Ultralight Flight: CTV News Video Interview with CRUFC President

Ultralight Flight

CTV News Original Air Date: Friday, September 14, 2012

Watch Video Interview

In Alberta, ultralight airplanes crashed near Ponoka, Indus and Lloydminster in the summer of 2012. That’s three accidents in as many weeks – one fatal.

Aviation enthusiasts say ultralight aircrafts are well-built machines. They point to Transport Canada, saying the required training hours are not always enough.

How safe is the hobby? What causes accidents? Mechanical problems or pilot error? How can “rules” be balanced with the public’s freedom to fly?

Alberta is a hub for this hobby, and we get the discussion on life and death issues off the ground with three experts. Mike Hughes, from Wetaskiwin, owner of Challengerwest – sales and support for advanced ultralight aircraft in western Canada; Shane Daly is President of Innovative Wings Inc., which offers building and maintenance service for amateur-built and home-built aircraft; and Norm Vienneau, President of the Calgary Recreational and Ultralight Flying Club.

Now, That’s Flying!

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by Stu Simpson

I was, as the saying goes, right on the ragged edge. It was the toughest approach I’d ever made in 25 years of flying, right at my limits, and it was fun! I fought turbulence and wind shear like I’ve never seen. And for a few seconds I was actually frightened in an airplane; a very strange feeling for me.

And I did make it, but it was ugly. I touched down beneath the trees on my first bounce just as a three-point buck wandered onto the last third of the strip. But by the end of my second bounce, I knew this just wasn’t meant to be, nor did I want to subject my wingmen to such a beating. I powered up, still coursing with adrenaline, and left that backwoods airstrip behind.

Now, that’s flying!

And then there’s Darren Scarlett, who owns an RV-7. It’s beautiful and powerful. It has a 180 horsepower engine and a constant speed prop. It’s fast, too. I mounted a video camera in his cockpit once and recorded him as he did three rolls and then pulled up into a Cuban Eight. I watched by the runway as he shot a low inspection pass at high speed. I could see his smile flash as he zoomed by in the sunlight.

Now, that’s flying!

How about Geoff Pritchard? He’s got this pristine, and I do mean pristine, 1946 Champ that he recently rebuilt from the ground up. It’s gorgeous in red and white. When that Champ is on the taxiway silhouetted against the evening sun, or in the sky against the deep blue, the effect is simply mesmerizing. Geoff and the Champ float along up there thumbing their noses at age and time, making the most of every minute they’re in the sky.

Now, that’s flying!

Wade Miller has what some consider a dream job. He’s an airline captain. He pilots a 737, worth around $70 million dollars, probably more. It has stuff in the cockpit that comes straight out of Star Wars. And Wade gets to work with it all. The plane’s capabilities are simply amazing. It zips along at about 500 mph, climbs beyond 40,000 feet, and still lands on runways only a mile long in nearly any weather. And 737’s make money.

Now, that’s flying!

Barry Davis flies a homebuilt airplane now, but he used to fly a Cessna 182. A great deal of that flying was done at night. He’d cruise over the city and watch the world sleeping below. He’d see cars and trucks scooting along beneath the endless cones of street lamps. A million or more lights of all colours would dazzle as they reflected from the glass of the downtown skyscrapers. Red and green fireflies would race through the blackness above the horizon as other planes came and went at the airport. And an uncountable number of stars would twinkle overhead until an errant cloud would scrub them away for a few moments.

Now, that’s flying!

And Bob Kirkby. Bob has a terrific airplane – a Piper Super Cruiser. It’s a flying piece of history that looks like it just rolled out the factory door. It did, of course, back in 1947, but you’d never know to look at it. Bob loves to get up in the Cruiser with one of his grandkids, or another airplane buddy, or maybe just by himself. He’ll go about half an hour away to where there’s a restaurant that serves pie almost right next to a grass airstrip. Bob and the Cruiser love grass runways.

After pie, he’ll take-off to who-knows-where and cruise along at, oh, maybe a thousand feet over the ground. He’ll watch as the land changes color in the season, maybe getting greener, maybe browner. Bob will feel the stick as the wind tugs on the ailerons every now and then, checking to see what it can get away with. He might snag a thermal and then ease off some power as that small burst of heat floats him along a little bit faster on a little bit less gas. Bob will smile at that.

