Kolb Aircraft, Holmer Kolb ultralight aircraft designer, ultralight aircraft manufacturer, ultralight aircraft pilot.

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Holmer Kolb ultralight aircraft designer.
The Kolb Flyer
The Kolb Ultrastar
The Kolb Twinstar
The Kolb Firestar
The Kolb Fire Fly
The Kolb Mark III
The Kolb Slingshot
The Kolb Lazer

When studying the birth of aviation, names such as the Wright Brothers, Cessna, Piper, and Taylor, are those that first come to mind. 

Holmer Kolb ultralight aircraft designer.When examining the birth of ultralight aviation Moody, Eipper, Choiota, and Kolb jump out from the pages of ultralight history. While John Moody was probably the first person in North America to strap a motor to his back and take off under a hang glider. Chiota and Eipper were some of the first to introduce mass production ultralights to the market. (Weedhopper and Quicksilver) And while other designers and factories were knocking out "Ripsilver" clones, a designer and builder in Pennsylvania by the name of Holmer Kolb was busy designing and building, his own light aircraft designs.

Over the 20 years that I have been covering the ultralight  scene I have run into Homer Kolb many times. In fact even before meeting the man his name was familiar to me because of the product he produces. As a reporter at events such as Lakeland and Oshkosh, part of the task at hand is to let the world at large know who has introduced this, or improved that, or won such and such an award. It seems that as long as I have been reporting one or another of Holmer's designs have been winning awards. It wasn't until Oshkosh 88 that I was formally introduced to Holmer. 

Oh we had met from time to time and he would stop and chat for a while. These were more like two people meeting who have briefly crossed paths, a brief period of recognition, nothing more.  Then in 89 at Oshkosh Angel Matos owner of Advanced Aviation, introduced me to Holmer and Lyle Byrun of Eipper. Here I was a little bald headed Canadian sitting between two of the legends in ultralight aviation. 

For close to two hours I sat riveted to my seat listening as Holmer, Lyle, Angel, Wayne Richter, and Jan Swager recounted passages from their memories of the hey day of ultralight aviation. It was nearly 7 months later after discussion with Scott Wilcox, general manager of Ultralight Flying that I decided to go back into the past of ultralight aviation and find out just who these men were that were designing and building the planes that I was flying. 

Why do they do what they do?
Where do they get their ideas  from?
Why does one build from this kind of material, while another form something else?
Why have some been so successful, while others fail?
Why have some of the successful ones gone onto failure?

Holmer Kolb

Let' s take a look at Holmer Kolb, one of the founders of the ultralight movement in North America.
But how does a man who describes himself as "an amateur designer, nothing more", get involved in designing and building some of the most award winning aircraft on the ultralight market? 

According to Holmer,"It all started as a kid, when I would collect cereal box tops, and send them away for those little wind up model airplanes". "Then when I was 12 years of age, I designed a little boat that went like the dickens, I used the money from the sale of the boats to get the money to build little aeroplanes" 

"The first planes had wooden wings with aluminum tubing making up the fuselage and tail sections, these were quite light, and were pulled aloft by boats" "It has always been a dream of mine to be able to design, build and fly a craft that weighted less than the pilot" "When Rogollo, came out with his Delta wing design, I read all the reports, did extensive studying into airfoils, and built a scaled up kite from his data". "This kite flew for close to ten years, it used weight shift  for control and was towed up behind a motor boat" So when did you first put an engine on one of your designs? 

"I think it was in the early 1960s when engines like the McCullough Chain saw, and Chrysler west bend became available"  "I have always been fascinated with multiple engine aircraft, so one of my first powered designs was an all metal, aluminum skin aircraft, riveted together, and powered by 4 weed eater engines " "This craft was FAA inspected, it had a short wing, low aspect ratio, and is still up in my barn, back in Pennsylvania." "I think it was in 1965 that I built N2H","she was an all metal aircraft, with 1/4 " thick honeycomb, over .008 aluminum, glued to balsam wood and featured a hinged wing, with 4 engines" 

Is N2H still flying?

