• On a Wing and a Prayer, Coast-to-coast by ultralight across the US Bible Belt

    With kind permission of the Author Colin MacKinnon, the Flying Scotsman we bring you the first chapter of his book.

    The Wright Stuff
    One hundred years ago my Irish great-uncle covered
    himself in treakle and goose feathers, climbed a tree
    and leapt out, shouting: "Look at me! I can fly, I can
    fly!" So carzy attempts at flight are in my blood, and
    that was my excuse for setting off on a coast-to-coast
    flight across the United States from Kitty Hawk, North
    Carolina - where the Wright brothers made the world's
    first powered flight - to Long Beach, the end of the
    line for Calbraith Rodger's first trans-continental
    The plan was simple: crate up my machine, fly it and
    myself over to the states, reassemble it and take off on
    an adventure through the history of flight. The US
    Federal Aviation Administration said that no
    airworthiness certificate was required for my aircraft
    and no license was needed by ultralight pilots. So it
    really was going to be like those early days - happy-
    go-lucky red tape free fun.
    How wrong was I.
    week after I arrived in the US, my machine was still
    in England. Somehow as the crated trike unit was being
    loaded into the aircraft someone smelled petrol. The
    consignment was immediately impounded by the Civil
    Aviation Authority as "dangerous cargo". Mainair, who
    had built my Flash II alpha five years ago and crated
    it up for the trip after an overhaul, were threatened
    with a fine of up to 4000.00 (around $6,000.00) for
    failing to declare it as such. If the CAA could catch
    me, I would face a similar penalty.
    After days of negotiations, the family putting me up in
    Raleigh, North Carolina, got a telephone call the day
    before Good Friday to say that if I didn't speak to
    someone in England within the next 20 minutes, it could
    be another two weeks before my aircraft could be
    shipped. Oh yes, there would also be a 50 percent
    surcharge on the freight rate because my machine had
    become "dangerous".
    I could not understand how there had been a problem.
    both fuel tanks had been steam cleaned before the
    machine was delivered to Mainair, and I had watched
    them renew the fuel hoses before crating it up. Months
    later, I discovered that we had forgotten to clean out
    the carburettor bowls. When someone turned the crate
    upside down as they loaded it into the plane at
    Manchester, the equivalent of a teaspoonful of petrol
    must have dripped out. The $500 "dangerous cargo"
    surcharge makes that some of the most expensive fuel in
    the world!
    The delays meant a change in plan. My thoughts had
    been to fly down the coast from Kitty Hawk to Florida,
    for Sun'n Fun, one of the largest airshows in the world
    and the biggest gathering of ultralight fliers. The
    trip down the coast would have been a shakedown flight
    and once at Sun' n Fun, Mainair's chief engineer, Roger
    Pattrick, would be able to give the aircraft a final
    check over.
    Cynthia Shelby, the freight company Emery Worldwide's
    agent at Raleigh-Durham airport never once lost her
    patience with the frustrated flier in her office or the
    intransigent Brits across the Atlantic. For a week, it
    seemed she had devoted herself almost full time to
    tracking down what had happened to my aircraft. Within
    minutes, she was able to get the cargo delivered to
    Orlando, Florida.
    It was time to redraw my plans. For months sitting in
    the offices of the scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh in
    the early hours of the morning, waiting for the first
    edition to come off the press. I had pored over maps
    and charts, dreaming of beaches and mountains, swamps
    and deserts; muttering under my breath as I rehearsed
    the correct phraseology for radio transmissions. As
    with the early pioneers, on both land and in the air,
    the Rocky Mountains loomed large in my thoughts; the
    final barrier to overcome before the pacific coast.
    Out west, there seemed no choice. The further south
    one could go, the lower the mountains were. To the
    north, I faced a barrier 14,000 ft without oxygen. I
    was told that you can exceed that height in the United
    States - where everything of course is higher,
    smoother, faster - but as a cadet in the Royal Air
    Force I had undergone high-altitude decompression in a
    hyper-baric chamber and experienced hypoxia. It was
    not something I wished to happen again if I was at the
    controls. A map of US airfields also showed some
    alarmingly large areas of white space to the north.
    Even to the south, the blue dots representing airfields
    were not exactly numerous. But the southern route was
    the one taken by pioneers like Cal Rogers, and despite
    Mainair's application of modern technology such as
    computer-aided design to the production of microlights
