Through a hallway, Mr. B. guides me directly to the apron, a large asphalt square. A little farther behind I see two pumps sitting on a concrete area. “This is our own gas station”, Mr. B. says with a sense of pride. Next to one of the pumps, the Remos G3 has been parked in order to get a refill. We are going nearer to that white ultralight plane with blue decor strips on both sides of the fuselage.
Obviously, the Remos is made from plastic, and somehow it is much smaller than I had anticipated. Being 6’ tall, I can easily look past the wings and even reach the tiny red beacon sitting on top of the fin. While I have seen passenger planes from the distance on major airports, examining every tiny little detail of an ultralight aircraft is a different and fascinating experience.
“May I sit in it?”, I ask.
“Of course”, says Mr. B. and opens the little gullwing door for me. I try to enter the cockpit like I enter a car putting in my right foot first and then sitting down, however, it does not work that way. Like when you are getting into a flat sports car, you have to develop a special kind of algorithm for entering this little plane.
In this case, it is best to enter the plane by sitting down onto the seat first and then pulling in your feet one by one, otherweise, you might get stuck somewhere in the process.
Being inside, I remember the first time I have been inside an airplane at the age of twelve. It was a Delta Airlines Boeing 767 that was scheduled to fly me and my family from Hamburg, Germany to Atlanta, Georgia. The interieur was made of plastic, the windows were made of plastic, and – most frightening – while not being made from plastic, the wings on the outside weren’t solid, but moving in the wind!
The ultralight Remos is made from a similar material, and it is not just the lining, it is the complete airplane. At least, the upholstery is more comfortable than it appeared to be on first sight. I lay my fingers around the stick. Compared to the jostick that I have attached to me computer at home, it may be a bit larger and padded by foam, but otherweise, it feels almost the same.
The instrument panel is missing a number of instruments that I am used to from playing fligth simulation games. There is not VOR, no artifical horizon, no gyro and not even a turn coordinator. Only the essential dials and gauges are available, for example a speed indicator, a variometer and an altimeter. There are also a number of engine controls at the right of a panel, as well as a transponder and a radio set in the middle.
With a little effort, I climb out of the plane.
So now what? Mr. B. says: „Let me know when you would like to take her for a ride.”
One moment … take her for a ride? It is not easy to get a Porsche for a ride, and this thing surely is more expensive than that!
Of course, if I can, I’d love to take this plane and get up in the air. But when? Next week? In June? July? Maybe August?
I know that my first flight is going to be a life changing experience: I will either be hopelessly infected by the flying virus, or I will vomit and that’s the end of the story. There is nothing in between.
Hesitantly I ask: „When could take her for an introductory flight?“
„I don’t know, whenever it meets your schedule“, says Mr. B. „Maybe tomorrow, maybe right now, if you got a little time to spare.“
“Now!?!?” I never expected it to be possible to spontaneously hop into an airplane and get into the air. While my head starts spinning, my gut has already come to a decision and I hear myself saying: “You know what? Let’s do it right away!”
Mr. B. seems to be a bit puzzled as he did not expect me to be that decisive, but then happily goes back to the building in order to fetch a spare headset for me. It turns out to be a heavy old David Clark Headset, which is solid enough to slay a delinquent passenger or at least let him hang out of the cockpit window by his feet. It really is quite a different breed than the simple noise cancellation Headset I once bought from Sharper Image.
I am allowed to wait by the plane. It is a strange feeling being alone at the apron near to a plan without supervision. I sneak around the Remos and explore it the same way I would enjoy a classic Cadillac in a museum.
I have to admit that I am a little sceptical. Shall I really entrust my lift to this little plastic plane? I notice that the cover of the front wheel is held together by duct tape. Well, it is going to last, isn’t?
I continue to examine the plane and discover amazing little details. There is a tiny tailwheel at the back of the fuselage. It reminds me of the wheels of inline skates and is meant to prevent damage is the pilot touches down in very a upright angle. Next to the cowling, there are vents that have the same design like those of a Ferrari F40. Then there is a lockable filler cap and a refrence to the Junkers emergency parachute.
The name rings a bell – isn’t Junkers the company behind great airplanes like the Ju-F13 and Ju-52?
The longer I look at Remos, the more trust I gain into the airplane, at least. I am not really sure about the duct tape, though. Strangely, I feel a less excited than I did the day I conducted my one and only test drive in a brand new Ferrari. After the dealer – a professional rally driver – had driven the first leg, I entered the driver’s seat with my knees trembling. In contrast to the tire-burning Italian beast, the Remos does not look scary at all. I have an experienced instructor at my side who can take control when I do something wrong, and last but not least, there’s the Junkers parachute.
