UPDATE Note (10/15/22): I urge all readers to take special note of two comments below that greatly add to the respect I intended to show John Ballantyne and Chuck Slusarczyk. I hope you’ll take the time to read both. —DJ
A Tribute… to Two Heroes
of Recreational Aviation
CHUCK SLUSARCZYK — On September 29, 2022, the sport aviation industry lost one of its best-known innovators, Chuck Slusarczyk (“Slew-zar-chick”). He was 81 years old.
A pioneer in both hang glider and ultralight aircraft industries — founder of Chuck’s Glider Supplies which became known as CGS Aviation — Chuck had worked at NASA Lewis in Cleveland, Ohio.
After striking out on his own, he designed numerous hang gliders and, later, the award-winning CGS Hawk.
Chuck was an inaugural inductee into the EAA Ultralight Hall of Fame. His aircraft are on display in three aviation museums including at EAA and Sun ‘n Fun.
His love of aviation was broad, including his hobby of building and competing in regional and national indoor model flying competitions, where he won numerous awards and set national records.
Chuck had a keen sense of humor and was always the life of the party leading sing-a-longs around the campfire playing guitar and harmonica. A dedicated family man, Chuck loved to make up stories and tell jokes. In the light aviation community, he became a legend who will be fondly remembered for a long, long time.
JOHN BALLANTYNE — On October 4, one of light aviation’s pivotal leaders, John Ballantyne, passed away. He was 76 years old.
A pioneer of hang gliding, ultralights, and Light-Sport, John was the founding president of the EAA Ultralight Division 1982 and wrote the original FAA recognized ultralight pilot/instructor training program while at AOPA Air Safety Foundation. He was inducted into the EAA Ultralight Hall of Fame in 2010.
John was the founder and past president of the United States Ultralight Association, honored with the John Moody Award for outstanding contribution to ultralight aviation in 1995. Four years later, he was given the highest international microlight award, the Colibri Diploma. Only three other individuals have ever received a Colibri Diploma.
John was a FAA Commercial pilot, CFI Instrument with glider privileges; was a USHGA Master-rated hang glider pilot and instructor; aided the AOPA Air Safety Foundation; and served on the Board of Directors for the National Aeronautic Association for over 10 years.
He is the only individual to have received an FAA Commercial and Flight Instructor certificate by flying a trike (weight-shift control). John’s diplomatic style and warm smile will remain in the minds of many sport flying enthusiasts for many years.
Jim Lawrence says
The following was written by James Lawrence, a longtime writer and photographer in aviation. He writes from personal knowledge. —DJ
John and Chuck were true pioneers in ultralight flight. I’ll miss them both, particularly John who I knew much better. Though Chuck and I had a memorable episode which I’ll recount below.
I met John in southern California. I was going through a financial disaster in 1981 after bombing out in Colorado and returning to SoCal with my tail between my legs.
And I needed a job…any job. I’d been a successful TV actor for a while but that door was shut.
John had started up an ultralight teaching business out at the raptor’s claw-shaped El Mirage dry lake, site of zillions of car commercials and mecca for all sorts of wheeled crazies and…ultralight pilots.
I flew ultralights out on the lake. Land sailed there on windy days when you could get to 70 mph or more. El Mirage was quite the place for pilots of all warp and woof to journey to. A primeval landscape: the flat/flat, super flat lake bed would fill with an inch or two, maybe more, of water after a rare rainstorm. In the high desert water doesn’t last long. And once the shimmering temp lake was gone, it left behind a perfect plane of packed, scrub brush-dotted sandy hardpack, nestled in the vast desert, Mojave, ringed by craggy chocolate mountains to the north, east and south.
El Mirage Airport lived at the southern edge of the lake. A boneyard of aviation’s past, wings, fuselages, tubes, wires, panels, seats. A popular destination for cross country pilots and winged desert rats alike.
And John Ballantyne had an idea how he might safely train ultralight pilots in the very early days of the sport. We’d all come from hang glider backgrounds. And then some zanies wanted to add power to our foot launched fliers, and ultralight aviation came into being.
Chuck Slusarczyk was one of those transitionary visionaries leading the way. He came up with a chrome’moly spider cage engine mount for Easy Risers, which I bought and tried to assemble but failed at. The instructions weren’t the best. I’d formed a one-man company, Dark Star Enterprises, and built a few Easy Risers until I realized I was having fun but losing money on the proposition.