    (as ultralights are called in Britain), I felt that the
    old-fashioned priorities still applied.
    In the east, my plan had been to fly down the coast to
    Florida, then skirt round the gulf of New Orleans,
    across Louisiana and onto Texas.
    Now I had to come up with a new route.
    visit to Kitty Hawk was a must. The final spur for
    my trip was a late night story on the Press Association
    wire service. The few paragraphs were passed on a
    flowery press release by the auction house Sotherby's
    to promote a sale of aeronautica. What Simon, their
    press officer, did not expect was that his over-the-top
    sales pitch for a one-inch square piece of fabric from
    the original Wright Flyer, the world's first aircraft,
    would also launch another aviation adventure.
    What price could be put on such a relic? I came up
    with a figure, decided to add the cost of a trip from
    Edinburgh to southern England and topped it off wit the
    200.00 I would earn in Glasgow that day by not
    travelling to the sale. Someone else was prepared to
    pay 1,500.00, but that was 100.00 less than my
    maximum. And I hadn't even seen what I was buying.
    A fortnight later I collected a compact brown cardboard
    folder in London. Lot 91 included Christmas cards from
    childhood heroes such as Barnes Wallis, the inventor of
    the bouncing bomb that destroyed the Ruhr dams, and
    Douglas Bader, the legless spitfire ace. Their bright
    colours had an instant appeal over the scruffy sheet of
    paper with it's scrap of fabric attached. Once card
    even suggested that the Wright Brothers' flights were
    not as historic as all that. On the front of the
    Barnes Wallis's greeting sent from Vickers-Armstrongs
    was a picture of Ariel, a steam-driven monoplane designed
    by William Henson with John Stringfellow at Chard,
    Somerset, for which he was granted a patent in 1842. A
    printed note inside acknowledged: "although Ariel was
    widely acclaimed, funds for its building were hard to
    come by; and when in 1847 a model was at last completed
    and tested, the result was failure. Henson withdrew
    from the project; but Stringellow continued the
    experiments and, in 1848, built a new model which
    became the first powered aircraft ever to "fly."
    The fabric had been saved by Lester D Gardner, a close
    friend of the Wrights, when the Kitty Hawk Flyer was
    being re-covered for display at the Massachusetts
    Institute of Technology. On Orville's death, Mr
    Gardiner sent out tiny scraps of "what I regard as the
    most valuable relic in aviation history" with the plea
    that the recipients should ensure in their wills that
    the fragments of fabric remain within the family "as
    Orville Wright would never have wanted it to be
    Oops, I thought. Sounds like I paid 1,600.00 for a
    big chunk of bad voodoo. But then an idea grew on me.
    Take this fragment back to Kitty Hawk for an open
    cockpit flight in it's home air. Maybe it could create
    through my own machine a homeopathic aircraft, this
    tiny fragment embodying and transferring some of the
    power and mystique of the original.
    Whatever, it certainly brought me luck. The search for
    information on flying conditions at Kitty Hawk prompted
    me to send my first ever e-mail message. "You've hit
    the mother lode!; came the reply from Todd Huvard,
    former executive director of the First Flight Society
    and a board member. "I think you are about to embark
    on a grand adventure, how can I help?"
    After an exchange of e-mails in which we discussed his
    adventures flying in a Dakota to Normandy to drop some
    of the original D-Day paratroops on the 50th
    anniversary, and the address of the pub in Glasgow
    where they nightstopped and played petanque, Todd
    insisted I start the trip by getting the American
    Airlines direct flight from London Gatwick to Raleigh
    and stay with him and his family. It was an offer that
    saved my trip. Without Todd's help, I doubt if we
    would ever have sorted out the freighting tangle my
    machine got caught up in. His generosity with his time
    was all the more impressive considering he had to get
    the latest issue of his monthly magazine, the southern
    Aviator, to bed and then gear up for the production of
    daily newspaper at Sun 'n Fun.
    A fortnight after I arrived at Todd's, his brother-in-
    law, Travis joked over dinner: "Do you think this guy
    really has got an aeroplane, or has he just come across
    a great way to get a free holiday?" But Cynthia had
    promised that my aircraft would be arriving in Orlando
    that Saturday. Travis was coming to Sun 'n Fun and
    would be able to see it for himself.

    You can purchase the book from here directly from Colin 2.00 off the publishers price.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. AliMann's Avatar
      AliMann -
      Thanks for the link Vince - read it, loved it, ordered it!