In a quiet corner of the Upstate, far removed from the region’s bustling industrial parks and urban centers, an entrepreneurial dream shared by aircraft enthusiasts Troy Woodland and Gary Schmitt has taken flight.
Woodland and Schmitt are co-founders of Just Aircraft LLC, a manufacturer of kits for the company’s popular short takeoff and landing (STOL) light plane models.
Just Aircraft is based in a 32,000-square-foot facility at 170 Duck Pond Road in Oconee County, about 2.5 miles south of Walhalla.
Woodland, an aircraft designer, founded the company in 2002 in Caldwell, Idaho. He met Schmitt, a builder and pilot, at an air show. Schmitt, originally of Highlands, N.C., said the two men “did some business together” and then began talking about becoming partners. Schmitt joined the venture in 2003.
Two years later, the partners decided to relocate their company nearly 2,500 miles to the picturesque property that has a vantage of where the Blue Ridge Mountains begin to transition into rolling hills.
“We were selling more aircraft on the East Coast,” Schmitt said. “We decided we needed to be closer to where all the action was.”
Since its inception, Just Aircraft has shipped hundreds of its kits worldwide to markets that include Australia, England, France, Spain, New Zealand, Canada, and Ecuador.
About 70 percent of the company’s sales are domestic, while the remaining 30 percent is international.
According to its website, the company offers its customers a factory build program that allows them to construct their own plan in the factory. The company will also build 100 percent of the plane “in accordance to the customers’ specifications.”
Schmitt said the company has 12 employees.
Its aircraft include the Escapade, the Highlander, SuperSTOL, SuperSTOL XL, and the Just 103.
Schmitt said he believes the company is the second-largest aircraft manufacturer in South Carolina behind Boeing’s operation in North Charleston.
“It’s just like any other business,” he said. “You can’t just rest on your laurels. You have to continue to innovate and take care of your customers.”
“The future looks bright,” Schmitt added. “We’ve experienced our fair share of ups and downs, but the economy is improving and we’re optimistic. … The move [to South Carolina] has been good for us. The aviation industry here is growing and I hope it can become a larger part of [the] Upstate’s economy.”