AirSports Expo attracts a large crowd and many vendors.
On the first day in Ontario, California, you could see this was going to be the largest AirSports Expo yet. In the shadow still lingering from September 11, many wondered and worried about participation and attendance, but the concern was baseless. A flurry of activity in the last few weeks before the show brought so many requests for exhibit space that the already designed floor plan had to be scrapped and redrawn.
More than 2200 pilots and other visitors saw the exhibits of 65 vendors. While still small next to Sun ’n Fun or AirVenture Oshkosh, this was a good turnout. The range of vendors included many aircraft suppliers and all manner of accessories and informational products.
Gathering of Eagles
AirSports Expo represents the combined efforts of the Soaring Society of America (SSA), the U.S. Ultralight Association (USUA), and the U.S. Hang Gliding Association (USHGA). The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and numerous soaring organizations from museums to affinity clubs also participated.
When invited by the SSA to join its annual convention and show, the USUA, USHGA, and AMA responded positively, realizing that common needs outweigh individual differences. In past events, the Balloon Federation of America and the International Aerobatic Club have also been part of the event.
In the future, AirSports Expo will become its own show rather than being an SSA event with invited guests. If it can build on the momentum evident this year, this traveling sport aviation show could become an important early-season event for various recreational flying groups.
This show is about sport aviation at its truest. One reason for this is that all of these aircraft are commonly flown solo, for the pure joy and challenge of their pilots. Hang glider, ultralight and glider pilots all fly dual for training or other benefits, but their main operations are done solo. This is also a characteristic of model flying, skydiving and aerobatics, so it’s not surprising that these groups are also interested in AirSports Expo.
In its fifth year, AirSports Expo has also come into its own by assembling various sport flying groups, and it was a good time for acting together. The FAA’s issuance of the Sport Pilot NPRM only days before the show galvanized interest from hang gliders, ultralight pilots and sailplane owners who may all be affected in some way.
When you stand next to a pilot who flies something different from what you fly—yet the two of you share an opinion about FAA actions—you realize the value of gathering at a common venue. Shows such as AirSports Expo are efficient and cost-effective ways for people of like mind to interact.
Because the show travels, it also has unique outreach potential for light sport aviation. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and AOPA have traveling shows, but sport aviation relies mostly on outdoor events where flying takes place. While flight activity is great, these shows tend to become quartered somewhere, often in out-of-the-way places. The public must travel to them, rather than the other way around. If aviation is to grow and replace its aging population, it must attract non-pilots, preferably younger ones. Taking AirSports Expo to the people is a good step in the right direction.
European airshows are mostly indoor events, and while flying is part of the action, it isn’t the central attraction as it is at U.S. shows. Yet the European concept seems to draw the public well because show organizers work at providing things for visitors to do.
In that vein, newcomer activities such as the deluxe hang-gliding simulator at the Ontario AirSports Expo may interest a generation brought up on video games. From there, perhaps a genuine interest in flying will be stimulated by seeing and touching real flying machines.
Industry experts and top pilots gave numerous talks. Association members attended most of these, but some were geared to newcomers. One session on how to get started in ultralight flying is an example.
FAA Launches Sport Pilot NPRM
This new proposed rule has captivated much of the sport flying public. It was finally announced less than a week before the show began, and FAA officials Sue Gardner, Scott Sedgwick, Mike Henry and Steve Brown were all present at the Expo to answer questions and get reactions.
Standing-room-only crowds in large rooms were polite to the FAA representatives, showing a level of acceptance for the new rule. Of course, many had questions. The hang-gliding enthusiasts were particularly delighted to arrange a breakfast meeting with the FAA folks. As the proposed rule appeared to directly affect both two-place hang-glider training and aero towing, interest and anxiety were high. Industry leaders left the meeting feeling that the FAA “got it” about hang gliding needs.
The ultralight association had a wonderful chance to host FAA meetings, proving its relevancy in the new world of Sport Pilot. And the FAA recognized USUA’s Tom Gunnarson for his years of work on the committee that inspired the new rule.
Soaring members seem unaffected by the proposed rule because an FAA glider pilot license and aircraft registration already exist. Yet new machines, especially motorgliders, may come from the Sport Pilot side, so SSA paid plenty of attention to the FAA activities.
One beautiful example of a soaring machine was the Lambada motorglider with its exquisite compound-curve wings. It sits on conventional trigear and is pushed by a four-stroke Rotax, giving it potentially broad appeal to soaring and power pilots.
Because the event is part of the SSA’s annual convention, the show is naturally blessed with a wide variety of sailplanes. From a flying or an artistic standpoint, these have to be some of the loveliest machines aloft. KP
AirSports Expo attracts a large crowd and many vendors.
The ultralight motorglider evolution continues in Europe.
Ultralight motorgliders are as rare as hen’s teeth in the U.S., but Europe is blessed with several choices that nicely complement high-end, high-priced full-size motorgliders. While America has the lovely Esprit from Aero Dovron, our soaring friends across the Atlantic continue to lead this specialized market.
Full-size (higher-weight) motorgliders start at more than $100,000 and can surpass $200,000. Those who can afford them are surely thrilled with such beautiful machines, but most of us can’t spend that kind of money regardless of their superb performance.
However, at $20-$30,000 ready-to-fly, a clean self-launching soaring aircraft is more affordable. Like their larger siblings, these efficient designs can also cruise under power respectably well, giving them broader appeal than pure gliders.
One of the newest of the breed is the Excel from France’s Noins Aeronautiques Alpaero. Based in beautiful Tallard in the French Alps, Noins is revered by French soaring pilots.
The Excel was so well received that delivery times initially jumped to one year. Noins also produces the Choucas model, a two-seat trainer, and the company formerly made the Sirius, a single-place. The newer Excel returns to a lighter, somewhat simpler design but reveals its ancestry by incorporating the best features of the earlier models.
With a wingspan of 45 feet, this is a serious soaring machine, boasting a glide ratio of 30:1 and a sink rate of 150 fpm. These two measurements are important for any soaring aircraft and the Excel’s results position it between hang gliders (at about 15:1) and full-size sailplanes that can achieve 60:1 glides.
The Excel is designed for a single-cylinder engine equipped with a folding prop that streamlines itself automatically when the engine is shut down for soaring flight. The engine is mostly faired by the fuselage aft of the pilot, so it doesn’t involve retract complexity.
Excel sells for $32,000 in ready-to-fly form and is available as a kit for $22,000, excluding shipping. American pilots could operate it with an FAA motorglider rating, which does not require a medical. (This aspect is common to all motorgliders.) The Excel is also the heaviest of the ultralight motorgliders in this column with a 418-pound empty weight.
Max Barel seems as much artist as motorglider designer. His artistic Graal, made of an exotic combination of molded wood and carbon fiber, looks like nothing else I’ve seen.
Coupled with its distinctive construction, the Graal features a propeller situated aft of the tailplane. Like the Excel, the Graal’s propeller folds to streamline when powered down for soaring flight. A tailwheel is streamlined in the bottom of an extended rudder.
The Graal’s engine is mounted permanently inside the fuselage. Once the engine has been shut down for soaring flight and has time to cool, a door over the exhaust port can be closed for maximum aerodynamic cleanliness.
With a claimed 40:1 glide ratio, the Graal is the performance leader of our four subject aircraft. The design also achieves a sink rate of only 160 fpm. Though it’s the second heaviest of our four models at just under 400 pounds, it is easily carried by its 49-foot wingspan.
Priced at about $25,000 ready to fly, the Graal competes well in this aviation segment. Shipping and crating add to the delivered cost.
Of all the ultralight motorgliders reviewed here, the Silent is perhaps the best known because Italian producer Alisport has brought its elegant creation to shows such as Sun ‘n Fun and AirVenture Oshkosh.
When I first saw the Silent fly in a French airshow, I was amazed that the single-cylinder engine and its distinctive single-blade prop launched and ascended with such energy. Ground roll was surprisingly short, and climb was healthy. No doubt this is aided by Alisport’s efforts to keep the Silent light, at less than 300 pounds empty.
Alisport uses a counterbalanced single-blade prop for efficiency-a lone blade passes through air undisturbed by other blades-but the company has another motivation. With one non-folding blade, the small engine and prop can be neatly retracted into a small cavity in the fuselage. Larger motorgliders use a similar retract technique, but the bigger engines and two blades needed to lift such aircraft also require a larger space for retraction.
With the engine and prop retracted and the cavity door closed, the Silent looks much like a sailplane. Naturally, this yields benefits for soaring efficiency while also preserving a familiar appearance.
The Silent’s 40-foot wingspan can achieve a glide ratio of 32:1 and a sink rate of 140 fpm, according to factory information. It is priced reasonably at $32,000 before shipping expenses.
Aeriane Motor Swift
Although the Swift is the most unorthodox design of our four subject aircraft, it has won converts among the large European soaring community.
With a glide ratio of 27:1 and a sink rate of 140 fpm, the Motor Swift is quite competitive, and it is unique for its tailless design. This 253-pound plane, the lightest of our four subject motorgliders, has been flying for a decade without problems.
Though the Swift is popular in Europe, it began life as an American design from U.S. producer Brightstar. The San Francisco-area company created the unpowered Swift in the early 1990s. Soon after its introduction, Brightstar offered the Motor Swift, but the company didn’t go nearly as far with it as Belgium-based producer Aeriane, which bought the manufacturing rights.
The European company finished the cockpit area and has fully enclosed it and the aft engine. These streamlining efforts have boosted glide performance by several points.
The Motor Swift comes with easily removed wings for simple transport and storage and is sold ready to fly with starter, folding prop, and instruments for about $25,000.
Note: This article does not comment on how each of the subject aircraft fit into American regulations. The Motor Swift can qualify as a Part 103 ultralight. The Excel, the Graal, and the Silent will require amateur-built approval, but most would qualify under Sport Pilot if that rule passes into law. All but the Motor Swift are available as kits, according to factory reps, but their qualification under U.S. rules has not yet been determined. KP
An American finds success building aircraft overseas.
This is not a story about a Czech company. It’s about an American company in the Czech Republic, a distinction that makes this story different.
For months we have been hearing and reading about sport pilot and light- sport aircraft (LSA). The FAA’s new rule is creating plenty of excitement for some very good reasons. That excitement is not confined to the U.S. Overseas manufacturers are eyeing the new rule as a way to enter the U.S. market. One of those in the best position to take advantage of the new rule is Czech Aircraft Works (CZAW).
An American In Prague
Chip Erwin hails from Wisconsin. Today, he is an American who owns a company in the Czech Republic. His CZAW has become one of that country’s largest aircraft producers. He accomplished all of this during the single decade when the Czech Republic regained its independence.
Before the communists took over 50 years ago, the Czech Republic was one of Europe’s most vibrant economies, with industry and technology that ran ahead of many of its neighbors. The Soviet takeover scuttled that advanced state of development.
However, during Soviet occupation, Czech manufacturing skills were employed for building military and transport aircraft. When the Russians left a decade ago, the nationalized airplane builders were dumped into the capitalist cauldron. Most had to downsize viciously, and hundreds of experienced workers became unemployed.
These displaced engineers had university degrees and decades of practical knowledge. Many of these people can now be hired for a fraction of the wages commanded by their western counterparts. Over time the salaries may start to equalize, but meanwhile, the situation spells opportunity to Americans like Erwin with their free-market MBA degrees.
Sailboards to Aircraft
Erwin was a consultant to a sailboard company when an inquiry arrived from the Czech Republic. The newly independent eastern European company wanted to build boards for its client, so Erwin went to investigate.
As a longtime aviation enthusiast, Erwin quickly uncovered the aviation talent gold mine. Within months, he left the sailboard company and started CZAW.
The early venture employed eight aircraft industry workers to build Zenair kits like the CH-701. Erwin struck a manufacturing deal with Canadian-based Zenair boss, Chris Heintz. Zenair prefers to design aircraft and manufacture kits and parts. It was happy to let CZAW handle the building of the aircraft.
At first this was done only for the European market, but Erwin isn’t one to let moss grow under his feet. The business expanded to build more Zenair models, sell to markets outside of Europe, and continually employ more of the Czech Republic’s idled aviation workers. By 2004, CZAW expects to sell half its production to the U.S. through its dealer, SkyShop.
Using 85 production workers and 30 other staff members, CZAW built about 100 aircraft last year. Erwin believes he’ll have the capacity to manufacture at least 300 aircraft a year by 2004. More workers are available, and CZAW has generous ambitions.
The company has already branched out in several directions. One of the first was creating its own float system for the Zenair line. All-aluminum constructions, CZAW’s floats are available in straight and amphibious models of varying weight capacities serving a wide variety aircraft beyond the Zenair brand name.
Another initiative is supplying parts to other aircraft builders. The leading example of this took me to another shop within the CZAW complex. Here, workers built the wings, tail and control surfaces for OMF, producer of the Part 23 certified Symphony. I saw several airplanes’ worth of parts being assembled.
To supply its own production as well as those of other customers, CZAW imports tons of aluminum sheet metal and other parts. Most raw materials are sourced from the U.S., a reassuring fact to customers who may be willing to believe in Czech labor standards but have suspicions about the quality of local material.
A Look at the Planes
On my visit, I added a flight evaluation of the CH-701 to my earlier experience in Zenair’s CH-601. These two comprise the lion’s share of production by CZAW-each about 50%- and form unique products that are leaders in their aviation segments.
