Saturday, September 17, 2005

Busy Day at the Airport!

Today was a blast! I got to the airport at about eight o'clock this morning and started working on my Phantom. Don drove up a while later and took a look at how my plane was shaping up. He was there to get some time in on his Aeronca Chief after the plane had loitered around the hanger for a few months, but unfortunately his tires were low. He didn't want to drive all the way home for a pump, so the plan was to fly over to our friend Chris' airstrip and borrow a pump, then fly back to air up the tires on the Chief.

While Don was looking at his options, he glanced into another one of our flying partner's hangar and noticed that the wings of his Ultra-Piet were taken off his fuselage and broken to shreds, neatly placed in a little pile.

We knew he had been testing a differential braking system, and I naturally assumed that he had done a ground loop. I later spoke to him on the phone and found out that his engine quit shortly after taking off. He was at 300 feet or so and landed in a short field. He couldn't stop at the end of the field and had to drive the cockpit between two trees. He was OK, just a scratch on the elbow. He doesn't know if he will rebuild or not. It was a nice ultralight.

After our pre-flight preparations were complete, we hit the skies and were at Chris' about 30 minutes later. Some men were out picking up hay bales on Chris' property so I decided to take a shot of them hard at work in the hot sun. Don landed first and after my spectacular 720 degree descending spiral that lost about 1500 feet, I touched down and parked also. Soon discovered from Chris' wife that he wasn't home, but would be back shortly. While we were waiting, one of the guys picking up the bales stopped and talked to us for a while. As soon as he drove up he said "I've always wanted one of those, but before my wife died she told me I already had too many toys." I asked him what was stopping him from getting one now. He said, "Fear and common sense."

If you talk to somebody who has flown in general aviation airplanes and are comfortable with flying in them, when you ask them thier feeling about ultralights, most of them will tell you they wouldn't ever be willing to fly in an ultralight because they believe they are unsafe. They feel some false sense of security flying larger airplanes because they are completely enclosed in very thin aluminum sheet, or even fabric, and it makes them feel comforatable. I'll give you my take on that in just a bit.

Chris gave Don an air tank to use to fill up the tires on the Chief. We flew back to Fort Deposit and Don filled up his tires. We pulled the plane out of the hangar and after a few minutes of fiddling, he started the engine. Hand propping still really freaks me out. I went back to working on my Phantom while Don was warming up the engine and running it a different RPM settings, until I heard the engine quit about 20 minutes later. Don came over to my hangar and sat down and we chatted about this and that. He didn't want to fly his taildragger airplane if the wind was blowing anything over a breeze. It was hot as blazes, even in the shade of the hangar. Sweat was dripping off my face. I suggested that we get some lunch and gasoline in town, then come back and see what the wind was doing. Lunch at Subway was good and we returned to the airport about an hour later with 5 gallons of gas.

Don poured the 5 gallons into the tank and started up the Chief. He taxied around the tarmac a couple of times, then he taxied out to the far end of the runway as I positioned myself to take a picture.

Don took off just like a pro. I watched him fly the pattern several time and observed several landings, all of which looked great. I took a few shots then went back to working on the Phantom.
I worked for a while and when I heard the Chief come back on the tarmac, I went to the Chief's hangar to help push the plane back in to her space, but Don stopped on the tarmac and motioned to me to come over. He asked if I wanted to take a ride, which I certainly accepted. We took off and headed to Chris Sells' place. Climbing to altitude, our airspeed was 65 (MPH or Knots, I'm not sure) and when we leveled off, we were cruising at 75. The Chief has a 65 horsepower 4-cylinder 4-cycle Continental engine, and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 pounds or so. The power-to-weight ratio is less than most ultralights!

As we were flying to Chris' place, I kept wondering to myself, "What happens if the engine quits? We are going to go down, and most likely be seriously hurt or even die!" Seriously... I was very uncomfortable inside this airplane. If the engine quits in an ultralight, you can land almost anywhere, even in trees, and you will more than likely survive. I don't think the same is true for general aviation planes...even Cessnas and the like. And when you couple that with the speed envelope for some of the higher-performance ultralights (and now sportplanes) , to me, it's hard to understand or justify the cost and expense of owning a plane of this type. Of course, if you are an aviation purist and want to experience the nostalgia of owning and flying a 1946 Aeronca Chief...the fine specimen that I had the privilege of flying in is for sale...for a mere $14,000 dollars, and a steal at that!

We flew back home to Fort Deposit after circling our flying friend's airstrip and parked the Chief. It was getting late and I was getting hungry, so we both packed up and headed home after a great day of aviation!


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