Biking to Arlington

Ian Henehan - September 2002


I finally got to take the Airbike out on a real cross-country trip. Throughout the building process, I’d been looking forward to taking the Airbike to the Northwest Regional EAA Fly-In in Arlington, Washington. With the forty hours of test flying finished and the kinks worked out, it was time to do some serious ultralight flying.

Preparation for the trip was a little more critical than previous trips in Bob’s Cessnas. I had to haul two-stroke supplies for re-fueling, a few spare parts, tools, and still have room for the camping equipment. I found a motorcycle tank bag that mounted to the frame easily. It was quick to remove and held everything I needed - with the exception of a tent and sleeping bag. It became clear that I would have to wing it and beg, borrow or buy shelter in Arlington. The baggage area on the Airbike is limited to say the least!

I planned on leaving early Thursday morning. Winds were predicted to be 10-15 out of the NW for most of the route. I figured an early departure might allow me to make some headway before the wind really picked up. Couldn’t have been more wrong. A little after 8:00am, I found myself bucking serious headwinds and a bit of turbulence as I was passing Scappoose. Kids on bicycles were making better time than I was. From about 1000’AGL, I could see the whitecaps forming on the Columbia. Time to make some adjustments to the flight plan. The decision was made to stop in Kelso and top off the tanks and warm up a bit.

Over an hour after leaving Twin Oaks, I entered the pattern at Kelso. It turned out to be a better decision than I could have imagined. As I taxied into the tie-down area, I saw a group of ultralights that looked suspiciously like they were headed to Arlington as well. The group turned out to be from the Ultralight Flying Organization (UFO). Most of the group had made the trip before and I was invited to join up for the rest of the way into Arlington. This sounded like a great idea to me, as this was my first ultralight cross-country and first time to fly-in to a major event of any sort.

There were four ultralights in the group at Kelso. I met Arty with her Drifter, Randy who drives a Carrera, Ed with a Kolb and Henry, also on his first trip to Arlington, in a beautiful HiperLite. Everyone gassed up and we departed for Chehalis, now a flight of five.

Even after finishing up the Airbike, I had spent most of my time around regular GA operations. This was the first time I’d had a chance to fly with aircraft that had similar performance. The differences in cruise and climb performance was minimal between the five planes. I found my heavily loaded Airbike climbed a bit slower than the others, but cruised the same or maybe a bit better. This made it easy to stay together as a group. There were two advantages to sticking together. First, it was nice to have other folks around if there was a problem. Second, it was FUN! It was a blast checking out the other planes from the air, pulling up for some loose formation flying occasionally and sharing the day with like-minded folks.

The winds were still pretty stiff up to Chehalis, but seemed to be better than my first leg. The sky was clear and visibility was outstanding. We all piled into the pattern at Chehalis for gas and a lunch stop. Henry had the shortest range, so the group was planning stops around his fueling needs. This added stops at Flying B and South Prairie, both very nice private, grass strips, where the group knew some of the residents. The next leg was into Crest, where the rest of us fueled up. The next stop was Harvey and one of the most enjoyable legs of the trip.

In case you’ve never flown into Crest, let me describe the area. Trees. Tall trees, with very little space between them. There may be a flat, clear spot within a mile or two of the airport, but I never saw one. The only spot clear of trees, besides the airport, was about a quarter mile to the north. This was cleared for the high-tension wires that run east to west. It was on departure, over the trees and just short of the power lines, that my engine decided to develop a cough. It only lasted a few seconds, but had my full and undivided attention. I started a turn to crosswind with enough power to keep climbing while speeding up a bit. Suddenly, the engine cleared and developed full power again. It occurred to me that I hadn’t let the engine warm up enough before taking off. This was mentioned specifically in the operating manual for the engine. Even more important for engines mounted inverted like mine. I spent a few extra minutes around the end of the airport to make sure the problem was really gone before heading north again. It’s one mistake I won’t make again! Talk about lousy places to learn a lesson….

With the engine humming along happily now, we headed for the gap in the ridge running NE to SW. The wind was still blowing pretty well from the NW and we saw twenty or thirty paragliders taking advantage of the ridge lift. I thought the Airbike was slow, these guys looked like kites floating all over the face of the ridge. Looked like they were having a ball. After flying through the gap, the landscape rapidly changes to a river valley full of pastures. Very few buildings, no power lines for miles. Most of us dropped down on the deck for a little fence spotting for the next few miles. As we got close to Harvey, we could here the skydive operation announcing drops. At 1000’ AGL, we could see the skydivers opening their chutes about 1000 feet or so higher. We had gotten a little spread out since Crest, but all formed up again to come into the Harvey pattern. Time to stop for some dinner.

