I Must Be Crazy

My name is John Talbert and am the proud builder/owner of a Challenger single place ultralite. I live in Vacaville Ca. I have a total of 127 flt hours in the Challenger, and 8 hours of dual instruction in a Hawk. I am on active duty in the US Air Force and am currently a C-5 Loadmaster. I have over 4000 combined flying hours on C-141 and C-5 aircraft over the last 18 years. Here's a story about how I got interested in Ultralights. Hope you enjoy it.

I only flew in an ultralight once, as a passenger back in the mid 80's while living in Southern California. At the time, I wanted one so bad I considered getting a second mortgage on my house. Eight years later and several thousand dollars richer, I am finally in the process of building a Challenger single place. What took so long? A 4 year tour to Germany with the US Air Force and 8 months in the Persian Gulf distracted me from my interest in ultralights and recreational flying. Since moving to Delaware in July of 1991, I had not seen or heard of any ultralight activity and thought ultralights had disappeared from the flying scene. Boy was I wrong! Early one Sunday morning, with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, I jumped in the family van and headed uptown for the local news stand to get the Sunday paper. While passing Henderson's airport, a small grass airfield only 3 miles up the road from my place, I noticed a crazy fool in a Stearman flying like a wannabe crop duster. I hadn't seen much if any flying activity there in three years, so an aircraft in the pattern caught my attention. I decided to pull in and watch the airshow. While standing a safe distance from the runway, with coffee cup in hand, I watched the pilot doing his best crop duster imitation. He flew over low and slow and waved, then landed and taxied over to me. "Are you an airplane nut," he asked? Of course I answered yes, and he said, "Hop in." As I'm kinda crazy myself, I jumped in and had a thrilling ride over the countryside. After we landed, the pilot introduced himself as Dave Henderson. He was the owner of the airfield and the Stearman he was flying belonged to a prince in Thailand who had bought it to include in his extensive collection. Dave was getting one last flight in before recovering and shipping it over. I asked Dave if he knew of any ultralight pilots in the area, and to my surprise he said there were several. After some phone calls, I found out 3 of the flyers worked right on Dover Air Force Base with me. The local group fly's J-3 Kittens, and a Kolb. My long dormant interest in flying and ultralights was rekindled. After reading all the magazines I could find, including back issues of USUA's Ultralight flying, I realized that ultralights were as popular as ever. What is more important, airplane design and construction had vastly improved since I had first become interested in ultralights. I got the flying fever real bad and started a serious search for my aircraft. I wanted to spend time flying and not building, so the Challenger's low build time and reputation for safety appealed to me. Without even seeing a Challenger, I placed my order with Earl McCoy out of Mountain Aircraft in Virginia and eagerly awaited my airplane. I now have the tail feathers and wing completed, minus paint. Itís been too dang cold out in my garage to paint. I am now patiently awaiting my fuselage section and warmer weather to arrive. Iím real pleased with the aircraft so far, my only complaint being the poor construction manual. I havenít any flying experience, so proper flight training was one of my top priorities. I found an excellent CFI named Ray Sawyer down in Virginia who flies a Hawk and logged my first hour of instruction on FEB 18th.

Here's an update on what has happened since the 18 of Feb.

While in the midst of building my Challenger single place and taking flying lessons, I also started on a 22 ft enclosed trailer to haul my finished airplane out to California. I have since successfully completed all three projects, and moved to California. Here's the story of my first solo. I had set up my aircraft at a beautiful 1000 ft grass strip that was home to 2 J-3 Kittens. I had 8 hours of instruction in a Hawk, but had not soloed yet. In preparation for my first flight, I made numerous trips up and down the runway, doing short and sometimes long crow hops, quickly building up confidence in the plane and myself . The leap from crow hop to actually leaving the airfield was proving to be quite a barrier. I knew that I would have to do it sometime, so I mentally pumped myself up to go for it. Seat belt and shoulder harness pulled tight, brain bucket on, I firewalled the throttle and let her rip. We were off the ground in no time, but I think my heart and my brain stayed on the ground. The winds aloft were quite different from those on the ground and caught me by surprise. Since the Challenger is semi open, and the Hawk I had trained in had a complete enclosure, the wind blast coming in the cockpit was a little distracting. I climbed to 250 ft and began to circle the runway, forgetting to climb to pattern altitude. My friends on the ground were jumping up and down making waving gestures to climb, which I promptly did. Petrified, my right leg was shaking like crazy and it didn't stop until I landed. I climbed to 800 ft, and flew around the pattern for about 10 minutes while I breathed deeply and collected my thoughts. The airplane flew beautifully; smooth, completely stable and absolutely no surprises. It was about 8 PM and I had about 40 minutes of daylight left, so I knew I had to land sometime soon. I set up on short final and started my approach. There are two trees at the approach end of the runway, one about 75 ft tall and the other 50, set right on the corners. I came in over the trees at about 150 ft, and headed for the middle of the runway. Halfway down, I was somewhere near the middle of the field and determined to get the plane on the ground. I planted it on the runway but with only about 200 ft left. My friends were waving their arms for me to stop, but since I had no brakes, there was not much I could do. I did learn on one of my longer crow hops, that if I cut the engine, I would come to a relatively quick stop, as the thrust at idle with the big 60 inch prop is quite substantial. I threw the switch and finally stopped about 25 feet from where my friends where standing. I was very happy to be on the ground to say the least. After about 5 or ten minutes of critique from my more experienced brethren, I figured that If I went home for the night and didn't take off again right away, I would lay in bed all night thinking about how scared I was. I fired the engine up, jumped back in, and lined up for take off. I made three more takeoffs that night, and all "4" subsequent landings were within the first 3d of the runway. The Challenger is a great aircraft, and I highly recommend it for new flyers. I have since acquired 27 flight hours, and have flown over the fields of Delaware, the deserts of Arizona, and the vineyards of California. It's been a long journey, but it was well worth it.
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