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Just Fly Sport Pilot

By Corey Cassavant, EAA 675051, for Light Plane World

Corey Cassavant

This month I had the opportunity to fly two very different flight lessons on the same day. Both of them were flown under the parameters of the sport pilot rule, and it really struck me how broad our privileges can be. The first was an introductory flight in a Quicksilver for a prospective student, and the second was a cross-country lesson in a Flight Design CTLS.

A prospective student had a gift certificate for a flight lesson that she hadn’t come to redeem until after my airplane had been damaged at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this year. A friend let me borrow his plane for the morning so I could honor the certificate and give someone her first exposure to ultralights.

The weather had been foul for a week solid before the flight, but the morning dawned calm, clear, and unseasonably warm. To take advantage of the early morning calm for the intro flight, I was up and on the road at o’dark thirty. The sun rose behind me as I made my way to the airport. I knew we were in for a good flight when I saw a hot-air balloon floating past the airport as I pulled up. It was just one of “those” mornings.

It had been a few months since I flew something low and slow like a Quicksilver, and I had never flown this particular airplane before. I opted to take the airplane up alone at first to get the feel for things again. I was a little concerned about not being familiar with the area, but the guys at the airport gave me a few key landmarks to look for in case I got turned around. We jump-started the engine due to a dead battery, and I was off. By the first downwind turn, I felt completely at home again in this cockpit and proceeded to grease a landing on the perfect turf of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

We bundled up the student, and I did a quick walk around the airplane to make sure all was still well.  From the sight quantity gauges, I estimated that we had about one hour of fuel on board. I had brought extra fuel, but it was mixed with two-stroke oil incompatible with what was currently in the aircraft fuel tank. However, the fuel we had should be plenty for a 30-minute tour of the area and still be down before eating into the required 30-minute VFR reserve.

The flight went beautifully. With the cooler temps, the airplane flew like it was happy to be in the air. We flew around lakes, we flew some basic maneuvers, and there was still some fall color to check out. Bliss. There was no Hobbs meter on the panel, so I reasoned that I would turn back to land when the fuel quantity was half of what it was when I
took off.

When the time came, I turned toward the airport area and began looking for the field. It took a few minutes to orient myself; the landmark lakes all looked the same to me at first. I glanced up to verify my fuel quantity and realized it was lower than I had hoped. I had failed to account for the fact that the Quicksilver fuel tank tapers toward the bottom, so half the height of fuel in the tank is less than half the volume of fuel remaining. Being disoriented with minimum reserve fuel caused me some definite anxiety. It took a few minutes to get my bearings, I had misidentified one of the lakes and was searching the wrong area nearby. Within five minutes, we were comfortably back on the ground at our home airport.

I had several opportunities to alleviate the extra stress that I had put myself through. I could have—and should have—taken the time to run to a gas station for more fuel, even if what I had was adequate and legal. I should have taken more time to familiarize myself with the nuances of this airplane (no Hobbs, no compass, different fuel markings, etc). The student wasn’t the only one who got a lesson that day.

The second flight of the day was a cross-country lesson in a Flight Design CTLS. We planned to fly from Racine Airport to Sheboygan for lunch and back. The two aircraft couldn’t have been more different. Where the Quicksilver had a Hall airspeed indicator, the CTLS had a full glass cockpit. The Quicksilver didn’t have a compass; the CTLS had a moving map GPS with integrated traffic, terrain, XM weather, and airport diagrams.

The Quicksilver is aluminum tube and Dacron fabric; the CTLS is mostly carbon fiber and composites.  The weather was still perfect as we lifted and climbed out over the dense city of Racine. I dialed in our destination in the GPS and plotted through the complexities of avoiding Milwaukee’s Class C airspace and Waukesha and Milwaukee-Timmerman Class D airspace. (We could have talked to all the controllers and flown a straight line, but why?)

Once we were clear of the congested areas, I engaged the autopilot for a few minutes and tuned in some XM radio music, mostly just because we could. Only a few hours earlier I was out in the 40-mph breeze in a snowsuit and having to hold the stick with my elbow so I could point out the surrounding landmarks.

Now we were humming along at 130 mph in light sweaters, and the computer was flying the plane. We went back to flying manually and shot a nice approach over Lake Michigan to land at Sheboygan. (Burrows Aviation has nice restaurant there with live music on certain days. Check it out.)

One couldn’t have asked for a better flying day. I experienced rural flying in low and slow open-cockpit simplicity and (comparatively) urban flying with fast-glass creature comforts and technology. I got to share aviation with two new would-be aviators, and I learned a thing or two in the process. All of it flown as a sport pilot. Wanna go flying?

Corey Cassavant is the editor of Microlite Flyer, the newsletter of EAA Ultralight Chapter 1 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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