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Scratchbuilt Ultralights Carry on Santos-Dumont Designs
Homebuilders embark on series of ultralight models
By Ti Windisch
July 24, 2017 - Mark Solper, EAA 1098006, had no idea how to build an airplane just a few years ago. In his own words, he “didn’t know how to drill a straight hole.”
These days, Mark has his own homebuilt ultralight airplane, with plans to build a few more. For him to go from no homebuilding experience to building and flying his own homebuilt took a mentor — and a good one.
Enter Lee Fischer, EAA 1066368. By his own estimation, Lee has built and modified dozens and dozens of gliders, delta kites, and ultralights over the years. He started before the term “ultralight” was in common use, but Lee’s love of that aircraft type hasn’t wavered over the years he’s spent building them.
Lee brought a heavily modified Robertson B1-RD to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2014, where Mark met him for the first time, and Mark absolutely loved it. The two became friends, and Mark became a frequent guest at Lee’s Shonkwerks Hangar while Lee constructed the 23 bis — a Demoiselle-style ultralight based on the designs of Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont — prior to AirVenture 2015.
At Oshkosh 2015, Lee made it very clear to Mark that he wouldn’t mind having his own Demoiselle.
“Lee said, ‘I’ll help you build one,’ even though I didn’t know how to build anything, let alone hold a drill,” Mark said. “So Lee said, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘Let’s continue on with the 23,’ and he was all over that. We evolved the 23 to the 24.”
Lee said he’d oversee the construction of Mark’s ultralight, but he wouldn’t build it for him. The duo produced Lee’s 24L first and then used what they learned constructing the scratchbuilt — or as Lee describes it, “scratch-planned” — ultralight to build Mark’s 24M, which Lee enviously says “has magic behind it.”
“We started off with the seats,” Lee said. “We built two identical seats, then we built four identical wings, and then we built two identical fuselages and got [24L] running, and then we got [24M] running.”
Mark had flown ultralights back in the’80s, but had flown more airliners than ultralights since then. Many of the changes from the 23 bis to the 24, and smaller tweaks from the 24L to the 24M, were made to help Mark ease back into ultralight flying.
“A lot of the evolution was for me,” Mark said. “Lee wanted it to be relatively period-correct, but with the safety and handling qualities of today’s aircraft.”
The 24s are roughly 98 percent identical, according to Lee, and have a 30-foot wingspan with an empty weight of 243 pounds. They’re powered by a Rotax 447 engine, with a period-correct prop, aside from a few minor changes.
Lee plans on constructing a 240-pound Curtiss Pusher he’s calling Nemesis. Mark’s next project ideas include a Bleriot kit, and he plans to get an Aerolite 103 eventually.
“It’s really neat to start doing it, and the pieces go together,” Mark said. “It’s really rewarding. If you like this kind of flying, building an ultralight is really rewarding. My son was my biggest fan through the whole thing, and he’s sucked into building them now.”