Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The restoration begins

As soon as my wife gave her blessing, I started looking for hangar space, which in itself was a big ordeal. The two local airports near me were both unfriendly to ultralights. Even if they welcomed me, the waiting list for hangers was months or even years long. I finally found an older gentleman who had a Cessna on his property and two hangers. One hanger was for his airplane and the other was rented out to others. He wanted $100 which was steep for me, but I figured I was between a rock and a hard place. I convinced my wife that I would take this space for now and look for something cheaper in the meantime. Oh, and did I mention, the hanger is 62 miles from my home?!

During this time, I disassembled, cleaned and painted every tube on my airplane and started the reassembly. I also looked for an engine because mine needed rebuilding. I finally found a person who claimed to be a retired airframe and powerplant mechanic who now deals with ultralights. He offered to send me a Rotax 377 that he had "gone through" and made sure there were no problems. He said it would be an engine that he would fly with so I need not worry. I was to pay about $500 plus shipping for this engine. I was to find out shortly that you get what you pay for.

I waited for the engine to arrive two weeks before I called the guy and asked him where my engine was. He had already cashed my check a week earlier. He promised to get it out to me in the next week. In the meantime, I transported all my tubes and other equipment to the hanger and started assembly. I used all new aircraft hardware and replaced all plastic components and such. The old girl started to take shape and look pretty spiffy! I had known of a guy who sold replacement parts for Quicksilver aircraft back when I was flying before. His name was Mark Smith.

Initial construction of the "trike" portion of my Quicksilver MX. The black components are steel, the blue is aluminum. Posted by Hello

Now Mark is a character. He's a straight shooter from the very beginning and is a Quicksilver guru! He makes fabric cover sets from bulk dacron, bends tubes, fabricates from steel, a regular metalworking genius. I come from the same cloth as a machinist, tool and die designer and manufacturing engineer, but Mark has got the setup to pump out the parts, so it's much easier and quicker to get them from him instead of make them myself. One thing it isn' Mark makes quality stuff and you pay for it, but you don't get raped in the process like the original manufacturer will do to you.

My MX was getting all sorts of aftermarket goodies like a steerable nosewheel, heavy duty trike and nose wires, and stuff like that. I have a complete list, but I'm sure you don't want to hear it. I'll make it a separate post later. The construction process went well and is well documented with photos.

About the time I'm ready to put on the wings, the engine arrives. It looks decent, and I immediately install it and plumb the fuel lines and wire the ignition. I attach the driveline that includes a new driveshaft coupling and new propeller shaft bearings. The muffler goes on, the wings go on, with a new (used) set of sails that I bought on eBay two years previous. The tail gets attached, all flying wires are hooked up. The seat goes on, the control cables and pushrods are attached, and before you know it, I'm ready to fly.

Reconditioned parts ready for transport and assembly at hangar. Posted by Hello

Rusty Tri-bar Parts Posted by Hello

More parts in need of Attention. Posted by Hello

Front wheel and tubes before replacement with steerable nosewheel. Posted by Hello

Tail supports tubes before reconditioning. Posted by Hello

Close up of rusted bolts and such on tail support tubes. Posted by Hello

Nose struts (top) and compression struts (bottom) Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

My life and my ultralight go through hell.

My ultralight became unflyable in the fall of 1995. My wife had never worked and we were struggling just to raise our two children and make all the payments on time. I was never able to save any money for new fabric for my ultralight. It was spent even before it was earned. I moved the MX into Buck's old hangar. Buck made an error in judgment after about 25 hours of flight time and crashed his ultralight into some power lines with his wife as a passenger. They both lived and were relatively uninjured, but within 6 months, both required surgery to repair a knee and a shoulder. About $3000 damage was done to the ultralight, and Buck repaired it. He sold it shortly after that and confided in me that for the 5 hours or so that he flew after the airplane was repaired, he never felt comfortable. I'm sure if he stuck with it, he would have regained his confidence, but alas...another one bites the dust. Even though the airplane was out of the weather now, it was still unflyable and I didn't have the money to repair it.

In the spring of 1998, after 14 years of marriage and with a 12 year old daughter and 6 year old son, my wife announces that she doesn't love me anymore and is filing for divorce. I was heartbroken. I went though a very tough time in my life. Depression, anxiety, I almost lost my job. I worked through it the best I could with the help of a really great divorce support group. In 6 months I was dating again, even though I probably shouldn't have been. 12 months later I was on my third girlfriend since my divorce, and we were getting along pretty well. She lived about 100 miles from me and I was looking for a job closer to her, but couldn't find one. In July of 2000, I was laid off from my job. I found one 2 months later in the same town where my girlfriend lived. I moved into my own apartment, leaving my children behind, only to visit every other weekend, or whenever their mother allowed it. Divorce is a real mess, especially when children are involved.

