Ultralights offer birds eye view

Those who have ever dreamed of flying like a bird, the wind in their face and the earth below, can do so. Just check in with Chuck Schick of Fly Sierra at the Carson City airport.

He'll strap you in the back of one of his ultralight aircraft, put a helmet on your head and crank up the small two-cylinder, 55 horse power engine and away you go. Take off is from a dirt runway inside the airport boundaries and then the sky's the limit.

Actually, the limit is somewhere about 11,000 feet and speeds will probably average about 35 mph. But it's out in the open, the wind swirling around and the earth tilting around below. And unless you're acrophobic, you'll have a wonderful time. At least this writer did last Monday when Schick gave him the most delightful flight of his life.

Schick does not just hop in the ultralight and go. Because ultralights are just that -- ultralight -- there is little in the way of backup or redundant systems, so every wire, every fuel line, every part of the wing, the Austrian built engine must be carefully checked before every flight. Are the tires inflated? the prop balanced? all the nuts tight? the wing tubing in place correctly?

Then Schick will take you through the instruments: compass, altimeter, airspeed indicator, rate of descent or climb indicators, rpm dial, engine temperatures.

Climb in the back seat, helmet in place with the intercom connected, fasten seat belts just like in a car, put feet on the steering bar and sit tight. Schick cranks up the two-stroke engine and then you're taxiing along the tarmac.

There's a dirt strip on the west side of the airport, and that's the stairway to the sky. Schick boosts the throttle and is bouncing along the dirt and then he's airborne and it's just like being a bird. The wind is fresh, the engine vibrating noisily behind and the world in front.

Anyone up for a full demonstration ride, if the air isn't too bumpy, Schick will take off over Smith Valley, over golf courses, around the city at altitudes up for 500 or 1,000 feet.

True outdoor people will have found a new passion.

To learn to fly an ultralight with Schick, you first take a demonstration ride, perhaps an hour of flight time. Still interested? Fork over $1,000 to Schick (no refunds for chickening out) for a series of lessons.

For the $1,000 Schick will furnish flight manuals, ground school, technical training and preflight schedules. Pilots learn landings and takeoffs, spend a lot of time carving holes in the sky making 360-degree circles.

"The first lesson you take is about the same as the last one," Schick explains. "It's a process of going over the same thing again and again until it almost becomes automatic.

"You'll learn how to spot obstacles, power lines, how to use the radio, how to stay out of the way of other aircraft," he said.

What Schick aims to do is teach his students to "fly safe." He makes sure students know how to land "dead stick" -- without power. He teaches how to recognize a coming stall and how to get out of it. He shows how to fly "fast" and "slow," cruise at about 35 to 40 mph. Pilots learn how to land on 160 feet of dirt strip, take off from 140 feet. And he teaches the Federal Aviations Agency rules for ultralights.

And after the solo, pilots can rent one from him for $50 an hour.

What kind of people take to ultralights?

"Those who like to be on their own. Who like the outdoors. Who enjoy adventure. Who like animals," says Schick.

"But you never know if it's going to work with a student. Some take the demo and that's it. Others complete the class and can fly solo. Sometimes they stick with it, sometimes they don't."

Accidents? Yes, they happen. Schick recently had a pin removed from a leg, the result of a crackup. But he's been around, a 82nd Airborne paratrooper, a steel expert in Malaysia,China, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong. He's retired now, lives in Carson City and has 55 acres of land over in Stagecoach, where he takes students for their solos away from airport traffic.

"I don't teach ultralights for a living," Schick says. "I do it because I enjoy it. And I have one basic rule: my students have to solo safely."

There are few rules governing ultralights, the FAA prefers to govern as little as possible. No formal FAA exams, any age practically can play.

You can buy a single-seater for about $7,500, $18,000 for a two-seater.

For the money, the $1,000 instruction fee, pilots can become with the birds -- the sky awaits.


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