By Timm Bogenhagen, EAA Member Programs Specialist
This piece originally ran in the July 2023 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
Like so many of you, I’ve been in love with aviation forever. I came to aviation first as a general aviation pilot and proud owner of a Cessna 140A. It was a wonderful little vintage aircraft that I owned for several years. I flew for several hundred hours before I became an employee at EAA.
When I came on staff, one of the things I was responsible for was our ultralight programs. At that time, a group of EAA staff and volunteers built, flew, and maintained a classic ultralight-type aircraft called the Flightstar. I got checked out in it by Paula Crevier, EAA 477989, and that was a life-changing experience. I just loved flying that lightweight, short takeoff and landing, open visibility, ultralight-style aircraft.
Flying the Flightstar changed the way I thought about aviation and how I spent my discretionary income. I went ahead and sold my Cessna 140A and bought a Quicksilver. Boy, did I have a ball with that. I just loved it! Doing everything at 35 mph was so much fun — takeoff, climb, cruise, descent, it does it all at 35 mph. The Quicksilver is totally open, and as much as I love that wind-in-your face feeling, I usually wore a full face shield with my helmet. I just had a ball with that ultralight, but I realized that I wanted to do a little more with flying, so I ended up selling the Quicksilver and buying a two-place Quad City Challenger.
I bought the Challenger because I wanted to share this kind of flying with other people and teach people to fly ultralights. That’s always been the best way for me to learn something — to go deep into it and teach it to someone else. So, I became an instructor under EAA’s exemption and started teaching people to fly, which was a lot of fun.
The airplane is on wheels in the summer and skis in the winter. I just love it. In 2005, I transitioned the Challenger from a two-place ultralight to an N-numbered light-sport aircraft. I held a private pilot certificate, but I chose to let my medical certificate lapse and transition to flying as a sport pilot, using my valid driver’s license instead of a medical. That’s how I fly it today.
So, yes, I love to fly, but I also really enjoy building. I built a Team Mini-Max in my basement. It made its first flight in 2007. It’s wood, and a wonderful little light airplane design that’s nicely customizable. I built mine with an enclosed cockpit, but an open cockpit is optional, as are things like wheelpants, a prop spinner, fiberglass wingtips, etc. It’s built as an experimental amateur-built aircraft, and it flies wonderfully. It was also a wonderful build. It was just like working on a big model airplane, and I had a lot of fun with that building process.
The Mini-Max is a lot of fun to fly, but sure enough, I started looking for another project to build. I just happened to come across a materials kit for a Hi-Max, which is a high-wing version of the Mini-Max. It was technically used, but the previous owner hadn’t started the project so I got a great deal and was able to start fresh. I’ve been building that project for several years — more than I care to say, in fact, but that’s okay. For me, so much of the fun is in the building. I get my flying fix from my Mini-Max and my Challenger, and my building fix from the Hi-Max. Yes, I know that I’m a very lucky guy!
To me, these aircraft represent real, back-to-basics grassroots flying. In my opinion, they feel more like “real” flying than a typical and much heavier GA airplane. Flying something like a Piper Cherokee is wonderful, but it makes me feel a little bit disconnected compared to an ultralight. There’s just not enough interaction between me and the controls to satisfy what I like about flying. The light control forces on an ultralight make me feel more connected, making continuous inputs to get it to do what I want it to do, and that translates directly to fun. And I’m not alone — so many people describe flying ultralights as “transformational.” They say that the interaction between them, their flying machine, and the air makes flying more fun, and more bird-like.
In addition to flying and building, one of the things I love most about this part of aviation is helping other people get involved with ultralights. Flying ultralights is not only a lot of fun, but also a really simple way for people to get into aviation. Most ultralight vehicles are very stable. They’re extremely docile and easily controlled, which makes them relatively easy to learn. For many years, the standard for training an ultralight pilot involved 10 hours of dual flight training, and then you’re ready to go solo yourself. It’s an unusual thing to say, but one of the coolest things about ultralights is the regulation that defines them. It’s officially known as 14 CFR Part 103, and it’s beautiful in its simplicity. The entire thing can be printed on a single sheet of paper. It’s something that we here in the United States hold precious because of its clarity and simplicity.
The freedoms that we have in the ultralight community are vast. They encourage simplicity and allow innovation free from so many of the constraints imposed by rules and regulations and policies and procedures on other aircraft. New technologies from ballistic recovery systems to glass panels and new construction materials and techniques have found their way into ultralights quickly and easily.
Another great thing about ultralights is how affordable they are. When I first bought my Quicksilver, I think I paid $3,000 for it. That was in 2000, but even now, many years later, you can find nice used Quicksilvers for less than $10,000 if you look around a little bit. And there are plenty of new options out there as well, including new Quicksilvers, the Aerolite 103, and a whole world of trikes, powered parachutes, powered paragliders, and even some rotorcraft like gyroplanes and helicopters. Not to mention, there are so many great kit choices as well. I have about $10,000 into my Challenger, which, though it’s considered “ultralight-type,” is actually a light-sport aircraft because it’s a two-seater. Aircraft like these aren’t just inexpensive to buy; they’re also not pricey to operate. My Quicksilver burned about 2-1/2 to 3 gph. My Challenger burns about 3-1/2 to 4 gph, and that’s auto gas, which is a lot cheaper than avgas.
One of the other great things about this lighter side of aviation is the sense of community. Ultralighters tend to flock — and fly — together. We rely on each other a lot for help and support, sharing best practices for safety, and working with the current challenges of training, even as the sport of ultralighting is enjoying a growing resurgence.
When I fly my Challenger, motoring along maybe 800 feet above the ground in that golden hour before sunset, the air is perfectly smooth and it feels like I’m riding a magic carpet. Many types of flying involve tradeoffs between utility and fun, but ultralights and their light-sport cousins like my Challenger focus only on the fun. There’s just nothing like feeling like you’re flying like a bird, while also enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the world.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can get started, please feel free to contact me.
Timm Bogenhagen, EAA 379292, is EAA’s member programs specialist. He loves and appreciates the simple, fun, and affordable low and slow flying he does in his Quad City Challenger II. Having built a Team Mini-Max and currently building a Hi-Max, he believes the fun is in the building. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.