Letís Keep Them Flying
By Dan Grunloh, Editor, Light Plane World
The sight of several 25-year-old ultralights flying daily at AirVenture 2010 in the ultralight and light plane area disproves several myths many people believe about the early ultralights going back to the 1980s. Those pilots remind us that we need to preserve our ultralight history not simply in museums, but with actual flying aircraft. What should you do if you encounter an old tattered ultralight in a shed or see an advertisement for a 25-year-old ultralight “new in the box”?
The first myth to be dispelled is that ultralights won’t last long. The designers of some of these planes probably never imagined some would still be flying after 25 years. There is no reason to assume we won’t see a Quicksilver MX or a Kasperwing flying 25 years from now at AirVenture 2035. From a technical standpoint, it’s a trivial task compared to keeping a rare antique, classic, or warbird aircraft going for half a century. Every part on these early ultralights can be easily fabricated. After probably less than 50 years, nearly every part will have been replaced as part of normal maintenance.
The reason we should be preserving these early birds goes beyond the simple desire to record the history of aviation. We need them flying at events like EAA AirVenture to dispel the myth that the early ultralights were unsafe, had poor control, or were otherwise unsatisfactory for man-carrying flight. The truth is they fly just fine if properly maintained and flown within their allowable limits by trained pilots. If you can meet those terms, don’t let anyone tell you not to fly your 25-year-old ultralight. The big caveat is that you must know what you are doing.
Another myth to be dispelled now and in the future is that those early ultralights were too wind-limited and fuel-limited to have any real fun. I feel certain that pilots of the Quicksilver, the Kasperwing, and the Falcon flying all week at AirVenture would disagree. It’s true many of us have moved up to another level of flying, but we still consider ourselves to be ultralight pilots because we understand the appeal. Regardless of what you fly now, if you have an old ultralight in storage, please think about restoring it for posterity. You can still keep your “bigger” airplane for routine flying.
What should you do if you encounter an old, tattered ultralight in a shed or see an advertisement for a 30-year-old ultralight “new in the box”? A newcomer to the sport is poorly equipped to succeed with such a project unless a connection can be made with the veterans who know that ultralight. There are just too many makes, models, and variations. A few models have known defects that must be corrected or operational shortcomings that can turn around and bite you. Fortunately there is an online community for antique ultralight enthusiasts where you can get help with identification and restoration and get news about the latest finds. Anyone can browse the public message archive of the Yahoo discussion group Vintage Ultralight and Light Plane Association. Those considering purchasing or restoring and old ultralight should join the group. If you are an expert and have experience with vintage ultralights, the group members need your help. Let’s keep them flying.