Ultralight Flying, flying an ultralight aircraft requires an attitude adjustment.

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Ultralight Flying, adjusting your attitude!

Visualize yourself living on an ultralight field, getting up to go to work. You get up have your breakfast, jump in the car and head out for the hour drive to the office.

Now visualize yourself living on an ultralight field, getting up to go for a fly in your ultralight. You have breakfast, jump in the plane and head out for the wild blue yonder!

There are a number of problems with this and they all deal with "attitude." In order to fly safely you have to "change your attitude." Before you jumped into your car and started off to work - did you check the weather, did you check your engine for oil, transmission for fluid, brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, tire pressure? Did you tell someone where you were going, or when you expected to be there or back?

Why not? Because you have developed an "attitude."  You don't have to check the weather - your in a car. It "adapts" to the weather. You didn't check the fluid levels because you take your car in for service and they check everything out for you. You didn't tell anyone where you were going because - it is taken for granted you are going to work.

"Attitude" - In every day real life we have become pampered. Everything is either done for us, we pay someone to do it, or it is readily available. This is great - except when it comes to flying - especially flying our ultralight planes. Why - because flying is nothing like driving a car. You can and do get away with a great deal of "things" when driving a car. A low tire - you just pull into a service station and put air in it - sometimes every day for a month before you get it fixed. Low on oil - ahhh your going to get the oil changed this weekend. Down to 1/4 tank of fuel - the next station is only an hour away.

All of these things happen to us regularly, with little if any consequence to us. Oh sure, we had to call for a tow truck to fix that tire when it finally went flat, or we had to call home and get the old man to bring us fuel when we ran out.  But very seldom do these cause us any grief or pain - just aggravation!

Lets look at these same situations if they were to happen when we flying. 
*A low tire allows the plastic rim of our plane to contact the ground. The rim splits and the axle digs into the ground, spinning the plane to the left, the wing hit the ground and ....
*Low on oil or fuel, while we were just going to go up for a short 30 minute flight, the conditions are so good that we decide to stay up for an hour. Unfortunately we only had 45 minutes of fuel/oil on board. The engine seizes/quits and we have to make an emergency landing into a soft field - tearing up our landing gear.

So in order to fly safely the first thing we have to do is an attitude adjustment! Especially us old pilots - with hundreds if not thousands of hours of flying. If you check accident statistics you will find that it isn't student pilots, or low time pilots having accidents! Why not? Because they are still "scared to death" of having to listen to their instructor, wife, friends, fellow pilots - and they are NEW they have a more "cautious attitude." A lot like going out on a first date, they are nervous and don't want anything to go wrong. 

Now the "old pro" on the other hand has "been there - done that" - a number of times and gotten away with it! The problem is that unlike the car problems - when the "old pro" has the engine quit for lack of fuel/oil - it is hard to find someone to come up to 2,000 feet and "filler her up." Instead he now has to rely on the skills that made him "an old pro" to get his butt back down safely - hopefully with no damage to him or his craft. 

So lets draw up a "recipe for safe flying" - for those just getting into our sport, and for those already in it that might fit into the above category.

Let's start out with a few basic rules before we get into the - every flight "rules."

If you want to live to fly another day the a couple of rules you must adhere to are:
-never test fly someone's plane! 
-never fly a plane that you don't know "up close and personal!" 
-never fly a plane that has been in an accident or had any major repairs! 

Editors note: going back over my years of flying these three categories have put me into the hospital 6 times. With test flying and repairs doing me the most damage - that is if you consider - 12 broken ribs, a fractures pelvis, a broken leg, a broken ankle, two punctured lungs, and a concussion "damage."

Okay so what's next? (You already know how to fly - someone taught you - right!) The first thing is "preparation of both the pilot and plane" - for the intended flight.

Pilot: The first thing to check is your "attitude" are you in the proper mood to go flying? I once had a pilot show up at my field, jump in his plane, take off, run out of gas, land in a plowed field, destroying his plane. He had lost his job, add the fact that his car had broken down on the way to field forcing him to walk over 2 miles. So "check your attitude."

