'It's just a real nice way to fly' Local men take to the skies in ultralight aircraft By David Lias
Plain Talk Lowell Rahn sports a head full of curly hair turned white as heâ�?�?s grown older, a full beard, and keeping with the curls on his head, a white handlebar mustache. Sunday, all he needed was an old time pilotâ�?�?s hat and a pair of goggles to fit the part of the barnstorming aviators who fell in love with flying during the early part of this century. Lowell doesnâ�?�?t own a plane â�?�? at least not an aircraft that fits the conventional definition. He â�?�? and several of his friends â�?�? have found a unique method to get airborne, however. They are making their dreams of powered flight come true by purchasing and mastering the operation of ultralight aircraft. Last weekend, Lowell was joined by Dan Erickson of Davis, Mark Eitreim of Lennox, Bill Lokken of Vermillion and Gary Koneche of Kimball at the cityâ�?�?s Howard Davidson Field. It may not have been the biggest fly-in of ultralight aircraft in the region, but the size of the group didnâ�?�?t matter. It was all about the pure joy of flying. Lowell lives in the Newcastle, NE area. As the crow flies, his house is â�?�?right across the river,â�? he said. His ultralight resembles a hang glider, with a frame under the wings that holds the pilotâ�?�?s seat, the motor and propeller that power the aircraft, and fixed wheels for take-off and landing. â�?�?It really is a hang glider with a motor on it,â�? he said. â�?�?A lot of times, when people just had hang gliders, they had to take them up to the top of a mountain and run and jump off the mountain,â�? Lowell said. â�?�?Hopefully they would hit a thermal and go up.â�? His friends all fly aircraft that get their lift when their ultralightsâ�?�? propellers blast air into parachutes to get the planes off the ground. Lowell can successfully become airborne by just taxiing his aircraft on a level surface for a short distance. In other words, Lowellâ�?�?s ultralight is perfect for the plains of Nebraska and South Dakota. Lowell first started flying approximately eight years ago, using an parachute-style ultralight. You can blame the Newcastle-Vermillion Bridge for helping Lowell catch the flying bug. He sold his cattle after the bridge was built. â�?�?So I had a bit of money, and I knew about these, and I just thought, â�?�?Now I have my chance.â�?�? â�? So he bought his first ultralight â�?�? the parachute model. â�?�?I loved it. And then I went to a fly-in one time down in Illinois, and a guy showed up with one of these,â�? Lowell said, pointing to his hang-glider flying machine. The wind had come up that morning, he said, and everybody who owned parachute-style ultralights had to put them away. The breeze didnâ�?�?t stop the man with the motorized hang glider. â�?�?He gave me a ride, and I knew then that this is the way to go,â�? Lowell said. â�?�?They are a lot more versatile, you can go faster, you can fly them in wind, and with the parachutes you nearly have to have perfect conditions. Itâ�?�?s just a real nice way to fly.â�? The maximum altitude Lowell can reach with his ultralight is 10,000 feet. He never takes it that high, however. The air gets chilly at such heights. He prefers to fly at between 500 to 1,000 feet. â�?�?Itâ�?�?s safe up there,â�? he said, laughing. â�?�?The higher you get, the more time youâ�?�?ve got to pray on the way down.â�? Lowell and the other ultralight pilots noted that their aircraft, though unconventional, have a good safety record. And they all include something extra, just in case something goes wrong during a flight. â�?�?Letâ�?�?s say one of the bolts would break on my plane, and the wing would come off,â�? Lowell said. â�?�?The plane has a ballistic parachute, and you can set that off. If you are 200 feet above the ground, that will let you down easy. Thatâ�?�?s one reason I like to have some altitude â�?�? so I can use it (the parachute) if I have to. â�?�?The chute comes out at 130 miles per hour,â�? he said, â�?�?and then hangs from up above.â�? Dean tried to have an ultra-light fly-in of his own during the Memorial Day weekend. But the wind blew constantly that weekend, and no one could get up in the air. When Lowell saw that weather forecasts looked favorable for the weekend, he invited his ultralight friends to Vermillion last weekend. â�?�?We had a real good time last night and this morning,â�? Lowell said Sunday evening. â�?�?And weâ�?�?re going to have a good time tonight, as soon as some of these clouds get out of here. Itâ�?�?s super â�?¦ itâ�?�?s just plain super.â�? Gary flies a parachute-style ultralight. He noted that to fit the definition of ultralight, these unique flying machines must meet three criteria: they have to each weigh under 254 pounds, they have to each be a single seat and they have to carry not more than five gallons of gas. â�?�?There are actually three ultralights here and two that are aircraft,â�? Gary said. Heâ�?�?s been flying his ultralight for eight years. â�?�?When I learned, there were a lot of instructors out there that just crash-coursed you,â�? he said. â�?�?When I learned, I had a one-hour crash course, and after that I became a flight instructor, and then an advanced flight instructor.â�? Today, Gary teaches people to fly ultralights with a training program that takes between eight to 14 hours to complete. â�?�?In that amount of time, I can have someone solo and proficiently fly in one of these,â�? he said. Garyâ�?�?s interest in this mode of flying began when he saw an advertisement for an ultralight on television â�?�?I thought, â�?�?hereâ�?�?s a way I can fly for about $4,000 or $5,000, and my heart sank when I got the literature on the machines, and learned they would cost around $12,000 to $14,000.â�? Gary obviously wasnâ�?�?t completely discouraged. In 2000, he purchased one of the flying machines. â�?�?I always wanted to fly and never thought I would have the opportunity, and this gave me the opportunity to fly,â�? he said. â�?�?The thing with flying one of these is they are probably one of the safest mode of flying there is, because if anything happens, your chute is always going to bring you down.â�? Some people like to unwind at the end of the day by golfing or boating or taking their motorcycle for a spin. For Gary and a significant number of other people, flying has a significant calming influence. â�?�?To have a hard day at work, and to go up in the evening and just watch the wildlife below you, the fields below you, and experience the serenity and tranquility of being up there by yourself while enjoying Mother Nature all around you,â�? he said. â�?�?Itâ�?�?s just so relaxing, you can just forget about everything and concentrate on the great outdoors and all of its beauty.â�?