A Lazair in Australia – and More
By Steve Robards
The last Lazair in Australia
I consider myself fortunate to have been around at the beginning of the ultralight movement in Australia during the ’70s. Ron Wheeler had begun the movement here with his Skycraft Scout, a simple high-wing two-axis machine powered by a lawn mower engine. Ron must have been a good talker, as he had convinced the then-Department of Aviation to allow what was then termed as “minimum aircraft” the freedom to fly these machines without a certificate or registration (similar to the FAA Part 103 regulations). Before long, there were several different manufacturers, and I found myself working for one that was starting to build a small machine called the Stolaero. The aircraft was a little more sophisticated than the Scout; Stolaero had full three axis controls and a larger engine. It was in the prototype that I taught myself to fly. Over a couple of years we produced this and later a more refined model, the Condor. These were real paddock basher types that could operate from just about anywhere. Most were sold to farmers who modified them to suit there needs.
Steve with Skycraft Sea Scout by Ron Wheeler
Magazines were the main source of information as to what the rest of the world was up to and we were always amazed at how prolific were the different types being made in the United States. One day I opened my latest copy of Glider Rider and came across an amazing photo of the Lazair. I was impressed by this aircraft. It was lighter than our machines, had an amazing wing, and had twin engines. I had to have one. The following year, I was approached by the Australian importer to assemble several of the 20 Series One kits that he had shipped over from Canada. One had already been assembled, and I watched it fly around our local strip. It was as good as I imagined it would be and there was nothing like it being built here in Australia. For the next two years, I worked for the importer and managed to log almost 200 hours. Unfortunately the importer was having health problems, and he had to close down. I was disappointed that he preferred to shut shop, as I was keen to buy him out. So the Lazair disappeared from the scene, and when he did finally sell the business, the factory in Canada was beginning to wind up. So I moved on and went back to my previous employer, and we started on the Thruster, which ended up being the first two-seat ultralight certified in this country.
Gemini two seat Thruster
Time marched on, and after flying and working on general aviation (GA) aircraft for almost 20 years, I felt I just wanted to get back to grassroots basics. By now most ultralights were looking and performing like GA, and that was not what I was after. Gone were the freedoms of the early days. Everything had numbers on it now, and everyone had a certificate to fly them. It seemed worse than GA. What was available did not seem to interest me. And going back through my photos, it became obvious that I wanted another Lazair. So the search began to find one of the 20 that came into the country years ago.
After following several dead ends, I received a promising lead. I contacted the owner and found that he had one of the first ones I assembled. He had fitted it with several of the factory upgrade kits and had flown many hours on it, but unfortunately he had pranged it. It was now lying in a shed near a town called Lightning Ridge, a small outback town in northwest New South Wales that is well known for its opal mining. At this time, I was living in the Whitsunday Islands in North Queensland almost 1,000 kilometers away. A few more phone calls and the owner made a deal I could not refuse: the Lazair plus the remains of an unbuilt kit that had most of the parts to fix the airframe. A trailer was included, but I had to also take the remains of two damaged Scouts. A bit of bartering got the price down to a reasonable $1,000 AU. After a 4-day trip, I returned home with what looked like a pile of junk. This was not going to be a rebuild—it was more like a restoration. It had gone in hard on the nose and right wing. Most of the parts were there to rebuild the airframe and the rear spar, ribs, etc., but both props were broken and there were no spares. Plus there was a real dodgy repair from a previous prang to the right main spar. So in a rented shed I would work with what I had and started on the airframe using what parts I had. But where was I going to find the other important parts like the props, the Mylar wing covering, and other bit and pieces that just seemed not to exist here? All my leads were dead ends.
I was working on an island at this time, and the Internet was starting to catch on. One day a small red box turned up at the resort with a sign on it saying, “Surf the Web here.” So I put in my $2-coin AU, and when the words, “Enter your search word here,” popped up, all I could think of entering was “Lazair.” A few minutes later I found www.lazair.com, and I quickly realized that I was by no means the only one who had a passion for these fine machines. The guys there not only had the answers to my many questions, they also had sources for a lot of new and used parts. Most of them were flying the later series, which made it easier for me to find a lot of series one parts that they did not use. Before long I had a set of props and leads on suppliers of Mylar. The Internet was a lifesaver; it now looked like I would be able to finish the ultralight and get back in the air. Unfortunately I had to leave my dream job on the island and return to Sydney to care for my elderly mother. The Lazair had to come with me, so I dismantled it, packed it and the Scouts back in the trailer, and drove almost 2,000 km back down the east coast to Sydney. It would be a year before I could continue the rebuild.
Back in a new workshop, I decided to start again from scratch. I had managed to find another set of wings just hours before the owner was going to cut them up for scrap. I stripped the wings down and replaced the ribs with new ones from the new spares box. Some Lazair owners in Canada and the United States had started to manufacture a lot of hard-to-find parts. From them I ordered parts that I needed. I downloaded the manuals for the upgrades, and slowly it all started to come together. Other than some tubing and a full set of new bolts and other hardware, everything had to be sourced from North America. I managed to buy enough Pioneer engines and props to make up four good engines and nacelles. Working mainly during weekends, I was beginning to see light at the end of a long tunnel. And then I finally finished, and it looked great in new Mylar. Luckily someone had put a Lazair on the ultralight register when the regulations came in; even though that Lazair had disappeared shortly after, it meant that I did not have to do a “first of type” application that would have taken almost as long as the rebuild. The project took a lot longer and was much more difficult than I envisioned, and it took a lot of determination to complete. Without a doubt I could not have completed it without the help of the dedicated Lazair owners on the Web. When I finally took it to a fly-in, I was amazed at how many people thought that it was a new design, and many did not believe that it was almost 30 years old. The best thing I like about my Lazair is that it is the only twin-engine ultralight that can be flown in Australia, as the new regulations say only one engine and prop, but my bird is grandfathered.
I love flying my Lazair, but I think that shortly I will be driving the people at Yuneec International nuts. An electric-powered Lazair would have to be the bee’s knees. And the Scouts? Well, when I finally had time to unpack and check them out, I found that one had been placed on the ultralight register and carried the number 10:001. The aircraft turned out to be a historic find. I handed both of these over to a friend who has been flying Scouts since they started the movement. It, too, has been restored and will in the future be given to the Holbrook Ultralight Museum.
Steve Robards has set up a Yahoo Groups discussion site to share pictures from the early days of ultralights down under. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information about sport aviation in Australia, visit www.RecreationalFlying.com.au.