High Tech Composites Inc.
Operated 1984 to 2000 in Oxnard, CA
A little company that did…
In the early 1980s Richard Trickel wanted to learn the composite trade in detail so he moved the family to the West coast, and went to work for Task Research Engineering. Rich was with Task for a couple of years learning about high temperature cured composites. Task did contract composite projects for many customers, sometimes on speculation. I believe the molded fuselage for the dragonfly (among other projects) was done this way. Rich worked on the Silhouette, a sort of moto glider using the fuselage from Rutan’s not so popular canard glider. While at task Rich met Martin Hollmann, they became good friends, and Martin recognized Richard abilities with composites shaping plugs and making tooling. About the same time a young designer was consulting with Martin about a new composite design idea he had – a 2 place all composite airplane capable of 200mph on 100hp. Lance Neilbauer debuted his Lancer 200 wet lay-up prototype at Oshkosh in 1984 and it was a big hit. People swamped the airplane and they swamped the Lancer booth in the exhibitors building. With many deposits in hand Lance needed to put together a kit version fast. Tooling for composite design can be very pricey so and Rich, and Martin, came up with a deal to provide tooling at cost if Rich could supply Lance with the composite kit parts. To get the company going Rich took on partners which included Lance, Martin, and Bill Tracy – Richard was the president. Lancair tooling was started and parts were delivering late in 1984. Within a few years Bill Tracy left the company early on and started his own composite shop in northern California.
Richard had a great eye for shaping and smoothing things, and this was before the days of CAD driven machine tools. Rich fine-tuned the Lancer 200 straightening and smoothing it out to perfection before tooling was pulled off of it. He ultimately made all the plugs and tooling for all of the Lancair line of aircraft, and produced parts more than 500 kits. Richard shaped the cowling changes for the Lancair 235, and Lancair 320. The Lancair 360 was an entirely new fuselage longer in length. Rich shaped the Lancair IV, and the Lancair ES. He had a great reputation for taking 2 dimensions and making them into 3, then creating the tooling needed to produce it.
By the early 1990s things were changing for Lancair with strong kit sales Lance was making the move to certify the Lancair ES. In the beginning Lance made the move to California to be near the kit business, but at this point he wanted to move the company back home to Oregon, and he wanted Rich to move High Tech too. Rich decided to stay in Oxnard a more central location to plastic aircraft movement. Around the same time Lance moved production to the Philippines to reduce cost. Rich set the shop up and trained key personnel in the fine points of composite part molding. High Tech continued to supply parts and filled in the gaps created with the longer lead time needed shipping parts from overseas. As time went on Lancair became less dependent on High Tech Composites especially when they started doing tooling in house for their up and coming certified aircraft production. Lance sold his share of High Tech to Martin Hollmann, and a few year after that Martin gave his shares to Richard, to keep it out of a divorce he was going through.
High Tech Composites Inc. was not solely the supplier to Lancair, they were open to all types of business. With Martin Hollmann involvement in the company many aerospace projects came through the doors including Marty’s own Stallion a high wing load hauling single. Rich also worked on plugs tooling and parts for the Discovery, a 3 surface design still kicking around out there someplace. Dan Delaney brought his Berkut fuselage plug to Rich where I am sure Rich gave it a good going over before making the tooling. He may have also supplied tooling for the wing at a later time, the original wing was wet lay-up. Rich was very free with his knowledge, and he often trained clients on doing lay ups in the molds and yielding good quality parts. He did a small aerobatic airplane called the Ultrabat out of Australia for George Markie – but he never found an appropriate engine to market with the kit, the design has a new owner located in Miami, Florida. High Tech did some if not all of the parts for the G-200 parts, and Rebel aerobatic aircraft. Rich did the plugs and parts for a large cabin class centerline thrust twin called the Starcraft was the largest project completed at High Tech. The Pulsar SP 100 was shaped and tooled by Rich a high tech. Rich supplied parts for the KR-2. A few projects for NASA rolled through the doors on occasion, one interesting project was a balloon gondola with provisions for multiple instrumentation. The plugs tooling and certified production parts for the DC 3 turbo prop conversion cowlings were completed by High Tech. Rich also supplied plugs, tooling, and parts to a turbo prop conversion of the old Navy S-2s for fire-fighting. High Tech did many small parts for all kinds of aircraft certified, and experimental aircraft. Many non-aero projects came through the shop too, High Tech did several projects for Disney, a drag boat racing top fuel boat in all carbon, custom automotive body panels, even a canoe mold for the local Boy Scout troop.
Rich learned a lot about airplane building with all the projects he had done. In seeing how so many other were put together he thought he could design an airplane that would perform almost as well as the fast glass but his idea would be simpler and easier to build. Even when you own a composite shop massive tooling needed to mold airplane parts is still very expensive, and it took a couple of investments from mom and dad to finish the KIS and get it flying. The KIS TR-1 took to the air early in 1991. Kits began to sell and a taildragger version was introduced in 1993. In 1994 the 4-place KIS Cruiser TR-4 was added to the lineup. Richard started his marketing company Tri R Technologies Inc. to handle KIS kit sales while High Tech Composites supplied parts to Tri-R.
Sales continued to slow in the late 1990s and few project were coming in. Rich found it difficult to keep the doors open. Early in 2000 after selling the KIS designs to Pulsar Aircraft Corporation, Rich sold High tech to a new owner, but remained as an employee running day to day business. The new owner was also an airplane guy asked Rich to develop a single engine six place. When things were slow time was directed to the project. This wasn’t one of Rich’s usual projects where they get done in a matter of a couple or few months. Many years later and it still was not finished, but by this time even the new owner was at the end the cash flow. Rich said 911 knocked the winds out of homebuilt aircraft sales – he may well have been right. CS Composites closed in late 2004. Rich was offered a position at Pulsar Aircraft Corporation early in 2005.
High tech Composites was just a little company in a quiet suburban LA industrial park that made a lot of product. Many, composite parts that are still flying today came from this small company driven by Rich Trickel’s vision.