Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Light-Sport Chronicles: Three From The Heart

Of inspiring flights, parachute saves and electric flight from China

“If You Ever Need One...”
Just after Sun ’n Fun ’09, I had the distinct pleasure of flying with a guy who’s a hero of mine. Back in the early days of hang gliding, Jim Lee made an epic 186-mile thermal-soaring flight in a hang glider from 10,378-foot Sandia Peak near Albuquerque, N.M.

He has gone on to distinguish himself in soaring flight and is now the sales director for Urban Air USA, owned by former U.S. hang gliding champion Joe Bostik. The company imports the Lambada LSA motorglider and Evektor LSA.

John Dunham, yet another hang divin’ geek and long-time sport pilot veteran, had just grabbed the reins as VP of marketing and sales. He became known in ultralights for his Second Chantz emergency parachute company; now he’s getting the word out about the Evektor. (Expect my report on the Evektor Max soon.)

Back to the UFM-13 Lambada: Lee took me up for an hour-long jaunt in the two-seat power floater near Urban’s Melbourne, Fla., headquarters.

It was love at first flight. Lambada is easy to fly and surprisingly responsive in roll for an aircraft with a 49-foot wingspan. I soared, engine off and prop feathered, in local thermals for almost an hour, thanks to Lee’s patient flying pointers. I had never flown a motorglider and felt like Moses reaching the Promised Land—what a perfect synergy of soaring and powered flight!

Lambada climbs effortlessly in light thermals thanks to its balanced control feel, 210 fpm sink rate and 30:1 glide ratio. Its max cruise of 119 knots and great 800 nm range also earn it strong powered kudos. Lee has made some memorable long-distance flights delivering planes to customers, including one trip from Melbourne, Fla., to San Jose, Costa Rica, last February. Like the Able Flight duo, he also has flown Lambada coast to coast in the United States.

In his blog (, Lee mused about an around-the-world jaunt in a Lambada. “After all,” he says, “it is only 20 of these flights [Florida to Costa Rica] strung together!” Imagine motoring around the globe, switching off and feathering to work some of the world’s great soaring sites. What an adventure!

Now for some not-so-good news: Two separate Lambada in-flight incidents recently ended in ballistic parachute deployment. The silver lining: Both pilots returned safely to earth.

There are early indications that the pilots may have exceeded the speed envelope of the airplanes. The crashes are still under official investigation, so we’ll wait for those results. But the successful deployments—both after, apparently, experiencing broken tailbooms—gets me up on my ballistic parachute soapbox.

When I was in the military, I saw a sign over a hangar parachute loft that proclaimed, “If you ever need one and you don’t have one, you’ll never need one again.” Amen, brothers and sisters.

Every time people opine that a thorough and safety-conscious pilot shouldn’t ever need a ballistic parachute onboard, I remind them that “schtuff” happens: nonforecast extreme turbulence, midair collisions, unforseeable engine failures and the like. Even world-class preflight and flight habits don’t guarantee against all mishaps. Life is life, and it’s unpredictable.

In my mind, hearing about these successful deployments only strengthens the argument that ballistic rescue devices should be standard equipment in every light aircraft. Think about how many lives would be saved every year!


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