Friday, July 27, 2012

Descending on Alfalfa Final, or: Off-field landing at Oshkosh

Please note: James' blog has moved to a Wordpress site. To access it, please visit All posts have been transferred to the new site, and all new posts will only be accessible via Wordpress. Thank you for your interest!

Descending on Alfalfa Final
By James Wiebe (c) 2012

The takeoff roll was uneventful.  Another takeoff in front of a small crowd at Oshkosh 2012 -- ultralight field.  The WoW plane climbed from the very short field, and displayed its balloon colors.  I was satisfied.  I was contemplative.  It was a beautiful morning, and I was pleased to be part of it.

A momentary burble, like a tiny firecracker, hit the ignition cycle, and I felt it, and those neurons in my head responsible for verifying my personal safety fired a signal to other parts of my brain:

"You are not safe.  Your engine is not running smoothly."

I was perhaps 80 feet above the runway, but absolutely nothing left in front of me, and I needed to make an immediate right turn to enter the pattern.  I did so, and began hoping that the engine would smooth.

The plane continued to ably climb, enough that I gained momentary confidence to contemplate going around the pattern with a misfiring engine.

I made it to the oak tree in the middle of the pasture to the south, and I crossed it approach my pattern altitude, which is 300 feet.

But as I passed over the oak tree, the engine burbling continued.  I could hear the RPM drop, and the ignition misses became more urgent.  It was as if I was listening to a scale of descending notes, with each note just a fraction of a hertz below the last.  It was as if I could see a wave of piano keys, with consecutively keys being struck, lower and lower, and I knew the keyboard ended somewhere, but I couldn't tell quite where.  What could I do to make the keys go up?  And every so often, an odd key was struck in the midst of the hertz scale descent.  Weird.  Weird Weird.

I was scanning left and right for landing spots.  Lots of fields with heavy green crops.  Trees.  A farm house.  A regular house.  Roads.

I ran scenarios through my head:

Reversing course 180 degrees to return to the ultralight field:  bad idea.  Too much congestion.  Too short a field for an emergency landing.

Sputtering around the pattern:  bad idea.  Corn fields with six+ foot stalks.  Campers.  Narrow emergency runways.  Might not make it arround.  Probably wouldn't make it around.

I was now over a closely mowed alfalfa field.  I knew my options ahead were very poor, and I did not like the odds of sputtering around the pattern.

Another set of neurons fired in my brain, and they made a very simple statement:

"Your engine will fail within 2 or 3 minutes.  It is likely that the engine will run out of power before you make it back to the airport.  You are given permission to make unusual choices.  Please make a wise choice."

I looked back at the alfalfa field.  It was no longer a 40 acre patch of rolling, mowed alfalfa.  Instead, it was a huge beacon of safety.  It yelled up at me ---------

"JAMES!!!!  You are safe here!!!!  Please come here!!!!"

A moment later, I pulled the throttle back to idle, turned left to enter short final for alfalfa, and about 20 seconds later my wheels touched down.  I applied the brakes and taxied across the field to be closer to a driveway.  The engine made more misbehaving sounds as I taxied.  I shut it off.


Most of the rest of this story is just details.  I think the one detail you want to know is:  what went wrong with the engine?  As of this writing, I don't know.  It appeared to be an ignition problem, which could have been caused by a broken timing pickup.  The engine was nearly brand new, so it falls under some form of infant mortality.  It could also have been some oil contamination in the ignition.

Belite Ultralight Aircraft, after precautionary landing in alfalfa field

Of course, I got out of the airplane.  I then sent my wife a text message that I was OK, and so was the plane.  Later I found out that when she got the text, she was surprised, not even aware I was flying.

So many people saw the plane make this emergency landing, I figured that a plethora of emergency vehicles would soon show up.  Surprisingly, none did.  The Ultralight Air Ops showed up, and they were thrilled with the outcome.  They took a few notes, called EAA Ops, and got clearance to move the plane:  no damage to the plane, pilot, or property.  The property owner had even come out of her nearby house, and was pleased that no one was hurt.  She returned to her house.

