At the start of the big Sun ‘n Fun airshow, I had the pleasure to fly John
Dunham’s American Tug built for him by ultralight producer, M Squared
of Alabama. This design resembles the popular Quicksilver ultralights that evolved
from the original hang glider of the late 1970s. Beefed up for the hard duty that
is aero towing, the M Squared entry is a robust ultralight that should be capable
of steady operation as a tractor of the air. American Tug is a single-place aircraft
employing a 32-foot span, high-lift, slow-flying, single-surface, strut-braced wing.
While Dragonfly has been the lone fixed-wing tug in the USA, flight parks and clubs
now have another choice. And, importantly, the American Tug — as opposed to the
“Australian tug,” John says — costs substantially less. A basic Rotax 582-powered
tug should sell for about $20,000 says John. The American
Tug I flew, with a custom-configured 680 cc Rotax engine rated at 100 hp, demonstrated
an acceptable climb rate while towing plus excellent low speed controllability. Stall
in the American Tug is very slow, with a tow speed range of 25 to 40 mph, depending
on the individual tow requirement. John is able to tow hang gliders at speeds
below 30 mph or up into the 30s for blade wings, rigid wings, or ultralight sailplanes
like the Steve Arndt’s Magic Dragon. Though he’s still refining the aircraft for
production that should start in a few more weeks, John’s American Tug appears ready
to start duty at flight parks. Additional hardware added aft of the tail now spreads
the tow forces vertically much like the Dragonfly. And, since it is a tricycle-gear
aircraft, some experienced tow pilots see an advantage over the taildragger Dragonfly
in the event the towed hang glider pilot rises too high on takeoff. The nosewheel
on the American Tug can wheelbarrow without digging in.
John was working at Wallaby Ranch after Sun ‘n Fun, learning the right techniques
and being receptive to feedback from pilots and other tug pilots. He also performed
at Quest and planned to visit the Florida Ridge towpark in the south
of the state. An experienced aviation businessman, Dunham is doing this right, in
my opinion, collecting information and making changes as needed to perfectly suit
the American Tug to the marketplace. It’s been too long since I towed, but that changed
with a nice evening flight behind the American Tug. We climbed easily at over 600
fpm, a rate John was also able to achieve with a tandem load behind. I experimented
with various tow positions behind the American Tug. The new tug is not particular
about position, proving the V-bridle system John and M Squared devised. Putting the
tugs wings, rather than wheels, on the horizon appeared to be the optimal position
for best climb and overall controllability. FMI: 987-6545-3210 (cell, while
Having mentioned the Magic Dragon above, let me tell you a little more about
this rare ultralight sailplane. Even with its custom-designed ballistic parachute,
the Magic Dragon qualifies as a legitimate Part 103 ultralight vehicle just like
any solo hang glider or paraglider. Empty weight is 179 pounds; the 155 pounds allowed
under Part 103 plus a 24-pound allowance for the emergency airframe ‘chute.
However, Magic Dragon is in a performance class all of its own. Arndt reports glide
is an impressive 27:1. Sink rate, perhaps an even more important determinant
of soaring performance is a rather amazing 97 fpm calculated, though Steve says actual
practice is about 115 fpm “circling sink rate.” On a day when flex
wings and rigids got periodically flushed by light, sporadic lift, Steve managed
a 4-hour flight and traveled 30 miles north to Quest and still returned to Wallaby
before evening calm shut down the thermals. Arndt has logged over 480 hours in his
special Magic Dragon. Steve is aware of four or five other
Carbon Dragons, but believe none of the others are currently airworthy. He’d like
more pilots to tackle the few-hundred-hour build job as the design shows great promise.
EAA’s world-class museum in Oshkosh WI, is visited by folks all over the world
(especially during AirVenture, the organization’s huge airshow event. Just opened
on May 15th was a new section of the museum called KidVenture (a spinoff of
the AirVenture show). This gallery in the museum will have several hands-on flying
simulators, including hot air balloon, helicopter, radio control model, and| surprise,
a hang glider. The latter caught me off guard as I didn’t think EAA had any
real interest in hang gliding nor any expertise to offer.
The system they are building uses three large screen TV arrayed in an arc in front
of a pristine Delta Wing 6 single surface glider with a swing seat (much easier for
visitors to get in and out). An inverted joystick controller about the pilot receives
input from the weight shifting and reflects this on the screens. A similar system,
albeit with a prone harness, was seen at the Ontario, California Air Sports Expo.
The effect of flight was uncanny, at least once you started focusing on those three
big TVs and not on the folks walking around. EAA’s museum manager, Adam Smith, should
be congratulated for making hang gliding a part of this new permanent gallery
for kids interested in aviation.
In closing, I am extremely happy (and relieved) to announce that my long-in-development
Web site is finally live. Hang glider and paraglider pilots may be
most interested in the Hang Gliding section (click the button tab). While I’m asking
you to pay a small fee to read pilot reports — to cover some of the cost of building
the Web site and making it available 24×7 — you are welcome to read previous
“Product Lines” columns free of charge; even the basic free registration is not
required. At launch, the site offers all columns from January, 2000 to the present
(with a 90-day waiting period to assure HG&PG is never scooped by this
archival Web site). Though I’ve made you wait far too long, I hope you’ll come visit.
Those interested in trikes or other powered ultralights will find many pilot reports
I Published in Hang Gliding Magazineseveral magazines. Membership is only $29 — you then get over a dozen
pilot reports for free — or you can register for free and just pay for the articles
you want. Membership earns a lower price per pilot report and allows access to several
other unique features of the site. Please have a look at www.ByDanJohnson.com
news or opinions? Send ’em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Messages or fax to 651-450-0930.
E-mail to Dan@ByDanJohnson.com. THANKS!