55 miles per hour in the air, according to CEO Stewart Hamel. The Shreveport native venture capitalist founded SkyRunner in 2010. He says he has enough preorders to build 180 over the next two years.

“This was shocking to us. We did not expect to have that many orders before going to market. In fact, we were trying to stay below market. But once [BBC] Top Gear ran a story last November, CNN showed up. We were getting over 100 to 200 leads a day. It’s been really humbling and surprising,” Hamel said.

Hamel aims to grow several markets. SkyRunner caters to the wealthy adventure set with its price tag: $119,000. But more interest is brewing in the military, according to Danny Zanelotti, SkyRunner’s director of military development. He says it has advantages over a helicopter.

If you cut the engine off you can do a glide. You can actually go into places that sometimes they don’t want to be heard or seen going into. They can also use it for medevac,” Zanelotti said, who formerly worked for military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SkyRunner requires a light sport pilot’s license. Training can be completed in a matter of days. Hamel received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration on his one-seat model. Now he’s working to get a green light on the two-seater.

“The FAA has been so fantastic. It’s like the uncle that’s just rooting for you. They work so well with us,” Hamel said. “Now, with the insurance companies coming to us and wanting to do the insurance on these and turnkey in financing, it’s been a very pleasant experience.”

Hamel speaks Thursday, Oct. 30, at Centenary College’s Frost School of Business as part of its entrepreneur’s journey symposium beginning at 11:15 a.m. in Bynum Commons’ Whited Room. The event is free and open to the public.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.
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