Good Old 81

Our club has grown a lot in the last few years. A lot of that growth stems from the decision to purchase our first Foxbat, 5356. It would be fair to say the decision to buy the new plane was spearheaded by club president Joe Newham and CFI Greg Davies, against a fair amount of misgiving and head shaking.

To fund the purchase we sold Lightwing ‘081. As it turns out, Peter Sackett, the purchaser, became a firm club member as well, completing his Pilot Certificate training with us. The plane suffered a small dingle, a minor setback as Peter has almost completed repairs.

Most of us are not aware of much of the club’s history in the Ultralight/Recreational Aviation movement. Occasionally we hear reference from Greg Davies or Arthur Armour.

Instructor Geoff Raebel wrote the following article at the time we were selling ’81, and had it published in the RAA magazine. It is worth repeating here, with his permission

Good old 25-0081

Good old 81

Hughes Lightwing 25-0081 was the second production Lightwing built in 1985, now with 4,700 hours on the airframe, she deserves the title “Good old 81”.  Back in 1984/5 two seat ultralights were an innovation born out of the string of accidents resulting from “self-training” on the early single seaters.  Air Navigation Order 95-25 was a interim regulation that year in anticipation of the HORSCOT report to review the large number of accidents among early ultralights and recommend corrective action.  ANO 95-25 permitted factory built Ultralights with and MTOW of 450kg, enough to allow a 2 seater.  This was the impetus for  a group of Sydney ultralight earlybirds led by Max Hamilton to form the Sydney Ultralight Flying Club.

In the group was Carl Holden, an experienced pilot who was to become CFI and Pilot Examiner. Carl was despatched to review the 2 seater offerings at the time, he had the opportunity to fly the prototype Hughes Lightwing.  This he said was the “one” for the Club designed by Bill Whitney. The fuselage was a welded truss structure with a strong cage around the passenger compartment, the whole being fabric covered.  The aluminium rib and spar wing had a solid leading edge with fabric covering.  Importantly the split bungee-sprung undercarriage would stand up to the training environment. Carl assessed the structure as providing good crashworthiness while the whole aeroplane was maintainable by the skill-set among the members.  Against the wind, Carl’s insistence on the Lightwing with an all-over bright yellow paint scheme prevailed. The first engine in this LW1 was a pull start Rotax 533.

Fly SRFC: Joe Newham and Andrew Bower

Such was their faith that ten members put in $250 each to place a deposit on the first Australian Lightwing Howard Hughes sold, but due to compliance took a year to gestate.  The Club had formed itself into a Limited by Guarantee company and got a bank loan of $17500 with surety held by the members.

Finding an airfield in the Sydney Basin was a challenge, The first selected was Wilton, That didn’t last long.  Operating a high wing machine without radio under parachutes was decided as mutually dangerous.  Club member Ian Young approached Jack Davis and Grayham Onis who had a private strip at The Oaks.  Jack was a “rag and stick” man and with the Lightwing having a nearly identical flight envelope to the Tiger Moths, still with their Gosport tubes he accepted Sydney Ultralights in.

It was at about this time that the slab sided, no doors 081 had her first disaster.  Inevitably a broken crankshaft induced outlanding.  Later a second outlanding was featured in the old Flight Safety Digest. There in the picture is Nigel sitting forlornly in front of an upside down 081. Again crankshaft induced, the second hand engine out of the Markee Ultrabat had failed.  Nig elected to land in the best available paddock.  All went well down to the last metre when long grass caught the undercarraige and flipped him. Old 081 went back to Hughes and the opportunity was taken to upgrade her to a GR582 but still with the Rotax 503. She came back beautiful with the fuselage sides scalloped in, doors, updated struts and new fibreglass seats, of course the main damage to the fin had been repaired.