Chuck, like Jack McCornack, had a gift for working with motors and mechanical things, and kept working on his dream of motorizing hang gliders. Jack McCornack took a Fledge rigid wing hang glider, married it to a wheeled undercarriage, and the Pterodactyl was born. I bought one, built it from a kit in Colorado, and that’s where my aviation magazine writing, photographing and editing career began.
But I digress: Chuck as we all know went on to create the fabulous CGS Hawk, to this day one of the very best ULs ever built. A good story on that in a minute, I promise.
Back to John Ballantyne.
So John had this wacky idea that he could train people to fly a Quicksilver-like ultralight by tethering a Quicksilver ultralight on top of a flat bad truck that would drive down the dry lake in a cloud of dust, pilot strapped into the aircraft tethered up on its bed, and when it lifted off from the truck’s ground speed, John would guide them the student in proper weight shift techniques so they could hover safely (restricted by the lines) just a couple feet above the truck bed. It looked a little Rube Goldbergerish. But it worked!
I took a turn in it and found it ideal for giving that flying feel without having to solo your first time in an ultralight, which was the whole idea.
That biz was called Ultrasport and he did well with it.
A few years earlier, John had stuck a Mac 101 on an Easy Riser biplane armpit-hanger hang glider (or maybe it was the Icarus II, designed by Taras Kiceniuk, don’t remember now) and I went with him in glider-schlepping support up to the fabulous dune sheet at Pismo Beach, 3 hours drive from LA.
We spent the day trying to get the thing airborne. John was an excellent diver driver as well as a rated pilot but the 10 hp engine just didn’t have much to offer in the way of altitude gain. He did get dune skimmer of a flight as I recall but we left in exhaustion and frustratin after lugging that machine back up the high dunes, discouraged to know the laws of aerodynamics, power and physics had carried the day.
When I went to work for John, for a few weeks, I was severely depressed, riddled with shame and self-recrimination. John was like a brother. He’d give me tasks around the shop to do – I was handy enough with tools, had built Quickilvers for Dan Alameda in Salinas, two Pterodactyls, a few Easy Risers, later a Kitfox which is still flying as far as I know, so I could feel I was earning my money at least. But John was barely at first making enough for himself. Yet he helped me out.
He went on to found the USUA and as another old flying friend Scott Severen chronicles above, did so much to put ultralights on the map for all of us.
But it’s his kindness and gentle warmth that I’ll remember until he and I meet again up in the Great Sky. He appreciated a good joke, loved flying and helping pilots, and was a patient listener, always with a wide, understanding, generous smile on his face. Fly high old friend. Thank you for how you reached your hand down and helped pull me out of that black hole so long ago.
Now for Chuck:
I met Chuck Slusarczyk for the first time in person at Oshkosh. I was a west coaster, he was from Ohio where his Chuck’s Glider Supplies had become a mainstay of hang gliding in the mid ’70s.
I was on assignment at Osh in my role of Editor for Ultralight Aircraft magazine. I think it was 1984. I walked into a banquet room at a pizza restaurant near the airshow and there was Chuck, robustly holding court with several pilots and cronies at a long table.
I introduced myself and he said, without getting up or shaking my hand, “Oh, you’re the guy who trashed my Hawk in that article. Yeah, I know you alright.”
I heard some chuckles. I felt 20 or so pairs of eyes on me. Some guys were wearing undisguised sneers on their faces. I was on stage but didn’t know my lines. In enemy territory. Spotlight square on me, and no script within sight.
The backstory to that awkward moment goes like this:
A few months before, Chuck had called me at my magazine’s office in Encino, just north of LA proper, to ask if I’d do a story on the Hawk. I knew of the bird but had never seen or flown one. I said sure, love to. He set me up with the nearest dealer, up in Northern California, just south of San Francisco as I recall.
I went up a couple weeks later, met the dealer, and he introduced me to his orange demo Hawk.
I had flown a lot of ultralights by then. I’d built several Quicksilvers for my late great pal Marty Alameda for Flight Designs when I’d lived briefly in Salinas. Earlier in Durango, CO I’d built two Pterodactyl’s along with a couple friends, and flew mine there and in Crested Butte in the winter of 1980-81, where I’d competed in the USHGA Regionals earlier that summer, flying a Moyes Mega. I flew Larry Newman’s beautiful canard ultralight Falcon (the very Falcon Chuck Yeager owned and flew!) in the Phoenix Air Race, and won. And had flown probably another 20 or 30 ULs by that time. So I knew my way around the turf. Or so I thought.
I had also competed in hang glider meets, at Grouse Mountain and the 1980 USHGA Regionals, having plied my aerial ways above the Rockies in Telluride, Silverton and elsewhere, as well as at Sylmar and Crestline and Marina Beach and a couple scores of other top sites in the US and Canada in my 7 years as “skysurfer”.