The 701 is a form of aerial jeep with bush tires and stout gear, STOL characteristics, and an uncompromising fuselage. Like many off-road vehicles, no one calls the 701 pretty. But the plane is highly functional and flies uniquely. Even at full gross, it leaps off the ground quickly and stalls so slowly you can’t believe the ASI readings.
Filling the niche for attractive, conventional-looking aircraft is the 601 series, a range of models built around the same Piper Cherokee-like fuselage. Larger or smaller wings combine with trigear or taildragger configurations and several engine selections to provide something to benefit most pilots. Used on more civilized airports, the 601 is faster and offers the sweeping visibility of a full, clear canopy.
Both aircraft will easily fit the LSA rule as presently defined. Either will fill the needs of many pilots. But what can you do until sport pilot becomes law? CZAW and SkyShop have the answer, especially if you like to travel.
A Trip Abroad
For $43,950, you can buy and fly a CH-701 that will include a ticket to the Czech Republic. Once you’ve made your way 300 kilometers south to Stare Mesto, you’ll work alongside CZAW factory workers to assemble your aircraft. SkyShop’s seven-day builder assistance program is a great learning experience and qualifies under the amateur-built rule, they report. Once you return home, your aircraft will arrive by container freight. SkyShop will help with the FAA details, and you’ll soon be flying your own N-numbered CH-701. A similar program is available for the 601 series for $2000 more.
Once LSA becomes law, SkyShop will supply ready-to-fly aircraft from its south Florida base to owners across America. Perhaps a Czech-built Zenair is in your future.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Czech Aircraft Works, S.R.O., Lucni 1824, 686 02 Stare Mesto, Czech Republic; call (from the U.S.) 011-420-572-543-456; fax (from the U.S.) 011-420-572-543-692; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web www.airplane.cz.
SkyShop, Inc., can be contacted at 1837 S. Federal Hwy. #200, Stuart, FL 34994; call 772/223-8915; fax 772/382-0607; e-mail zaneta@SkyShops.org; web www.skyshops.org.
Copperstate celebrates its 30th anniversary at a promising new venue.
That’s the dustiest place on Earth!” the pilot said upon returning from Phoenix Regional Airport in late 2001. John Kemmeries, a Phoenix-based ultralight entrepreneur, had sent the pilot to check out the proposed site for the Copperstate regional fly-in. The pilot’s reconnaissance report suggested a dry and dirty venue for the Arizona fly-in, but he had no way of knowing the event organizer’s vision.
As I approached the area in BRS’s Cessna 172 Hawk XP for the 2002 fly-in, I found myself searching vainly for an airstrip among the desert’s uniform brown color. As the GPS led me along, I suddenly saw a large swatch of green dotted with colored tents. My uncertainty vanished; the site stood out like the proverbial sore thumb.
Welcome to the new, improved Copperstate as created by thousands of volunteer man-hours and the support of a local land owner. And by the way, “Happy 30th birtday, Copperstate.”
That large area of bright green grass was the product of a $200,000 investment in irrigation and grass seed. Only six weeks earlier the area had been as brown and dusty as Kemmeries’ pilot had reported. Long hours of labor and cooperation with Scott Ries, the developer of Phoenix Regional Airport, produced a worthy and welcome event for western flying enthusiasts.
The work of Copperstate chairman Bob Hasson and his team prepared the new location in a short time. Despite a few first-time-at-this-location hiccups, they ran a first-class regional airshow. With 7932 attendees, 650 aircraft, 40 ultralights, 122 campers and 73 exhibitors, it’s safe to say that Copperstate was a huge success.
The new venue itself excited both volunteers and visitors. Before last year’s hiatus due to September 11, the fly-in was held at the Williams airport. The location was closer to Phoenix, but it was known as a massive expanse of asphalt. Attendees used to complain that their shoes got hot simply from walking around, and vendors and visitors had to ride a bus to get from the main display area to the ultralight area. Copperstate’s move to the new airport, which is located between Maricopa and Casa Grande, proved to be the correct decision.
Phoenix Regional is a privately owned, public-use airport with a 4500-foot paved runway, a self-service 100LL fuel station and additional pavement for aircraft parking. Plenty of camping space is available, and a good variety of hotels is available within a few miles. Locals didn’t know how to direct attendees to the event this year, but they certainly will in the future.
A Western Winner
Gregg Ellsworth, my BRS workmate and airshow partner, and I often comment that the western U.S. has no major shows to compete with Oshkosh or Sun ’n Fun. Despite having the largest population of aircraft, the west has never developed a truly strong fly-in. Arlington draws about 50,000, and Golden West is trying to start something good in the Sacramento area. But Copperstate benefits from southern Arizona’s sunny skies, and it can draw from the high-pilot-count states like California and Texas. When Copperstate stumbled last year, many thought it was the end of the fly-in. They were wrong.
Many of the vendors were western-based dealers rather than factory staff members, but a respectable number of national outfits attended. Those who passed on the fly-in this year will likely be back in 2003.
Copperstate’s airshow portion was smaller than the ones at the big events, but it had more enjoyable displays. Because vendors weren’t always inundated with inquiries, most were able to enjoy the exciting aerobatic routines. Many sellers indicated that they do better at smaller venues because they have more contact with customers, and I know my company will be back in 2003, probably with a larger display.
I arrived a day early for the event and witnessed some of the volunteers’ last-minute efforts to prepare for the show. Into the night they kept at it, all for the love of flying. As the day turned into deep darkness, I enjoyed the bright stars over this undeveloped area. I have a feeling that Phoenix Regional won’t stay undiscovered for long.
Ries is currently selling lots for hangar houses on the north side of the airport. He has allocated commercial development to the south, invested in a new runway and helped fly-in volunteers provide acres of green grass. With the renewed vitality of the Copperstate Fly-in, you should make plans to attend in 2003.
The 2003 Copperstate Fly-in is scheduled for October 9-12. For more information, visit www.copperstate.org.
This French light-airplane show Tops Anything in the U.S.
The name of the French venue is a bit awkward for Americans, though it rolls off the French tongue fluidly. Blois—pronounced Blwah—is a superb airshow that should grab the interest of every light-airplane enthusiast.
Light Airplanes Everywhere!
I’ve been to Sun ’n Fun for more than 25 years and to Oshkosh nearly as many. I spend a lot of time in the ultralight area of each, and they’re big events, no question. But both take a second seat to Blois. Yes, believe it or not, the event 185 kilometers south of Paris last August is the largest of the ultralight airshows I’ve seen.
With 90 exhibitors and more than 500 aircraft, most of which were flown to the event, Blois beats even Paradise City at the Lakeland, Florida, Sun ’n Fun fly-in. I’ve known of this 22-year-old show since the ’80s but attended for the first time last summer. It won’t be my only visit.
Solon Blois 2002 even surprised organizers headed by Claud Lhomme and Jean-Marie Carre. They had to add display space at the last minute when more companies than expected showed up with wares. The overflow was evident as they tried to place all exhibitors in one long row 50 feet back from the flight line. Except for the latecomers, all exhibitors had front row seats.
The layout looked like a long walk compared with American events set in rows of booths. But it presented the flying machines in a unique way that many visitors seem to enjoy. Airplanes were arranged in front of the line of tents so that people meandered in and among them as they worked their way up and down the line. At the end of the event, I’d come to see this as a plan that provided good access to exhibitors and good viewing for prospective buyers.
This is a selling show where most visitors want to fly. The number of tire kickers was much lower than at big American shows. All the companies I spoke to were pleased with crowds at the 2002 event.
Great variety was also evident with aircraft ranging from powered paragliders to powered parachutes, light trikes, two-seat trikes, and gyros to three-axis aircraft of many descriptions built of aluminum, wood, steel, fiberglass and carbon fiber. The sheer richness of Blois’s aircraft matches anything I’ve seen in the U.S., although American shows also include hang gliders and powered hang gliders. These were missing at Blois.
Flying these Perse aircraft in a group involved the same challenges as the crowded skies above U.S. airshows. However, the organizers alternated every hour between open flying and factory demonstrations. Spectators got to see virtually every display aircraft perform right in front of them. No incidents occurred; ground controllers were doing a superb job.
The runway was set up such that two simultaneous landings could take place. Launches usually occurred on the departure end of the strip while landing aircraft used the approach half. It worked well with flag men stationed strategically to allow near continuous motion of aircraft.
Full Range of Choices
Many Europeans are talking excitedly about America’s pending light-sport aircraft/sport pilot rule. Many hope to tap the big U.S. market with their beautiful creations. We’ve been seeing some examples at our airshows in recent years, and they were also in abundance at Blois.
Yet development was also evident on the conventional end of the ultralight market. For example, British trike builder Pegasus used Blois to debut their new Quik. This speedy model features a Rotax 912 engine and a tiny wing that allows cruising at 100 knots. A French trike called the Chapelet featured a slick installation of the BMW A-valve engine that puts out 80 hp.
On the other end of the spectrum was DynAero’s carbon-fiber four-seater, the MCR 4S, which expands on the company’s speedy MCR 01 Banbi two-seater. Dallach of Germany showed its flying prototype high-wing, retractable-gear Evolution. Some call this company the “ultralight Lancair.”
F Technik, also from Germany, featured its entire line of models: the popular FK-9, Comet folding biwing and Polaris speedster. Another aircraft, the 150 Rallye, looks much like a modernized Cessna 150 in fiberglass while Poland’s Junior sports the same room in a low-slung, overhead-wing package.
In my estimates over many years, I’ve seen France as the world’s second-largest recreational market, surpassed only by the U.S. The country has a long and colorful aviation history, originating not only manned flight (the Mongolfier brothers in their hot air balloon in 1783) but many aeronautical terms: aileron, empennage, fuselage and more. Ultralight flying in France continues the tradition, appearing healthy and progressive.
Approaching its 23rd year, Blois is firmly established as the leading venue for ultralight aircraft in Europe. Other events feature the segment and even have large displays of light aircraft (Aero in Friedrichshafen, Germany, for example), but no others offer the close-up flying demonstrations and hands-on examination ease combined with charming French countryside and blue skies.
Doesn’t it make you want to attend? The 2003 version is scheduled for August 30 and 31. Blois fits well in the airshow calendar.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Salon ULM Blois, Attn: Christian Lhomme, 32 Rue des Moriers, 41000 Blois, France; call 011-332-54-74-17-99; fax 011-332-54-78-56-84; e-mail email@example.com; web www.ulmblois.com.
With 200-foot-tall trees and mountain peaks topped with snow throughout the year, Washington is a scenic place for an airshow. Despite a drought that caused the grass to crunch underfoot, light aviation looked alive and well at the EAA’s Arlington gathering for 2003.
Local Boys Make Good
One main attraction was the much-anticipated RV-10 four-place aircraft that drew big crowds. But a Washington-area group also revealed their efforts of past months. Sport Flight Aviation displayed in the ultralight area with the first of 50 kits in progress. Two completed Talons—the last of the old design—stood alongside a new Typhoon. The new closely resembles the old.
Company owners Todd Thompson and Ron Osborne took pride in showing me extensive CAD-generated drawings printed after a lengthy effort to document the popular northwest design. Each of the men operates a non-aviation business. They teamed up to resuscitate a company left leaderless after the death of its founder, Roger Bitton.
Fortunately, Thompson and Osborne didn’t alter this successful ultralight, delighting many like myself who found this to be a sweet-flying single seater. Armed with their thorough review of the component parts, Sport Flight Aviation is better able to deal with the proposed SportPlanes™/light-sport aircraft certification standards. I think we’ll be seeing more of this dynamic duo.
More In-State Success
Flush with a new order for 20 Apache trikes headed to Hong Kong, North Wing Design from western Washington is succeeding after years of work. The company’s efforts have culminated in the Apache Sport trike and the Contour wing seen at Arlington.
Owner Kamron Blevins has been in the industry for more than 20 years, starting as a young hang gliding sailmaker. Refining this art, he moved into replacement parts for hang glider owners and then into building wings for other trike makers. After starting as a component supplier, North Wing started developing the entire aircraft. Now the company has steadily grown to be one of the largest trike builders in the U.S.
The Apache Sport, introduced this year at Sun ’n Fun, is aimed at light-sport aircraft in the weight-shift category. Not ones to rest on their laurels, Blevins and his team added a handsome new body fairing to the trike. The fiberglass shape neatly accommodates the twin side radiators used to cool the Rotax 582.
North Wing has also distinguished itself by being the only trike builder in the world to offer strut-supported wings rather than full cable bracing. While there is no aerodynamic drag improvement over wires, the struts do impart a modern look that may fetch more buyers from the fixed-wing community. In my experience with the company’s wings, their handling qualities have always been admirable.
He flies his ultralights to every show he attends, and he has the map on the side of his airplane to prove it. Earthstar Aircraft owner Mark Beierle is one of the industry’s most innovative designers. His work with the Thunder Gull inspired other brands and has put many aircraft in the sky.
Not driving to shows has long been a trademark of Beierle, even when he did so with Experimental single-cylinder two-stroke engines. At Arlington, however, Beierle was propelled by the steady hum of his HKS 700E four-stroke two-opposed-cylinder engine from Japan. North American distributor HPower is pleased to have Beierle work out the installation due to his reputation for thoughtful, thorough engineering. Perhaps Beierle merely wanted a more potent engine so he could haul around his newest creation.
An energetic developer, Beierle is not content simply to make airplanes that fly efficiently. He’s also creating his own ultralight-size radial engine named the Rad Cam. This eight-cylinder engine displaces only 600 cubic centimeters but can put out 60 hp. When it’s ready, look for Beierle to fly one of his Gulls to an airshow with this round engine supplying the thrust.
