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Kitplane maker Bearhawk Aircraft changes hands

Founder Mark Goldberg: ‘It was time’

Kit manufacturer Bearhawk Aircraft founder Mark Goldberg recently sold the company he created to produce a rugged, all-metal line of single-engine, backcountry, quick-build aircraft to Bearhawk builder Virgil Irwin, a missionary pilot who plans to expand the operation with a builder-assist program based in Fairview, Oklahoma.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

“It was time,” Goldberg said during an interview from his Austin, Texas, grass strip, shipping warehouse, R&D hangar, and farm. (The operation was featured in the November 2021 issue of AOPA Pilot.)

The new owner overhauled the company website and quickly got to work letting customers know that the company will not skip a beat, starting with a news release:

“We want to reassure customers that all current orders will be honored and we will continue to provide you the same great airplanes," Irwin said. "We look forward to serving the Bearhawk community and earning your trust and support.”

Since the 2000s, Goldberg and a handful of airframe fabricating specialists have produced the short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) kit parts from a manufacturing plant carved out of a converted coffee roasting facility in Mexico, shipped them to Texas, and then to about 2,000 customers worldwide. 

In the late 1990s the private pilot and aircraft builder was looking for a capable, backcountry performer, while other enthusiasts concentrated on what Goldberg called the “go-fast” designs of the period. He chose the central highlands of Mexico for the manufacturing facility after he visited during his college days and became enamored with the area—and with a local family.

The family nurtured Goldberg like he was one of their own, and he paid it forward by teaching them the nuances of aircraft manufacturing. He began production of the Bob Barrows-designed Bearhawk quick-build kits from the Mexico facility in 2001. During discussions with Irwin, Goldberg was adamant that the manufacturing facility southeast of Mexico City would remain in place.

The Bearhawk line includes the two-seat Bearhawk LSA, the tandem two-seat Patrol, the side-by-side two-seat Companion, the four-seat Bearhawk Four, and the six-seat Bearhawk Five. The popularity of quick-build kits has soared as more pilots become aware of backcountry flying and STOL competitions. More than 200 plans- and kit-built Bearhawk aircraft have been sold worldwide.

Post-COVID demand soared in 2021, and Goldberg scrambled to fulfill orders that were backed up “for over a year” at that time. The company responded by ramping up production at its manufacturing facility to meet increased demand.

The ruggedly designed and built aircraft is constructed of 4130 steel tubing and 2024 T3 aluminum and uses a Harry Riblett airfoil. The result combines docile stall characteristics, gentle slow-speed manners, impressive short-field performance, and cruise efficiency, Goldberg said. The closest production aircraft to a Bearhawk Five is the Cessna 180/185 Skywagon, which has been out of production for about 40 years.

Many of the bigger Bearhawks are powered by six-cylinder Lycoming O-540 engines, though the smaller four-cylinder Lycoming engines are also popular. The Bearhawk four-seat variant can also accommodate the diesel DeltaHawk DHK180 turbo- and supercharged inverted-V four-cylinder design. (AOPA’s video team covered one builder’s four-seater in 2021.).

Goldberg, 71, said he quit flying about three years ago and began to look for someone to continue production of the line. Irwin built the first Bearhawk Five and was impressed with its attributes. He began thinking about how he could incorporate the aircraft with his intended mission in Niger while supporting other Bearhawk builders.

When Goldberg asked him to display his Bearhawk at EAA AirVenture 2023, Irwin accepted. The men discussed conditions of Irwin buying the company from Goldberg. Before the final documents were signed, Irwin did some research and said in a press release that "Mark truly did what many have failed to do. He created a manufacturing system that is able to reliably produce quality aircraft. You can have the most capable designs in the world, but if you can not reliably produce and deliver for your customers, you do not have a product. For over 20 years, Mark built the Bearhawk brand from the ground up, his hard work is evident.”

Bearhawk Aircraft builders are accustomed to calling Goldberg at all hours of the day or night for advice and it’s not unusual for him to field phone calls about part numbers, assembling procedures, or modifications while tending his cucumber, watermelon, and tomato crops. “That will not change,” Goldberg pledged, even as he hands the reins to Irwin, who will become the new Bearhawk guru.

“As we move forward with the company, we have standardized our kits across the board but these are the same great airplanes that have been available for years. We will be revising our kit manuals, developing new products, and overall expanding the offerings that Bearhawk has for our customers,” Irwin said. “We know that we have big shoes to fill, but we are honored and extremely excited to advance the Bearhawk brand.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: Taildragger, Experimental

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