So I knew the ropes, well enough. But as I looked over the Hawk, the signs of use were evident. It was fairly beat up, although seemed flight worthy.
I checked out the airframe thoroughly before flight. I’d flown plenty of Quicks and Dactyls with formed rib pockets and the open double-surface wing envelope, as seen from inside the cockpit, looked perfectly normal to me. That ignorance nearly killed me.
I started the engine, taxied over the bumpy ground, mashed the throttle and off we went down the crude runway. At liftoff speed I pulled back on the stick and two things happened: the wheels broke ground and the airfoil popped taught like a balloon to half again it’s resting size on the ground. It looked like a rubber glove you blow into, it pops five fingers full of air and looks like a cow’s udder.
The plane was sluggish, I wasn’t climbing out as I’d expected. It didn’t feel right. The big powerlines just beyond the end of the short runway that the dealer had assured I would easily climb over now loomed as a major threat…because I was barely, barely climbing. John Ballantyne’s 10 horse motor would have given me about the same amount of performance. The problem seemed to be that bagged out wing. It was like trying to drive a big dirigible head on into a windstorm.
I kept my cool. Realizing I was likely to not clear those power lines, I banked gently right into a crosswind leg, then another eeeeeasy bank into the downwind, all of 100 feet if that above ground, trees, structures. I kept the throttle at full power, banked shallow into the base, then final legs, gingerly backed off power, just enough to set up a decent, and glided to an uneventful landing. The flight took all of two minutes.
The dealer came running over, asked me how I liked it. I said the wing blew up like a wine bladder on me. He said something like “Oh, I fly it all the time, it’s fine.”
Then he said something about the wing foam plugs.
“What foam plugs?” I said.
That was the one detail of the design that had nearly done me in. The Hawk had airfoil rib-shaped foam plugs that were meant to be inserted in the root of each wing, from inside the plex-enclosed cockpit. The dealer had forgotten to put them in. He didn’t think they were necessary. He’d gotten used to flying it without them. He hadn’t even mentioned them to me.
Shaken, I went home and wrote up the flight review article for Ultralight Aircraft when I got home. I wasn’lt diplomatic. I felt I could have died and my kids would have grown up without a daddy. I wrote the article with those sentiments in mind.
Flash forward to the pizza place in Oshkosh a few months later. I’m standing there feeling like a deer in headlights, Chuck is sitting at the table, congenial but definitely with a “you done me wrong” vide. Of course I understood how he must have felt. I’d come to the restaurant to meet him and ask him how he’d been so successful with such a dangerous aircraft. I said so right there at the table, still standing, not invited to join the party.
His eyes narrowed. I had scandalized his baby. He’d probably had a few orders canceled because of my article. I was clearly the villain of the movie at that moment.
He asked me point blank if I knew how to fly at all.
“Yeah, I know how to fly Chuck.”
He didn’t look convinced.
Then I asked him about the wing root foam plugs. Told him what the dealer had said about not needing them.
His eyes widened to big circles. “You flew without the foam plugs in the wing roots?”
“I did. The wing blew up like a moldy sausage.”
He shook his head. “Well. Those foam plugs are supposed to always be in there or the envelope can inflate. Are you sure they weren’t in there? It couldn’t have been as bad as all that, it doesn’t make that much different. How many ultralights have you flown?”
I gave him a quick rundown of my background in hang gliders and ultralights, sailplanes, private planes.
He thought a minute. It had gotten quite in the room by now. But he was thinking about it.
He gestured to a blocky-looking guy a few seats down the table.
“This is Rocky. He’s an airline pilot. Rocky, would you give this guy a flight in our demo at Fond du Lac tomorrow morning?”
Rocky looked at me, sized me up, half smiled and said, “Sure.”
I met Rocky around 7 am. It was already warm. I walked across the north/south runway to the apron of the east/west strip.
I shook hands with Rocky, who couldn’t help telegraph that he echoed Chuck’s conviction I was a barely-competent pilot. He worried I was going to prang that pretty airplane and didn’t disguise his misgivings as to my competence.
The beautiful, brand-new Hawk was a revelation. This was like a new Cadillac compared to the junk bucket version I’d survived flying in California.
The dacron wing and tail envelopes in particular were bright and clean, no wrinkles anywhere. I thumped the wing with my fingertips. Tight as a drum. The workmanship on all the tubing was first-rate. All the hardware was AN grade, anodized tubes clean and unscratched. Gorgeous. I’d been nervous thinking about the flight. But this bird was going to be a sweetheart, I could tell just by the look and feel of her.
