I lasted posted to this blog the end of January, 2010. A lot has kept me away since then – both external events and internal. My husband was seriously injured in a car accident in October, 2009; his surgeries didn’t begin until January 2010. As you can imagine, I cleared the decks and focused on him. By May, after the last of his surgeries, I began trying to catch up with other parts of my life. I had a big note on my desk that just said “BLOG” ; but there were so many other things that needed my attention that soon I didn’t really see it.
In the past few weeks I’ve had two people e-mail me, saying they’d read my Jan. 27 post and wanted to know “the rest of the story”…did I ever buy a new ultralight, and if so, what was it?” I still put off writing, feeling embarrassed that I had failed to keep my commitment to AOPA and Let’s Go Flying. A third e-mail this morning caused me to say “Enough’s enough! Stop procrastinating and sit down and write!” So, I’m back, and — here’s the rest of the story!
In my January 27 blog, I wrote that I had four criteria for a “new-to-me” plane:
1. Fixed wing
2. Open cockpit, with seat in front of the wing
3. Speed range with cruise @ 75 mph and stall speed no more than 45 mph
I fell in love with the looks of the Rans Stinger – the S-18. There was a beautiful one for sale in Texas, and using some of my United Frequent Flyer miles, I scheduled a trip to test fly it. Phil, the owner, had built it and had done really good work. His wife hadn’t like the openness of the back seat, even with a plexiglass “screen” to shield her a bit from the wind. So he had built another plane, fully enclosed, and now wanted to sell the Stinger.
After adding blocks to the front rudder pedals so I could reach them (I’m not quite 5’ tall,) and weight in the nose, (if we didn't add weight, my 105 lbs. meant we’d be out of cg with Phil in the back seat,) we were ready to take off. It was a gorgeous day, just made for flying.
The roll-out was longer than I was used to in my Drifter, but not excessively so. In the air, the response rate was comfortable as I did some Dutch Rolls and steep banks. It flew comfortably @ 80 mph, and we touched down on the grass runway @ 60 mph. (That’s what my Drifter cruises at!) It was a very nice plane. I would be able to take out the rear controls and use the back seat for all my camping gear and other “luggage” on my cross country flights. There were even two small package torpedos on the struts, so I’d have plenty of storage room.
So – this lovely plane certainly met my four original criteria. BUT – I realized that I had to add another criteria to my original four.
5. Maneuverability on the ground
My Drifter weighs about 360 lbs, empty. When it’s fully loaded, it can be difficult for me to push around on the ground – but by putting a lot of muscle into it, I can do it. When I tried to push the Stinger around, I got almost nowhere. On flat, mowed turf, it was all I could do to move it about 8-10”. Although I love flying with other people, I also do a lot of flying by myself. It just won’t work to have a plane that I can’t push around. I wouldn’t even be able to get it into my hangar without a winch. So reluctantly, I said “no” to the Stinger, and added another criteria to my list..
As I was getting ready to leave, I met in person someone whom I’ve had occasional e-mail contact with over the years. Paul is an avid ultralight and light sport pilot, and owns TWO Drifters. I couldn’t resist the chance to see his planes, in a hangar next door. I immediately fell in love with his Drifter Red Rocket – a model I’ve heard and read about, but never seen. There it was – my dream plane!
The Red Rocket is a true Drifter, but with a 23’foot wing. Fully aerobatic, it has a cruise speed of 75-80 mph. Just what I was looking for! Paul wasn’t interested in selling it, but I decided THAT was what I wanted. Paul told me gently that it really wasn’t a cross-country plane; I interpreted that to mean that his plane was in such pristine shape, it would be a shame to subject it to the inevitable nicks and dings of serious cross country flying.
I got back to Oregon all excited about convincing Paul to sell me his beautiful Red Rocket. Or…perhaps I could convert my own Drifter to a Red Rocket. Several friends told me it wouldn’t be difficult to shorten the wings. Once home, I called Phil Lockwood, who designed the Drifter and whose company, Lockwood Aviation, is still building them. Phil pointed out a few things that I wasn’t aware of.
a. Converting my Drifter to a Red Rocket was much more involved than just shortening the wings. The entire empennage would have to be changed, since the airflow over the wings would be different.
b. At the Red Rocket’s higher speeds, due to increased wind pressure I’d need to wear a full-face helmet. (I fly my Drifter with a no-face-shield helmet and sunglasses.) There was no way to add a true windshield without causing tail buffeting.
That gave me pause. Why would I want to be in a totally enclosing helmet, when I didn’t even want to be in a fully enclosed cockpit? Well, maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as it sounded. I decided to borrow a full-face helmet and see what it was like.
However, before doing that test, I casually mentioned my plans to another Drifter friend. He didn’t give me any advice, but he asked such good questions that I decided the Red Rocket was definitely not for me. He asked me about what I know about the responsiveness of aerobatic planes. Well, duh – they’re ultra-responsive, turning, diving, swooping, soaring almost when you think about it. Another word that could be used is “twitchy”. You are always “flying” them – if you twist to get a photo, or to take out a sectional, you might find yourself in unsuitable attitudes! Also, their landing gear is usually very slight – not built for taking a pounding on a rough field. (I had already noticed this on Paul’s Red Rocket and had planned on cannibalizing my own Drifter’s gear legs and putting them on the Red Rocket.) And of course, without any more of a windshield than on my own Drifter, I was back to the need for a full-face, all-encompassing helmet.
So all of these considerations led to another criteria:
6. Good cross-country flying characteristics.
This covered a lot of things: ample storage space; responsive controls, but not overly so; strong landing gear, decent fuel burn; ability to do short field landings and take-offs.
And of course, the one implicit criteria that I’d never even mentioned:
7. Good condition, at a price that I am willing to pay
In my next post I’ll tell you more about it – and about the adventures that I’ve already had flying it.