Got a great attitude? On to step two: Most of us fly because it is "fun and relaxing" - to keep it fun and relaxing, plan you flight's for first thing in the morning or later in the evening. Getting up before the sun rises may not be part of your normal routine - but if you take off into the sunrise on a beautiful summer morning - I will guarantee it will become part of it! Ditto for being in the air as the sun sets!

Step three: Information - get all the information available on for your intended flight. The first consideration would be weather. FSS stations, the weather channel, radio/tv reports, the internet are some of the sources available to you. These all can supply you with "current information" - not just for where you are now BUT for the route you will be flying and for the area's where you will be landing.

Make sure you have a map(s) - road maps are inexpensive tools that come in very handy, as does a portable working compass (cell phones are also high on the list). With the above items "plan" your trip no matter how short - and let someone know your route via a "flight plan" or "flight itinerary" (a flight itinerary is just a very simple note or conversation with someone, giving your planned route, stops and estimated arrival times) great for when someone like me has to try to find you - when your wife phones to say you were suppose to be home at 4 for dinner at your in laws and it is now nearly 8.

If you have your own plane there are a couple of things I would recommend having on board as "part of the plane." One is a tool kit - Costco has a neat little unit with just about everything you need, in a compact plastic tool kit for about $50. On my L'il Buzzard I bolt it to the floor of the plane behind the pilot's seat.
In addition to the tool kit you should carry some safety wire, an assortment of nuts, bolts, and cotter pins, a couple of spark plugs, some duct tape, about 10 feet of fuel line, some primer line, exhaust springs, a rubber replacement intake manifold, , on air cooled engines a fan belt, on liquid cooled a small container you can use to get water in a rubber motor mount and a couple of hose clamps.

The preflight should be done prior to EVERY TAKE OFF - no matter how short the interval. I once had a pilot do a preflight on an RX 550 Beaver - both of us checked his elevator cable PRIOR to him taking off. He flew two hours home - called me the next day to say that during his morning preflight, he found a failed cable with only 7 strands of the elevator control cable still intact!preflight.jpg (32497 bytes)

The preflight should of course include the engine, and floats and float mounting hardware if thus equipped. When doing your preflight - especially if your are new to preflight's - use a check list. Start at one point in the plane and work all the way around until you are back to that point. If you are interrupted for any reason - start your preflight OVER from the beginning! When doing a preflight do not let anyone talk to you, or distract you.
For more information on preflight click here.

Flight Operation:

Starting the engine: (After preflight and fueling.)

It is suggested that if you are starting your engine make sure to have your shoulder harness and seat belt adjusted and buckled, especially in a plane like the RX 550 Beaver, where they can go back and enter the prop.

Before trying to start the engine - Apply full throttle and then allow the throttle to come back to an idle. LISTEN for the slide to hit the bottom of the carb. ESPECIALLY in winter, when the slide can stick wide open! Or the throttle cable can freeze up!

On Rotax engines either prime the engine a couple of times, or if using a choke apply the choke, the choke on Bing carbs WILL NOT work if the throttle is not all the way back to idle. 

Make sure the engine fuel selector valve is TURNED ON! I can't tell you how many students have filled one of my L'il Buzzards with fuel and started to taxi down the runway - only to run out of fuel about 45 seconds later. A rule of thumb is to taxi for about 5 or six minutes before taking off. This makes sure your fuel is turned on - and if not you run out of gas ON THE GROUND, and gives the engine time to warm up.

Turn the ignition switch(s) on.

Check to make sure no one is in the "Danger AREA" - yell clear prop! 
Pull the starter rope of push the electric start button. The engine should start up. 
If not refer to What to do when your engine won't start! 

Once the engine starts allow the starter recoil handle to retract SLOWLY back up into the housing. A quick release can result in the handle going through the prop. (If the handle does not go up by itself - REPLACE the spring in the recoil - otherwise it will come out while flying and in a pusher configuration will go through the prop!

Take Off

Apply the brakes and bring your engine up to operating temperature - 350 CHT - 1,000 EGT, 140 water temp.

On dual CDI ignition engines do your mag checks - at about 3500 rpm one side then the other. You will notice a drop of about 300 rpm this is normal.

If possible bring the engine up to full power slowly from an idle -  to check ALL ranges of engine operation.