We finished the preflight. I climbed into the single-seat cockpit, glancing up to make sure this one had foam plugs in the wing roots. It did.
Rocky said, “Just take it easy, don’t fight it, it flies real sweet. Just do a nice pattern and land it back here.”
“Well Rocky, I’ll do my best,” I said, smiling.
I started the engine, let it warm up a bit. Rocky headed up the left side of the runway a few score yards then turned to watch me.
I eased the throttle, lined up, scanned for traffic, called the temp tower. Show time.
I gave it full power. The Hawk responded like a colt, rolling quick and smooth down the hard runway – no bumps on this ride. I and eased back on the stick when it was time. Immediately this Hawk felt so solid and true I was completely relaxed and felt I knew what she could do.
I leveled off five feet above the ground, wondering what Rocky was thinking at that moment, hit what I knew was max airspeed of around 60 mph indicated, then pulled smartly back on the stick and climbed steep for the white morning clouds, up like a rocket. As airspeed bled off a couple hundred feet up, I jammed the stick over smartly to put the Hawk into a near-knife edge turn onto the crosswind leg. Rolled out snappy on the crosswind, grinning my head off, determined to show the airline pilot I knew a thing or two myself. I backed off the throttle to cruise, banked smartly again onto the downwind, then same onto base.
Ahead and below at midfield, I could see Rocky, arms behind his back, watching.
My flight skills had been impugned because Chuck, like me in California, didn’t have all the information, and so was compelled to assume I was a flake. Time to set that straight.
At the right moment, I chopped throttle, killed the engine and set up a smooth descent for the numbers. The prop stopped spinning: a ead sticker, as planned.
I eased the stick back, enjoying the float, feeling her settle, settle…what a sweet bird. Then the main wheels touched first, a true, smooth greaser without a single bump. Then the nosewheel settled on, pretty as you please, as if I’d flown it all my life.
I let her roll and roll, tapped the left pedal to edge toward Rocky at the side, rolled, rolled, slightly touched the brakes and came to a lazy stop, right next to Rocky.
He looked at me for a moment. Grinned. Shook his head. His entire demeanor was changed.
He walked over, opened the side window, stuck his head in and said with a smile, “Not bad for a harelip.”
I told him what a sweet machine it was.
“It’s hard for me to believe it’s the same design as what I flew in California.”
He just nodded.
A few days later, I got a call from Chuck Slusarczyk.
“Hey Jim,” he said, “Thanks for that nice second article.” I’d written the flight up in terms as glowing as the first one had been damning.
“Glad to do it Chuck. It’s a beautiful machine. I’m glad to straighten that out for the readers.”
“I just wanted to tell you,” he said, “I flew out to visit that dealer myself. I took one look at that demo Hawk you flew and ended his dealership on the spot. I took possession of it right there and shipped it home. Nobody should have been flying that aircraft.”
We had both learned our lessons.
Chuck, to protect his franchise by making sure his dealers were hacking the program.
And me, to never again assume any ultralight was safe just because someone else said so. Or because it looked good.
I had lost so many flying friends in those Wild West days of the ’70s and ’80s, in hang gliding and then all over again in ultralights. After the Hawk experience, my earlier devil-may-care excitement and trust gave way to a more sober approach to test flying ultralights, as in fact that’s what we were all doing in this brand new wing of aviation: test flying unproven aircraft.
A young man named Glenn Brinks – his memory burns in my heart to this day – was an up and coming ultralight pilot with a flair for writing. I hired him to join me in covering the ultralight scene a few months later at a fly-in at Costerisan Farms in the Central Valley of California.
There was a colorful rainbow of pretty new ultralights lined up on both sides of the grass strip there, ready to fly and photograph and write about. Glenn was my sidekick and we had at it.
One company had a couple Quicksilver-type models. These birds were so decked out, like chromed street cruisers from the movie American Graffitti, beckoning, sparkling in the sun. I arranged to fly the flagship, Glenn would fly their less expensive model. He persuaded me to let him fly the hot rod so I said sure, kid, knock yourself out. I took off and flew the other one.
After landing, I watched Glenn take off with a throaty 40-hp roar and head into the pattern for a touch and go. As I was walking across the grass strip, something changed: the noise from Glenn’s engine had quit. I looked up just in time to see his ultralight in a steep dive , about 200 feet above ground and half a mile away. He disappeared behind the tall trees lining the east of the field. I heard the crash and took off running. The wreckage in the dirt. People racing for it. A barbed wire fence blocking my way. I raced to my van and drove around, got to the scene as the paramedics were carrying him into the ambulance. He’d deployed the emergency chute. It was on the ground next to the aircraft, stretched out like a snake. Too low to open.