You can’t keep a good man down, and a good man can’t keep his airplane design down. Welcome to the JDM-8 No. 2, and welcome again to the HKS engine.
When I first flew the JDM-8, I went aloft behind a Rotax 277 single-cylinder engine. That modest 28-hp engine helped the all-metal plane stay within Part 103’s tight guidelines. But the engine is no longer produced by Rotax, and designer Darryl Murphy is never one to back away from enlarging a perfectly good design. His Rebel turned Super Rebel turned Moose is an example of this bigger-is-better ideology—though in fairness, Murphy says he really enjoyed the challenge of staying within Part 103, and he liked the way the lighter plane flew.
JDM-8 with HKS is now fully enclosed and stands atop longer maingear legs. But it hasn’t lost any of its shine, plus it gained quite a few miles in top cruise.
Dual Powered Parachutes
I know of only one other powered parachute design (by Sundog Powerchutes) that uses side-by-side seating, yet that’s how most of aviation prefers to teach students. Therefore, Airframes Unlimited may have something with its new offering, the SS-2. Arlington judges evidently agreed it was well done, awarding one example the Ultralight Champion prize.
Since you fly with your feet directionally and for aerodynamic braking, the wide-bench twin seater has dual foot controls to operate its 500-square-foot performance design parawing. Powered by a Rotax 582—as are nearly all powered parachutes—SS-2 cruises between 28 and 42 mph, though the higher speed requires a more elliptical (i.e., higher performance) airfoil.
The SS-2 also has dual outside throttles, a center steering bar and a welded airframe. The market is crowded for powered parachute makers today, so Airframes Unlimited’s approach may allow them to gain customers.
Light aircraft abound at Friedrichshafen’s air fair.
Once Oshkosh AirVenture has ended, you may be interested to hear of another gathering that challenges the Wisconsin affair for supremacy when it comes to light aviation. No, I’m not referring to Sun ’n Fun.
Inside the vast and numerous indoor halls of Aero 2001 in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the largest aircraft on display was a Cessna 206. But most were smaller, what the European Community calls ultralights, and the choices were as wide and diverse as the great halls that exhibited them.
An Air Fair, Indeed
When Germans speak English to Americans, they call their airshows “fairs.” Indeed, this July event was as large as some state fairs and resulted in near sensory overload for several U.S. airshow veterans who attended with me.
Aero, which alternates years like many European airshows, has been hosted by the southern German town of Friedrichshafen for the last decade. It will move to new quarters at the nearby airport for the 2003 event, but in this last year at the old site, no fewer than 10 large indoor halls or separate buildings were crammed to capacity with many beautiful light aircraft.
I attended for only two days, as I had previously planned a trip to the Ukraine. At the 2003 event, I won’t repeat this mistake. I’ll stay the whole time and will comb the offerings in much more detail. Based on a casual count, at least 50 gorgeous little airplanes were on display. The Czech Republic had its own hall with nearly a dozen aircraft companies exhibiting. Half of them I’d never seen, and all were worthy of a closer look.
Euro officials and pilots call their machines ultralights because that’s how the regulations describe them, the key factor being a maximum gross weight of 450 kilograms or 992 pounds. No upper speed limit is defined, so an increasing number of aircraft are striving to be speedy like some American kit-built designs.
The Euroland concept of an ultralight differs somewhat from what Americans call an ultralight. Theirs are light, much like American two-place ultralight trainers, but their mission profiles are closer to the fast-glass kits of the U.S. Imagine a half-weight Lancair and you’ll be close, though the speeds aren’t quite as high, and fuel consumption is much lower. European rules are scheduled for some change, and this may create a class of airplanes that can perfectly fit the new rule FAA has proposed (see below).
Most of the new machines are skinned with glass or metal. Designs continuing to use aluminum tubing and fabric are losing share to more modern shapes, though the remaining tube-and-rag types are much less costly. Once dominant trike sales are slowing rapidly.
In the majority of cases, the designs originate in western countries and are built in eastern countries, though some eastern European countries are now venturing out with their own marketing and sales systems. At least this is true for European sales. Most of the aircraft I photographed have yet to land North American representatives (with one exception being the Zephyr, distributed by Canada Czech Business Enterprises, 604/271-1169).
Light Sport Aircraft
FAA has been working on a new rule for years. They faltered badly with the recreational pilot license but have researched further and now propose a sport pilot license. (At press time, no announcement had been made.)
While everyone calls the proposed rule sport pilot, another part is called light sport aircraft (LSA), and it is this part of the rule that may cause some of these European aircraft to arrive on American shores. One entry showed at Oshkosh this year, the CT from Germany sold by Rollison Airplane Company (812/384-4972).
The proposed LSA rule specifies, among other things, that gross weight shall not exceed 1232 pounds. Even with the weight increase coming to Europeans, the chance to get in the huge U.S. market may cause many companies to alter their designs to fit this weight class. Certainly, it is close, at 560 kilos, to the 600-kilogram weight some are lobbying for in Europe.
The CT fits the weight easily enough, but the European version is a little fast, exceeding the LSA limit of 115 knots (132 mph) if fitted with the more powerful Rotax 912S and an efficient cruise prop. For U.S. consumption, Rollison fits the CT with a Warp Drive prop that my AirVenture tests show held the plane precisely to the FAA speed limit. I made opposing runs at maximum power in low-level flight and never saw more than 131 mph on the installed GPS.
With a new rule likely to emerge, experts say, snazzy aircraft from across the pond may have a dramatic impact on the American ultralight/light aircraft market. Many won’t succeed in the U.S., but several could. And while this is interesting to consumers, it may force some less successful Yankee ultralight and kit manufacturers out of business.
Home of the Zeppelin
The next Aero event will come during the year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of powered flight. Friedrichshafen is in the south of Germany on beautiful Lake Constance (Bodenzee) across from Switzerland and near Austria. So beautiful are the surroundings that a view in any direction composes a postcard. And if you’re like me, fascinated with blimps, you may also want to visit the Zeppelin Museum, as the town is home to the famous airship brand.
Regardless of your particular aircraft focus, the lighter end of aviation has never been better served than at Aero. I highly encourage a visit, but planning ahead is essential to find accommodations. In some ways, that makes Aero a lot like the sprawling AirVenture operation. KP
An American in Ukraine: We develop a taste for the local sport airplane product.
The September 2000 KITPLANES® cover featured Howard Levy’s report on Aeroprakt airplane kits about to be imported into the U.S. Recently, I visited the factory and flew the airplanes. Here’s what I found.
We’re Not in Kansas
In a land far away, people with a strange language are doing something good for pilots in America. They’re building some fine aircraft and coincidentally helping Yankees discover their distant land. The country is Ukraine, the city is Kiev, and the company is Aeroprakt.
Don’t feel bad if remnants of the old Iron Curtain blocked your view. I had the same impression until I traveled to the ancient country for a look. Before we get to the airplanes, though, let me give you a brief tour of the country, the city and the company. Then you’ll get my impression of the aircraft.
Don’t call them Russians; they’re Ukrainians. The confusion among westerners stems from long isolation for a part of the world sometimes referred to as Eastern Europe. Soviet dominance for 70 years nearly smothered the Ukrainians. The Communist system created many woes such as endless rows of poorly maintained, dreary apartment buildings and dull, drab industrial areas. Even now, the economy has years to go before it becomes truly market based. Old people can barely survive on tiny government pensions. Some people work for companies that haven’t paid them for two years.
Yet even a non-paying job gives a sense of being connected to the future. These are people who want to lift themselves up now that they’re freed from Communism. Many Ukrainians, especially middle-age and older people who grew up working in a state-run economy, won’t make the transition to a market-based system. It will take a generation or more before younger people with new ideas rise to positions of power in Ukraine.
But already, some have figured it out amazingly well. Welcome to light aviation in Ukraine.
Run by two Ukrainians—Yuri Yakovlev, the design engineer, and Oleg Litovchenko, the business manager—Aeroprakt has come into its own recently. Employing 40 people, the young enterprise bought and is remodeling an industrial building and will soon have a factory envied by many American aviation entrepreneurs.
It wasn’t always so.
My travel companion, Phil Lockwood of Lockwood Aviation Supply, and I heard quite a tale from Yakovlev and Litovchenko. The early years of Aeroprakt were tough. They worked hard in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds: no cash, crude facilities, a lack of tools and computers, no CNC machines, no contact with western markets where most aircraft are sold, a language barrier, and a national currency not accepted outside Ukraine. Despite these barriers, they soldiered on, designing one aircraft after another.
Then came a welcome sale in the United Arab Emirates. Unfortunately, the deal went badly and the budding capitalists found themselves sinking again. But their work had not gone unnoticed.
Arab Sheik Hussein has a keen interest in aviation, and he has owned many types of aircraft. He flew the Aeroprakt in his country and became interested enough to commission a special ultralight from the company’s bright, hungry engineers.
He had seen what they could do with earlier aircraft like the A-20 Vista Cruiser and A-22 Talon. Believing in the talent and drive of Yakovlev and his engineering team, he commissioned a twin-engine ultralight. Yakovlev modified the A-20 airframe, slung two Rotax 503 engines under the wings, and the A-26 was born.
The story continued for 2 hours and ended with the sheik becoming an investor in Aeroprakt.
Like many others in Ukraine light aviation, Yakovlev was trained and employed by the Antonov Design Bureau. With an army of engineers, Antonov designed many of the Soviet’s most famous aircraft and built the first flying articles of them. Since production was then given to another state organization, Antonov was in a constant state of development.
Young engineers at Antonov became experienced in conventional aviation design, and this solid background has been put to good use in the designs of Aeroprakt.
Each April at the Sun ’n Fun airshow, I fly 15-20 new light aircraft accumulating photos and information about flight characteristics. Most years, I am able to select one aircraft that was my pick of the week. For 2001, my choice was the Aeroprakt A-20 Vista Cruiser.
Fitted with a 100-hp Rotax 912S and flown solo, the A-20 is nothing short of spectacular. It demonstrated sustained climbs of 1700 fpm, and I made one takeoff with only 3910 rpm showing on the digital EIS instrument.
Able to slow to the mid-30s with full flaps for some fun flying just above open fields, the Vista Cruiser can accelerate to a 115-mph cruise. Sink rates with the engine idling are about 400 fpm, a lower-than-average figure even for the lighter ultralights.
I was able to sustain altitude with only 3800 engine rpm, cruising gently at 60 mph. At this setting, the Vista Cruiser can stay aloft a long time, and it is exceptionally quiet.
Takeoffs were quick and exhilarating, and all my landings were smooth. My only problem involved the effort to get the A-20 down after exercising my preference for high approaches. This is a good problem.
The front seat reminds me of a sailplane. The pilot sits well out in front of the wing, and visibility is enormous. I also tried the back seat on a flight in Ukraine, and—while somewhat more cramped—it offered good visibility and a full set of controls.
Prices and options are varied and plentiful. Spectrum Aircraft, the U.S. importer, has the details.
As this issue arrives in your mailbox, Ukrainians have just celebrated their anniversary as a free nation once again. August 2001 commemorated a decade of freedom for the Ukrainian people.
Small companies like Aeroprakt are part of the country’s emergence into the global society. Given the company’s progress, I predict that we’ll see lots of these airplanes. They’re worth a close look. KP
FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact the U.S. distributor, Spectrum Aircraft, 13 Crosley Lane, Suite 5 Sebring, FL 33870; call 863/655-9299; fax 863/655-9578; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like any of the Olympic sports, a world-class hang gliding championship brings together pilots so good that the rest of us can only imagine performing as well. Two hang gliding contests clustered right after Sun ’n Fun draw the best of the best, and 2001 was a banner year for top talent.
This year the Wallaby Open and a contest at nearby Quest Air switched positions with the Quest meet coming first this year. The highest-ranking world pilots flew both week-long competitions.
Some power pilots believe that hang glider pilots jump from mountains and slide into the valley. That may have been true 25 years ago, but today, meet organizers routinely call for racing flights from 50 to well over 100 miles.
In daily events called tasks, competing pilots are out on the course trying to make goal. As many as 100 gliders are pursuing the destination as furiously as the lift will allow. On good days with plentiful lift, hang glider pilots can race long periods in a nearly straight line. On days with more intermittent or scattered soaring conditions, they spend longer circling in lift before striking out for distance. Cross-country racing becomes a highly disciplined piloting activity that combines with an athletic challenge even greater than competition aerobatic flying.
Courses can be straight-line goals that stretch out to the horizon, often exceeding 100 miles in length. In such one-way flying, tailwinds may be a big help to faster times.
Meet directors may also call triangle tasks where at least some of the flying will be done into headwinds. Each task can require 2-5 hours of flying, almost exclusively in the prone position.
To qualify as a valid contest, the organizers must complete five or more days in a week with such all-out racing. Given such demanding flying day after day, only a limited number of pilots in the world are capable of winning. As in Formula One car racing, perhaps a dozen competitors are the ones to beat.
Developing a Reputation
In the last few years, Florida has become a focal point for top competitions in the world of hang gliding. Revved up by the timing after April’s Sun ’n Fun fly-in (which originally helped draw ultralight towplanes into the area), the Wallaby Open at Wallaby Ranch has established itself as the place to race.
Formerly, hang gliding competitions were national contests in the summer months, and they were held at mountain launch sites. All of that is changing fast. Now the season opens in spring in the Florida flat- lands, and the world attends.