Mr. B. is coming back. He notices the skeptical look at the nose wheel: “Well, Mr. Vorwerk, don’t you have any confidance in duct tape?”
“Oh, yes, of course I do” I respond bravely and climb back into the cockpit. To claim that it feels a little tight would be an understatement, actually, I am sitting in a position almost like Kermit the Frog, the knees almost touching the throttle.
“You can’t fly like that“, says Mr. B. “When you remain at that position, we won’t be able to close the door, we have to put the seat backward. Would you please exit the cockpit again?“
With a single movement, Mr. B. takes the whole seat out of the aircraft and puts it back into a slightly different position farther away from the dashboard. I did not expect the plane to be fitted with electrically adjustable seats, but this construction is simpler than anything I would have imagined! At least, you can adjust the seats in a Remos. I have read about many planes where you may adjust the rudder pedals, but none of the seats.
I crawl back into the cockpit and instantly feel a lot more comfortable. The space is still fairly narrow, especially when you close the doors, but thanks to the huge windows, you do not feel cramped at all. If you dare, it is even possible to fly with the doors open – this is very useful in case you have a photographer as a passenger on board or if you don’t know how to adjust the seats.
As I have mentioned above, the dashboard is almost as naked as Ginger Spice in her early years. No fancy glas cockpit computer screen, no gyro, there isn’t even an artificial horizon. But nevertheless, there are a number of mysterious switches and levers, apparently for engine management, which I do not recognize at all.
Mr. B. takes a few minutes to explain the controls and instruments: “First of all, there is the speed indicator that displays the indicated airspeed in kilometers rather than knots. Then we have an altimeter that shows the height in feet and a variometer that displays the vertical speed in meters per second, got it?”
“Sure”, I say. I’m not that stupid. Being a flight simulator pilot, of course I claim to know everything – which isn’t exactly the best attitude when you are learning to fly a plane. Mr. B. continues his walk-trough of the instruments.
A little indicator above those primary instruments shows position of the electric elevator trim system that can be adjusted using two buttons on the stick right in front of you. Of course, there is also a radio and even a transponder. Both devices remind me of old car radios that we used to have until the early nineties, before they had been replaced by fancy build-in satellite navigation systems. For the engine controls, there is little rev counter, a fuel gauge and a collection of tiny switches that look like somebody has bought them over the counter at Circuit City.
Flaps are operated using a rod system right under the roof right above your head. Next to it, there is a red lever that deploys the parachute – don’t mix it up, otherwise you might have to walk home and have a lot to explain to the insurance company.
In the narrow center console between the seats there is the brake lever. It works like the handbrake in your car, the only difference is that you have to push it down rather than pull it up. Rolling on the ground, you steer the airplane using two pedals that also operate the rudder. Some airplanes do not have a steerable nose wheel, instead they are steered by differential braking. I honestly cannot imagine how this is supposed to work.
Of course, an airplane does not have an accelerator. Instead, you use a throttle lever that keeps the same position until you change it, as most of the time you will be traveling at the same speed. The Remos even has two power levers that operate simultaneously, one in the center and another one on the left side of the dashboard. This way you can control the throttle with your left hand while your right hand is ready for any braking action. Next to the center power lever, there is a second lever for operating carburetor heating, and finally, there are two air vents that look like they were coming from my brother’s Ford Ka.
There are several additional controls that I don’t remember right now. What I do remember, however, is a printed checklist in the center console which makes sure that you will remember all the steps necessary to operate this little airplane. The only thing it does not mention is the location of each control. Never mind, I have a professional flight instructor sitting right next to me.
Mr. B. connects my headset to the intercom. I put it on my head – and feel sort of isolated. The doors have been closed, it is getting very warm inside the plane. Mr. B. explains which of the switches I shall flip on, then he turns the key and the Rotax engine comes to life. It is much louder than I had imagined. It reminds me of a washing machine gone wild with thousands of Lego pieces inside.
Now Mr. B. tells me to turn on the avionik using a big switch that also looks like it comes from your local electronics dealer. With a bit of excitement, I flip the switch and it engages to the “On” position with a satisfying noise. Finally, my headset is working, but one thing is strange: While everybody else is speaking normally, including flight instructor Mr. B., my very own voice sounds as if Mickey Mouse has taken over! Other than that, I only hear the roar of the idling little Rotax engine in front.