And soon he’ll make that last turn onto final approach at his own grass airstrip. Bob will set the Cruiser down so smoothly that for the first few seconds he’ll wonder if he even landed. Really, I’ve seen him do it.

Oh, ya. Now, that’s flying!

The Boys of Autumn

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by Stu Simpson

The weather guys owed us this one. And they had paid up with interest by giving us perfect conditions for flying, a sharp contrast to the rest of the season, which had been absolutely crappy since April. So, like any sensible ultralight jockeys, we were taking advantage of it.

There were three of us. Don Rogers, call sign Dragonfly-01, had the lead. I was 02, and Gerry MacDonald in his two-seat Beaver, was number three. Don led us westward from Indus. We headed for the hills east of Priddis so Don could take aerial pictures of a friend’s acreage. We hadn’t discussed where we’d go next. I like that.

The air was like satin, caressing us gently as we droned toward the Rocks. I didn’t know what the day held in store for us but I wasn’t going to let this moment pass uncaptured. I had my own camera along, so I pulled it out and started snapping. The Chinook and the Beaver contrasted beautifully with the October blue sky.

I spent about ten minutes bobbing around the sky flying with my knees. But I’d managed to grab some decent pictures before returning to the formation. In the meantime, Don had found the landmarks to point him to his buddy’s house. He peeled off to the south and began his descent. That left Gerry and I at about 4700 feet to practice our formation flying.

We ambled lazily over the hills, flying circles to get the hang of formation turns. Gerry welded his airplane to my left wing as we alternated between a gentle left bank, and straight and level. What a pleasant surprise to find yet another pilot who likes flying formation, and is good at it. I wondered what else would surprise me today.

We were chatting with Don about where to go next when we overheard some chatter from the Thompson’s Ranch glider strip. They sounded pretty busy over there, launching gliders every few minutes. We decided that strip would be our next destination.

Don was nearly finished with his low altitude photo passes so he told Gerry and I to start heading to Thompson’s. He’d start climbing after us and catch up. We radioed our intentions to the glider riders and their tow plane and turned our noses south. I recalled from my training days that unpowered craft have the right-of-way in the circuit and I began scanning for the thermal jockies’long wings and slim bodies.

Just as Gerry and I passed over mid-field, I spotted a glider about three miles away. He was on a long downwind for runway 25, while the tow plane was yanking another one off the ground. We extended to the south of the field and Gerry slid back to my six for the circuit. As soon as the glider was past us, I turned in for the downwind. Don was just crossing over mid-field. But by the time Gerry and I were on short final, he was ready for his base leg.

Upon landing we were immediately set upon and welcomed by members of the Cu-Nim Gliding Club. We spent some time talking about our planes and theirs, each group wondering what the other’s craft were like to fly. We watched several gliders get towed aloft by a Bellanca Scout, and I even managed to get a few more pictures. I live for days like that.

Half an hour later we were getting itchy wings again. We batted a few destinations around and finally settled on High River. We didn’t feel like landing at the airport, so we’d just head to the north end of the town, then turn back for home. All in agreement, we saddled up and fire-walled it down runway 07, impressing the hell out of the glider guys. At least they should have been impressed.

The colors of autumn were a firey spectacle in the trees below us. We laughed and joked on the radio as the day continued to unfold it’s magic. Don spotted another friend’s house-in-the-country. The best I could do was be the first to notice the wonderful, unmistakable, aroma  f a nearby feed lot. Gerry seemed content to just park himself off my wing and smile. Then a series of perfect circles appeared in a grain field below which began a flurry of jokes regarding UFO’s and peanut butter cups.

When we reached the town of High River we noticed an abandoned WWII training field whose runways were still barely visible in the grass. It would be nice if the field was still there, allowing us to drop in every now and again. But it’s long since overrun with grass and buildings and power lines.

We crossed the #2 highway and made our turn to the north. Don assigned me the lead before we left Thompson’s and had taken my right wing. So instead of making the wide turn from the outside, he elected to cut across the rear of the flight to take the outside of an echelon left.