A second event began several years later, and combining two major meets within 30 miles of each another in a weather-friendly state like Florida works like a magnet. The proximity of airshows and tourist attractions plus easy accommodations and travel also help.
This year the event at Quest was the Flytec Championships, named after its lead sponsor, high-tech soaring instrument seller Flytec USA. As it happens, the owner of Flytec is also running the operation at Quest, making for a harmonious marriage. Quest is located some 27 miles north of Wallaby Ranch. Both airparks are within a few miles of Disney World: one west, one to the south.
The Flytec team performed admirably. While meet director Steve Kroop admits that these contests can always be improved, he beamed as he recounted one safe, furious session where a fleet of 14 ultralight tugs launched 127 gliders in 46 minutes! “To go any faster would be silly,” he says, but he hopes to make the experience even smoother for the world hotshots next time.
Between Wallaby and Quest is well-known Seminole gliderport, and the three facilities prove that central Florida offers superb soaring. The phenomenon that permits this is the Florida Ridge, a convergence of east coast and west coast sea breezes that meet in the middle of the state. Opposing winds have nowhere to go but up, forming an invisible ridge line that can carry hang gliders thousands of feet aloft.
Flytec presented more than $10,000 in cash prizes plus other goodies. Wallaby offered a similar amount and also boasts a full-time cook who prepared meals for all competitors, crews and visitors.
More than 100 pilots competed in each event, which makes for challenging logistics. Well over 100 gliders with 35-foot spans, plus a dozen tug ultralights and several hundred ground vehicles and campers fill even the large spaces at Quest and Wallaby.
In the field of pilots registered, about half were international contestants hailing from Brazil, Australia, Ukraine, England, France, Austria, Canada, Argentina, Columbia, Switzerland, Poland, and the Czech Republic. At Quest, 57% were Americans, and only 47% represented Team USA at Wallaby.
Austrians Manfred Ruhmer and Gerold Heinrichs set a blazing trail for the others, finishing first and second in both meets. Ruhmer, the lead pilot for Italy’s Icaro brand, is the reigning world champion, and he hung onto his title convincingly. American Paris Williams took fourth place in both meets against the best in the world.
Globalized Hang Gliding
The world’s top manufacturers were also well represented at the twin Florida contests. America’s clear leader is Wills Wing. Flown by Williams and several others, Wills managed to place four pilots in the top 10 when results are combined. The Australian brand, Moyes Delta Wing, had the most entries (32% overall) and placed eight gliders in the top 10 of the combined meets. Italy’s Icaro brand had six, and Ukraine’s Aeros placed two in the top ranks. France’s La Mouette brand, England’s Avian, and Germany’s A.I.R. and Flight Designs companies were also represented.
It’s no wonder the brands compete as hard as the pilots fly. Winning contests helps sell gliders to the wider recreational pilot community. Since only 1% compete, the main reason to sponsor pilots and refine wings to win races is to build the brand, just as with auto racing. Let the games begin!
If observing this exciting action interests you, contact Quest or Wallaby and get prepared for even hotter flying in April of 2002. KP
FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Quest Air/Flytec Championship at 6548 Groveland Airport Road, Groveland, FL 34736; call 352/429-0213; fax 352/429-4846; e-mail email@example.com; web www.questairforce.com.
Wallaby Ranch/Wallaby Open is at 1805 Dean Still Road, Davenport, FL 33837; call/fax 862/424-0070; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web www.Wallaby.com.
Note to readers — This article first appeared in EAA Sport Pilot magazine. The layout is unusual because of magazine formatting, but all the text and photo information is as it originally appears… —DJ
AND LEARNING THE HISTORY OF FAR PART 103
Not long after takeoff, the airline captain’s deep voice transmitted the following: “Ah… Los Angeles Center, I see hang gliders not far off my wing. They aren’t in our airspace, but I’m surprised to see these guys up here.”
Thus began the impetus to create
Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part
103. Of course, the rule had no name
at the outset, but one FAA official saw
Honoring the foresight of this
man, EAA recently inducted W.
Michael “Mike” Sacrey into the EAA
Ultralight Hall of Fame during
ceremonies on November 2, 2001, at
EAA headquarters in Oshkosh,
Mike holds an airline transport pilot
(ATP) rating with numerous sign-offs
for a variety of jets and multiengine
seaplanes. He’s also flown at least a
dozen different ultralights. A
certificated flight instructor for both
airplanes (CFI) and instruments (CFII),
Mike has logged more than 8,000
hours of flight time. During his nearly
30-year career with FAA, he held a
number of positions in various Flight
Standards District Offices (FSDOs),
including assignments to FAA’s
Washington, D.C., headquarters staff.
He retired from FAA in June 2000, after
having served as director of FAA’s
Southern Region Flight Standards
District Office for more than six years.
While Mike’s work in mainstream
aviation affected thousands of pilots
plus millions of airline customers, none
have been touched more saliently than
the ultralight community. Tens of
thousands of fly-for-fun pilots owe this
man a debt of gratitude, even if they
don’t know his name (though,
obviously, articles like this one will
somewhat change that situation).
Though modern-day ultralight
pilots may not often consider the
significance of Mike’s work two
decades ago, he created the structure in
which ultralights were allowed to
flourish. Careful to give credit to
others, Mike would demure to the
designers, instructors, organizers,
association leaders, and flying club
officials who compose the backbone of
ultralight aviation as it is today.
Yet it takes a visionary person to put
new developments in their proper position; when it comes to ultralight
aviation, Mike Sacrey is the person
many believe deserves this distinction.
As he looked ahead, his eyesight was
better than 20/20.
Part 103 will celebrate its 20th
anniversary not long after EAA
AirVenture Oshkosh 2002 is history.
Today it is widely accepted as a
triumph of rule making|a rule about which pilots can actually become enthusiastic.
Creating Ultralight Vehicles
For the term “ultralight vehicle” Mike gives credit to FAA’s Juan Croft, who developed the original foot-launch policy for powered hang gliders. Mike explains: “In the late 1970s, Juan reviewed powered hang glider operations, and he argued that they would not be a hazard to air commerce. Based on his recommendation, the agency chose to classify powered hang gliders as vehicles rather than aircraft and to regulate them differently because they were and are recreational vehicles rather than air commerce vehicles.”
But, in the early 1980s, FAA’s attention was again drawn to ultralights after enthusiasts started putting better developed engines on the machines, which allowed them to fly higher and farther. Mike recalls that FAA’s Air Traffic Division was given the assignment to create a sub-chapter to FAR Part 91 that would regulate the activities of these vehicles.
“That was the original plan,” says Mike, “to figure out how to prohibit powered hang gliders/ultralights from using the most pieces of airspace that also were used by air commerce. FAA didn’t want to kill ultralights, but nobody in air commerce was too anxious to see them proliferate. We were trying to find a way to adequately fulfill FAA’s responsibilities to control air traffic and assure the safety of the public.
“The actual assignment to write the rule came to Bernie Geier and Keith Potts as division managers. Besides myself, others on the team included Jack Reynolds from Airports, Ken Peppard from Air Traffic, and Art Jones of the Certification branch. Art was involved because at one time the thought of requiring some level of pilot certification had been considered. Even though Art was manager of the Certification branch, he was not someone who was particularly into empire building. He had a good feel for what was and wasn’t needed, and in the end he felt that pilot certification would not be a significant benefit and could become a burden on the agency if FAA had to oversee certification.”
According to Mike, one of the biggest discussions that evolved from FAA’s initial meetings was coming up with a definition of ultralights. “We could see that the foot-launching rule wasn’t working any more as a defining line because more and more people were putting landing gear on the machines, and we could see that was safer, so we began looking for other defining criteria. At that time, we had no idea how sophisticated these machines were going to become.”
The Magical 254-Pound Weight Limit
One of the most-asked questions by ultralight newcomers and veterans alike is, “How did FAA choose 254 pounds for the maximum empty weight of ultralight vehicles?”
Mike finally tells the story: “The weights were a compromise. First we started talking about how much weight pilots could actually foot-launch. The original proposal was for 155 pounds, but people told us they were routinely launching 200-pound ultralights. We didn’t necessarily believe that was the case, but that’s what manufacturers and enthusiasts represented to us. After many discussions with those active in the industry, the weight of 254 pounds came down because we thought
manufacturers and owners could build
a safe machine at that weight, and
then we added the weight exemption
for a ‘safety device to be deployed in a
potentially catastrophic situation.'”
Mike says that exemption came
about as the rule-making team began
to consider the repercussions of inair/
structural failures. “We heard a lot
of talk about parachutes that could
lower the whole machine to the
ground in the event of a structural
failure, and that seemed worth
Then, as now, some enthusiasts
marvel that safety devices didn’t
include all manner of other safety gear.
Mike responds: “In fact, we were
thinking specifically of parachutes,
although we didn’t want to say only
parachutes because we didn’t want to
limit ingenuity. But we decided that
safety devices to be deployed in a
catastrophic situation did not mean
brakes or a radio, as some have
challenged since the rule’s institution.
Frankly, we argued about many of
them, including radios, brakes, and a
transponder, or even a horn because it
would let people on the ground know
to get out of the way. People tried to
say brakes were needed, but that’s not
true in a catastrophic situation.
“The idea of the whole-airplane
parachute was relatively new. Many
pilots were wearing parachutes with
hang gliders-and there had already
been successful deployments. A couple
of companies were working on systems
for powered ultralights, and we
thought, ‘Why not give them an extra
allowance?’ We were limiting the
weight of the airframe, thus to some
extent interfering with the design, so
we thought emergency parachutes
would just be a good redundancy.
“At that time there was a lot of talk
in regulatory circles that if you’re going
to make some piece of equipment
optional, there should be some extra
privilege if pilots/owners added it. For
example, in other aircraft, if you added
a transponder, you were allowed to fly
through additional airspace.
“We decided that if owners added
the extra weight of the parachute, we’d
give them the extra weight allowance
so that they wouldn’t pay a penalty in
weight for equipping their vehicle with
this safety device.”
With several “saves” recorded
because of the availability of ballistic
chutes, history shows the rule-making
team’s logic was sound. But how did
extra weight for floats figure into the
special exemption? Mike explains
“Regarding floats, we could see that
if people were operating off water they
weren’t operating anyplace where they
were going to be involved with other
air traffic. In the examples I saw,
people were operating at low altitudes
in small bodies of water, and they just
were not a threat to other air traffic.”
Could ultralight manufacturers have
convinced Mike and the team that
more airframe weight was reasonable?
Remembering that “foot-launch” had
been the prior rule, Mike says perhaps,
but not likely. “The weight was
definitely a negotiation. The industry
was trying to convince us that these
were the same machines they had
been foot-launching, but it’s hard to
convince someone you can footlaunch
a 300-pound vehicle.”
Speed Limits in the Sky
How about that 55-knot or 63-mph
speed limit? Wasn’t that rather
restrictive? (In the context of the
proposed sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rule that carries a top speed limit of 132 mph, this question seems relevant.)
Mike responds with typical logic: “First of all we looked at the speeds at which most of the machines were operating, and 55 knots was about average. Second, we looked at the damage that could be caused-the faster the projectile or the aircraft was going, the more kinetic energy you have.
“We looked at the type of technology that was being used, the wing designs, and we decided that a 55-knot speed would be adequate for sport and recreation. These aircraft were never going to be transportation machines per se, so it was a compromise, as are most things in regulatory language. We knew that if we kept a limit on the top speed and if we could get the stall speed down pretty low, the chances were we would not have much third-party injury or damage. And I don’t think we have had much third-party injury or damage.”
Many who know him think Mike is some kind of ideal FAA regulator. How might he act today if he had remained in his old role? He muses: “I, for one, would be for a new definition of ultralights with a new, higher empty weight, and I wouldn’t object to some speed increase on the top end, but I would object to any speed increase on the bottom end, though that would be a very difficult thing for a designer. The low kinetic energy has been responsible for fewer injuries and fewer third-party damage incidents; consequently, we haven’t had a significant part of the public saying that ultralights are a problem.”
Why No Certificate?
Because most ultralights fly only locally, many certificated pilots will somewhat grudgingly admit a certificate may not be necessary. However, we all know some ultralights fly long distances.
Mike explains: “We decided that ultralight flying was a sport similar to mountain climbing and skiing, and we didn’t have any intention of coming up with standards for the machines. We had a good model for that in the sport parachuting rule, which is the model that I settled on and became the major advocate for- not licensing the aircraft, not licensing the airmen, just limiting the potential for disaster by (1) keeping them out of certain air space, and (2) limiting the size of the aircraft and the amount of fuel they could carry.
“Of course we know that ultralights have gone all around the United States, but I submit that every time, they were being operated by somebody having adequate knowledge to do it safely. In some cases they were already certificated pilots at another level, but even if not, the truth is they were able to do it safely without endangering anyone else, and that’s all that mattered.
That’s all licensing is about-it’s just
a method to assure the public that a
reasonable minimum of knowledge
has been gained. Licensing or
certification is not some magic
Although Mike encountered some
resistance within FAA for his “letthem-
fly-freely” philosophy, he
continued to use logic to further his
goals. “We knew we could not have
an inspector at every airport or place
where hang gliders or ultralights
could be operated. That was foolish
thinking. It was better to depend on
industry, the community, and the
marketplace to determine what’s
In the end it may have been the
political climate that allowed Mike to
work his rule-making magic.
“The timing was good. Our
government was into self-regulation.
Politically, the administrations didn’t
want new governmental functions;
this was during the Carter and
Reagan administrations. Carter was
talking about smaller government,
the Paperwork Reduction Act was in
force, and simplification of
regulations was our marching order,
so it all flowed fairly smoothly.