Check your control system once more for free movement on continuity! I once had a clip on the rudder pin of my Buccaneer come off in some weeds while taxiing. Applied rudder only to find it wasn't working. Another time I tried to apply ailerons only to find I had forgotten to remove the aileron stops! 

Take Off
Here's where I am going to get into a little bit of trouble with most instructors, and or other pilots. These recommendations are for 3 axis control aircraft!

In most cases the recommendation is to take off into the wind. My recommendation is to take off so that you have a landing field directly ahead of you to land in, regardless of wind direction! Why? On the field I flew from for over 22 years taking off to the north meant that once I was airborne I had no where to safely land for about 3 minutes.

But by taking off to the south I had a two fields that I could safely land in. Over the 22 years I landed in either one of those fields 38 times. Other pilots and students I have trained have also made use of them. 

On take off as soon as I am airborne I start flying at a slight angle away from my runway rather than down the center line. This way if my engine quits or I have a problem I can just do a gentle turn forward back to the runway.  By flying away at a slight angle I have lengthened my runway. 

E.G. If I were to fly straight down the center and were to have a problem my only course of safe action is to land straight ahead.  By flying at a slight angle away I have the distance back to the runway PLUS the distance down the runway.

Climb out: Do a nice gentle climb out using FULL power, keep full power on until you reach the altitude you are going to fly at. When climbing out - climb out going slightly away from the runway - until you get enough altitude that you can safely start a turn BACK to the runway - NOW do a "climb out circuit" - that is climb out while doing a circuit of your runway. Over the years I have found that if I am going to have a problem it generally comes within the first 10 minutes of my flight. If you use this 10 minutes to circle your runway and the engine quits - or you have to land. You are now able to come back into land at your field - versus - being 10 minutes away from your home base, landing in an unfamiliar field, possibly damaging your plane, and having to get a truck, trailer, and help to get the plane back!

Why FULL POWER - think about it this way - if you run your engine at full power for 10 minutes you can climb out to 2,000 feet (just an example). The engine quits  - you now have 2,000 feet of altitude to find a safe spot to land. With your home base being that preferred spot. 

Now you climb out at full power for 4 minutes and then back power down - at the ten minute mark you are now at 1000 feet - looking for a spot to land. Altitude is money in the bank - the more you have the more you can spend and the more ways you can spend it. 

Won't this hurt the engine? NO - A Rotax two stroke engine has to be rebuilt at 300 hours - no matter what rpm you fly at. The engine when designed for snowmobile application do nearly 9,000 rpm. Full power in an ultralight it only pulls about 6500 or nearly 30% less - and at cruise 5200 to 5800 is even less than that.

Won't my engine overheat? It shouldn't if everything is right. Look you are running full power the fan is producing the most air it can, or the water pump is pumping as fast as it can. If you are flying most enclose planes like my L'il Buzzard you are doing between 55 and 65 mph meaning that quite a bit of air is going through the rad or fan from the plane moving through the air. If your engine is overheating it is generally because something is wrong in the system.

Cross Country: Fly high enough that you always have a safe spot to land. I like a base of 2,000 feet. With a power setting on a Rotax engine between 5200 and 5800 rpm for the best fuel burn and economy.

Landing: Enter the downwind leg of your circuit at a height that if your engine quits you can make the rest of the circuit dead stick! Practice this each and every time you land - either by bringing the engine back to an idle and flying the plane in with the stick. Or by shutting the engine off first on final once you KNOW you can make the landing, and then SLOWLY build confidence by shutting the engine off a little farther out each time.

REMEMBER watch for wind speed and direction - THIS WILL change each and every approach. Initially an instructor along for safety is always money well spent.

During the landing approach if you have had the engine idling - give it short bursts of power to help circulate the coolant and maintain engine temperatures. In the event of an aborted landing apply power SLOWLY to help prevent cold seizure. 

Shut down: When shutting down your engine let it idle for 3 to 5 minutes to cool everything down slowly. This will extend exhaust and engine life. It also helps lubricate the engine, as the idle mixture is a richer setting. Thus oil is deposited into bearings etc. 

U. B. Judge - DL


Robertson B1-RD single place ultralight aircraft.
Safe fun flying. That is what it is all about!

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