I disassembled my MX and brought her with me. I put the wings and tail and other small parts in my storage unit. I originally intended to put the whole thing in the unit, but by the time I had everything packed away, there wasn't room. The major portion of the ultralight sat outside in the weather once again, next to my girlfriend's shed with all bolts, nuts, muffler, engine and everything else all exposed to rain and sun. Definitely not pretty.

My girlfriend and I got married in the Fall of 2002, and I moved into her home. I was constantly longing to fly again. When my new wife was my girlfriend, she completely supported my desires to restore my Quicksilver and fly again. That support slowly dwindled over time when I started to save funds to start the process. In June of 2004, we were financially secure enough that I had the money to spend to start the process, but my wife fought the process tooth and nail. She didn't want to spend the money. After several days of an extremely hard push to get the project going, she finally accepted that it was going to happen and gave her blessing.

Monday, May 17, 2004

The ultralight falls into disrepair

Danny had always kept his MX stored outside, tied down under a big oak tree. When I bought it from him, I didn't have anywhere else to store it, except outside. For those who don't know, many ultralights have thier flying surfaces covered with dacron (heavy-duty polyester) fabric. One of the things that degrades the condition of the fabric is sunlight and the ultraviolet rays the sun radiates. The worst thing you can possibly do to degrade the overall condition of an ultralight is to store it outside in the sun and weather, but I didn't have any other choice.

I flew my MX whenever I could, an hour here, and hour there. I always did a thorough pre-flight inspection of everything, including the condition of the fabric. The sombre day came when I put my finger through the fabric while testing it's strength, and I knew my flying days were temporarily over. New fabric for my airplane was about $700 and I knew it would be longer than I wanted before I could get new ones. I expected to be grounded for 6 months or so. Little did I know at the time that it would be over 6 years!

Sunday, May 16, 2004

I acquire my Ultralight

Well, after I quit taking instruction, I started looking for an airplane to purchase. Starley, the guy who introduced me to my initial instructor along with Danny, another friend of his, were continuing their training while my friend Buck and I were also training. They both finished about 6 weeks ahead of Buck and I and both acquired airplanes shortly after. Starley bought a recently completed single place Challenger and Danny bought an old Quicksilver MX that was about 10 years old at the time. I used to go out to the airstrip where we used to fly model airplanes and watch Starley and Danny shoot touch & go's on the runway. I was still looking for an airplane, but I had only saved about $2500, which wasn't going to buy much of an ultralight.

Several months go past and I'm now up to $3000 in savings, but I haven't found an ultralight in any condition within my price limit in my geographic region. I'm searching the internet one day, looking for an airplane, when I get frustrated and log off and disconnect (olden dial-up days!). No sooner than I hung up, the phone rang and it was Danny. He asked me if I'd be interested in buying his Quicksilver. He says he wants a two-seater and he is asking $3500 for his single seat MX. I tell him that I'll give him $3000 since that's all I haved saved up. He declines and we hang up, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. The next day I called him back and asked him if he would consider taking payments of $100 a month for the last $500 that I didn't have, and he agreed! We made arrangements for him to fly to the airstrip where we flew model airplanes. I met him at the airstrip, we tied down the plane and I drove him 30 miles or so back to his house.

When I left his house to come back to my airplane, I was so excited. I wasn't going to fly it that day because it needed some TLC. You see, Danny was a dump truck driver and he maintained his ultralight like he did his dump truck. One problem that happened to Danny on a recurring basis was that the bolt attaching one of his drive pulleys to the driveshaft kept breaking. The nut and threads would just come off the end! This didn't seem to concern him because the bolt never had come out of the pulley, just the end would break off. He always carried another bolt with him when he flew and each time he landed, he would check to see if it was still there!

This sort of mentality was prevalent on this airplane. I fixed the breaking bolt problem by replacing the pulley with an updated pulley. The new pulley had three bolts that clamped the pulley to the shaft. I re-plumbed all the fuel lines and hooked up the gauges that Danny never wired up. The day finally came where I would fly the MX.

It was a damp, slightly windy April morning. Temperature was about 65 degrees. I had a friend there to witness (and administer first aid if something were to go wrong). I started up the engine, let it warm up, strapped in and taxied to the runway. I pushed the throttle forward and quicker than I had expected I was into the air! My heart was pounding wildly and I remember thinking to myself, "What have you gotten yourself into now?" I have forgotten to mention that this MX had the rudder control on the stick. I trained in an ultralight that had rudder control on the pedals. The conversion wasn't difficult and I adapted very quickly, as I had no other choice, but this small anomaly was a source of much anxiety before the throttle went forward!