"I don't know, N2H was sold to a gambling house owner, and the money was put back into building more aeroplanes"

What happened after N2H?

"From 1966 to 70 I played around with the Flyer" "The Flyer was designed to be powered by two engines, yet provide slow speed flight, and be light enough to foot launch,"

Did the Flyer live up to your expectations?

"The first Flyer was a little crude but flew well, and was covered with mylar and rip stop dacrpm."

"From 1971 to 78 I didn't do much, then in 79 I got back into it again". "I changed the engines and fabric and came to  Oshkosh with a 10 year old aircraft, in a trailer"

How was the reception at Oshkosh?

"The Flyer was received well but because of the tornado like winds we couldn't do much flying."

"Where the Flyer really took off though was in Tulahoma Tennessee." " A local EAA chapter put on quite an impressive show, these were real nice people, although a little hesitant at first they allowed me to fly from the grass strip"

"The Flyer showed good control in the light winds and proved several times that it could land without an engine", "There was a lot of interest, and I sold quite a few plans"

"The Ultrastar evolved from the Flyer, but was powered by the new Cayuna engine, that Jack McCormack was using on the Pterodactyl"

Were you still selling plans at this time?

"I had to stop selling plans because I was terrified by what some of the builders were doing, when it came to the choice of materials"

How many Ultrastar kits were sold then?

"Altogether I think that between 400 and 500 Ultrastar kits were sold."

After the Ultrastar you came out with several new designs using some of the same principles why?

"The Ultrastar had a few problems, the major one being that wood doesn't cut grass well, as many owners found out when they taxied into long grass"  "Noise was another problem, as was being out in the open" "These problems were solved by the introduction of the Firestar which was introduced at Lakeland in 1989." "The Firestar is a very docile craft, in fact you can keep the wings level right through stall." "It has good visibility, and with its folding wings can be put into a garage for easy storage."

"The 377 Rotax engine is mounted behind the pilot and above the wing, which cuts down on the noise, and eliminates the prop clearance problem."

"The 35 hp Rotax engine provides a very good climb rate." Holmer Kolb's FireFly - Part 103 legal ultralight aircraft.

Why folding wings?

"In the early days I saw all the old Easy Risers left out in the rain and snow, it was a real shame, the folding wings allow for easy storage and contributes to safety."

I notice that one of your craft is featured in the Full Lotus brochure!

"Yes the Firestar has recently been mounted on Full Lotus floats and we have been very pleased with the performance."

What about the Mark11?

"The Mark11 is powered by the 503 Rotax engine, features side by side seating, is enclosed, and has an exceptional climb rate for a two seat aircraft"

"We also build the Twin star" "It is a two place trainer with side by side seating, and is also powered by the 503 Rotax engine."

I have been very impressed by the performance of both the  Firestar powered by the 377 Rotax and the Mark 11 with the 503!

Any plans on using the 582 liquid cooled engine?

"We have found the 503 to be a good reliable engine, probably the most reliable of the Rotax engines, with the performance we are currently getting I don't really see it being necessary."

 Any plans for new designs in the future?

"Oh we've got a few projects in the works, once we get time to get to them."

Anything for introduction at Oshkosh?

"Oh we might have something in the works, only time will tell!"

Wrap up

I have been on the ultralight scene for over to 20 years now. Have seen many dealers and manufactures go from rags to riches and back again. Have listened as designers spew forth words to describe their craft that you would need a Webster's dictionary to understand.

None of these describe the man or products in the above story. Holmer Kolb took time off from a very hectic show at Lakeland to sit down, and talk to someone he had only briefly been introduced to several years before.

He talked to me not unlike a father and son discussing a piece of history that they had both shared together. No 14 syllable words were used. No exaggerated claims. No sales pitch.  No "me and my aircraft are the greatest thing since sliced bread".

In his mind Holmer Kolb is exactly what he claims to be "just an amateur designer, nothing more", but to an industry that has suffered through famine and feast, been racked by unfilled orders and exaggerated claims, he and his products are the yardstick that others in the industry can be measured against. 

U.B. Judge

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