The baby Boeing is surprisingly a lot of fun to fly, especially when it’s lightly loaded. More nimble than you’d expect, its roll control is crisp and, although artificial, its feel is well balanced. Once you get used to the speeds and the control latency (where it keeps rolling a bit when input is removed) the airplane is quite conventional.
I’ve flown all the series owned by Southwest airlines which includes the 200, 300, 500, 700, 800, and Max. Unless something really surprising happens to their fleet plans, the Max will be my last 737 model.
The basics are the same: more power makes you go up or go faster (take your pick) and less power lets you go down or slow down. The numbers are just different. It takes a lot longer to slow because, not only is it aerodynamically clean, but you’re usually slowing from a much higher speed. Dollars roll out the tailpipes with ridiculous thrust, it’s good to have 137 people helping pay the bills.
Don’t be too intimidated by the speeds, though. After all, it’s more about relative position of the pointers than what it’s pointing at. Zero is still pointing straight up and the bottom of the white arc still means the same thing as it does in a small plane: you’ll soon go from flying to stalling. And then falling.
The 6000 fpm climbout on light flights is fun but don’t tell my boss. “This is work…”
1971 Cessna 150
My first was a Cessna 150, bought for a whopping $3200 for a half-share. I flew the paint off that thing. It was certified to fly instruments and I was silly enough to do so. Frequently. I flew places and conditions where I had no business flying a Cessna 150—legal does not mean wise! By the time my partner wanted to move onto something bigger and better (and costing much more money) I was able to buy him out. For probably 15 years that airplane served Yeoman duty.
1976 Cherokee Cruiser
Eventually, I outgrew the Cessna 150 and wound up in a 9-way partnership with a 4-place Cherokee Cruiser. That worked well until I moved to a residential airport. They didn’t allow clubs and so the Cherokee had to relocate, leaving me with a hangar in my back yard and no airplane.
This was more club than partnership although I wound up flying the airplane more than all 8 other owners.
Bubba the Bonanza
1956 G Model Beechcraft Bonanza
I’d owned an airplane or share of an airplane since just after college.
Actually, there was a Citabria renting the hangar but it wasn’t mine. I did get checked out in the airplane, another story in itself, but alas it ended up biting the dirt (its owner was ok) anyway. That’s when a neighbor and friend, Al Anderson, mentioned that he was interested in selling his Beechcraft Bonanza.
Perfect! I’d been flying the airplane occasionally and loved the way it handled. Within a week, Bubba was mine.
Since then I’ve added an autopilot, coupled GPS, new interior and paint. That all added up to more than the entire new purchase price but such is the price of speed. There are faster airplanes out there but not with this much room. I’ve packed two paramotors in there with room for wings and luggage and another body. Plus I absolutely love the handling.
Ellie (the Heli)
1969 Enstrom F28A Helicopter
In 1998 I set out to realize a life-long desire: flying a helicopter. Just an introductory flight, I figured, to get it out of my system. 8 months later I was the proud owner of a 1968 Enstrom F28A Helicopter. Ooops.
It was my lifelong desire to fly low and slow but it was always too risky in airplanes and in helicopters could handle it much safer. Little did I know that within months I was going to discover the sport of powered paragliding. In a way, the timing was propitious—had I discovered PPG first, I would not likely have been motivated to buy Ellie.
The Robinson that I learned in was a great machine but was a lot more expensive and had no cargo area beyond what you could stuff under its tiny seats. The Enstrom’s wide cabin became a real boon after learning to paramotor—my Fly 75 would fit inside and the wing squeezed into that cargo area. Yehaa, helicamping with PPG!
Mostly I give rides, go to paramotor flying fields and scope out new places to fly PPG. Tim Kaiser and I have found numerous out-of-the-way sites right around the Naperville area that have turned into reliable launches.
In 2003 I also flew her around the Chicago area with a cameraman who was filming for the TV series “Airline.” Being a private pilot in rotorcraft means I was only allowed to share expenses which essentially meant they paid only for most of the fuel (a relatively small part of the operating expense). That was fine, though, the flying was a blast.