I talked to my wife on the phone, and had her send the guys and the big Penske truck (we later changed our mind and got my pickup truck instead.)

I folded the wings on the plane while I waited for them to show up.

Belite Ultralight Aircraft with wings folded, in alfalfa field.
They did show up, and we quickly determined the pickup truck would be more useful for hauling the plane back.  So while Wayne and Christian drove off in the Penske truck, in order to swap for the pickup truck, it started to rain.  I pulled the plane onto the driveway, got in the plane and took pictures of the passing traffic.

Passing traffic and left knee of James Wiebe from cockpit of Belite Ultralight Aircraft
Even more bored, I took a picture of myself.

James Wiebe, self portrait
And finally the guys returned with the pickup truck.

My pickup shows up.
We put the tailwheel of the plane on the tailgate, and slowly pulled the plane backwards back to the ultralight field.


Some things to learn from this adventure:

A)  preflight.  I'm bugged that I might have missed something.  I had some leakage from the head -- oil causing an ignition problem?
B)  look for an 'out' at the first sign of trouble.
C)  take the 'out' as soon as it identifies itself to you.
D)  don't worry about what others might think.  I was concerned about the 'shame' of not making it around the pattern.  I was also concerned about the 'shame' of having an engine failure or off-field landing, as it might 'hurt' the Belite reputation.  I've seen video of some guy flying upslope into a mountain, instead of turning around and admitting a mistake.

I already knew that I had made the right decision as I was in my airplane,  descending on Alfalfa final.

August 1, 2012 Addendum:

The cause of all the trouble was a leaking head gasket, caused by loose head bolts.  The head bolts were in the manufacturer's list of bolts to torque in the first 1 and after 10 hours, which I had not done.  The fault was all mine.  I will never make this mistake again. -- James

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Up and Down at OshKosh Airventure 2012

Please note: James' blog has moved to a Wordpress site. To access it, please visit All posts have been transferred to the new site, and all new posts will only be accessible via Wordpress. Thank you for your interest!

I had the opportunity to talk with an attorney for EAA a couple of days ago.  Our conversation wondered from one topic to another:  litigation; ultralights; etc.  All good conversation.

Somewhere, the conversation turned to how legislation (Light Sport, in particular) had hindered....   or destroyed the ability of experimental aviation to provide low cost training and indoctrination to flying wannabes, especially as LSA activity overwhelmed the grass roots of ultralights and illegal light twin seat airplanes.  Yes, I'm mixing up the controversies there, but it's important to think about.

This would be a good time to look at a picture of my right knee, as I chased cars down the highway in Oshkosh inside the ultralight flight pattern.

My right knee.  In a Belite Ultralight Aircraft.

Back to musings:  Also earlier this week, a lengthy and thoroughly enjoyable conversation with another aviation journalist (who shall not be named) had turned to a discussion as to how cover articles on aircraft are determined by advertising force, and not by what the majority of magazine readers really want to read.

As someone who's had an aviation cover article, and also as someone who's advertised in magazines, and as someone who has approached trends with a perpendicular (and occasionally blind) attitude, and enjoys proving that those who claim they are right, are in fact wrong, I guess I've got nothing to worry about.

But I worry anyway.

This would be a good cover photo for an aviation magazine:

Backyard Flyer at Osh12

Yes, that is my direct competitor, the Backyard Flyer.  I happen to like this plane for what it is:  a pure flying machine without pretentions as to how it should look.  I notice that it is using Hoerner wingtips -- and has a four stroke engine, like we now do as well.  I believe he's sporting a 48 or 50HP engine; (we're flying well on 28HP, but can go to 50HP too).  His airframe is a little draggy, but that's OK.

Up and Down?

