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Windsurfers and Ultralights

Ian Brown, EAA 657159, Editor - Bits and Pieces


December, 2022 – When I was sailing regularly, I raced at my local club, sailed my family around our local lake, and generally enjoyed myself when the winds were good. Eventually, I bought a windsurfer just to be able to go solo sailing whenever the mood took me. Before I go any further I imagine you are thinking, yes, but what does this have to do with flying? Well, obviously there are similarities — moving air, forces, balance, and so on, but what I really want to focus on is “learning.”

I’ve sailed on some bigger boats, and even got to helm the famous 12-metre True North Americas Cup sailboat in the Caribbean, albeit briefly, on the way back to its anchorage. What I learned was that the bigger the boat, the less you feel the response, and the more you’re distracted by other systems like radios, winches, multiple crews, and the harder it is to focus on the finer points of sailing the course and responding to the wind. Windsurfing is the ultimate in feeling and responding to the slightest changes in air movement. I learned a lot about fore and aft balance, wind variability, and sail position on my windsurfer that I would have had a hard time picking up on a bigger boat. It relates directly to the fore and aft safety envelope in an aircraft.

So, the point here is that ultralight aircraft, despite their modest weight limits and power, are excellent teachers for pilots of all skill levels. Perhaps the best of the best are glider pilots. Anyone spending an hour at their local airport maybe having breakfast with friends will know how often an ultralight pilot will land right on the numbers. Larger aircraft, not so much. Many ultralight pilots graduate into larger aircraft, but many do not, preferring to refine their low-and-slow skills and enjoyment of the process. Although larger aircraft provide more options for flying under different conditions, due to their greater weather/control envelope, I have a feeling that ultralight pilots actually fly more often. Maybe that’s just my exposure with local pilots. They’re often independent, flying single-seaters, and can just go flying at the drop of a hat. A bit like windsurfing really!

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