I’ve been flying my my Maxair Drifter – an ultralight-type Experimental Light Sport aircraft – for 18 years. It’s my second “ultralight”. My first, a true ultralight, was an Airmass Sunburst – 240 lbs., two 2.5 gal. gas tanks, 40 foot tube and fabric wings, and spoilerons instead of ailerons. It had an inverted V-tail. The seat was low in a cage of aluminum tubing, and I used my feet for brakes. With a 25 horse Cuyuna engine, it cruised at 32 mph and top speed was 38 mph. The only instrument was a tube & bubble airspeed indicator.
How I loved that ultralight! I bought it soon after I began taking flight lessons in 1989 (in a two-seat Quicksilver ultralight,) and was so elated when my instructor allowed me to taxi my own Sunburst up and down the grass airstrip. Of course, the long wing meant it was very susceptible to wind, and since the airstrip is bordered on one side by a row of tall fir and hemlock, I was always worrying about getting “gusted” into the tree line.
I flew it happily for over a year, not venturing much further than a 25 mile radius from my home airstrip. I usually flew by myself – no one else at the airstrip flew as slowly as I did, and they got tired of “hanging on their prop”…slowing down to where I could keep up with them.
My first cross country was to an air show 60 miles away. It took all my courage to accept the invitation to fly with a group of 7-8 other ultralights, since the flight would take us over the Columbia River. I had never flown over the Columbia and as I looked down at the wide expanse of water, my heart was in my mouth. In spite of their best intentions to fly slowly, one by one the others pulled away from me. Desperate to keep up with them and not get lost, I gradually increased throttle. Soon I was flying at my maximum speed.
We were flying over farmland when my engine suddenly quit. The sudden silence was deafening as I maneuvered into the flattest field I could find. No chance to do a fly-by to determine whether there were rocks or holes hidden in the grass. Happily, I landed without a problem and immediately saw that I had run out of gas. One of the other pilots responded to my radio call, landed beside me, transferred fuel, and we continued on.
I got home and told my husband what had happened – delighted with myself for doing such a great dead stick landing. Norm didn’t have the same perspective I did. “What! You ran out of gas? Your engine quit? You could have ended up in a hospital!” Then…more ominously…”You know I’m not crazy about your flying. You’re going to have to make a choice…”
“Oh no! Is he going to say ‘It’s me or the ultralight’? I can’t imagine he’d lay down an ultimatum like that!”
Norm continued on. “You promise me that either you’ll never fly with someone who flies faster than you do, OR that you’ll go out and buy yourself a faster ultralight.” Wow! What a guy! I started looking immediately for a faster ultralight. And that’s how I came to buy my Drifter – the delight of my life for the past 18 years.