We coasted along for the next twenty minutes just staring at the world below and the unlucky souls who weren’t up there with us.

Occasionally I’d lose sight of one of my wingmen as he drifted into the blind spot above my wing. But all I had to do was glance down at our shadows to know where he was.

We began our descent for Indus when we reached the South Calgary airport. Three planes, acting as one, nosed over and throttled back. We levelled out on the other side of the Bow and set up to pass east of the field to enter the downwind for runway 28. We passed over the airport with perfect spacing, once again, impressing the hell out of the people on the ground.

Don and Gerry peeled off, one after the other, in beautifully executed turns. I bid them farewell and continued on to Kirkby Field, smiling deeply to myself and letting the last few minutes of the flight wash over me.

What an absolute joy it was to fly that autumn day, with the sun shining, my leather jacket flapping in the wind, and two great flyers to share it with.

Letting Go

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by Stu Simpson

This guy is not your typical ultralight shopper, I thought to myself. He’s too young. Not one of the older, soon-to-be-middle-aged types that seem to dominate the masses of ultralight flying.

He pulled his car beside mine and stopped. A handsome kid in his early twenties stepped out and introduced himself as Dave. With him was a pretty brunette who seemed almost as interested as he was.

Ninety minutes later, for all intents and purposes, he owned the Beeve. All that remained was the paper work.

We finalized a few details and arranged to meet later in the week to close the deal. He drove away happy to own the Beeve. And I drove away remembering it.

The next few days were filled with mixed emotions for me. On one hand, I was losing what had been a major piece of my life for the past 3 years. On the other hand, with the money from selling the Beeve, I’d be able to build my next airplane. In truth it’s an enviable spot to be in. But I couldn’t help feeling like I’d lost a part of myself.

Your first airplane is like your first love. I know it’s an old analogy, but it’s true. Your first plane shapes your soul and opens your heart in ways you’d never seen before. You become a part of that airplane, and it becomes a part of you.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently remembering the Beeve, remembering the flights I’ll never forget. Like the trip to Radium, B.C. with Todd McArthur and Bob Kirkby. Many people thought we were nuts to fly ultralights in the mountains. But we and our airplanes proved them wrong.

And who could forget the flight home from the ’92 Red Deer Airshow? McArthur and Larry Motyer and I stumbled into, among other things, a thunderstorm. When things like that happen, and you come up smiling on the other end, you gain a tremendous amount of confidence in your airplane.

When you own an airplane, you’re suddenly released from the bondage of renting. You have the freedom to fly whenever you want (actually, its more like whenever your wife says you can). So if one of your buddies phones up and asks if you want to go flying, you simply arrange what time to meet and head for the airfield (if your wife says you can, that is).

Some of my best flying memories center around the flights me & the Beeve made with other UL jocks. Guys like Don Rogers, Fred Wright, Bob Kirkby, and other guys from the flying club. There were times we’d chase each other around the sky, and moments of simple elegance in perfect formation. There were morning and evening flights whose beauty left me breathless. And there were flights that were just so much pure fun and adventure, I sometimes wondered if it was real.

The thing I’ll remember most about the Beeve is the way it felt in my hands. The light controls, the instant response. It’d go right where I asked it to. Always. With 40 horsepower, it climbed like a bat. And it never had trouble with crosswinds. It was incredibly easy to land (Rogers still thinks it was my superior skill). In short, the Beeve was just so easy to become a part of.

Despite all the Beeve’s virtues, it was time to let it go. It came down to a choice between making extensive modifications, like adding a more powerful engine and an enclosed cockpit, or buying another airplane entirely. When I crunched out the numbers I realized that selling the Beeve and building new would amount to the same overall expenditure as modifying it. But building new would give me more in the long run, like re-sale value and growth potential.

I decided there were certain things I wanted in my next airplane. An enclosed cockpit was paramount. I got really tired of that 65 mile per hour winter wind chill in the Beeve’s open air office. My new plane had to be a tail dragger and it had to be able to accept a Rotax 503 (cuz that’s what I had to put in it). I wanted something a bit faster than the Beeve because other guys in the club are speeding up as well. And finally, it had to be inexpensive to build.

