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Landing memorable for other than the pilot

The Lazair is a minimal airplane. It is hard to beat being able to take off and land on a dime and feel the wind on your face while you are sitting up high on next to nothing, smiling all the while, and only supported by transparent wings. Like the typical twin-engined airplane it is, it has minimal performance on one engine - especially with my 210-pound weight.

Picture of Frank's ultralight
August 1988, St. Lazare: Frank ready for taxiing.
I bought the Lazair to return to basics, to have some fun and to land in places I would shudder to think of landing in with a regular airplane. I also taught my son to fly it, an experience more satisfying than teaching your child to ride a bicycle.

The morning was clear and I could smell the breakfast in Alexandria, 30 miles due west. It was 6:30 in the morning when I took off. I set the two 9-hp water pump motors a humming and off. I rose into the clear morning air with the odd early-August-morning fog patches here and there. This was "The Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines" personified. I felt lucky.

Over the Ontario/Quebec border in the middle of nowhere, with the scent of breakfast strengthening, real life intruded suddenly with a single loud bang. A quick check upwards confirmed both propellers still churning, the racket in sync. Why not climb a little?

Thirty seconds later, the decibels diminished to one half. Nothing much under me except a farm, a driveway leading to it and what looked like a telephone line.- good combination. My first forced landing in 33 years of flying and at 6:45 in the morning, before my first cup of coffee! - Can you beat that?

I flew a nice single-engined pattern, landed and rolled the Lazair up on this farmer's front lawn. My friend Réagh, below, had spotted me and had seen the neat circuit and rollout up to the front door. He figured I had done this before. I left my Lazair and knocked on the front door. Nothing. Bang! Bang! Finally a little motion inside. A sleepy teenager stared at me in my flight suit with helmet under my arm, looked at the airplane in the front yard, rubbed his eyes and looked quizzically at me again.

I don't know how late a night he had the night before but imagine yourself in his shoes being asked by this creature for some tools to clean a spark plug at that time of day.

I removed the offending carbon particle in the spark plug, thanked the teenager, waved like a hero and fired up. Thirty seconds later, bang! Luckily my new friend hadn't left with the tools. He was still staring in disbelief.

Now his father came out, hands in pocket, not approaching quite as close as his son. I talked to him to reassure him. It turned out he was from Belgium some 10 years back, had a successful farm operation going and had a daughter in the college where I teach - friendly guy.

I fired up, tested the performance and taxied back for a takeoff. At the far end, bang! This time the farmer came down in his tractor to deliver the tools. I was worried because I thought I had done a proper cleaning job the first two times. This time when I finished, there wasn't a trace of carbon left on the plug. The engine ran consistently this time and I chanced a takeoff, having made up my mind that if I got airborne I'd head home instead of on to Alexandria.

As I passed over the farmer and his son, I yelled down my thank you. They obviously shouted something back. My wife wanted to know why I returned so early from the breakfast. My story of having met this Belgian farmer didn't sink in clearly over the phone and had to be reiterated in person.

A sequel to my Alexandria Fly-In Breakfast flight happened this spring. I was in a lab with my students when I noticed three young men standing near me, looking intrigued. One of them came forward and asked me if I owned an airplane. When I said yes, his eyes lit up. With some pride, he said that I had been in his front yard with my machine. Imagine that - a year and a half later, this teenager recognizes a guy now dressed in a suit and tie, having been awakened by this flight-suit clad apparition from nowhere.

It really was a chapter out of "The Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines".

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Frank Hofmann
Copyright © 1991