The big thing at the Oshkosh ultralight field is to be able to demonstrate takeoff performance -- no matter what the flight briefers say, people climb out at ridiculous and unsafe angles.  I protest.

I brought my WoW plane, which looks suspiciously like a loaf of bread, and I enjoy flying it very much at Osh12, because it rises nicely.  The plane does not climb like bat out of hell with 28HP, but after it climbs, it does cruise at 62mph, which is the legal FAR Part 103 max cruise speed.  In fact, when we put bigger motors on it, it has to be slowed down to be legal.

I wish people could see and feel the breeze flying by as I cruise around the pattern.

So I take a picture of the instruments and document the flight condition:

Belite Instruments in flight.

What's the condition?

Fuel tank:  about half full.
Turn condition:  not turning.
Inclinometer Bubble:  slightly left wing low.
AGL (altimeter):  300 feet above Terra Firma, per briefer and Osh12 requirements.
G Meter:  1 G positive, slight burble below that noted.
Phantom Instrument:  Missing.
VSI:  neither up nor down.
Steam Gauge ASI (left side of panel):  just under 100 KPH (62 MPH).
Age of Aircraft:  7.8 hours Hobbs
Aluminum on panel:  shiny.
Battery condition:  10.84 volts
Windshield:  slightly blurred

I wish I could photograph the breeze.  It is wonderful.  Why aren't you there?

I can photograph the Osh12 field:

Osh12 airport, lots of green, out of Belite Ultralight Aircraft

I go down.  I land.

A huge storm rolls through in the afternoon, and I am surprised that a bunch of planes aren't blown away.  Here's what a Metallic Burgundy Belite looks like after a hard rain:

Rain on Belite

But the break in the rain gives us a chance to wipe it down and make it look good:

Rain removed from Belite Aircraft
In fact, it just looks awesome.  My spirits rise as I look at the finish.  I realize that our covering (Metallic Burgundy Adhesive Vinyl) has completely cocooned the wing in a waterproof covering.  I like the winglets.  I like the expanded flaperons.  I like the way the WoW plane has just floated off the ground when I start the takeoff roll.   I like the way it floated to a really slow, really soft landing every time.

Many people come up to our booth, and ask us questions and make comments all day long.  They go something like this:

1)  Are these ultralights?
2)  Can I get it in a 2 seat version?
3)  Tell me about your four stroke 1/2 VW engine.
4)  How does the flaps / aileron intermix?
5)  What does it cost?
6)  How do you put on that covering?  Is that Dacron underneath?
7)  How will it fly with me?
8)  Do I weigh too much?  (This is never asked directly.)
9)  Are 2 strokes reliable?
10)  How does it fly?
11)  How long have you been doing this?
12)  What are the differences between your steel and your aluminum fuselage?
13)  I want to use your instruments.
14)  If I lose my medical, I'm buying your plane.

I enjoy the human interaction, but I also want to fly.  I want to get people up in the air and see and feel what I am seeing and feeling.  People need to see and feel on a higher plane.

The frustration of explaining it all gets me down.  Some (many) get it; some (many) don't.

Mrs. Belite
My wife is at the show, and is managing all of the details.  We both get some good rain dumped on us when we're caught outside as the big storm rolls through.  It's fun!  We survive the rain, and she ends up with one of her amazing big smiles!

A Kitfox Lite shows up in the pattern at Osh12, and I'm pleased.  This airplane design has affected my life for over 3 years now.  (I bought the tooling some time ago.)

Kitfox Lite in the pattern at Osh12
This particular example of a Kitfox Lite has a few replacement parts on it that the owner purchased from Belite.  Thankyou!

Speaking of my wife, she looks through my collection of photos and selects one as a new favorite for Belite's Facebook page.  I think it was this one:

Belite UltraCub at Osh12.  Ultralight Aircraft.

Getting up at 6:00am in the morning for the 6:30 daily briefing gets me down.  I'm not an early riser.