I was pushing the ‘Bike into a tie down spot, when I saw Henry pushing his HiperLite off the taxiway. It took me a second to realize what was missing. His prop was gone! Apparently, while on the downwind, the steel shaft that holds the bearing and pulley/prop flange for his belt reduction drive, sheared off. The prop departed rapidly like one of those pull-string propeller toys. Henry turned his downwind leg short at that point and dead-sticked the little biplane down to the runway. Not only was it a great landing, he almost coasted to the taxi turn-off! Everyone was amazed at the sudden failure and even more so with the way Henry handled the situation. As we were sitting down waiting for our food to arrive, Henry showed up with the prop in hand! A neighbor of the airport had brought it to the FBO, having found it impaled in his front yard. One blade was broken at the midpoint and the other tip was chewed up. The bearing was still mounted on the broken shaft and spun freely. It had been suggested that the bearing seized and broke the shaft. Apparently this wasn’t the case. I never heard a good explanation for the failure, but the vender was at Arlington and was very motivated to get Henry setup again. By Saturday, Henry had a new GEAR reduction drive and 3-bladed Powerfin prop.

After dinner, we made the short hop to Arlington. This leg was made much easier by flying in with folks that had been there before. The ultralight pattern is not a place for the timid. There is a lot of traffic, no radio frequency and a wide range of speeds. Traffic included "conventional" ultralights, trikes, autogiros and powered parachutes. Plus a few things that were difficult to identify. Pattern ceiling is at 400’AGL and the downwind leg is pretty close to the runway. The base leg on most patterns was just one point on a 180 degree descending turn to final. Even with all the activity, we all got down and taxied without any problems. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, we all had parking/camping spots and could start to settle in.

What a day! I logged 5.7 hours of flight time since leaving Twin Oaks and had arrived at the Northwest’s premiere aviation event. Now I just had to find some shelter. Fortunately, I ran into Andy Karmy. I’ve been corresponding with Andy for a couple years now. He built a 2000 Ultralight Grand Champion MiniMax. The MiniMax uses a wing that is almost identical to the Airbike. We had spent many emails debating virtues of different engines, props, paint systems, and anything else that could be bolted to our planes. Andy offered a ride to a nearby Fred Meyers and the camping dilemma was solved. By 10pm I had a tent up and was settled in for some sleep.

Saturday was spent wandering around looking at airplanes. All kinds of airplanes were represented. Homebuilts, ultralights, warbirds, and antiques - you name it. It was like a kind of Disneyland for the aeronautically demented. Got to take a look at the new Sonex aircraft put out by John Monnet. Saw the huge radial powered floatplane offered up by Murphy. A turbo-prop Lancair IV, an F8-F Bearcat, the list was seemingly endless. The swap meet tents had tons of stuff I could have used a year ago, while still building. There were lots of neat vehicles around the ultralight area as well. A "vintage" twin engine Lazair, the gorgeous MiniCoupe, and even a float equipped autogiro that looked like something Doc Savage would have flown in the thirties. The warbird flybys were pretty spectacular and included a B-25 Mitchell. This is definitely an event for pilots and by pilots. In between wandering around the airfield, I managed to take a couple flights in the Bike’. Randy and I spent some time flying over the tidal flats west of Arlington about an hour before sundown. Smooth, calm air and a clear sky. Hard to have much more fun in an airplane.

The return home was scheduled for Saturday. The UFO group had similar plans, so I tagged along again for the return trip. Henry decided to trailer the HiperLite home. A 200-mile cross-country isn’t the place to break in a new gear reduction drive. This let us reduce stops for fuel. We flew our first leg into Crest. A couple of the Red Baron Pizza biplanes were at Crest giving out rides and free pizza. We stuck around long enough to get in on the pizza and then headed out. Winds were favorable and we made Chehalis our next fuel stop. With the wind cooperating, I was in range of Twin Oaks. We all swapped numbers and addresses and then lit out for home. Winds were pretty strong out of the NW again as I passed Scappoose. This time they were helping more than hurting. About an hour and a half after leaving Chehalis, I landed at Twin Oaks and pushed the plane back in the hangar. Logged 4.1 hours on the return trip. Quite an improvement over the trip up! While this might make you GA drivers chuckle, imagine the difference between driving a car or riding a motorcycle somewhere. Two different vehicles for two different types of travel. If you’re in a hurry, the Airbike won’t do much for you. If you want to see the countryside, feel the wind in your face and kickback, ultralights are about the only way to go.

It was a great trip and quite a flying experience. Logged over 11 hours of time on the ‘Bike over the course of three days and found some new friends who like to fly little airplanes. I’m really looking forward to planning some more long trips before the weather turns. Can’t think of too many other ways I’d rather spend my spare time.

View Untitled in a larger map