On the way to the hospital I wept. Slammed my fist against the dashboard over and over. It should have been me, I thought. I shouldn’t have let him talk me out of flying that airplane. By the time I got the hospital, he was already gone. Massive internal injuries. Twenty-three years old.
The controls had locked him into the dive. The same thing that had killed my pal Marty Alameda a couple years before. The design was faulty. They’d copied the Quicksilver design, made it look spiffy and cool. Put a big price tag on it. Put it on the market. But they didn’t know what they were doing. And a good youing man paid that prioce.
The company went out of business shortly after I wrote yet another article about a flawed airplane. There were quite a few in those early days.
Chuck’s Hawk of course wasn’t a flawed airplane, but his dealer most definitely was. CGS went on to produce more than 1000 Hawks as I recall. It was a great and still is a great ultralight airplane.
Chuck and John were giants, as they say, in establishing ultralights as a major aviation movement. We all know how far it went, then how it evolved into LSA and powered paragliders. Aviation lives on, as dreams do.
Rest in glory, guys. You’ll live on too, in our memories and in our hearts. As you’ve earned.
Shane Peterson says
It is sad when we lose pioneers of aviation. It seems like Ultralight Aviation is having a comeback similar to the early 80’s.
John and Chuck are two of the men we have to thank for helping keep the Part 103 regulations simple and effective from the beginning.
Hopefully they are flying low and slow in the heavens now.
Scott Severen says
John Lee Ballantyne has Flown West
John Lee Ballantyne passed away peacefully of natural causes on October 4, 2022.
John was born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1946 to his father, John Ballantyne who commanded a troop glider in WWII and his mother Ruby Lee who trained with the Women Air Service Pilots (WASPs). John married early in life and had two sons, John Mark (Mark) and Paul Ballantyne. In the early ’70s he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music, but in 1975 found hang gliding and ultralight aircraft instead. He went on to be a pioneer hang glider and ultralight pilot and opened the first full service flight training center for ultralights in the Los Angeles area in California in 1978.
Always an advocate for improving the safety culture, he moved to the East coast to work for various pilot organizations. John received the first ultralight instructor certificate issued by the FAA, and was a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor for gliders. He was the only recipient of an FAA commercial and flight instructor certificate in trike aircraft, and was a United States Hang Gliding Association rated master hang glider pilot.
John was the founding president of the EAA Ultralight Division 1982 and wrote the original FAA recognized ultralight pilot/instructor training program while at AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
Later, John founded the United States Ultralight Association (USUA), in its day, the largest association devoted entirely to ultralight aviation in the world. He served as its president and chief operating officer from 1985 to 2000. In 1996, he received the Moody award, the USUA’s highest honor for outstanding contributions to American ultralight aviation. In 2000, John was recognized by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale CIMA commission for 27 years as a pre-eminent leader in America for the ultralight and microlight sport. John was also inducted into the EAA Sport Aviation Hall of Fame for ultralights. He served on the Board of Directors for the National Aeronautic Association for over 10 years.
John is the only individual who participated in every ARAC meeting from which Sport Pilot (NPRM 11133) has come. (Even the primary FAA representative missed a couple.)
Through the decades and his accumulation of hundreds of hours of flying, John never bent an aircraft or vehicle, never hurt anyone, and never hurt himself, even performing movie stunts as a member of the Screen Actors Guild
After leaving USUA, he moved near the Delaware coast and renewed his interest in sailing. John was a member of the Indian River Coast Guard Auxiliary, receiving numerous awards, including auxiliarist of the year for 2014. He also served as the president of the local chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons and photographer for Long Neck Shores Association.
John is survived by both of his brothers Ray and Glenn, and his sons Mark and Paul. He will be interned next to his wife Diane in Frederick, Maryland.
James Dao says
R.I.P. John Ballantyne!
We were sitting next to each other during the 1994 FAI CIMA annual meeting, still held in Paris, John was very kind to help me get familiarized.
John was the then USUA President, while my good friend Ton Gunnarson, acted as CIMA secretary at the time, in the capacity of USUA Secretary General, and has become CIMA historian of recent years.
Tormod Veiby of Norway was my other kind neighbor during that meeting in Paris.
Those were the days, becoming FAA commercially and instrument rated, has never erased the keen memories of my Ultralight days, and the privilege of knowing great aviators like John Ballantyne.