Good night,


Too Sleepy For Anything Serious

Please note: James' blog has moved to a Wordpress site. To access it, please visit All posts have been transferred to the new site, and all new posts will only be accessible via Wordpress. Thank you for your interest!

Just 6 pics.

4 Stroke Engine on Belite UltraCub Ultralight Aircraft

4 Stroke Engine on Belite UltraCub Ultralight Airplane

Belite UltraCub with Metallic Burgundy Paint

Engine and Landing Gear on Belite UltraCub

Helicopter over ultralight field at #Osh12

Helicopter over ultralight field at #Osh12

Monday, July 23, 2012

FAQ’s on Belite’s “UltraCub” and ½ VW Four Stroke engine

Please note: James' blog has moved to a Wordpress site. To access it, please visit All posts have been transferred to the new site, and all new posts will only be accessible via Wordpress. Thank you for your interest!

FAQ’s on Belite’s “UltraCub” and ½ VW Four Stroke engine
The following information is subject to change without notice

1)                  Q:  What is a Belite UltraCub? 
A:  The Belite UltraCub is an ultralight airplane manufactured by Belite.  One configuration has the following major characteristics: 

a)  4 stroke engine
b)  Traildragger configuration
c)  Rear turtledeck which gives it the appearance of a Piper J3 Cub.
d)  Legal Ultralight under U.S. FAR Part 103


e)      Users may build an UltraCub from a kit from Belite.  The single defining characteristic is the rear TurtleDeck option.

Belite UltraCub with 1/2VW engine

f)  The TurtleDeck is available as a build option by Belite for any factory built airplane.

TurtleDeck on Belite UltraCub

2)         Q:   What standard features and benefits does it have?
            A:  They are:

a)      Standard basic instruments:  hour meter/tach, inclinometer, EGT/CHT, Oil pressure warning, Oil temp gauge, ASI.  All other instruments are optional.
b)      spring steel main landing gear, which are much better than bungees, softens landings and taxiing
c)      differential (independent) main gear disc brakes with heel pedals
d)     Single color ( with color selected by owner) Oracal (vinyl) finish over the entire airframe, fuselage, wings and tail feathers.  Very beautiful finishes!
e)      Rear steerable tailwheel with steel tail wheel spring.  In conjunction with brakes, gives easy ground manners.
f)       Aluminum fuselage – riveted construction utilizing mainly 2024T3 longerons; also 7075 and 6061T6 aluminum in critical areas.  Other alloys are also used.
g)      Lightweight 6061T6 aluminum lift struts.
h)      5” Azusa nylon aircraft wheels with 5” wheels
i)        4130 Chromaloy steel landing gear “A” frames
j)        Polycarbonate windshield and sunroof
k)      Easily and quickly foldable wings
l)        Enhanced wing area (40” x 144”)
m)    Enhanced flaperons (12” x 120”), reduces stall speed and improves roll control.
n)      Functional Winglets, increasing lift, reducing vortices, reducing drag, increasing flaperon effectiveness
o)      Intermixed aileron / flap controls, providing standard stick (aileron) and standard flap (flap handle) control with 3 notches of flaps.
p)      Multiple storage compartments under seat
q)      5 gallon plastic fuel tank.
r)       This aircraft does not include an engine cowl.
s)       A hand deployed emergency parachute is included.
t)       The engine has single electronic ignition. 

3)                  Q:  What does an UltraCub cost?
A:  $27,995 + $2.25/mile delivery charge (one way) to any US destination.  Other configurations are available for as little as $16,495.

4)         Q:  What does an UltraCub kit cost?
A:  $7995 (base Belite Kit cost) + $500 (turtledeck kit cost).  This doesn’t include main gear springs or brakes, but it does include solid gear links, and mechanical (drum) brakes are available for $100 extra.  It also doesn’t include a fuel tank, but we buy ours at Walmart for about $12, and you can too.