I settled on the T.E.A.M. HiMAX after extensive consultation with Chris Kirkman and Knute Rasmussen. Kirkman built a miniMAX a few years ago and was very pleased with the results. Knute eventually bought the MAX from Chris and showed it to me a few months ago. I made up my mind right then I would build one as well, though I opted for the high-wing version because of the larger cockpit arrangment.

Construction of the HiMAX is underway now and that’s helping to put the Beeve behind me. I was lucky to have owned it and I hope the new owner is as appreciative of it as I was.

It’s time for me to move on to another plane, but I’ve still got lots of photos and logbook entries to peruse whenever I miss the Beeve. And I’ve got the memories. That’ll make it a little easier to let go.

Feelings of Flight

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by Stu Simpson

People ask me what it’s like to fly, to be a pilot, and I’m afraid to answer. I worry that once I get started, I won’t be able to stop. I want to tell the curious about all the sensations and feelings of flight, of all that flight evokes in me. But those who ask are really only stopping by for a sip, not the whole bottle.

I think I can tell you, though.

I feel exhilaration when I fly. Even after more than 2000 take offs in airplanes, each one still shoots a thrill right through me. I’m still so excited to be there, so utterly happy to leave the earth. I see the ground slip away beneath my wings, all things down there getting smaller, and I know I’m doing something amazing and fascinating.

I feel wonder when I fly. I look at the clouds next to me, above me, below me. Clouds are ever intriguing. They’ve so many colours, are so utterly alive. They’re growing, dying and otherwise changing every single instant. And what about the sky itself? I mean, how could anything be so big?! Who couldn’t be awed by flying?

I feel giddy when I fly, like I’m really sneaking off with a precious secret that so few know about. It makes me smile.

I feel safe when I fly. I know my airplane is strong and secure, that my engine is good. I know the men I fly with, that they’re reliable and careful and made of good stuff. I know myself better when I’m in the sky. I know what I can do, and equally important, what I can’t.

I feel like an adventurer when I fly. I love to discover the earth from the air. Each flight becomes an exciting voyage, an exploration. How many times have I been the first to soar through a patch of sky that no airplane has ever traversed? How often have I taken off and not picked a direction until I was airborne? How often have I flown over this part of the earth and never seen it the way it was right then? There are so many unexpected wonders, so many unforeseen encounters and delightful surprises to be found up there.

I feel fear when I fly, but not a lot of it, and not very often. I’m not ashamed of fear, though I don’t enjoy it. But I know the value of fear. Fear helps keep me and my airplane safe and alive. I use it to become a better pilot. I’m afraid that something might go really, really wrong that might break my airplane and me. If that happened, I might not be able to fly. I really fear that.

I feel alone when I fly. The solitude is complete, absolute, even if I share the sky with other airplanes. Another plane may be mere feet from mine, the pilot’s grin and thumbs-up clearly visible. But the distance between us is such that we may as well be on different planets. I can no more fly his plane than he could fly mine. I answer to no one up there, and if I err the consequences are mine alone to endure. I like such independence, the total responsibility for myself and my destiny.

I feel moved when I fly. And I understand why some men are compelled to paint beautiful pictures of airplanes, or to write about airplanes and of flying them. I understand the passion that flight inspires in these people and the love they express.

I feel noise when I fly. I feel the engine thundering, clattering, humming. I feel the prop beating the wind into submission. My airplane’s sound changes when the ball’s not centered and I feel the air thumping against the side.

I feel the wind when I fly. It may come at me from my nose, or from above or below. Like any pilot, I love the wind at my back. Wherever it comes from, I feel it. I feel it gently wiggle my ailerons, or jab at the rudder. I feel it when it stands me unexpectedly on a wing, or throws me toward heaven or earth at alarming rates. I even feel the wind when it does nothing but let me pass unfettered. Such smoothness of flight I adore.