As the parking brake is already released, Mr. B. tells me to carefully push the throttle to increase power a little. The lever is much harder to move than expected. You have to put the index finger at the dash and then use your thumb to push it. Slowly the plane is moving! It is an incredible feeling: I am not a passenger, I am sitting on the pilot’s seat commanding a real-life plane! Me! My left hand is at the power lever, the right one at the brake – the Remos is listening to my commands!
The airfield in front of me is real! And I notice that the asphalt isn’t as smooth as suggested by Microsoft FlightSimulator. It is uneven, almost undulating. I try to steer the plane using my feet, as instructed by Mr. B.: “Use the right foot to steer right and the left foot to steer left!“
Sounds simple, but it is not as easy at you may think. At least, it isn’t for me. I always seem to mix-up the directions. Intuitively, my hand wanders to the stick. „Put your left thumb to the power and your right hand to the brake“, my flight instructor reminds me. Somehow I manage to keep the Remos on the tarmac and finally arrive at the holding position of runway 07.
It is unbelievable: I am sitting in a real ultralight airplane! Right in front of me, there is a wide runway with a huge white number. I am ready for departure. I have done this a thousand times using Microsoft Flight Simulator, but this time, it is for real, and it is absolutely amazing!
However, we are not quite ready for take-off yet as there is one final check to be performed: the magneto check. Most airplane engines have two independent magnetos ignition systems rather then electric spark plugs. Right before take-off, a pilot has to check if both magnetos are working properly. Mr. B. instructs me to switch the ignition from “On” to “Left” while watching the rev counter. I do as instructed. The engine starts rattling like it is going to explode any moment, but it is ok, as the revs have only dropped by 100 rpm or so. I put the switch back to “Both”, the little Rotax is running smoothly again. We repeat the same procedure with the right magneto, watch the rev counter drop and then switch the ignition back to “Both”. Finally, my instructor wants me to pull the carb heat. Again, the revs drop a little, which means that there is no icing in the carburator and everything is working perfectly well.
“Tripple-Delta, holding position 7, ready for departure”, Mr. B. announces on the radio.
“Tripple-Delta, wind 25 at 4 knots” is the tower’s response.
“Mr. Vorwerk”, the flight instructor say, “now please let loose your hands on the throttle and the stick and follow my motions on the controls.” Together we push the throttle, the engine roars and after a short moment of hesitation the little ultralight airplane starts to accelerate. It isn’t exactly the feeling of sitting in a jet or a powerful sportscar that firmly pushes you back into your seat, but we are getting faster and faster. We are shaken by the bumps on the asphalt, the plane rumbles more and more – and then there is a sudden quietness: we have taken off, an invisible hand lifts us gently into the sky.
I need a moment to grasp the situation. It is hard to believe, but I am flying – for real! In a tangible ultralight airplane. I am doing something that I have imagined to do most of my life. Now the dream has become a reality. Eureka! I feel like screaming „whohoooo!“, but I don’t want to scare my flight instructor, so I remain in a silent awe.
“Are you feeling alright?“ Mr. B. asks a little woried. “Oh yes, it is…amazing, absolutely amazing!” I respond.
And it is. I feel more than comfortable traveling through the air in the Remos. When the plane started moving, fresh air is finally flowing through the vents and the inside temperature is cooling down. From the side window I have a superb view of the countryside getting smaller and smaller. The Remos ascends to 1,200ft, the altitude of the local airfield’s traffic circuit. Mr. B. says: “Now, please pull the throttle until the rev counter shows 4,500 rpm.”
Carefully I pull the throttle lever until the rev counter indicates 4,500 rpm. My flight instructor appears to be satisfied.
“Next, please take your hands off the stick to check if the elevator is trimmed correctly.
” Excuse me? Take my hands off the stick? Is this guy completely nuts? I am sitting in a little airplane and my instructor turns out to be a complete maniac! When I take my hands off the controls, this plane is going to bank and end in a death spiral killing both of us! Oh no, I will never let go of the stick until we are safely back on the ground. Mr. B. insists. “Ok,” I reluctantly agree, “but only for a split second.” Hesitantly I unclasp my clenched fingers and release the stick – ready to take control again as soon as the little Remos tries to do anything stupid on her own.
Something amazing happens: nothing. The little plastic plane flies with the serenity of an old coffee grinder, like she has never done anything else in her whole life. “And this idiot believes that it is him who is doing the flying!” she surely thinks. “Well, he doesn’t know that I can certainly fly all by myself, but I am going to teach him!”
As a “pedestrian” – that’s what pilots call us non-flyers – I always considered flying to be a great balancing act. The fuselage is so narrow and the wings are so wide – isn’t a plane supposed to tip over then the pilot isn’t watching and balancing it all the time? This usually is the case in any Flight Simulator, especially when the joystick isn’t perfectly calibrated. In real life, an airplane wants to fly. Straightly. Of course, it sometimes rocks a little, but in the end, it will always find its balance, without requiring any input from the pilot.