5)         Q:  What type of construction is used in the fuselage?
A:  It is straightforward aluminum construction.  Most of the gussets have pre-drilled pilot holes, and the rear fuselage is pre-aligned, mostly pre-drilled and ready for you to start riveting.  All main cabin bulkhead formers and gussets are CNC cut and have many pre-drilled pilot holes as well.  The builder has to cut cabin longerons and members, but as these lengths are short, and all formers are square, the resulting assembly process is easy and straightforward.  Aluminum may be cut with a carbide blade table saw, or a band saw, or a hack saw.

6)         Q:  What type of construction is used in the wings?
A:  The wings are built with aluminum spars and CNC cut Baltic Birch ribs.  Everything slips together and is locked in place with Gorilla glue.

Belite wing with aluminum spars, CNC cut  Baltic Birch
7)         Q:  What type of construction is used in the tail feathers?
A:  The purchaser may select between aerodynamic horizontal stabilizer/elevator or pre-welded stabilizer/elevator.  The pre-welded feathers simply need to be covered.  The aerodynamic feathers are easy to build and very straightforward, like a big model airplane wing.

8)         Q:  How is the structure covered?
A:  We use generic Dacron, glued and shrunk to the underlying wing or fuselage structure.  We use a special glue (Hipec) for attachment of fabric to the underside of the wing.  We use Stewart Systems glue for most other fabric work, and we use Oracal vinyl (available in about 80 colors) for covering over the shrunk fabric.  Kit builders may use whatever system they are comfortable with.

9)         Q:  What does an UltraCub weigh?
A:  As built by Belite, with a four stroke engine, and as described in this document, it weighs 278 pounds.  This is the maximum allowed by FAR Part 103.  (Our configuration includes a parachute which is deployed by hand, for which FAR Part 23 provides a 24 pound allowance.) The rear turtledeck is not included in this weighing, as it is removable for flight.  (The rear turtledeck weighs about 7 pounds).  Much lighter weights are possible by using two stroke engines.

10)       Q:  I see that your configuration doesn’t include an engine cowl.  How could I add one?
A:  It is available as an option for $350.  We don’t weigh them as they are removable for flight.

11)       Q:  What other options are available?
A:  Bigger Tires and Carbon Fiber main spars will be popular options.  The Carbon Fiber spars save 9 pounds, which would allow nice big 5.00 x 5 tires.  $2400 total.    Doors and trailering kits are also available.

12)       Q:  Are other instruments available?
A:  We are happy to install any instrument manufactured by Belite Electronics, including Turn Coordinators, fuel gauges, etc.  We do not install other instruments.  We recommend you have other installations (EG, radio) performed by your local instrument shop.

13)       Q:  Does the four stroke engine have electric start?
A:  No.  The 1/2VW are very easy to hand prop, and the electric start option is too heavy for our FAR Part 103 usage.  It would be a great option for aircraft built as ‘experimental’, though.

14)       Q:  What power does the 1/2VW four stroke engine develop?
A:  45HP. 

1/2 VW Engine
15)       Q:  Who is the engine vendor?
A:  Scott Casler, Hummel Engines. 

16)       Q:  Will other 1/2VW four stroke engines work?
A:  Absolutely.  We recommend at least 37HP.  Great Plains is a good source for plans or a complete kit – see:  And as of this writing, their 1/2VW kit is under $3400. 

An online build manual for 1/2VW engines may be found here: 

17)       Q:  What about the motor mount for a Belite and a half V/W?
A:  We designed it, and it is pretty sweet.  It includes a Chromalloy steel mount and aluminum mount plate.  $300.

Engine Mount for 1/2VW on Belite Ultralight Airplane
18)       Q:  What kind of fuel consumption does the engine have?
A:  We expect fuel economy to be about 2 GPH in cruise.  This number will be verified in August.

19)       Q:  What kind of gasoline does the engine use?
A:  91 Octane automotive.  100LL will work, but be aware of lead fouling issues.