I feel a part of something good when I fly with others. Then, I’m with men whose love is the same as mine, who also delight in the feelings of flight. They too see artistry in the shape of a wing, the curve of a rudder. They smile at a tail wind, and are men for whom few things are more satisfying than the instant of a three-point landing made on a grass runway. They marvel at the bare simplicity of a Continental engine. Their day is charmed when they catch the sun glinting off the plane flying next to them. To be welcomed by such men, to be treated as an equal among them is deeply humbling, and I cherish their acceptance.

I feel at home when I fly. In the sky in an airplane is where I dearly love to be. It’s comfortable and familiar. I know where things are – in my plane, on the ground, and in the air. I know how things work, and if they don’t, how to make them work. The sky welcomes me. It completes who I am, and offers a place where I can escape, or relax, or be excited. In the sky I can be who I want to be. It’s all that a good home should be. I’d feel greedy and ashamed asking for more.

Mostly, I feel lucky when I fly. Very few share this gift I have, so to have it and allow it to go unappreciated would be disgraceful and unworthy. There are others who want what I have when I fly. Thus, I’m certain it’s good, and I do my best to be thankful. In doing so I desperately hope the gods smile on me, knowing I don’t take flight for granted. Maybe they’ll let me keep my gift a bit longer.

And, if I should someday lose this fortune, at least I’ll be satisfied knowing I’ve spent my riches well.

AN ANGEL

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by Stu Simpson

The forecast read like an ultralight jockey’s mid-winter dream…blue skies, light south-westerlies, and plus 8 degrees. Winter weather around here just doesn’t get much better. And on such a day, every pilot who can lay hands on a pair of wings will make hamburger of the guy who stands between him and the runway.

But sadly, there exists a huge gap between dreams and reality. Conditions on the surface weren’t exactly what the weather dudes had predicted. Shocking, but true.

Take the wind for instance. Northeast at 10. And the temperature dangled at about minus 4 – hardly balmy. But it was the sky that was most peculiar. Not the clear blue yonder as promised, but a strange white haze that still leaked plenty of sunshine. I just figured it to be the inversion layer, only a little deeper than usual, and closer to the ground.

I was just pulling the Beeve out of the shack when the unmistakeable buzz of two ultralights tickled my ears. Just barely discernable through the haze, Don and Ron were making their way to Kirkby Field.

“Raymond!”, I yelled. He was in his hangar putting the tail of his Renegade back together. “Company’s here.”

Raymond poked his head out of the hangar and watched intently as the two airplanes droned through the scattered sunshine.

Don was renting the Easy Flyer for the afternoon while Ron flew his Crusader. Don landed first, after a straight-in approach to Kirkby’s runway 34, while Ron completed an overhead circuit. Then he too taxied in and shut down.

The four us of spent some time hangar flying and having a boo at Raymond’s plane. The conversation eventually got around to our destination that day, as yet undecided.

Ron took a look at his gas gauge and decided he’d best head back to Indus. I asked Don what the conditions were like upstairs. He stated the inversion layer lasted only to about 400′ AGL, but it was very well defined. The layer was very cold and blustery, he reported, but once on top things smoothed out nicely and the temperature rose to the promised 8 degrees.

Since neither of us really wanted to venture far, we agreed to just hang around the neighborhood, maybe shoot some circuits at a nearby strip, and generally just play around.

Ron worked the choke and throttle for me as I hand-propped the Beeve and we soon got it running smoothly. I began donning my winter flight gear as he then fired up the Crusader and took of for Indus. Don and I blasted off a few minutes later. I went first.

I pulled the Beeve into the sky, the haze now wrapped around me like a thin grey veil. I levelled at about two hundred feet and circled waiting for Don. He joined me a moment later, parking the Easy Flyer off my right wing as we turned north.

In unison, we began a steady climb. We were on top a few seconds later. Just like that. One moment we could only see a couple of miles throught the mist, the next, we had an angel’s view of forever.

The sight was breathtaking. We floated over a duvet of dazzling white cloud spread out beneath us, soft, puffy and infinite. The sky was the bluest I’ve ever seen. A rainbow, straight as a sunbeam, spread across the horizon, bonding the cloud layer to the sky.

Here, reality transformed itself into a dream. We were suspended in time – we could have been doing 55 mph, or 155 mph – the sensation would be exactly the same. All we could see was sunshine and heaven.

