The Thrill of Flying Ultralight Aircraft

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Flint, MI — February 13, 2023

You see them flying around at low altitudes every so often. More so in the summertime, given Michigan’s weather. They are called ultralight aircraft, and they come in several forms. The powered hang-glider, a seat hanging from a fixed wing, or the minimalistic airplane with the pilot sitting just in front of the engine are but of few of the designs.

Yes, they appear ready to crash at any time, and some might wonder why anyone would risk their lives flying around above the treetops in such a contraption. Then, right there on Facebook, I saw the picture of an acquaintance standing next to one of these machines on the frozen ice of a lake. And 100 questions popped into my mind.

Scott Skalski stands next to his ultralight aircraft, which he landed on the frozen surface of Lake Fenton.

Meet Scott Skalski

We have known Scott for a few years but had no idea he was he was one of those daredevils riding around the skies of Genesee County. The photo prompted the phone call with the first question, “Dude, what are you doing?” It turns out Scott has been doing a lot of ariel acrobatics in ultralights for some time. In fact, he is highly involved in the sport.

Scott credits the Michigan Ultralight Flying Club with stoking the fire behind his love of flying. They have a wealth of knowledge that novices can lean on and learn from to pursue the goal of taking to the skies. Here is some of what we learned as Scott shared his experience with us.

  • These are custom-built aircraft that commonly use snowmobile engines for power.
  • To be classified as an Ultralight, the base weight cannot exceed 254 lbs.
  • Fully loaded with fuel (five gallons) and a pilot, they carry around 600 lbs.
  • Engines average from 25 to 40 horsepower, and they can fly for about 60-65 mph.
  • Two hours of flight time is average for the amount of fuel they carry.
  • They can fly up to 10,000 feet, but most flights are at an altitude of 1,000 feet.
  • An Ultralight needs approximately 200 feet of space to take off and 250 feet to land.
  • Yes, they occasionally crash, but most inflight accidents are attributed to pilot error.
  • You can fly in the winter with an open cockpit wearing heated clothing.
  • No license is required to fly an Ultralight.

Pilot Training

That last bullet point was an eye-opener. Scott explained only a fool would hop into the seat of an Ultralight and learn on the fly, so to speak. Flights in two-seat models with experienced pilots prepare a novice to command their own aircraft.

Taking regular flight lessons to earn a pilot’s license can cost thousands of dollars to gain enough experience and flight time. According to Scott, one of the big attractions of flying Ultralights is the reasonable cost. He estimated that the process could be accomplished for around $1,500.

Relying on the resources of a flying organization, such as the Michigan Ultralight Flying Club, allows interested individuals to explore the freedom of flight. In fact, the club has a towable aircraft that can attain a height of 10 feet off the ground giving the occupant a taste of controlling the plane on their own. Scott’s 11-year-old daughter, Holly, has flown several times.

Overcoming the Fear

Scott admitted that in the beginning, he was somewhat apprehensive. He quickly overcame the fear after taking flight with an experienced pilot. Scott’s wife, Stevie Skalski, is a sales consultant at Lasco Ford in Fenton. We asked Stevie for her thoughts on Scott’s hobby. “I was scared to death at first. But I knew Scott was level-headed and wasn’t going to put himself in a position that was dangerous. We talked through things, and I became more comfortable. Watching him fly was hard at first, but he loves it, and I am fully supportive of his efforts.”

Has Stevie been up flying? Yes, in the two-seater. But not with Scott.

Working on Something Special

We mentioned that Scott is heavily involved in the Ultralight lifestyle. He actively works to support a cause by the name of Project First Flight. A 501(C)(3) charity with the goal of sharing the sport with members of the public.

Their mission statement is: “To inspire, educate, mentor, and enable youth or special need individuals & adults to achieve the dream of flight in a timely, solo towed glider flight. To achieve these ends through the development of a legal, safe, slow, tow-only aerial vehicle.”

If you would like to support the cause, you can donate via the following link. https://www.paypal.com/donate/…

Discovery Flights and Instructional Flights can be scheduled. For more information about Michigan Ultralight Flying Club, please contact Rob Edmunds 248-408-2510 or John Vonlinsowe 810-730-4807