"If God had intended man to fly, he would have given him more money"
A Plane of His Own
By Bayliss Harsh
On his 36th birthday, my favorite aviation enthusiast and aircraft builder took his newly completed RagWing Ultra-Piet on her maiden flight.
The Ultra-Piet is a single seat ultralight replica of the popular Pietenpol Aircamper, a small homebuilt designed in 1929. An ultralight is a small craft, flying no more than 63 miles per hour and holding no more than 5 gallons of fuel.
It was one of those perfect Kansas days, with wide-open baby blue skies, lovely temperature and a light breeze. Doug and "Piet" taxied up and down the runway at the Vinland Valley Aerodrome, a big grassy airfield adjacent to the tiny picturesque village of Vinland, Kansas. One more pass down the runway they went, then Doug and Piet gently lifted into the sky. Watching with joy and wonder from the field below stood Doug's wife Bayliss, his beloved canine companion Cody Bear, flying buddy Jim Brothers and friend Kathy Correll, who had gathered to celebrate Doug's birthday and ultralight launching.
What a rich and vibrant picture it was; Piet, with her red body and cream colored wings, gliding slowly and smoothly through the blue sky dotted with white puff ball clouds. The spring green countryside met the field of blue at the horizon.
What a glorious day for flying!
After landing for the first time, Doug reported that soon after take-off, a few hundred feet off, he had looked out at different parts of the plane, and realizing in slight horror that he had put it together himself, hoped he had done it right! Then he returned his attention to the task of concentrating on the business at hand - evaluating the flight characteristics of his new bird. When the concentrating gave way to a preliminary moment of euphoria, he realized that Piet was very docile and promised to be a joy to fly. It was the sweetest airplane he had ever flown.
Doug began building his ultralight in March of 1993 in his workshop behind his home. Working with great diligence and persistance during every free evening and weekend hour, he had the project more than halfway completed within the first year. Doug took it easy for the next 6 months, working on Piet sporadically. He then resumed his previous dogged pace and finished the plane in June of 1995. This is a very short time in which to complete such a monumental task - some homebuilders spend many years on similar projects. After his first flight, remembering the exhausting hours he had put into this plane, Doug declared that whenever it was not good flying weather he was going to become a slug.
Doug, who is
also a woodworker, designer, inventor, machinist and luthier,
Photo above by Mike Yoder
What goes up... (or, The Prologue)
Many of my 200 hours in the Ultra-Piet were enjoyed flying low and slow over the Kansas River, and I always feared that the engine might quit and give us nowhere to go but in the drink. But the Kawasaki ran flawlessly and never even dirtied its spark plugs, so that was a risk I was willing to take. The depth of the water was also reassuring... once, when asked what I would do if my canoe flipped over in this river, I replied "I'd probably stand up and walk to the shore."
After the "landing" shown above*, which left me completely dry and unscathed, I had the humbling fear that I had simply spaced out and flown into the water. Before I knew what had happened, I felt the landing gear getting sucked into the water. I pulled the stick back all the way, but it was too little too late. I felt a spray of water on my face, took a deep breath and held it, and a long second later I was hanging upside-down by the seat belt and shoulder harness (breathing air and not water, thankfully). I unstrapped, lowered myself onto the bottom (now top) of the wing and hand-paddled to shore. Somehow my camera had managed to not fall out of my shirt pocket, so I took off my shoes and socks and waded around the plane capturing the moment before the sun went down.
Subsequent inspection of the landing gear revealed a bent axle with scratches around the bend, so I may have snagged a limb or something protruding from the water. Or maybe I got into some sink from a rotor coming off the treeline... The surface of the river had foam and other stuff on it -- making it sufficiently visible -- so it shouldn't have been a simple case of losing visual contact with the surface. I won't deny that my usual practice of flying 5-10' off the water was not the safest thing (and people who have never experienced the ultra-slow flight of an ultralight will certainly not understand), but at least I can take small comfort in the fact that I didn't simply fly into the water.
Piet has now been transferred to the capable hands of Ed Clark of Linwood, KS for repairs. It was really hard to watch this friend and labor of love ride away on someone else's trailer, but it's comforting to know that she'll be flying again soon and won't be far away. I've wanted a two-place airplane in a bad way, so I've started building an ISON Tandem Air-Bike. You can watch my new project in progress here.
* They say that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing... but what about one that you can wade away from?
plane above is not a real Pietenpol, but a 3/4 scale ultralight