We turned our planes to the northeast and Don switched sides, sliding behind me to perch off my left wing. We could still see the ground directly below us, about a mile or so in any direction. With the cloud layer blocking so much light though, each glimpse of the earth was no more than an under-exposed black and white photo in my mind.

I dropped the Beeve toward the top of the clouds and watched my shadow as we merged on a collision course. We came together as I zoomed through a misty peak. The shadow tried again and again to get away, ducking into the low valleys between one crest and the next. We played this game for a few more minutes until I pulled the nose skyward again and spotted Don. He was doing exactly the same thing, skimming the clouds as his shadow raced to catch him.

Suddenly, we were enveloped in cloud, able to see up much better than down. I pulled the stick back and held it there until I popped out on top. I saw Don a few seconds later, his nose high as he too climbed out of the soup. It occurred to me that this might not be a harmless layer of haze, but quite possibly a growing fog bank. The same thought must have ocurred to Don because he pointed to the southeast, indicating we should head back to Kirkby Field.

We turned back and formed up in a tight left echelon. I peered down, hoping to see some familiar land marks. We weren’t really worried because we were close to home over territory we knew well. Still, landing soon was a definite priority due to the uncertain weather.

I recognized a plot of land ahead, a vast grain field bisected with a gravel road. It’s where I like to practice my nap-of-the-earth flying, and I know those few square miles intimately. I began a shallow descent, regretting that we had to go home now, that we couldn’t stay a little longer in God’s playground.

Visibility improved once we dropped to about 200′ AGL. We soon spotted Kirkby’s and landed a few minutes later on runway 34. We chatted happily for several minutes after we shut down. Our hands zoomed through imaginary cloud tops while we recreated the highlights of the flight.

Half an hour later Don was strapping back in and assuring me he’d be fine on the trip back to Indus. He’d stay low and follow the roads, he said. I knew he would.

I shielded my eyes from the sun’s glare as he back-tracked on the runway. Then he spun around, fire-walled the throttle, and raced into the sky again.

I waved to him as he went by, he replied with a quick nod of his head. As Don faded into the haze I turned to the Beeve and began rolling it toward the hangar.

A Ticket To Adventure

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by Stu Simpson

No doubt about it, an airplane is a ticket to adventure, and an ultralight airplane is the ‘E’ ticket. Ultralights are airplanes that you fly, not just drive around the sky like two-winged family sedans on automatic pilot. If you’re interested in growing some honest-to-God stick & rudder skill, step right up.

Ultralights have evolved into proper airplanes every bit as tough and reliable as a Chief or a Cub. Fact is, most of them are built identically to those types, matching and often exceeding their performance. Best part is, they can be had and operated for a fraction of a conventional plane’s cost.

There’s no question ultralights have their limits, just like any aircraft. Most cruise between 60 and 90 miles an hour, so a weekend trip to the coast and back isn‘t very likely. But a smooth evening flight to your buddy’s strip certainly is. Or maybe it‘ll be an airborne exploration flight with other planes on a Saturday morning. No, they’re not the fastest machines in the sky, just the most fun.

I’m on my fourth airplane, and all of them have been ultralights. There’s no way I’d miss this.

My first plane, bought in 1991, was a Spectrum Beaver, the single-seat model with 40 horsepower. It was a true stick & rudder plane with an open cockpit and only a tach and airspeed indicator for instruments. It maneuvered beautifully and quickly, responding to my every command. I had more fun and adventure in the 130 hours that I flew that plane than I’d had in my whole life.

In the summer of 1991 several CUFC members flew to Red Deer for their annual airshow. We got to mix with all the airshow performers, look at their planes up close and show off ours. Best of all, we got to perform each morning in the show, giving a formation display the crowd really enjoyed. Major fun.

The next summer three of us flew our ultralights through the Rockies from Calgary to Radium, B.C. and back. Along the way we chatted by radio with each other and an airline crew, and nearly got run over by a C-130 Hercules on a mountain flying exercise. And the beauty we saw! If you think looking out from a mountain is spectacular, you’re going to love what you see from an airplane.