Paramotors, Wings, and Jeff’s PPG History
Apco Santana 28
In March 1999 I set out to join the sport of powered paragliding, having seen the sport’s virtues extolled by Nick Scholtes, I headed for California and hopefully my P2 paraglider rating with Jeff Williams. I don’t have any pictures of myself flying during this training because Jeff was too busy biting his nails every time I went airborne.
It took two trips to California to get the full training and I had a great time along the way. Jeff was patient and passionate. He was a stickler, too. The requirement was 5 consecutive forward inflations and so that’s what I did.
The Santana, pictured left, was a horrible wing to inflate in no wind. Of course I had no idea because it my first exposure to the sport. Plus, paraglider pilots rarely fly in no wind and so that’s not a big deal. As I later learned, it is a huge deal for paramotoring.
Mark Sorenson became my first paramotor instructor when he sold me this modified Fly 70 and agreed to give me instruction with it. The motor worked perfectly for my small 150 pound frame. In spite of my best efforts to the contrary, Mark got me airborne while he worked with another instructor.
This motor has made the rounds and, amazingly, continues to serve. It’s primary redeeming quality is that it fits in the helicopter without disassembly. That turns out to be a handy way to get back from the helicopter shop when I need to leave it.
Sky Cruiser Top 80
At my first PPG event, 1999’s Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Fly-In, I saw the Miniplane. I picked it up and heard it fly. Lightweight and powerful but quiet, too. Cool, I thought, but there were only a couple in the country. I didn’t want to be an early adopter and meet with potential maintenance headaches.
Then, in the spring of 2000, Francesco DeSantis and Jim Jackson were showing their new Sky Cruisers off at a Florida show. They used the same gas-sipping Top 80 motor, were more transportable and promised to have good support.
A few months later, on a trip to Florida, Check let me take one out for a test drive.
To try it was to fall in love with it. After one flight I put my order in and in about May of 2000 I took delivery. One of it’s maiden voyages became fodder for a favorite story—the “Eager Beaver” prop. I still have that prop. Eventually I’ll get the story up here on Footflyer.
It had a flexible cage and no weight shift, that would have to weight for a number of years. It required a technique of inflating the wing before powering up but that wasn’t too hard to master. I’ve since discovered that you can power up early but don’t do so with big wings or great vigor lest the cage flex into the prop.
In late 2000 I wanted to get an easier-to-inflate soaring wing that would also be good for motoring. After trying several, I settled on the Swing Arcus. It was large and slow but had a low sink rate, decent handling and was far easier to launch with no wind than the Santana.
It had no trimmers, a staple of modern motor wings, but would accelerate nicely with speedbar. That made it a good soaring wing but make sure to hook up that speed bar. The speed range went from real slow to slow otherwise.
I had a parachutal stall with this wing while flying in mid-afternoon conditions during the summer of 2000 in spite of minimal brake pressure. That was an eye-opener as my paraglider training suggested that parachutal stall was largely a thing of past technology. Not so fast. After reporting the event on a newsgroup I discovered that numerous other PPG pilots had experienced the same thing. They recounted their own episodes (privately) and it became clear that training standards needed modification. It was the seminal event that motivated me to start working on “Risk & Reward.”
This sized Arcus would be a good wing for a heavier pilot so I sold it to a friend who weighed about 30 pounds more than me.
Paramotor Sky Cruiser Snap 100
As much as I like the Top 80, there were times I wanted more push for high altitude flying. I tried the Snap 100 in Albuquerque in 2004 and it worked quite well. It continues to serve me although I have discovered that a really good-running Top 80 puts out almost as much as thrust as the Snap. I still have, and will probably keep flying, a pair of Top 80 paramotors that put out great thrust. On the “Jeff Sea Level Thrust scale”, the Snap is a 100 pound thrust machine while the Top 80 is a 95 pound thrust machine.
This particular machine is the one that went on the Baja trip with Jeff Hamann aboard his sailboat, the GloriaMaris. It worked flawlessly while being left on the beach for nearly 8 straight days.
At a fall competition in 2005 I doomed myself. My just-purchased Black-Devil powered machine puked as I inflated for the first task of the event. Iand it wouldn’t start again. I would have no way to win without the points on that day’s tasks and knew it was over so I pulled out. That was legal since I had not yet flown a task.
