Building the MachNone
A Sky Pup Construction Project
‘Are you bored with watching television? Does bowling and back yard barbeque lace the thrills and excitement you crave? No need to climb distant mountains or canoe wilderness rivers. Just get yourself and your ultralight and join us for a week-end cross-country flight.
On Sunday September 28th, four members of the lllini Skyriders (Gary Buck, Greg Dembeck, Marion Evans, and Dan Grunloh) departed from Busboom's on a 55 mile flight to the Fosdick RLA near Fairbury where member Jim Steidinger keeps his Easy Riser and his Ercoupe. Other ultralights from the northern part of the state were also invited. I had heard that a pair of Easy Risers had flown in on Saturday afternoon so I really wanted to ''go for it". The early morning weather report gave a line of thunderstorms 200 miles northwest with a 30 percent chance of reaching our area in the afternoon.
At dawn I flew the 10 mites from Homer to Busbooms under clear skies with a light tailwind The weather seemed perfect and I calculated that even if the storm did come this far south, we would arrive at our destination long before then. The air was smooth and we made good groundspeed on the first leg so we bypassed our 1st potential fuel stop at Patton and continued on to Roberts. Weldon Garrelts keeps his BI-RD at a field near there. We cruised alone at different altitudes watching the landscape roll by. Marion Evans seemed to prefer a low altitude when following roads. At times I wonder if he's trying to read the road signs. Greg likes to be up much higher where he can get the overall view. Weldon’s BI-RD had been damaged in a windstorm two days before and we could see the remains of the hangar roof scattered across the field near the strip. After landing we topped off the fuel tanks and inspected the rare old classic Luscombe Sedan (a 4-seater) which is based there. By the time we arrived at Roberts there was a definite layer of hazy clouds to the west and signs of cumulus development behind it.
Our final destination was only 20 minutes away so instead of getting a weather update or turning back towards home, we decided to keep on going. After take-off, Gary Buck in his phantom joined our formation. He departed Busbooms somewhat after us and actually flew the entire trip non-stop. It was becoming obvious that some weather was headed towards us with the tops of more and more cumulus showing above the haze. We were also flying towards it. Suddenly a bright blue lightning bolt snapped to the ground at the front edge Of the clouds. It seemed to be about 10 miles away and at a lower altitude. Finding our destination airfield somewhere ahead suddenly seemed much more urgent. Greg was up high and ahead of me and seemed to be going too far north. Marion was down on the deck following road signs as usual. If the Fosdick RLA didn't show up soon we would have to land in a field and sit out the storm. Then I saw a green strip below us with someone waving something bright orange. I made a broad sweeping turn to signal the others did a low flyby to check out the runway. There was Jim Steidinger and Chuck Stevenson. They thought we were going to fly right by them which we almost did.
After landing we learned that Chuck had driven down from Wisconsin leaving his Eindecker behind because of the weather. The Easy Risers had beat a hasty retreat just 30 minutes before we arrived, Not long after the ultralights were tied down securely between some sheds the wind and rain arrived. Then as if to reaffirm its superiority over us it followed up with some hail. Sober faces peered out from the shelter of the machine shed. Though we were never in any real danger, had we been 30 minutes later it could have been serious. The gust front was strong enough to have made landing difficult. I realized then that my optimism and enthusiasm had encouraged others to take unnecessary risks. The period of rain was short and we soon dried out. Jim and Chuck drove us into the nearby town for some food and fuel. While there we browsed through the shiny chrome and good-looking women at a custom car show in the city park. When asked how many hours of work he had put into his dream car, one builder said he stopped counting after 2000 man-hours.
Back at the airstrip the storm clouds had moved on and the sky was beginning to clear. Though I was content to stay on the ground until late afternoon, a headwind was building and the others felt we should begin the return flight. After take-off it became obvious that thermal turbulence was also beginning to develop. I slowed down to avoid wind gust loads and watched the landmarks slow to a crawl. You get to know a little town or grain elevator very wel1 when you can watch it for 20 minutes in a straight line flight. There was a definite difference between the groundspeed of my Sky Pup and of the Phantoms the other pilots were flying. Soon they were only faint specks far ahead. There were plenty of 1andmarks so navigation was no problem.
By the time we landed at Paxton, our next fuel stop, there was a scattered layer of puffy cumulus stretching to the horizon. The air was definitely getting rowdy but everyone landed safely. The wind was stronger now and taxi turns with my taildragger were becoming difficult. I was certainly glad to be back on the ground and felt like staying there for awhile. We rested, visited, had a cool drink, and topped off our fuel tanks. After a while Gary Buck says, ''Let's go. It's not going to get any better and we have just flown in these conditions, so we know we can do it.'' No one moved. His previous training and experience in sailplanes may have helped him adapt to turbulence. Or possibly he has no nerve endings left. He took off, flew the pattern and made a 1ow pass to give us encouragement. I reluctantly followed the others into that roller-coaster sky. I was convinced that they were getting even with me for leading them towards the thunderstorm. This part of the trip wasn't that much fun. The sky was full of puffy growing cumulus clouds that usually say to you ; "Do not fly your ultralight now. Strong thermal turbulence.'' Flying slowly a headwind and bobbing like a cork in the ocean, the landmarks seemed to stand still. Holding an airspeed just above the stall eliminated any worry about structural overloads in the gusts. The Sky Pup just mushed through the roughest bumps. Plenty of altitude throughout the flight gave the necessary safety margin. I flew into a large updraft and watched in fascination as the houses and farms below rapidly grew smaller and smaller. The thermal finally kicked me out with a bump and I continued on enjoying the view in spite of the bumpy ride.
After a long long time our home field appeared and when I descended to enter the pattern, I was surprised to see how much the trees below were bending in the wind. It was at least 15 mph because I had taken almost one hour to go 25 miles. Marion Evans, who had landed earlier, said he saw me approaching from the north and then checked a few minutes later and I seemed to be in the same place. What's more, this was going to be a direct: crosswind landing in a 2-axis ultralight. I was lucky. With a strong crab angle I approached the strip and managed to land between the gusts, skidding on one wheel to a stop with no damage whatsoever. It was too windy to taxi my Sky Pup crosswind back to the hanger. I had to shutdown, climb out and push it down the runway by hand. Later, I kept looking up into the sky and asking, how could we have flown in these conditions? I can't believe it's even possible". Surely no intelligent person would fly an ultralight in this much wind.
I think we were lucky and I hope I learned my lesson. One lesson was that I must avoid impressing my optimistic view of the weather picture on my fellow pilots. Just because some-one will follow you doesn't mean that your assessment of the forecast is correct. Also a strong case of get-home-itis caused us to fly in conditions we normally avoid . I probably flew much slower than necessary in the turbulence and thus increased the length of time I was exposed to the rough air.
In spite of all the rough spots, it was a challenging and rewarding day. For me, it fits into a special category of four or five flights I have made this year. After landing I've said to myself, ''That one flight alone was worth the two years it took to build the airplane. ''That's what real flying is all about. Adventure .
Now comes the real question of this story . What did you do on the last Sunday in September? Or whenever? Was it an exciting adventure? Did it make you feel invigorated and really alive? Think about it.
REAL Adventure Right Here in Illinois