It is 1978,
and in the USA ultralight aviation is sweeping all before it, as one innovative
design after another leaves the drawing board and takes to the air, proving
that tube and Dacron technology has finally come of age. Construction of Klaus
Hill's V-tailed 'Hummer', which made its first flight in November 1977, began
in earnest and gave Klaus a place amongst the cream of American pioneers,
particularly when he followed it with the 'Humbug', on which the 'Vector' and
many other designs were modelled. Sadly, like many other aviation pioneers, he
gained his experience in the hardest possible way, being killed during a test
flight on 10 October 1979.
Then there was
the composite-construction Striplin 'Flac' which took its name from 'Foot
Launched Air Cycle', a reflection of the early American legislation requiring
ultralights to be foot-launched if they were to be exempt from lightplane
rules. Right from the start, Ken Striplin intended his 'Flac' to incorporate an
undercarriage, but he pretended it was an auxiliary one, to get round the
control systems and configurations abounded. Ultralite Soaring's 'Wizard'
suspended its pilot in a harness between the tubes of the cage, but also had an
elevator. Others, like the Ultralight Flight's 'Mirage', used a cruciform tail
with elevators and rudder, with spoilers on top of the wing. Still others used
ruddervators on an inverted V-tail, where the ailerons improve their
efficiency, as is the case with the Ultraflight Sales 'Lazair' from Canada. The
choice was growing almost by the hour.
This was the
year, too, when John Chotia's efforts finally came good, his first two
prototypes of the two-axis 'Weedhopper' making their maiden flights in February
1978. Carrying the type number 'JC-24', as they were his 24th design, they led
to a pre-production machine the following year and large-scale production in
only one year later, on 27 October 1981, Chotia followed in Hill's footsteps
and was killed while test flying one of his own machines. We remember him as a
big good-natured man with strict morals (even when in France he wouldn't taste
the wine!), but farsighted enough to see that ultralight aviation had to turn
to research into small engines. Even though his own single-cylinder Chotia 460
was notoriously unreliable, he was nevertheless the first person to create an
engine specifically for ultralight use. While his engineering was questionable,
his grasp of history certainly wasn't: he realised that he was taking part in
an aviation rebirth, and shortly before he died confessed to having been
largely inspired by Santos-Dumont's 'Demoiselle'.
Europe was pretty quiet, and undoubtedly the major event of the year was the
first successful crossing of the English Channel by microlight, when on 9 May
Dave Cook (later to found CFM) took a 'VJ-23E' across to France. Like Chotia,
he too had a sense of history, landing near the spot from where Bleriot had
started his first ever crossing, 69 years earlier. He'd taken 1 h 15 min to fly
from Deal in Kent to Les Baraques in northern France, much longer than
Bleriot's 37 minutes but without the benefit of the extra 15 hp provided by the
PHOTO 1: Dave Cook, later to found CFM, and
manufacture Shadow microlights. David was awarded the Bronze Medal of
Achievement by the Royal Aero Club for his Channel crossing.
soldiered on, by now using a 'Safari' wing, and that summer Steve Hunt made his
first successful powered flights in a 'Super Scorpion' with a Soarmaster-style
power pack fitted.
Soarmaster-style because these American power packs were both imported and
imitated in Europe, having become quite popular among US hang glider pilots.
But only in Europe were they to develop into an ultralight proper: America in
1978 was fixedwing oriented and already ultralighting and hang gliding had gone
their separate ways.
Brienne-le-Chateau meeting that year there were exhibits from Mobiplane,
Bernard Danis and his powered hang-gliders, and Roland Magallon. Steadily,
powered hang-gliders were becoming better understood and more widely used. Now
you could buy power kits, using two 9 hp Stihl engines supplied by two students
at Orignac in the Pyrenees.
PHOTO 2: In 1978 French pioneer Bernard Danis
mated a Soarmaster unit to this SK 2SS wing of 168 sq. ft. (15.6 m) and climbed
to 5990 ft (1825 m) in the southern Alps on 5 August.
Coulommiers in Seine et Marne, Claude Chudzik had built a single-seater which was
entirely his own work. One of the first, if not the first, applications of a
motorcycle engine to an ultralight, it used a front-mounted Yamaha 347 cc
engine, delivering 36 hp at 7000 rpm to a tractor propeller. A boom extended
backwards to a conventional tail, with rudder operated by a rudder bar and
elevators by a stick. The wing was a rigidly attached Rogallo which could be
flexed in flight to provide roll control - an original, true three-axis design.
We must also
record the contribution of Helmut Wilden in West Germany, whose single-seater
flew for the first time that year and caused quite a stir. The three-axis
aircraft used a 20 hp Limbach engine, which could be swapped for a Wankel KM 24
motor of 27 hp to allow the aircraft to be used as a two-seat side by side
machine! But only one was built: to borrow a phrase from Rugby, this try was
not to be converted.