Nobody wanted to get the federal
government into new areas,
particularly in regulatory matters.
Whenever you came up with a
regulatory scheme you had to show
how you were saving taxpayer’s
money, not spending it. So this rule
worked well in that climate.”
Nearly 20 years later, it is obvious
to aviators in and out of the
ultralight industry that Part 103 has
functioned admirably. However,
even such a marvelously simple rule
required more detail. Advisory
Circulars 103-6 and the very
important 103-7, which helped FAA
field inspectors as well as ultralight
designers determine if a given
ultralight met the rule, provided
This still was not the limit of
Mike’s work. Important innovations
that came once Part 103 was written
into law included the exemptions for
two-place training in powered
ultralights and for the towing of
Mike states: “I did the two-place
exemption and the towing
exemption, and both of them were
difficult to convince FAA General
Counsel to accept. FAA’s top lawyers
are very leery about exemptions.
They feel you should go back to rule
making rather than exemptions, but
we talked about how we needed
expediency and the fact that we
could increase the safety of
“While many cite ABC’s 20/20
program in November of 1983 as
having been extremely harmful to
the sport of ultralighting, it actually
helped us get the two-place
exemption through because we were
able to convince people that just by
having some experience in the twoplace
machine with an experienced
pilot we could essentially replicate
the kind of safety that was involved
in conventional training aircraft.
They went for that, and we got the
In his Hall of Fame nomination
document for Mike, Carmen
Miranda of EAA Ultralight Chapter
71 wrote, “It should be remembered
that the extraordinary success
enjoyed by the ultralight
community today in the United
States is in no small measure due to
the personal efforts and vision of
this one FAA official.”
Offering My Congratulations
In closing, I’d like to add my personal
thoughts. I’ve come to know Mike, not as
an FAA man but as a person and fellow
pilot. Since we first met I’ve enjoyed his
calm demeanor and winning smile (not
always attributes I associate with my
representatives in FAA). We’ve had
numerous conversations, and you know
what — he’s “one of us.”
In his acceptance speech, Mike
recognized the irony of EAA inducting a “rule
maker” into the ranks of sport aviation’s
finest. Yet anyone who’s ever met and talked
to Mike finds this of no surprise whatsoever.
While some rule makers load regulation
upon rule to the shoulders of pilots, Mike
and his associates in the early ’80s helped
create the least imposing rule in the thick
book of FAA regulations. As I’ve often, and
proudly, repeated, this is an FAA rule that
can be printed in its entirely on the front and
back of one 8.5-by-11-inch piece of paper.
Lastly, Mike’s work has had a profound
influence on my life and that of thousands
more owing to his dedication to ballistically
deployed emergency parachutes. By seeing
the future (BRS was very young at the time
and had yet to save its first life), Mike not
only helped provide me with a career, but he
also allowed these devices to save literally
hundreds of lives.
Please join me in giving Mike a round of
applause for his work on aviation’s tiniest
rule, the famous Part 103. Not only did he
accomplish a noteworthy rule creation; he
did so in barely one year once the NPRM
Perhaps Mike puts it best when he
summarizes: “The rule started out to be a
prohibitive rule-prohibit the operation
here, prohibit the operation there. What we
were able to do was make it into a
permissive rule that allowed the operation
of ultralights and put significant
responsibility on the operators and on the
industry. That was the whole model. If I
became famous for any part of 103, it was
because I advocated letting the pilots
regulate themselves. Regulation shouldn’t
Amen — and congratulations to Mike
Sacrey, an FAA rule maker pilots can
applaud! EAA has bestowed a well deserved
The FAA’s new sport pilot/light-sport aircraft notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) has been released. With a 90- day comment period underway, the proposed pilot certificate and aircraft categories are on the minds of all light-aircraft producers and anyone who flies for fun. The flying machines that will fit under the proposed new aircraft categories will be called light-sport aircraft, and in this article we’ll take a look at what’s currently available|and what the future may hold.
“The FAA’s new rule is destined to globalize the light aviation industry.”
The promise is great for Americans. When the new sport pilot/light-sport aircraft NPRM changes are finalized and implemented, we will enter a new era in light aviation. People who have wanted a light aircraft to fly for fun but who didn’t have the time or skill to build it will be able to buy a ready-to-fly airplane. And, they’ll be able to learn to fly in less time and at less expense than the cost of acquiring a private pilot certificate.
Fixed-base operators will be able to rent affordable light-sport aircraft for training and for fun flying. Instructors of light-sport aircraft will be recognized for the professionals they are.
During a proposed three-year transition period, thousands of twoseat ultralights may become lightsport aircraft, if the owner so chooses. After making that transition, those pilots will be able to bring a friend, their spouse, or a child aloft with them legally. They’ll have the choice of using either a valid U.S. driver’s license or an airman medical as their medical certificate.
Cruising speeds for these fun aircraft will leap to 132 mph, and amphibious aircraft with repositionable gear will be acceptable in this category. With training, owners will continue to be able to do their own maintenance, and insurance and financing should become easier to obtain. And, with certificated pilots operating certificated aircraft, an increased number of America’s 12,000-plus airports will be more likely to welcome light-sport aircraft.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? So what will you be able to buy as a light-sport aircraft enthusiast? Which aircraft will qualify under this proposed rule? No one knows for certain which manufacturers will decide to produce the ready-to-fly aircraft that will become available under this proposed rule, but an expert can make some informed guesses. Having flown a great many of this genre’s aircraft, I will attempt to identify a group of likely players in this article.
Any review such as this will have errors and omissions. I don’t plan to discuss those aircraft certificated with a standard airworthiness certificate that may be flown with a sport pilot certificate-such as some of the Piper J-3 Cubs and Aeronca Champs. Nor have I included any gyroplanes, airships, or balloons-which are included under the proposed rules- as I have limited experience with those flying machines. In addition, I have not listed the many plans-built aircraft that will qualify as sport-pilot eligible as my familiarity with that group of aircraft is limited as well.
Though the new special lightsport aircraft category may require only modest additional work for some producers to manufacture flyaway aircraft, other companies may find the process too burdensome or too costly. No doubt some manufacturers will elect to continue producing true Part 103- legal ultralights while others will maintain their amateur-built kits and plans sales. Most industry experts predict some consolidation among light aircraft builders. It will be an exciting and interesting time as the industry and community develops and matures.
Let’s Enjoy the Sky Together!
As I sifted through my reference materials, many websites, and the buyer’s guides produced by several U.S. and international publishers, I selected 67 candidate manufacturers that I think pilots may see participating in the future of lightsport aircraft. Again, it is probably certain that I will be wrong about some of them, and I may have missed some worthy producers. This is a preliminary review, not the final effort to determine which machines will earn approval. As time marches onward, some products will fall by the side, and new designs will be added. Any compilation of lightsport aircraft is bound to be a work in process for several years to come.
I tried to be inclusive, but any company or designer who feels left out is encouraged to contact EAA or me. (E-mail Experimenter at email@example.com or the author at Dan@ByDanJohnson.com. Updates should be sent by manufacturers only, please; we cannot answer emails or calls from thousands of readers.)
Who Will Play the New FAA Game?
On EAA’s sport pilot website, www.sportpilot.org, 271 sport-pilot eligible models are listed in one compilation. Yet I show only 67 names. What is the difference? EAA’s list counts all the different models, including the plans-built aircraft I mentioned above, whereas I listed only manufacturers. I chose that method because models change more often than manufacturers, and new designs may emerge specifically to meet the light-sport aircraft definition.
I also used a more complex selection criteria. Other lists count all aircraft that appear to fit the weight and speed definitions of light-sport aircraft. I did similarly, but I also considered the chance that a particular manufacturer would complete all the steps necessary to qualify its aircraft as a light-sport aircraft.
Remember, manufacturers and builders still have the experimental amateur-built (51-percent) category in which to operate, and Part 103 ultralight rules remain delightfully free of regulation. Aircraft that legally fit either group today will fit those groups in the future, as the FAA is leaving those popular programs in place.
While the proposed consensus standard compliance that will apply to the design and manufacture of light-sport aircraft is much less restrictive from a regulation standpoint-compared to Part 23 certification rules-participating will still demand a good deal of effort, money, and time. Not everyone will want to do the work. (See “Consensus Standards-Why, What and How” on page 25 of this issue.)
Many manufacturers, however, will see the potential of light-sport aircraft. When selecting my 67 aircraft producers, I made a series of judgment calls. I’m guessing that the names included in my chart will be the most likely builders to rise to the challenge so they can reap the rewards. However, I don’t think that light-sport aircraft will be limited only to faster, larger, more costly airplanes.
Broad Group of Aircraft
Because a light-sport aircraft (LSA) can weigh 1,232 pounds at gross doesn’t mean that every aircraft offered will weigh that much. For example, many foreign-built trikes may be among the earliest approved aircraft in the new class. British trikes have already been operating under a comprehensive certification system. If the United Kingdom’s BCAR-S rule is accepted as part of the design consensus standard-as it might well be from what we know now-then a Pegasus trike could win approval as a LSA in a short time. Standards in Germany, Australia, and Canada may also find quick reciprocal approval.
Trikes are not particularly fast, and powered parachutes are even slower. So the proposed rule’s top speed of 132 mph is not by itself a certain definition of all light-sport aircraft. Some probably won’t even have the two seats allowed, I predict. The proposed sport pilot rule changes also may affect the way designers view Part 103 ultralights. While many engineers feel a 254- pound empty weight limit restricts what they can do, human ingenuity can never be ruled out. Some smaller builders will continue to produce these simpler machines with their basic rules and no need for certification (or pilot certificate) of any kind. In fact, new designs may appear.
Because Part 103 is being left intact, some aircraft will not have to qualify under sport pilot. Hang gliders, powered paragliders, light trikes, and light powered parachutes can still operate under the milder Part 103 rule, which also allows builders to sell ready-to-fly aircraft. While some industry experts predict the demise of Part 103 aircraft, they may be wrong. In fact, some manufacturers have already told me they intend to make at least one model that will continue to qualify under Part 103.
America leads the world in kit aircraft production with hundreds of models offered. Some buyers will likely opt for the light-sport aircraft category and its benefits, but others will be content to work within the experimental amateur-built regulations. Sport pilots will be able to fly both. What a country!
Aircraft in this report come from the ultralight, microlight, and light homebuilt communities, including many that Europe, Australia, and Canada call ultralights.
Have It Your Way
Those manufacturers who choose to fill the expected demand for lightsport aircraft can offer flying machines in several ways. They can continue to make kits as they have in the past, or they can create new ones. These new LSA kits will not have to follow the 51-percent rule and can be 10- or 90-percent completed by the factory, depending on what the market demands. However, only ready-to-fly special light-sport aircraft models will be able to be used for compensated activities like instruction or rental.
Fully built, ready-to-fly aircraft will be certificated as special light-sport aircraft, while kit models will be experimental light-sport aircraft. A sport pilot certificate will suffice for either variation, and those with”higher” certificates like private, commercial, or ATP can fly any lightsport aircraft in the category in which they are rated without further requirements.
Not all current kits that exist in the lightplane world will qualify as light-sport aircraft. For example, it makes little sense to deliberately slow designs that cruise faster than 132 mph, and twin-engine aircraft, like the Air Cam and the A-26 Vulcan, do not qualify as light-sport aircraft. Helicopters are not included in the sport pilot proposal either.
American products have long led the parade of kit-built airplanes. U.S. kit suppliers already have proven instruction methods and parts packaging. Many imported brands- now sold in many countries as readyto- fly aircraft-may not yet have detailed building plans/instructions (in good English) and subassemblies for American homebuilders to use in creating finished airplanes.
Europe enjoys a large lead in ready-to-fly lightplanes. Aircraft produced in eastern European countries can be built at lower labor costs, so the FAA’s new rule is destined to globalize the light aviation industry.
My guess is that European airframe makers will drive the ready-to-fly market early on, given their longer experience in this demanding task. U.S. suppliers won’t be left out, but they may be left behind for a short time. Gearing up to build flyaway aircraft with well-paid American workers will require efficiencies that nearly all U.S. builders must still develop. Bringing computer-driven tooling to the task takes time and money. Even then, the costs may be too high to compete successfully with aircraft assembled in the Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, or Russia where workers are happy to have jobs that pay $100 to $200 per month. Once again, Yankee ingenuity will have to find other ways to compete for the fully built market.
Kits can hold down the purchase cost for builders, and another idea can also emerge. Manufacturers of already-certificated light-sport aircraft may also train selected dealers to assemble aircraft. As a side point to such an effort, these dealers might then become approved repair stations. Owners will be able to maintain aircraft given various levels of training, but many pilots will prefer to have an experienced professional build and maintain their light-sport aircraft.
Sport pilots will pick from two speed limits: 87 knots (100 mph) or 115 knots (132 mph). Students will fit naturally into the former, while the speedier choice comes after an instructor endorsement in your logbook. The same certificate still applies; the logbook endorsement is the record. Regardless of top speed, all models must meet a 39- knot (45-mph) minimum stall with flaps or lift devices deployed, or 44 knots (51 mph) clean.
In this aspect of light-sport aircraft-special or experimental- American builders have a lead. They are accustomed to building slower flying machines and may be able to optimize the genre faster. Many European-designed aircraft trying to fill the need for affordable, economical transportation have pushed for higher speeds (for example, Germany’s Fascination and Italy’s P-92RG). While it’s true you might slow these machines with smaller engines and specially pitched props, they weren’t designed with lower speed limits in mind.