Joe selling 81

Training continued apace as the members got their Pilots Certificates and fought on for their 50 hours solo to get a passenger endorsement (now 20 hours).  There were minor accidents, a run through a fence, again that steel cage was reassuring.  The most memorable of these that caused no damage happened with Bob Conrow on a comp’ day doing flour bombing without doors.  Without radio Bob knew he had traffic astern and after dropping his “bomb” pushed the throttle open and the engine stopped!  He elected to clear the main runway and land on the parallel strip between the two cross fences. Just clearing the first he sat her down and started braking knowing he was out of distance. Now I don’t think Bob is particularly religious but suddenly it was like the angels were helping and 081 stopped undamaged just short of the second fence! On inspection he found the top wire of the first fence snagged around the tail wheel having dragged out its star pickets to pull 0081 up short.

Joe in 81

The Rotax 532s continued to give trouble and the Club made a policy of doing a major overhaul at 250 hours and a complete sell/replace swap at 500 hours.  I walked into one of the Club’s regular meetings on the first Tuesday of the month, there were glum faces all round. We were grounded, 081 had landed that day with a broken crankshaft.  “Actually” related Bob Conrow “I think I took off with a broken crankshaft!  We were climbing out and the student was doing well, turning crosswind we both thought we could smell burning electrical insulation. There was no smoke, no instrument indication of a problem.  I took over and started a downwind close in and low, turned base mid-field and landed without incident and taxied back. It took ages to find that the crankshaft had broken between the two rear bearings and the only indication of trouble was the insulation smell as the alternator wobbled slightly scraping the windings on the housing.”

We bit the bullet and bought our first 582 – literally a roaring success. At about this time the Club had its second Lightwing upgraded to a GR912 which meant running a 4 stroke and a 2 stroke and all the risks of two fuel systems.  The maintenance team elected to standardise on straight super (now premium unleaded) for both aircraft and install oil injection on 081.  We gained confidence with the 582 and did complete engine swaps at 600 hours.

About three years ago John Readett had a student up and there was an Engine Failure On Take Off. It was copybook, this wasn’t John’s first real engine out.  He chose to land in a field straight ahead. Then to his horror he saw a mob of thoroughbred horses in front of him, a quick turn into the adjoining paddock got him over the fence with no airspeed.  They both got out okay and the wings were not damaged but the rest of the aeroplane was in a sad way.

Again long faces at a Club meeting as our GR912 was pressed into ab-initio training while 081 was stripped.  The bare steel fuselage structure was sent to an aircraft welder friend of CFI Greg Davies to rebuild.  The Club had long worried about internal rust in the structure and was considering x-ray analysis.  Greg’s angle grinder gave faster results! There was no evidence of any corrosion in the structure. The straightening and repair of the fuselage took over a year with Lyell and Greg working spare weekends.  On completion the airframe went to Arthur Armour’s garage for “re-bagging” .

This is a real plane!

There were several working bees with various members detailed to complete the re-assembly and checking.  Fortunately we had a spare 582 engine ready to put in.   A temporary spray booth was created and 0081 was returned to all-over yellow.

She took to the air 2 years to the day after being nearly “totalled”.

While hull insurance  for 2 stroke RAA aircraft is virtually unobtainable 081 remains the favourite aeroplane among the instructors being light and easy to manage for student pilots. While there is more maintenance on the 582 than the 912 there is noticeably less wear and tear on the lighter aircraft in a training environment.

What are the lessons after 20 years of service:-

The primary one is safety – we have had a lot of accidents – some serious but we have had no injuries. The low mass aeroplane travelling at a relatively low speed with a good cage around the crew, has protected them.

Hangarage has protected the aircraft from decay.

Regular engine changes to minimise engine-outs.

Good maintenance and logging by Greg Davies, Nigel Bissett, Arthur Armour, Ian Young, Joe Newham and many many Club members have kept her airworthy.

The future – as the Club regains strength we are looking to move into a new age and bring a tricycle 912 powered aircraft on line as well as retaining our GR912 Lightwing.  The time has come now to sell off 081 so that Sydney Recreational Flying Club can move into its new phase and attract more members into flying in the Sydney Basin.

To describe the decision to sell Good old 081 after 20 years as a reluctant sale is to understate it.  081 is a living piece of the history of ultralight flying and a testament to its designer, builder and the many volunteer maintenance staff that have kept her flying safely

Jamie Honan, first flight in 81

Geoff Raebel

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