OMF Symphony 2-Place Aircraft – Flattery in the Form of Imitation

The Symphony SA-160 is a Canadian certified (CAR 523) and manufactured airplane produced between 2001–2006. It was originally developed by Stoddard-Hamilton as the GlaStar amateur-built kit aircraft. To obtain production certification of the basic design, changes were made to the kit concept by OMF Aircraft of Neubrandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, simplifying its construction. Based on the Canadian certification, the SA-160 also received FAA approval.

OMF Symphony side-view
OMF Symphony SA-160 Side View

What makes the Symphony SA-160 exceptional is the artful conception of its lifting surfaces and hence its low speed performance. The wings incorporate a NASA GAW-2 Whitcomb airfoil with wingtip and wing-top vortex generators. Outboard ailerons are flanked by end-fences, and Fowler flaps span 2/3 of the inner wing length. This combination of stick-controlled wing feathers, gives the SA-160 a speed range between 150+ mph in cruise and 48 mph on landing, with overall stable handling and positive steering control through stall.

The SA-160 is a best-of-breed approach to aircraft design. Remarkably, the side-by-side two-seat aircraft established a model that many future aircraft designs followed with its strut-supported high wings, front-mounted single engine, tricycle landing gear, and svelte fuselage. A multirole aircraft, the Symphony was also adaptable to using modern materials and equipping with state-of-the-art electronics. Companies worldwide imitated the SA-160 with different takes on the general formula.

In Fall 2001, I led a branding effort for OMF Symphony, having met with company founders at AirVenture Oshkosh that year. The aircraft was to be introduced to general aviation as a model that would satisfy touring, training, light utility, and sport pilots alike. It was priced attractively and there was pent-up demand for this class of aircraft.

Under a partnership agreement between owner/investors, production moved to Canada on the expectation that the majority of sales would be U.S. based. Initially, about 40 aircraft were completed as the company sought additional investors. Subsequent name changes, unrealized development plans, and the eventual sale of the type certificate took place over the next eight years. Trade obstacles between Germany, Canada and the U.S. were cited as reasons for halting further development.

Stoddard-Hamilton Aircraft, originally based in Arlington, Washington, operates today as Glasair Aviation, a Chinese-owned company (Jilin Hanxing Group) producing homebuilt aircraft kits. Their current Sportsman models (now with up to four seats) are offspring to the GlaStar. The GlaStar first flew in 1994. Over 300 GlaStar aircraft have been built.

The Symphony SA-160 certified aircraft is a timeless gem. One that balances color/purpose, clarity/function, cut/construction, carat/size, luster/performance, rarity/uniqueness, and hardness/durability. In aircraft terms, its imitators only serve to validate the brilliance of the GlaStar/Symphony concept. It is one of the few aircraft that will survive notoriety despite a present company to claim its stewardship.

Read the Kitplanes article GlaStar & Symphony Face Off.