Because only fixed-pitch or ground-adjustable props are allowed, designers must correctly fit the engine and prop to their design. So some aircraft will have powerful engines, climb props, and large wings to bring breathtaking climb performance without breaking the speed limit. Others will use fuel-efficient engines, cruise props, and small wings to reach maximum speeds while meagerly sipping fuel.
Not all light-sport aircraft will maximize the 132-mph limit. The joy of simpler machines that cruise at 60, 80, or 100 mph may also prove more affordable than powerful, deluxe models. As the cars folks have been saying for years: “Speed costs money. How much are you willing to pay to go fast?”
Among all possible participants in the light-sport aircraft category, we have several groups: U.S.- developed ultralights intended for slower flying, lighter homebuilt models that aren’t aimed at high speed transport, and speedy composite designs (often European) modified for flight under this new rule.
As the FAA wisely prefers it, the marketplace will dictate what is built and sold. In the case of lightsport aircraft in the 21st century, the winners could come from anywhere.
Seaplanes are popular today, and the proposed sport pilot rule will only enhance this. The proposal allows aircraft to have repositionable landing gear so that these aircraft can become amphibious. The FAA did not include retractable gear on landbased aircraft (though this remains possible in Part 103 machines), yet they saw the need to allow seaplanes to work on land or water.
Angels in the Details
Differences among light-sport aircraft will not be dictated by performance alone. Though we can only guess where this rule may lead engineers, I can speculate on some of the configuration details that might evolve.
Instrument panels and the equipment mounted to them will vary widely. Sport pilots may not fly at night or in IFR conditions, so panels will probably not have many attitude gauges. Because sport pilots can fly cross-country, navigation instruments and radios may be quite common. Emergency parachutes have proven quite popular, with more than 50 percent of United States ultralights so fitted. All German ultralights must have a ballistic parachute, and these uses will translate well into light-sport aircraft where fliers may like that added safety insurance.
Another area of keen interest involves maintenance. Today’s ultralight/sport pilots sometimes do their own maintenance, while others hire rofessionals to do the work. Under the sport pilot proposal, owners of experimental light-sport kit aircraft will be able to do their own maintenance on their privately owned aircraft after receiving some training (a 16-hour course). But special light-sport aircraft must be maintained by someone holding a repairman’s maintenance rating (received after attending an 80-hour course specific to a category of aircraft). Accordingly, commercial repair stations will surely step up to perform the work for hire when the FAA proposed rule legitimizes work on these machines.
Fortunately, the FAA recognizes that many years of flying and teaching in ultralights has value. So, current U.S. ultralight pilots and instructors who are registered with a recognized ultralight program (EAA, ASC, or USUA) will be given an “upgrade path,” to borrow a phrase from the computer world. Ultralights pilots who are not currently registered with one of those programs but who do register within 24 months of the implementation of the final rule will also be able to take their knowledge and experience with them into the sport pilot world. Then, hours logged as a sport pilot can be logged toward higher FAA certificates.
As time goes on, associations and publications will disseminate more information on the proposed rule and how it will affect recreational flying in the United States. The FAA expects passage of the rule in about a year. Once codified into law, the rule has twoand three-year phase-in periods to transition pilots and existing aircraft into the new framework. In the meantime, it should be an interesting ride with new or modified flying machines emerging regularly.
Twenty Years Later
It is somewhat fitting that precisely two decades have passed since the FAA enacted Part 103. Since then, an entire industry has developed. Over that time designs have changed and evolved. Ultralights under Part 103 are now better machines than ever before. Other aircraft have gone far beyond what rule makers envisioned in 1982. And that is exactly why sport pilot should be a success; it fills a gap. In writing this rule, FAA leaves many of the details up to the industry to develop and to the market to define. Ready or not, here comes the sport pilot certificate and light-sport aircraft. Let the games begin!
24 APRIL 2002
More at www.sportpilot.org
ST. PAUL, MINN. — The Wallaby Open started the season with a bang. While wet spring weather brought challenges, four valid rounds left Ukrainian Oleg Bondarchuk as the winner of the flex-wing class, beating Italian Manfred Ruhmer and Yankee Paris Williams in a field of 72 pilots. Mike Barber (6th), Chris Arai (10th), Jim Lee (17th), and Curt Warren (18th) were among Americans in the top 20 finishers.
For rigid wings now grouped in Class 5, Alex Ploner held his title taking first over fellow Italian Christian Ciech. Top Yankees were Bruce Barmakian, Davis Straub, Campbell Bowen, and Heiner Biesel in 4th through 7th respectively. This class saw ATOS dominating with 63% of the field, Ghostbusters at 13% and five other models in the field of 24 Class 5 rigids.
Brian Porter again won in Class 2 rigid wings flying his Swift, though he competed only against Brit’ Robin Hamilton in another Swift. The tiny class will take on new meaning as it was reported that Manfred Ruhmer will fly Hamilton’s Swift instead of his Laminar in the Quest meet beginning as this column was submitted.
*** From a total of 98 competitors, 16 countries were represented in a display not unlike the World Meet. Team USA was far out in front with 58% of the field, followed by Great Britain at 8%, Austria at 7%, and Brazil at 5%.
*** Looking at the assortment of glider brands flown in flex wing, we see Wills Wing making a strong recovery from prior-year contests with a second place 26% of the Wallaby field. Moyes barely led with 29%, and the two leaders were trailed by Icaro, down to 18% from stronger representation in years past. Next came Aeros, barely behind at 17%, followed by AirBorne (4%), La Mouette (3%), Avian, and Solar Wings (1% each).
*** Wills Wing not only had a good turnout of contest flyers, they also revealed their latest prototype Talon with one of the cleverest ideas I’ve seen in a while. WW-brand unveiled their “Variable Reflex” technology on the latest Talon prototypes. To operate their VR system, a line runs from leading edge to trailing edge on the upper surface. As you tighten the VG system (which functions inside the sail, of course), you tighten these reflex lines and draw the flexible aft rib upwards. It can be varied to suit different levels of VG-on racing or off completely, returning the wing to its familiar undercambered shape. Wills’ VR system allows a lower sprog setting and puts the trailing edge to work on a topless glider somewhat like luff lines do on kingposted models. The function was easily — and stunningly — evident on a glider with a clear top sail.
*** WW-brand has also come out with an updated edition of the Falcon, a version 2.0 (borrowing a term from the computer industry). Enjoyed by experienced pilots too, the new Falcon 2.0 has a Mylar leading edge pocket, spring tip battens, 7075 material in all ribs, a new sail cut, and a price just over $3,000. Wills says Falcon 2.0 has a reduced stall speed, enhanced stall characteristics with more gradual air flow separation, decreased sink rates, and better handling. You can fly fully pushed out on the Falcon 2.0 because it retains control nearly at stall speed. Wills says it has delivered 2,000 of the Falcon model, first introduced in 1994. Fv2.0 is available in four sizes as was its predecessor: 140, 170, 195, and 225.
Focusing on flight school operators, the Orange, California company also reported that their 225 Falcon is now available in two models. A solo model has a smaller control bar and a two-place tandem glider can be fitted with big wheels… three of them to hold the glider and two pilots clear of the ground. In the future Wills Wing will reportedly sell the whole tandem tow package with the wheels and extra boom for the back wheel. FMI: 714-998-6359 or check their Website at willswing.com
Not to be outdone, Aeros brought their new Stalker 2, which was warmly received. The rigid entry has a new tip treatment invoking a fairly tall, outward-leaning winglet. Many advanced aircraft use winglets for performance enhancement though they appear to give a marketing edge as well. Reports are starting to come in regarding flight characteristics. For those of you with older Stalkers, take heart in the word that most “upgrades” on the 2 model can retrofit to the first edition. FMI: justfly.com
*** Felix Ruehle, designer of the ATOS and boss of producer A.I.R. showed up at Wallaby with the first wheelpant-faired hang glider wheels I’ve seen. Actually a tandem set of wheels (that’s one-behind-the-other tandem, not “tandem” as in two place hang gliding), the wheels are small and fit neatly in a thin fairing. A couple years back, Felix injured his knee and he has concerns about landing in light winds.
*** As this issue went to press, Oleg Bondarchuk was leading the gang at Quest. In addition, Manfred Ruhmer was getting used to flying the Swift and his times have been improving. It appears Brian Porter will get the contest he was hoping for and that more attention will be focused on the “ultralight sailplane” class of hang gliders.
However, it ain’t over till it’s over, so we’ll have to wait until next month to see how Quest turned out. Those who want the scores quicker can go to Flytec.com, though the results from the first couple days had not been posted at the time this column was turned in to the editor.
*** So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Messages or fax to 651-450-0930. Send e-mail to: News@ByDanJohnson.com THANKS!
ST. PAUL, MINN. — The big Florida aerotow meets are now history. Oleg Bondarchuk performed well taking his Aeros Combat 2 to the top of both meets, an impressive accomplishment when flying against Manfred Ruhmer and a large field of talented pilots.
Yankee Paris Williams and his Icaro MR700WRE has also confirmed his position at the top of Team USA, adding a fine Second Place to his Third Place finish at Wallaby the week prior. Other great finishes by Americans included Glen Volk in 3rd on his Litespeed and Curt Warren in 5th also on a Litespeed.
*** In fact, Moyes had itself a terrific representation at Quest. The Australian manufacturer mustered an even greater field at Quest (35% of flex wings) after holding the top position at Wallaby with 29%. Competition has always been a strong suit for Moyes and it seems to have a firm grip on that mantle as the 2002 season starts out. Virtually all Moyes pilots flew a Litespeed.
Wills Wing held convincingly onto the No. 2 spot among glider brands flown by competitors with 22%, slipping slightly from the week earlier Wallaby meet with 26%.
A notch down, Aeros beat out Icaro 19% to 17%; they reversed positions from Wallaby where Icaro had 18% and Aeros 17%. Of course, many of the contestants were at both these meets — though it wasn’t an identical roster; Moyes picking up 6 points proves this.
Trailing these top four brands among flex wing builders were La Mouette (France) and AirBorne (Australia) with 4% representations. No British gliders competed at Quest, in a big switch from a decade or so ago when England reigned supreme in hang gliding competitions.
*** Christian Ciech (Icaro Stratos) beat Johann Posch (Atos C) and Alex Ploner (Atos C) in rigid wing class. American e-zine editor Davis Straub was the highest placing U.S. pilot in 4th, followed by Ron Gleason, Heiner Beisel, and Bruce Barmakian in 5th, 6th, and 7th, with all four of them flying an Atos C.
*** The A.I.R. glider totally dominated the rigid wing field of 27 gliders with 59% representation. Flight Design models had 22% of the field and four other brands — Icaro, Aeros, Guggenmos, and Brightstar — had a single entry.
Rigid wings were about a quarter of all glider types and seem to have locked in a solid chunk of the market. However, with three times the glider count, flex wings still hold the lion’s share of wings being sold to competitors. DISCLAIMER: As always, this review may not match sales by manufacturers to recreational hang glider pilots.
*** The Quest meet was again sponsored by Steve Kroop and his Flytec company. It was directed by former USHGA president, David Glover, who earned numerous complimentary remarks for his even-handed — and even fun — handling of an event that can easily turn contentious.
In fact, the two Florida meets went so well that some competition buffs are floating the idea of a World meet in Florida one day. Glover boasted: “[Quest] was the largest aerotow event ever in the history of the United States with 106 pilots and the largest collection of Dragonfly tugs ever! It was also 100% safe all throughout the week and had seven days of great flying weather.”
*** While closely overseeing the performance of his Aeros gliders, U.S. importer GW Meadows also found time to make a video of the event. Glover reports that it “…brought the crowd down on the last night.”
Assembled at lightspeed with modern technologies (his Macintosh laptop and digital video camera), GW was able to “perform” his video to a rapt crowd on the last day of the Quest meet. It went over so well that Glover called to make sure I helped make this production available to the majority of pilots who couldn’t attend. All competitors got a copy but you can get one, too. It isn’t a “hang gliding video” with lots of dramatic flying scenes like Paul Hamilton produces. Instead, “Life is Good” will give you a feel for the event and the people at the Quest Flytec Championships. For a bargain price you can order a VHS video tape or a PAL (European VHS standard): $14, which includes shipping. You may also select a CD-ROM for $10 shipping included, or a DVD of the event for $24 postage paid. Call 541-683-5445 or e-mail Mark at StaffordVideo.com.
*** After absorbing Utah’s former Soaring Center, the business became Cloud 9 Soaring Center. The big shop and school serves both hang gliding and paragliding and features a range of accessories. Always beefing up his line, C9/SC’s Steve Mayer announced, “We have added vario and GPS covers made of Plexiglas and designed to protect your gear.” Steve reports seven models to choose from that should fit most varios and GPS units. The covers sell for a modest $35. You can review what they offer at Paragliders.com or call 801-576-6460.
*** So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Messages or fax to 651-450-0930; please note my new e-mail address of News at ByDanJohnson.com… but you can still use CumulusMan at aol.com for the foreseeable future. THANKS!
ST. PAUL, MINN. — My opening segment should start, “Once upon a time, there was Escape Pod, Pod Racer, and Porky Pod…” You’d probably be baffled (though perhaps intrigued). I’m referring to the Pod series from former Seagull hang glider boss, Mike Riggs. I’ve unabashedly promoted this project since it came from my challenge for a true “soaring trike.”