For a while, I thought I couldn’t have more fun in an airplane than I did in that one. But its open cockpit was starting to be a bother in winter, even on warmer winter days. I eventually sold the Beeve to a farmer near Trochu. To tell you the truth, sometimes I still miss it.

My next aviation adventure came in building an airplane. I built it in my basement, one component at a time, from a pile of lumber, some metal parts, and a good set of plans. I’d never built anything before, so this was really a challenge. But the job was much easier than I expected. It only cost me about 9 grand and 16 months to get it into the air. Building and flying the Himax ranks as one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, or ever will do. The feeling of building and actually flying your own airplane is indescribable.

My Himax was a magnificent creature, having all the Beaver’s fine virtues with a closed cockpit. It was my first tail-dragger, resembling a Cessna Bird Dog that shrunk in the wash. The Himax cruised a little faster than the Beeve, at about 70 mph. Not as fast as a Cessna 172, but quicker than Grandpa Pokey-Pants in a beat up Buick. And loads more fun than the Buick, too.

The Himax and I really got around. I flew it all over southern Alberta to farm strips and controlled airports, alike. In 1999, me and several other CUFC members flew around north central Alberta on a trip that lasted 4 days and included a stop at a CF-18 fighter squadron in Cold Lake. The next summer a group of four of us went back to the Rockies, this time to Castlegar in south central B.C. That was an absolutely unforgettable adventure.

For a while, I thought I couldn’t have more fun in an airplane than I did in that one. But after about 7 years and 300 hours I started to get a bit bored with the Himax and began looking for something a bit different. I latched onto a sweet looking little plane out of Edmonton called the Avenger, another wooden tail-dragger, but with a low wing.

The Avenger didn’t really work for me. As you know, there are some people we just don’t get along with. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with them, but they somehow irritate us and just don’t quite click. That’s how the Avenger was for me. I’m a fairly big guy, and the Avenger just didn’t fit me well. I thought I’d enjoy the low wing, but it turns out I didn’t. The plane flew well, but just never felt quite right for me.

I eventually sold it to another club member who fell in love with it. I was pleased that he did.

Now, I’ve got the Giant. The Green Giant, that is. It’s a big old Sylvaire Bushmaster painted camo green. I love it!

It’s got two seats so I can take another pilot along, a tail-wheel, and a 65 hp liquid-cooled Rotax engine with dual electronic ignition. Very cool. It‘s also got a big wing that gets me in and out of just about any place I want to go. The Giant actually started out as the factory demonstrator built in 1985. So, since ultralights have only been around since the early 80’s, the Giant might just qualify as an antique.

I’ve been flying the Giant for nearly two years now and the adventure with it started on the first flight home from Edmonton. I dodged thunderstorms, battled unexpected 25 knot winds, and fought with abnormal fuel consumption and faulty carburetors. But the Giant got me home.

I remember the time in February ‘02 when a group of us landed to see another guy’s ultralight at an 800’ long strip high in the Porcupine Hills south of Calgary. It took two tries to takeoff again in the snow there, which was as deep as my wheel axles. But the Giant got us out with just enough room to spare.

The Giant has proven to be a great cross-country airplane, too. In the spring of last year Glen Bishell and I escorted Bob Kirkby and his Renegade biplane to its new owner in Cold Lake. Due to weather considerations we had to stay low the whole way, which made map reading and navigating really tough. Flying up and back, we covered more than 700 miles at about 700 feet. Major adventure, there.

And last summer the CUFC and a few other ultralight guys traveled to Dawson Creek, Slave Lake and back just for the hell of it. We had 15 planes along, and the Giant performed wonderfully. Sometimes, I think I could never have more fun in an airplane than I’m having in this one. But we know where that can lead.

I like to look back through my log books every now and again just to remind myself of all the pure stick & rudder joy I’ve discovered in these airplanes. I remember the gentle evenings drinking in the smell of a wheat field from 10 feet up, or the satisfying kiss of a perfect 3-point landing. I’ll recall the lost memory of a short field approach into an uphill strip only a few hundred feet long, and perfect formation maneuvers with my wingmen.

Then I’ll stare longingly at the Giant, wondering when we can fly again, wondering when I can next use my ticket to adventure.