My mistake was then taking Phil Russman up on his offer to ease my frustrated psyche with a flight on his machine, a Blackhawk. I found it very comfortable, more so than my previous models in spite of its left-handed throttle. So I took up Bob Armond on his offer to trade my machine (which I got running by then) for the Blackhawk. It turned out to be a good trade.
The unit lived on the Enterprise and carried me aloft on many high-altitude missions. At 145 pounds I didn’t need all that power but it sure was nice in thin air. I’ll admit that it’s kind of nice even down low.
I wanted the Black Devil power for my frequent high-elevation flights and competition. In competition, the steepness of your turn is significantly related to thrust, especially in thin air. Without enough thrust, you have to shallow the bank lest the ground rise and and smite thee.
Spice 22 Paraglider
I’d heard Alex Varv talk about the handling of this new prototype wing and was intrigued. It supposedly had spry turning along with high efficiency. Alex brought over a demo, at the time called a Manta and I wound up falling in love with it. By this time I’d flown dozens of other wings including several DHV 2-3 models and an aerobatic model. But non fit the desires of my flying like the Spice. I didn’t need to go super fast and I didn’t want to require lots of thrust. In a nutshell, I wanted handling and efficiency.
I have yet to fly a wing with handling as sporty as this. During a back-to-back comparison flight with my Silex, the Spice required 400 less RPM while flying with the Fly 75 (yes, I still fly this motor occasionally).
The Spice’s efficiency also allows it be soared although its small size means that it will take more lift than a normally sized soaring wing.
It not for the faint-hearted. It’s twitchy in flight, requires more effort to keep in place and is more prone to collapses at high speed than some other wings. Even worse though, the extremely sensitive handling has caused a number of crashes just from over-controlling. So, like all things in life, especially aviation, there are trade-offs.
In about 2009 I was looking for a competition wing. Mathieu Roaunet was a world Champion and Ozone rep who had put the Viper 1 through a LOT of paces in the time he flew it. That was valuable. Comp wings aren’t certified and I didn’t want to be a test pilot so, after trying it, I wanted that wing. Unfortunately they weren’t making that wing because it was considered an old model. They were promoting the new Speedster but I didn’t find its handling quite as crisp and I wanted something that had some comps under its belt.
Ozone agreed to custom make the Viper 1 for me which turned out to be a very robust, fast ride. I remember it being the fastest production wing i’d flown at 42 mph on a upwind/downwind speedtest. And it was a great handler. It did well for me through my final competition in 2014.
2000 Cosmos Samba Hang Glider Trike
Hang gliding was one of the first things I wanted to do, right along with soaring, but my parents (probably wisely) kept me away. Well after leaving the nest, though, my curiosity came back and HG trikes looked like little aerial go carts. I was concerned with the controls all being backwards and warned my instructor that I’d me more difficult than most.
Fortunately, the training went well and, even after a scary first solo, I really liked it. Harry Rosset and I went in together to buy a small, very efficient single-seater, the Cosmos Samba. It uses a competition topless (no kingpost) hang glider wing that’s known to be pretty slippery but, with all the cart’s drag, is not that difficult to fly or manage glide. It’s Lamouette’s “Topless” brand topless glider.
Power comes from the same engine used older paramotors: the Zenoah 250 cc. Its power aplenty on this platform, especially since this craft is intended to be a soaring trike. These are sometimes called Nanolights. But then, by that measure, what the heck would you call a 45 pound Top 80 paramotor?
Ironically, the fellow who soloed me in his mammothly powerful tandem unit, was the same instructor who took me up on a towed hang glider introductory flight 10 years earlier. He was a gem then, and again for this training. I loved his patient, understanding demeanor. Treasure that if you can find it since the training will be so much more fun.
It climbs my 150 lbs carcass at nearly 300 fpm and my friend’s 200 pounds at probably 250 fpm. With a 3 gallon fuel tank it can go for at least a couple hours. Handling is awesome compared with the tandem. More slippery and with a delay that takes a some acquaintance, but overall well balanced. It turns to the left (even unpowered) and we can’t figure out how to fix that but will eventually get it to someone who really knows what they’re doing.