Pods are sleek fuselages to house pilots attached to hang glider wings. Their goal is to offer more comfort, low drag and light weight, and a rigid attachment to the glider. You fly seated/supine — and have a full enclosure. Think of a powered ultralight trike except one with all the draggy bits pulled inside. Escape Pod and Pod Racer (and surely Porky Pod, too, when it’s ready) will feature fully retractable tri-gear, in-flight C/G adjustment, and a molded clear plastic canopy that fits smoothly to a composite body. A positive aspect is the rigid connection to glider, such that you can never fall into the wing, possibly preventing broken gliders after a tumble or tuck.
The schedule for Seagull Aerosport’s first offering has now been set. Mike reports he’ll first answer ultralight motorglider demand with the Escape Pod. This variation will have a fully-faired engine and folding prop to make it self-launchable. Riggs calculates weight at 85 pounds but it should be vastly cleaner than anything seen to date. Riggs says he’ll present his first Escape Pod at the Oshkosh airshow in late July.
The UNpowered, under-30-pound Pod Racer designed specifically for hang glider pilots will follow once Escape Pod production starts. These things won’t be cheap but for some pilots, the Pods will be answers to longtime requests.
Riggs has been in touch with North Wing and Wills Wing to assure their gliders will work with the Pod series. He’ll work with other brands, too Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
*** At a visit to Wallaby Ranch just three weeks before the big “Wallaby Open” competition in mid-April, preparations were well underway. The competition field has been enlarged to 110 pilots, “up from 60 the first year of the ‘Open’,” says Malcolm Jones. If you haven’t been to Wallaby recently, you’ll be amazed how much more land is cleared and smooth.
In addition, Jones stuck his neck out even further, buying an additional 250 acres of land mostly to the east of the current premises. This increases Wallaby to 500 total acres, giving a generous barrier to neighbors who might one day complain if they were next door to ultralight engines and boisterous pilots. I gulped on hearing this as I envisioned how much how it raised his mortgage payments. I suspect he may one day profit handsomely from this investment — indeed, huge warehouse buildings have been built only a couple miles away where once existed only unused “swamp land,” much that like Malcolm and his team have transformed into the ‘Ranch. But until he may cash out, Jones has preserved a major chunk of Florida for the exclusive use of hang gliding. Who couldn’t love that?
Wallaby was expecting a big month in April — all historical as you read this. The spring month started out with Wills Wing Demo Days. WW-brand always throws a good party, participants say, and this year was no exception.
On the same days, members of the Sailplane Homebuilders Association brought ultralight sailplanes of several descriptions, a logical follow-on to renewed interest in flying the two SuperFloaters at Wallaby.
Directly after this gathering, the big Sun ‘n Fun airshow in nearby Lakeland began, followed immediately by the Wallaby Open and then Flytec’s Championships at Quest. WHEW! Good times in central Florida.
*** The reason this news is history relates to the combined May 2002 issue of HG/PG magazines and its arrival early in the cover month. As you’ve read elsewhere in the magazine (and in earlier issues), this is “only a test.” You are asked to participate in the final decision. Please do so!
To bring your issue to you early in the month, the late deadline enjoyed by easy-to-edit “Product Lines” was moved up two weeks. This edition was turned in on March 20th at Editor Gil Dodgen’s request; that’s how long it takes for a high quality magazine to turn from electronic page layouts to printed books, delivered by the post office. Though it may seem a long time, six weeks is much less than many magazines. One title I write for requires material three and a half months ahead of cover date.
True, the Internet offers near instantaneous publishing but some USHGA members do not use the ‘Net — believe it or not! — and good ol’ paper still has enormous appeal to many readers. Notice the Web has not scuttled magazines or newspapers in other fields (with a very few exceptions). So, enjoy your on-time magazine!
*** Interest continues to build for the 2002 World Record Encampment, that way-south Texas gathering which has produced world record flights two years running. Many will merely follow the action via Internet and other sources, but some want to be participants. FlytecUSA is once again sponsoring the World Record Encampment. Two sessions this year are planned running from mid June to mid July. About twice as many people will be let into the 2002 event. Flex and rigid hang gliders, paragliders, and ultralight sailplanes will attempt new world records. To register, go to flytec.com and click the WRE button. Questions: email@example.com
*** So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Messages or fax to 651-450-0930. My new e-mail is: News@ByDanJohnson.com. THANKS!
Trikes: they’re enjoyed around the world by thousands of pilots A what?
Not sure what a “trike” is, are you? Don’t feel bad. Although these machines may represent the largest production of aircraft in the world, many pilots have overlooked their appeal.
A trike is an aircraft made of two principle parts: a wing that resembles a hang glider (but is more stoutly built) and a carriage. The latter element is comprised of an engine, landing gear, seat and instrumentation. Within certain bounds, the wings and carriage can be mixed and matched.
They may sound strange, but they are enjoyed around the world by thousands of pilots. In fact, among European light aviation enthusiasts, about one in every two flies a trike.
Just a toy? Not!
In case you think that such a contraption must be only for young sport enthusiasts that don’t have enough money for a “real” airplane, think again.
One of the leading manufacturers of trikes in the world is a British concern that makes the Quantum 912. They’ve built over 1,500 aircraft in their 15-year existence and their aircraft can do some amazing things.
By way of example, one such machine, called the Global Flyer (sponsored by GT Global, a Swiss Finance Company) recently completed an around-the-world flight. And this impressive achievement wasn’t a crazy stunt.
In a highly planned and publicized effort, well-known British broadcaster and pilot Brian Milton made the global circuit in 120 days. He arrived back home less than two weeks ago. Should such an endeavor still fail to impress you, consider that his last long leg was 8.5 hours from Iceland to Scotland, all over water.
Could it be for you?
After years of persistent effort, trike manufacturers are starting to make good inroads to the American flying market (many producers are European, although several companies also build these aircraft in the United States as well).
You may think that most buyers are ultralight pilots and you’re right, but an increasing number of aviators are considering trikes because of their versatility, compactness, and sheer joy of flight. Company Director Bill Sherlock, here supporting his American distributor, personally knows four British Air captains that own their trikes.
One reason for both the successful round-the-world adventure and for interest from GA pilots is the powerplant. Pegasus was one of the very first trike makers to successfully incorporate the increasingly popular Rotax 912 four-stroke engine.
Another reason for widespread interest is certification. Indeed, the entire line of Pegasus trikes has full Section S certification from Britain’s CAA. Much more than a simple industry program, the Quantum trikes have passed virtually all of the same detailed government examination as required to certify a new four-seater in the USA.
Given this intensive certification program, a fully built retail price of $33,000 for the Quantum 912 seems pretty reasonable. The Quantum 912 with its highly developed Q2 wing, is the high-end aircraft from Pegasus. On the other end, their two-stroke-powered 503 basic model – which features the same wing – is only about $17,000. Anyone attending AirVenture ’98 surely knows that a brand-new, fully certified aircraft for less then $20,000 represents a bargain.
Pegasus boasts an engineering team of four led by Dr. William Brooks. It probably doesn’t surprise you to know Brooks flies and enjoys both ultralights and hang gliders. But you may be intrigued to know that this doctor of aviation design works only four days a week for Pegasus; on the fifth day he designs the new generation wing spar for AirBus at British Aerospace (his specialty is composites).
Want to know more?
If you’ll just venture to the far south end of AirVenture ’98, you can have a close look at the Quantum 912 and speak with Bill Sherlock, an engaging Englishman. He’ll be assisted by Rob Rollison of Rollison Aircraft who represents the Pegasus line in America.
Updated: 7 December 2001
If you like hang gliding…
then you have come to the right page. Currently, the Website has several Dennis Pagen pilot reports of the most popular hang gliders. (Thanks to Dennis for working me to bring you his fine reports.)
I also have posted the last few Product Lines columns from Hang Gliding magazine. This column has run every month for the last 22 years and therefore represents a significant historical record for the sport of hang gliding. I will add the newest versions each month and will go back and add the older ones on a steady basis.
Powered Hang Gliding & Soaring
Those hang glider pilots willing to add engines to the equation will find some pilot reports on light trikes. These are machines I have flown that can deliver soaring flight to hang gliding enthusiasts. Some are better than others. well, that may be why you visited this site — to see the differences.
ByDanJohnson.com is much more than hundreds of pilot reports and thousands of photos. I have tried to create a help system for buyers that should be useful to both beginners and experienced pilots. Please look around the site and check out the special features of ByDanJohnson.com
Pros & Cons ©UF! magazine
Ask Dan (chat-room Q&A sessions)
…and more to come
MINN. — Since last month’s column, I’ve been to the USHGA board
of directors meeting
in Salt Lake City, Utah. As usual, the large group of directors spent many
hours — all unpaid, volunteer work and they pay most of their expenses to do so! If you want
more details, ask your regional director or read articles elsewhere in this
magazine. ••• However, my focus at these meetings is as chair
of the Publications Committee. Often, this committee’s work is obscure
but this time, the committee recommended and the full board blessed an idea
that will affect everyone in Yooshga, including both hang gliding and paragliding pilots.
The committee recommended and the board approved a plan to combine our two
magazines into one.
• Now, before I go off and make someone angry, let me stress that you
will see articles in both magazines surrounding this change AND members will be given a chance to
provide their thoughts. The controversy over the waiver some years ago taught
the board a lesson (see, democracy can work) so members will be asked to
comment. • Of
course, this already occurred once in the combined test issue a couple years
back. Members were solicited for their opinion then, too. However, that was
then and this is now, so when you are asked, please respond to the inquiries.
It’s YOUR magazine and the most visible member benefit. Speak up! • My own thoughts are
that the combination of magazines makes lots of sense. It can also help USHGA
market hang gliding and paragliding to newcomers, something needed throughout
aviation. I encourage you to read the explanatory articles and to state your
feelings. But I hope you’ll give this idea a chance. We could always undo
what we’ve done; nothing is forever. My committee debated this over our
longest session since I became the committee chairperson oh-too long ago. We
think we did the right thing. Now, we ask your thoughts but also your
cooperation. ••• Altair is back! Of course, you knew this as it has
been reported earlier. But recent words from proprietor Steve Schuster confirmed the new developments. He
wrote in late October, “We are the new reps and the builders at this
time. John [Heiney] is here at this time teaching me all he know s about
building them and servicing them.” He goes on to say, “We are
planning to continue building the same great gliders… and hoping to add
a larger Saturn and a single
surface [glider] next
year, and after that, a light topless.” Sounds like things are happening and that the
Schusters are excited about their venture. Altair info: Birdy0959@aol.com.
••• Icaro has news of a new glider. Pilot extraordinare Manfred Ruhmer has
“slightly modified the sail of the MRX 2001” and the company is
proud to introduce a “new model for the year 2002 called MR700 & MRX700 World Record Edition.” They note the new derivations
were temporarily called the MRN2 and MRX2. MR700 is called their “basic
version,” while the MRX700 is “the competition version with
Bainbridge cloth.” Each is available in two sizes, 13 and 14 square
meter (140 and 150 square feet).
• Icaro also notes that, “from January onwards… the Laminar
12ST will be replaced by the Laminar 12MR.” All newly developed hardware on the MR700 will be
applied to this new model as well. The company also boasted that “all our
hang glider models are entirely made out of the best tubes available, produced
in 7075 aluminum alloy by Alumenziken,” a well respected Swiss factory.
“We are convinced that this alloy is the best material for our
product,” says Icaro. Of course, 7075 is also widely used on U.S.-based
designs. With the new models percolating through their production line, they
state, “Starting from now, the MR and MRX 2001 models will not be
produced anymore.” However, they will continue supplying spare parts and
all related services. ••• Flytec, the instrument — and accessories —
company, has some cures for your wintertime blues. Specifically, they have some
new Blueye Goggles
that are no goofy-looking windscreens. These look more like totally-hip
sunglasses that happen to fit snugly and use an elastic band in lieu of the
usual sunglasses construction. Boss Steve Kroop writes, “Their refined contours
combine the innovative ‘vac-u-air flow system’ with sensational
form to deliver an exceptional sporting accessory …and they look cool,
too!” He continued explaining, “The frames are made from soft
Santoprene which provides a rugged and comfortable fit. The lenses are made of
impact resistant polycarbonate treated with FX2 anti-fog coating providing
excellent eye safety, fog-free vision, and 100% UVA and UVB protection.”
They come with a second pair of lenses and you can change them quickly and easily.
Colors include Rose, which Steve says is optimal for cross country flying
thanks to their cloud clarifying ability, or you can have Yellow, Blue/Clear,
Mirror, or traditional Smoke colors. He says you can put on a full face helmet
over the Blueyes — as they form fit to your face — and that they’re
quite durable so long as you don’t go dragging them around on the ground.
They sell for $80; dealers may inquire. • Flytec also has a second
generation racing pod
for instruments. The company reports, “The two most noticeable
differences will be the cost and the instrument installation. Retail is
expected to be around $150, down about $100 from most of the pods currently
available.” The other big change is that when you want to install the
Flytec 4000 series instrument it will be removed from its standard housing,
“thereby making the package sleeker, lighter and more aerodynamic.”
• Finally Flytec is trying to help top pilots Bo Hagewood and Paris Williams attend the Australian contests this
winter. He’s selling a Flytec shirt for $15 and putting all the proceeds
toward their travel costs. A worthy cause, Flytec wants to help “two most
affable, financially challenged hang gliding waifs” stay tuned up for the
2002 contest season. Of course, they’re both Flytec-sponsored pilots.