Perfect. When the Remos pilots herself, I can take a deep breath and take a look at the world outside. The German landscape is green and beautiful. When you are traveling in your car, all you see is the asphalt band with heavy trucks, little compact cars and station wagons of traveling salesmen passing you like a bullet.
Sitting in an airplane, however, the wide Autobahn A7 suddenly becomes a narrow grey stripe. Residential areas look like model villages from a model railroad, fields look like a patchwork rug. The world is green and brown and blue, not grey and black with white stripes and a noise barrier on your right. The whole world lies at your feet with its cities, villages, streams, wood and mountains. I wish I could keep on flying the whole day, discovering the familiar landscape from a completely new perspective. Of course, you see more square miles of the country in an Airbus, in the Remos, however, you get all the details – it is even possible to watch golfers at play.
Mr. B. asks me to turn to the left. Slightly push the stick to the left and try to provide a little rudder input as well. My curve ain’t perfect, but surprisingly, it is much easier than I had imagined it to be from my flight simulator experience. The plane is stable and willingly reacts to my input, just like a well-ridden horse. Honestly, it is easier than driving a car.
Out of my window on the left, I can see the airport. And then I spot a parachutist right next to me. We look at each other for a moment, he waves and then he is quickly getting smaller, descending to mother earth. This is amazing, I mean: have you ever seen a parachutist from above? But wait – what’s that? A departing airplane is crossing our way. I had not seen it at first, but Mr. B. did, of course.
“Do you have a few more minutes?” he asks. “Yes, of course”, I respond.
“Then let me show you something beautiful that can only be seen when the weather is right” he says. Mr. B. goes full throttle and ascends to 3,000ft. Suddenly we are above the clouds. They glisten in the sun as if they are made from diamond fibers. I have never seen anything like that. It is completely different from the grey clouds that you see from the inside of an Airbus. In the Remos, you can enjoy an absolutely amazing panoramic view through the splendidly large windows.
“It is very very rare that the clouds are low enough to fly above them in the traffic circuit” Mr. B. explains. I wish had brought a camera. Well, next time, maybe.
Way too soon we are back to normal traffic circuit height. I feel kind of lost. Shouldn’t the airport be … somewhere in sight? I don’t see it. Am I blinded by the sun? “Don’t worry” Mr. B. says, “at the beginning, every student pilot loses his orientation, this is perfectly normal as the world looks so different from above. I tell you where to go – the airplane is yours to fly!”
I can hardly believe it: now I have complete control over the airplane. The flight instructor points towards a direction and I use the stick and rudder to put the little Remos into the right direction. We fly around a small commercial zone and then head to the left. Next, we pass a small wood and a certain building before another turn to the left must to be made. It works like the flight simulator, with the only exception that it is much, much easier as you can feel the movements of the airplane. It is the same as driving a car: while I was a teenager, I used to play racing games. Still do. In a racing game, it is very hard to drive a straight line, so I considered driving a real car to be difficult as well. In driving school, it quickly turned out that a real car is easier to handle than the simulated version.
By the way, I don’t feel sick or nauseous at all, there is only a little pressure in my ears. Finally I see the airport. A tiny strip of tarmac! And that’s where we are supposed to land? Wasn’t it much bigger when we left?
The approach is more difficult than flying simple curves, so my instructor takes control. Like in flight simulation, you have to hit the runway properly. “Let’s target for the middle of the runway rather than the threshold, then we can take a shortcut back to the hangar”, Mr. B. explains. With a little bump we touch down a few meters before the branch. We are back on earth.
We roll back to the hangar. I am allowed to do the steering and handle the brake. My hands intuitively begin to wander to the stick, although this it completely useless while you’re on the ground. In front of the hangar, we switch off the airplane. First I turn off the avionics systems, then my instructor shows me how to choke off the engine by pulling the throttle. Afterwards, I have to put all the other switches back to the “Off” position and put the keys onto the dashboard. My flight instructor inserts a security pin to the lever of the emergency parachute to prevent the system to be deployed accidentally.
In a combined effort we roll the Remos into the hangar. You can really move it by yourself, you only have to take care not to scratch anything with the wings. Last but not least, I am allowed to clean the plane by removing dead flies and thus get to spend a few minutes with the airplane on my own.
With a confident feeling I drive home. Getting airborne in a little plane is like getting a taste Chrstal Meth for once, as I have only one thought:
I – MUST – FLY – AGAIN!