Learning to fly an Ultralight

My experience learning to fly an Ultralight

By Jeff Erekson, April 30, 2012.

First, my story has many tangents, but I’ll do my best to keep it focused. My start in ultralights was a bit different than most, but not completely unique. At age 13 I caught the flying bug when I saw a purple quicksilver fly over my apartment complex in Everett, WA. Over the next several months I did whatever I could to get in the cockpit of an ultralight. My first break came in July of 1996 when I took a flight in a Quicksilver. Unfortunately, at 14 years old, there weren’t any BFI’s (Basic Flight Instructor) in the area willing to teach a kid that young. A year later though I caught another break and saw my soon to be Lazair Series II ultralight hangered at Arlington Airport in Washington State. This is where the popular EAA Arlington Flyin is held every year. I convinced my parents to let me buy my first airplane. I bought the plane for $2,500 using my parents credit card, with my Dad writing a credit card check to the seller, under the conditions that I pay the monthly bill. That same month ultralight instruction was beefed up at the airfield, and my dad also wrote a $1,400 check to the local BFI to arrange for both him and I to get flight instruction. Their package was $700 up front for 10 hours of instruction and a solo flight.  I made monthly payments to that card for the next 3 years. I started paying for it with 3 paper routes, and later with a great job at FlightTrac, Inc as a data processor, a job I scored when I turned 17.

It took 6 months to learn to fly as I went through three instructors and three ultralight trainers. I would literally call every weekened to see if I could get some instruction (as we had pre-paid), usually getting the run around, and rarely getting up to fly. I would go to the airport and do little things here and there on my new plane, waiting for the day that we could go fly! I started out in a tandem place Hornet, an altered design of the Challenger, just faster. The plane was way too fast to compare to the Lazair, so I was switched to a new instructor and a different plane. They put both my Dad and I in a tandem seat Beaver that had a horrible running Hirth. This is where I learned the term, “friends don’t let friends fly behind a Hirth.” The engine quit on my 2nd flight lesson, and we ended up in a spinach field outside of Arlington, WA. The plane had many other engine outs, and students ripping off the landing gear. The politics and pilot bickering on the the field was absolutely horrible at the time and few things ever got done. The crook who took are money failed to pay instructors and ended up stealing more than half of what we paid him. We learned the hard way why you should never pay up front! It wasn’t until January 20, 1997 that I soloed a Quicksilver Sprint II. My instructor by this point was the crook who stole half our money. I learned later he wasn’t even a real flight instructor, just someone who sorta knew how to fly and wanted to make money attempting to shower others. However, he did manage to teach me enough about flying to keep me from going splat.

On the day of my solo we were flying around the pattern over and over again until we both felt I had it down. We then landed, taxied out to the end of the grass runway, and he got out. He told me the plane would fly like a rocket with him out, and he was right. The Rotax 503 could push that Quicksilver pretty well when there was just a 130 lb pilot at the controls. I took a deep breath, pushed the throttle forward, and felt the incredible serge of power and extreme fear! Before I knew it I was at 500 ft AGL and not even ready to turn! I pulled the power back and zipped around the pattern. I cut the power and pointed straight down only to find that I was coming in way too hot and running out of runway. I pushed the throttle forward again, but this time not so much and climbed back up to altitude.

This time I thought I was going to die. I prayed that I could get back to earth in one piece, and made my way around. I lined up for final approach, cut the throttle, and made the popular quicksilver dive at the ground. Again I was too fast, but I knew it would stop flying at some point. So I leveled off, tried to flare, ballooned up, but held off, it finally came down in a horrible landing, but in one piece! Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing a good job going straight, and had made my way across the runway, the paved taxiway, and onto the next runway! I came to a stop….

My lame instructor came up and said, “great, your alive, now do it again!”

So I went up 3 more times and came down in one piece. I did a better job each time. He signed my log book, and that ended our flight instruction. He said the deal was complete and no more instruction was needed. Now a good instructor would NOT have stopped there, but I never said he was good 🙂

Unfortunately, my Dad never received his flight instruction before the crook was kicked off the airport and had a restraining order against him by the FBO. He was not seen from again.

I then was ready to transition to my Lazair! A few weeks later I was flying my Lazair Series 2 solo.

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