However, as demonstrated by their sponsorship of the World Record Encampment
and the springtime contest at Quest Air, Flytec has stepped up to the plate
with significant sponsorships for all who attend, regardless of their sponsor. • All in
all, Flytec has some goodies just in time for Christmas. Info: 800-662-2449 or info @flytec.com.
••• So, got news or opinions? Send ‘em to: 8 Dorset,
St. Paul MN 55118. Messages or fax to 651-450-0930; please note my new e-mail
address of News@ByDanJohnson.com… but you can still use CumulusMan@aol.com for the
foreseeable future. • All “Product Lines” columns will be
available later this year at www.ByDanJohnson.com. THANKS!
Dockweiler Beach renews hang gliding memories.
Most KITPLANES readers probably don’t think of hang glider pilots as old folks. Indeed, it remains a younger man’s flying sport due to the athletic nature of the launch and landing. (At least that’s true if you don’t count the 30-40% of all launches that are done via aerotowing behind a specially built ultralight.)
Nonetheless, this event at a famed California beach site was dubbed the Geezer Fly-In by many who celebrated in good humor at the landmark where so many first got their feet off the ground under a hang glider. Many of those present qualify as fifty somethings.
“Nearly 400 pilots attended,” says Michael Riggs, himself a figurehead in the early days of hang gliding. Riggs started Seagull Aircraft, which became highly successful selling thousands of his distinctive hang gliders with the smoothly curved leading edges.
He also described the event this way: “There wasn’t a dry eye all day.” Of the hundreds who gathered, many had not seen each another in the last 20 years.
34th Anniversary Fly-in
Organized by longtime instructor Joe Greblo and his Windsports hang gliding business, the Dockweiler Beach fly-in proved to be such a draw that a 2003 follow-on event is planned to join the Wright powered flight centennial. Hang gliding, of course, is older than powered flight. Modern hang gliding originated in the late 1960s, but pioneers like Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute designed and flew their hang gliders well before 1900.
The Dockweiler Beach event takes us back to 1966 when several Los Angeles area hang gliding schools first began to use the site for primary training. The truth is that in those days, it was all primary training, but the site saw tens of thousands of young people getting their first taste of the joy of flying.
The fly-in, held all day on September 9 last year, brought back many hang glider enthusiasts from those early years of this aerial sport. It also drew the children of these pioneers. Baby Boomers and Echo Boomers enjoyed the day as did newcomers who enjoyed meeting the fabled names that began the sport of hang gliding in America.
Antiques: The Hang Gliders
Many of the old veterans of hang gliding’s early times were present, and so were their gliders.
In the earliest days, when the participants were at their lowest income level, building hang gliders out of bamboo and plastic was common. This wasn’t as crazy as it sounds because pilots rarely flew higher than they could survive in a fall. One of these Bamboo Butterfly models was actually scratch built from raw materials at the site on the day of the event. How’s that for quick build time?
Even more amazing: These flimsy looking contraptions were flown extensively by reunion attendees.
In addition to Windsports, the event was cosponsored by the country’s largest manufacturer, Wills Wing, formerly a family operation that also brought many members to the fly-in.
Now a medical doctor, family member Chris Wills enjoyed reliving the founding days of hang gliding. Though older and wiser, “Chris enjoyed flying barefoot in shorts and no shirt in an old seated harness,” Greblo said. Does Dr. Wills need his head examined? Probably not. This was a merely chance to revel in the good old days of hang gliding. Today, Wills flies both a modern ultralight and his GlaStar homebuilt.
Greblo helped set up a glide-angle contest. In this delightful memory of days gone by, pilots lined up to see if they could stretch the glide of early hang gliders all the way to the bottom of the hill. Modern hang gliders also present easily flew out to the ocean; glide angles today are better than 12:1. The oldsters barely achieved a 3:1 ratio.
Support of the City
Dockweiler Beach is now an official hang gliding center designated by the City of Los Angeles. After a dozen years of grappling with the bureaucracy of a major city, Greblo reopened the beach site to hang glider flight training. Cooperating with the spirit of the project, the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department relocated a bicycling path (part of a long route from Santa Monica to Long Beach) to the top of the 35-foot-high bluffs so that six hang glider launch sites have free access to the slope and the flat beach below.
A permanent sign commemorates the site. It signifies that a city, county, and state cooperative effort led to daily hang gliding activity just off the west departure end of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). A large bronze plaque notes that the Dockweiler coastal bluffs are considered by many to be the birthplace of modern hang gliding. Another sign, the familiar yellow diamond warning signs used on highways throughout America, advises bike path users that this area is a designated as a “Hang Glider Xing.”
On any flyable day-which is most of them-Joe Greblo’s Windsports staff might be seen giving primary hang gliding instruction at Dockweiler, just like 34 years ago. If you’d like to see for yourself, head west and look for the colorful wings that still carry enthusiastic flyers into the friendly Pacific skies.
What’s in a name? A Texas-based event, last summer’s World Record Encampment, predicted accurately its own success; two top hang glider pilots set world records for distance flying and broke another record that stood for nearly a decade.
On July 19, Dave Sharp flew his A.I.R. ATOS rigid wing hang glider for an astounding 311 miles (501 kilometers), narrowly beating the long-held record of 308 miles set by another leading competitor, Larry Tudor.
Tudor first broke the magical 300-mile barrier by flying 303 miles in July, 1990. He repeated this achievement, flying 308 miles several years later, but nearly a decade passed with no other pilots exceeding 300 miles. That unique status was shattered thanks to participants at the World Record Encampment 2000.
Sharp flew more than 9 hours to earn his world record. The one that people will remember is the 311-mile flight of straight distance, but along the way he also set a record for a flight to a declared goal of 203 miles.
One interesting aspect of Sharp’s spectacular journey is that, according to fellow pilot Davis Straub, “The day was almost completely blue.” This means the sky was clear, lacking cumulus clouds that mark thermals where there is enough moisture.
Not One, But Two New Records
Instead of holding up for a decade like Tudor’s 1990 flight, Sharp’s achievement on July 19 lasted days. Less than one month later, Davis Straub flew his similar ATOS glider for a new world record of 347 miles.
Straub’s flight last August 9 smashed through all previous barriers in what he describes as a fairly easy flight. “It didn’t seem that hard, and in fact, I enjoyed the whole flight,” he wrote.
Faster than Tudor and Sharp, Straub averaged 35 mph. But between thermals he reported speeds of 55-60 mph and even hit 70 mph.
To pilots accustomed to sitting comfortably in their cockpit seats, flying prone for 10 hours may not seem pleasant. But pilots who log long flights in hang gliders reach a point of conditioning that allows them to complete these flights that must be considered athletic achievements.
Davis has been particularly persistent in search of the long flight, having earlier set the East Coast distance record with a 211-mile flight from Orlando’s Wallaby Ranch hang gliding park. Doing so, he picked up a $1000 check that Wallaby owner Malcolm Jones had offered for the first flight into Georgia. That prize had also remained unclaimed for many years.
Straub is a writer who posts an almost daily account of hang gliding activity in contests and long flying efforts. He supports his record attempts by writing computer books such as Windows 98, and More Windows 98, published by IDG Books.
Straub’s amazing passage took him north from Zapata, Texas, past Laredo, where he crossed Interstate 35. Miles of little civilization and endless mesquite trees eventually took him across Interstate 10 toward Sterling City, northwest of San Angelo.
Getting to Know Zapata
Zapata County Airport probably isn’t the first guess you’d make if you were trying to determine the best starting point for hang glider world records.
South of Laredo, Texas, only an hour north of the Mexican border, Zapata may become a haven for these kinds of record flights. The reason relates to high pressure systems that form over the Gulf of Mexico. The west side of the high creates south winds that can carry hang gliders north for hundreds of miles.
Of course, weather guessing is an art form well known to pilots, and estimating the right weather in Zapata may be no easier than in any other location in the U.S. However, thanks to one man, Zapata was chosen ahead of time as the right place to base the World Record Encampment.
Weather garu and soaring technowizard Gary Osaba gets the credit for picking Zapata, according to Sharp and Straub.
Osaba got started many years ago as a hang glider manufacturer (for a company with the unlikely name of Pliable Moose). Since then, he added light sailplanes to the mix of aircraft he flies, and he developed a well regarded soaring technique called microlift. He works at staying aloft in lift too light for conventional sailplanes and at altitudes many soaring pilots find unlikely; one substantial flight never saw him much above 300 feet.
From his computer in Kansas, Osaba calculated that Zapata was the place from which to start a world record flight. He looked over the entire country and settled on south Texas due to the Gulf weather systems that appear regularly.
Though Straub was careful to thank many who assisted his attempt (including his wife, Belinda, who drove many miles to retrieve him), he felt so indebted to Osaba that he declared, “Gary is the person most responsible for making it possible to set this record.”
World Record with a “Beater” Glider
An irony of Sharp’s first record is that the entire flight was done with a glider that was “never meant to leave the shop,” according to ATOS importer Peter Radman of Altair Hang Gliders.
Badly damaged in shipping, the glider was pieced together solely as a means of testing repairs to the composite D-cell that gives the wing its main structure. Yet Sharp accepted the glider and, as they say, the rest is history.
The ATOS glider both men used comes from Germany and was designed by Felix Rhule and his A.I.R. company. Also the designer of the prior rigid-wing success story, the Exxtacy, Rhule is held in high regard by Sharp, Straub and many others who pilot the flying wing.
Straub is presently pondering a World Record Encampment 2001. Will the 400-mile record be broken? “It’s possible,” he says. We may not need to wait another decade for that barrier to fall.
Sport aviators host their own traveling event.
Boat and RV shows are in full swing during the winter months when use of these toys is low. It proves to be a popular time for sportsmen to look at gear for the upcoming season. Flying should be no different.
Yet most of the major aviation trade events are held in conjunction with airshows. Needing good weather, these gatherings are clustered throughout the late spring, summer and early fall. If successful, they get established in one location that requires everyone to travel to them.
If we are to attract new people into aviation, maybe we need to go to where they are rather than demanding that they come to us.
Attracting the general public is worthy, but such a traveling event can also motivate local pilots. The truth is, popular as airshows are, most pilots don’t get to them. Attending more than one or two airshows a year is time-consuming and expensive.
One suggestion is to take a traveling show to 20 top U.S. metropolitan areas over a period of years. You could reach a large percentage of the American population and give them an easier chance to check out sport aviation. Many regional pilots could attend.
According to a news release from the Central Indiana Soaring Society, “The Air Sports Expo and Soaring Convention is the annual international exposition and convention for the Soaring Society of America, the U.S. Hang Gliding Association, U.S. Ultralight Association, Balloon Federation of America, Academy of Model Aeronautics, and International Aerobatics Club.”
Through next year as in the past, the Air Sports Expo will hosted by the Soaring Society of America’s (SSA) or one of its local sailplane clubs. But for the last few years, this has been the annual convention to which the other aviation groups have been invited. The Expo resulted from a meeting in 1992 of a group called the Air Sports Council. They formed the idea of joining ranks to promote air sports, and SSA graciously offered its venue. Now, after a few years of the combined effort, the 2001 edition is the next to last to be hosted by SSA or one of its clubs.
Recent leadership changes at two of the major participating organizations-the U.S. Hang Gliding Association (USHGA) and the U.S. Ultralight Association (USUA)-come as Air Sports Expo restructuring is being considered.
USHGA’s executive director, Phil Bachman, has stepped down. He lined up effective local media support two years ago at the Knoxville, Tennessee, Air Sport Expo. And USUA founder John Ballantyne is moving into the position of analyst to be relieved as USUA president by Scott Severen, a longtime board member and former CEO of TEAM Aircraft.
Rotating local sponsors for a national event such as Air Sports Expo is always a challenge. Moving management responsibility from a single sponsor (SSA) to a council formed by several organizations should be even more interesting to watch in the coming years.
For 2003 and beyond, the Air Sports Council will take the lead. The Air Sports Council is made up of each participating group including SSA, which may continue to offer counsel, especially at first. Over time each group may rise to fill various needs. New leaders like Severen and those from other associations will have a chance to shine.
Air Sports Expo offers a chance to see it all. The types of aircraft types includes:
-Sailplanes and motorgliders.
-Hang gliders and powered hang gliders.
-Ultralights and powered parachutes.
-Hot air balloons.
-Model Aircraft (R/C and more).
You might see all of these at major airshows, but they tend to be lost in the swarm of other activities. The main attractions are other aircraft types including jets, warbirds, fast glass, vintage restorations and even corporate aircraft. Among the vast displays of events like EAA’s Sun *’n Fun and AirVenture, it is work to find the groups listed above.
By contrast, at Indianapolis this year, visitors were able to examine beautiful sailplanes with 85-foot wingspans. They could sit in ultralights and hang from harnesses and experience a virtual flight in a hang glider. Kids could build, fly and take home model aircraft. Gleaming aerobatic aircraft were available for close inspection.
While non-pilots strolled around dozens of displays featuring all manner of aircraft, accessories, and training, current pilots attended seminars of many descriptions.
Some of the organizations (SSA, USHGA and USUA) held meetings of their directors during the Air Sports Expo. Regional members of these organizations met and discussed the upcoming flying season while checking out the latest in flying gear.
The future seems bright for the country’s only traveling airshow for sport aviators. If the new leadership coming to these clubs rises to the occasion, the Air Sports Expo may become an important way to promote aviation on a national level. Expo may never rival the drawing power of the major outdoor, one-location airshows, but the time has come for sport aviators to work toward hosting their own event. If taking it to the people succeeds, new pilots may enter these air sports and fuel the growth of aviation.