Cross Country Flying in Microlight Aircraft

The author, an aviation entrepreneur, felt that cross country flying would be a good way to test his microlight aircraft (and provide a business justification for the vacation!)


| November/December 1979



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The microlight aircraft cross-country flying adventure began on the west coast with mountains to cross.


PHOTO: THE PTERODACTYL CREW/MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

When Keith Nicely and I decided to pilot our Pterodactyl Fledgling microlight airplanes from the West Coast to the Experimental Aircraft Association's Fly-In at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, we didn't have much trouble coming up with a solid economic rationalization for the trip. After all, I'm president of Pterodactyl Ltd and Keith is my San Francisco area dealer, so it was easy enough to chalk the cross-country jaunt up to good business promotion.

But while such practical justification served to explain the excursion to our business partners, Nicely and I were actually interested in the adventure because it offered us three weeks of real freedom and a chance to relive the freewheeling spirit of aviation's early days: seeing the country by air and landing anyplace that looked inviting!

(Incidentally, the Fledgling is just about the ideal craft for the sort of cross country flying that we had in mind. Microlight aircraft, you see, can land in a small field, are relatively inexpensive—about $3,000 in kit form—to purchase , and (best of all) are classed as hang gliders by the government's regulation agencies. You don't even need a license to fly'em! )

Over the Road

On the 4th of July, Keith and I unfolded the wings of our craft (the planes looked a little flimsy when we considered the distance ahead of us). After taking a quick swoop over the Pacific to make sure that we were, indeed, leaving from the West Coast, we flew northeast from Monterey, California.

Our first day's flight was pretty much limited to soaring over the foothills and lowlands while we experimented with an air-to-air communication system. We worked out hand signals for "low on fuel" and "follow me," and big grins for "we're in the sky and the world is absolutely beautiful" ... just the essentials.

Before proceeding with the details of our trip, I should take time to introduce the earthbound members of our group who couldn't communicate with us using hand signals. Brad Shaver and Joe England had agreed to follow us—in exchange for gas money—in a middle-aged pickup truck loaded with spare parts, a canoe, a camp stove, and assorted other items that couldn't be carried on the Pterodactyls. (Brad and Joe thought they were going on a fishing trip. Those two guys sure made our journey a whole lot more pleasant than it would have been without 'em ... but I hope they got more fishing done on the way back than they did while they had two crazy pilots to worry about!)





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