Love at First Flight

By George Karamitis, EAA 144192

Some of my longtime fellow aviators often ask, “All right, George, of all the different kinds of aircraft that you have owned and flown over the years, how and why did you settle on an ultralight?” Additionally, they ask, “How did you end up finding, building, and flying this most simple early ultralight for 16 years?” I tell them that we met on a blind date — and that is the truth. She was still in boxes. My interest in this blind date was piqued due to numerous referrals from fellow pilots and friends. I was already flying a Quicksilver Sprint when a friend brought to my attention that a local person was selling a 1983 Quicksilver MX still in boxes. Several people were touting the unique flying characteristics of this early aircraft. The thought of spoilers and basic two-axis control intrigued me. So, I yielded to my curiosity and purchased the kit. That was in early 2006, and with the exception of a brief interlude, I am still flying my 1983 Quicksilver MX today. And I must admit, it is a growing love story.

In previous builds, I welcomed and received assistance from fellow EAA members. But, for this particular project, and for reasons I cannot entirely explain, I wanted to accomplish as much of the build by myself as I could. Maybe it was the self-confidence obtained from past Quicksilver builds, or maybe it was the feeling of attachment to this particular project, but I could feel a special connection from the moment I began opening the boxes and arranging everything in a specific order. I remember saying like, “You may be just skin and bones now, but have patience and I will turn you into a beautiful lady.” A gentleman at the hangar asked, “George, what are you talking about?” I replied, “Oh, you wouldn’t understand.” Now when I think about it, I may have been wrong. Maybe he would have understood.

After I had everything opened, I spent several hours with the Quicksilver MX Assembly and Parts Manual in my lap identifying and corroborating the drawings with the actual part. I was in no hurry. I wanted to be correct. If something was a little difficult to figure out, I would get up and walk away for a short period of time. Upon my return, the difficulty was sorted out and it became clear to me just what the drawings and directions were telling me. I did not keep a detailed record of actual time spent on this project. I did not punch a clock.

As I surveyed the various parts, several nuances from my more modern, recently sold Quicksilver Sprint became visible. The main gear axle had a raised portion in the middle to allow foot launch capability for even earlier Quicksilver models. This model would not have nose wheel steering. There would be no lower tail tubes, but just wire support. The horizontal stabilizer was just a rectangular shape. And, of course, two of the main differences were the lack of ailerons and the addition of spoilers. The spoilers were activated by the pedals, individually or in unison. The control stick with side-to-side movement would control the rudder, and with fore-and-aft movement would control the elevator.

I had to take my time to digest what I was about to undertake. Being a member of EAA for as long as I have and reading the various members’ stories on their individual aircraft build projects provided me with the impetus and self-confidence to proceed on my own. I was joining a family of sorts. If others could do it, so could I.

The assembly of my aircraft went well. And one day, when opening the hangar doors, I was struck by what I saw. I had always referred to my MX project as skin and bones (tubes and sailcloth). Yet, on this particular day, I was stopped in my tracks. My project had become a real, live aircraft standing on its own gear. My Missy MX was a real aircraft capable of taking flight.

And fly we did! Taxiing for that first takeoff took some getting used to as the aircraft did not have a steerable nose wheel. But adding just enough prop blast with the right combination of rudder input and individual brake worked fine. The first takeoff in this simple aircraft is one that I will never forget. Takeoffs have always been a special happening for me. Every takeoff is the birth of that particular flight. I am aware of the aeronautics involved, but watching the ground fall away in a clear, unobstructed view is breathtaking — especially in this simple, minimalist flying aircraft. I felt as though I was the craft and the wings were attached to me. It seemed as if I could will where I wanted to go without giving much thought about two-axis or three-axis controls. My slight inputs yielded the correct action.

After several minutes of climbs, glides, and a few straight-ahead stalls, I returned for my first landing. For me, landings are fairly simple, especially in an ultralight. Things happen at a nice slow pace. And yes, even with a slight crosswind, the landing was made on the centerline. With such a slow approach speed, all I had to remember was that, in this case, the appropriate pedal would drop the wing and the stick controlling the rudder would align the aircraft.

It was indeed love at first flight. First flight experiences, especially one in which the pilot has played a significant part in the formation of that particular aircraft, are rarely forgotten.

The brief interlude that I referred to earlier was a dalliance with a Quicksilver MX II Sprint with an HKS four-stroke engine. After some 52 hours of flying the simple MX, flying the two-seater was like flying heavy metal. I am fortunate that the two-seater is still based on the field so my urge to fly a heavier aircraft is granted by a good friend. To make room in the hangar, I had to take Missy MX apart, but not before promising I would bring her back even more beautiful than before.

And indeed I did bring the aircraft back more beautiful than before. I gave it a brighter sailcloth with extra rib pockets to prevent saggy skin. I also added a more attractive tapered horizontal stabilizer and a completely new hardware kit with all AN hardware, new wires, and new lower tail tubes. One thing I did not touch was anything to do with the wing angles and dangles. I thought the original engineers did just fine.

I’ll state this right off the bat. We have done good together, my Missy MX and I. It’s like a good marriage. Everything connects. She is the right kind of aircraft for me, and I am the right kind of pilot for her. Some well-meaning pilots have expressed how much I will be limited in handling various situations such as crosswind landings or flying in various weather conditions. I accept the limitations she presents with being a two-axis aircraft, and Missy MX endures my limitations as a pilot. Each of us as pilots must take an honest inward look at our own limitations. A person can be taught a certain level of knowledge and skills, but judgment is difficult to cultivate. I take good care of her, and she takes good care of me. Like me, she gets a yearly physical from a certified specialist. That’s the way it’s been for the last 16 years. And will continue to be as long as time allows us.

Some of you may ask what my goal is in writing these pieces and posting videos and pictures on YouTube and several Facebook pages. My goal is to show you how free this form of flight can be. It’s raw and out in the open — pure flight. And as long as we can honestly assess our own limitations and thoroughly understand those of our individual aircraft, we all will be able to experience this wide open panoramic vision in and of flight.

George Karamitis, EAA 144192, is a retired TWA captain, holds an ATP with B-727 and B-747 type ratings, and has been a CFI for more than 50 years. In 2013, George received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for more than 50 years of accident-, incident-, and citation-free flight.

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