The flight was short. I just flew the normal landing pattern and tried to land. Remember, I hadn't landed an ultralight completely by myself at this time. This landing (it was certain that I was going to land....somehow) would be my first. I was WAY too high on my first attempt. The wind pushed me all over, and I had to abort and go around. The reality of the situation is that it was too windy to fly for a person who had never landed before, but too late to deal with that now! My second approach was better, and I did land but with a big bounce and about 100 feet farther down the runway than I intended. It was also right on the edge of the runway, but an inch is as good as a mile...right?

I taxied back to the hanger that I had helped Buck construct to house his brand new 2-seat Quicksilver the he recently completed assembling. I helped him to build the was fun and informative. I tied the MX down outside, next to the Buck's hanger and asked my friend for a cigarette. I had quit smoking for over a year, but I wanted one. One of the greatest and most apprehensive moments of my life had just been successfully completed and I wanted to de-stress! My friend said I looked like I knew what I was doing. Apparently he didn't have a clue! We left the airstrip and I was on top of the world for the 35 mile ride home!

Saturday, May 15, 2004

My first post and a little background

For years as a young boy in my pre-teens, my cousin and I would look out across the pastures and cornfields of his parent's farm and dream of being able to fly over them. We dreamed up crazy schemes from home-made bedsheet parachutes to building a hang glider from scratch with our vast combined aeronautical knowledge. We would jump off the short roof of an outbuilding and hit the ground pretending we were paratroopers. We would buy dimestore balsa airplanes and fly them in way too much wind until they broke. We would throw chickens out of the hay loft door just to see them fly to the ground. We dreamed of getting a radio controlled airplane, but his Dad (my uncle) was a farmer and my Mother was divorced and struggling to raise two children, but we were always obsessed with flying.

It's no wonder that in his early twenties, my cousin took flying lessons and got his private pilot license. I was there watching him the day he soloed! I was so envious. But alas, it was not within my financial reach to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars learning to be a pilot. Shortly after that, I joined the Army and within a year or two, tired of commercial flying. Well, not really flying, but riding the bus of the skies.

When I was financially stable after my four year active duty stint, I was able to realize my dream of flight, but only through the hobby of radio-controlled model airplanes. I happily built model kits and flew them, destroying most of them along the way and spending quite a bit of money buying new kits, supplies, new radios and engines and all the related gear. I was a minimalist though and never had all the fancy gadgets that others had. It seemed that I still had to work on a very tight budget.

I can still remember that fateful day when it all began. One of my friends and I were flying our model airplanes at a private airstrip just having the times of our lives when another friend drove up in his pickup. He sat down with us and told us that our airplanes were real neat and looked like lots of fun, but he and another guy just started taking ultralight flying lessons and told us that we should come and take an introductory flight. It didn't take much more than that to convince both of us to come an see what it was all about. We scheduled a meeting with the instructor for the following weekend, and got up early to make the 100 mile trip to the airport where the instruction was taking place.

We each signed up for an introductory flight of 30 minutes and signed all the necessary liability releases and legal mumbo-jumbo. He went first while I anxiously awaited my turn. I watched him strap himself into the two seat Quicksilver ultralight trainer, and enviously watched as he taxied out to the runway and took off. Within a short while they disappeared on the horizon, and I sat down and waited for what seemed like hours! They returned and when my friend got out he was grinning from ear to ear! Then came my turn.

As the instructor and I lined up on the runway and the engine roared to life, we started to quickly move down the runway. In a really short distance, we were off the ground. It was all surreal to me. The instructor was explaining what he was doing on the intercom, but I wasn't paying attention. I was overwhelmed with all the sights, smells, sound and feel of what had just happened to me. It seemed magical, like a string attached to this airplane just lifted it off the ground! During the flight, I felt the control pressures required to fly the plane, and actually did some manuvers as I was instructed. I actually was flying the plane! The 30 minutes were over way too soon, and when we landed, I had the same perma-grin as my friend had earlier possesed. From that moment on I was hooked! I quickly lost interest in radio controlled model airplanes. I couldn't quite see the point in flying the airplane from the ground when I could be flying the airplane while IN the airplane!

After recieving 11 hours of instruction, I thought I was ready to solo, but the instructor was very critical of my flying and we even exchanged harsh words in the air on our last flight. It was my first cross-country flight and I challenged him on something that didn't suit him about the way I was flying. He ended up saying "If you want to argue about it, we can just turn around and land this thing. Do you want to do that?" I should have said yes, but I didn't. We completed the cross-country with another instructor and student following us, landed at another airport, then returned. My formal instruction period ended that day. I didn't go back. Through a weird turn of events that included a divorce, I wound up living only a few miles from that airport where I recieved my instruction. Just recently, I met an instructor who was trained by the same person who trained me. His opinion of this guy was that he was your best friend as long as you had a dollar to spend. It's obvious to me that I was ready to solo and this guy didn't want me to end my training, since he was profiting from it. Oh well, there's bad apples in every aspect of life, eh?