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Jul 31 2010

Discovering EZ Flyer

Anyone familiar with the history of American homebuilts knows “Breezy” – visually crude machine with exposed fuselage frame. It was built in mid-sixties by a group of friends who wanted to create a super-primitive airplane relevant to the earlier years of flying, unlike the heavy-metal jet hardware surrounding them.

Breezy inspired and keeps on inspiring homebuilders all around the planet. I have seen versions of it flying in Russia and Latin America, Canada and European countries. The one I’ve discovered today is a Canadian-built ultralight created by Wayne Winters. It retains the philosophy of Breezy – everything exposed to the flow of fresh air – but is a registered “advanced ultralight”, unlike the original airplane.

EZ Flyer looks and feels sturdy. That chrome-moly tubing gives an unmistakable feeling that the plane is next to impossible to break. Walking around, pulling on the tubes – everything as tough as it looks like. Cockpit… well, it isn’t – as the design supposes. There are two padded plastic chairs with lap belts; rest is metal frame, rudder and stick. There is an “instrument panel”, minimal legal set of dials, and just enough switches and levers to keep the engine running.

Our EZ had a powerful Rotax-912 installed, and its hear-ripping roar still sounds in my ears, even though we were using the headphones with a simple intercom to chat while flying. But even this engine is barely strong enough to push through the air this complex web of metal tubing, braces, cables and struts.

Taxi was as obvious and uneventful as it can possibly be. Literally like walking, nothing to talk about. Takeoff was an outcry of the engine whining roar accompanying a relatively sedate acceleration and simple, reasonably fast climb. There was no need to apply any sort of correction for the prop-induced yaw, and the only funny thing was that I was sitting there, in the nose of the plane, and all the rest was way behind – including the wing and invisible, but deafening engine.

EZ Flyer does not have adverse yaw. At all! You can fly with your feet only, or ailerons only, or both together – all works. It also possess that nice range of speeds which are the same for climb, cruise and approach – roughly between 60 and 70 mph. You can’t go faster and you needn’t go slower. Range of engine power is between five thousands and fifty three hundred. That’s all there is about the power settings and V-speeds.

Flyer… Like in Wrights’ Flyer – for sure it is. Embrace the sky – it is in the reach of your hand! Look around, watch down, overall feeling is like you are sitting in this little awkward chair and somehow thrusting through the air with a wild howl, yet still staying at the same place! Magic… I haven’t had enough of it. Wanted to keep flying like that for hours, just slowly circling and looking at the world below. Nothing like this in any “real” airplane.

Approach simply was not there. Go to the point when the nose start covering the edge of the runway about 500 feet above the ground and gently close the throttle, pushing the nose down. The plane will start plowing through the air as slow as always, only in the vertical direction. There are no flaps or airbrakes – the whole plane is one. Up to the point that when you are close enough to the ground and want to stop that sinking feeling, you add power – otherwise you will continue the descent – nose up or down, irrelevant, except for the “airspeed” going to zero the moment you’ll pull on the stick.

Add some power, ground is closer… and closer… and still closer… you feel like your ass is digging a trench through the runway – that’s okay, you are still too high… can you feel the sides of the runway at your ears level? That is when you need to start pulling on the stick!

Pull harder, everything in this plane is tough, including the controls’ pressures. When the stick will be somewhere in your stomach, you will hear the noise – that’s a tractor-size wheels running on the ground at a mind-blowing 30 mph. Keep the nose up and cut the throttle – now that prop stops pushing the tail down and the nose will leisurely drop. Bouncy-bouncy – even though the front wheel is as fat as the mains, there are no shock absorbers, except for the air in the tires.

And this is it – the magic has gone, you are a driver of the half-ton ugly vehicle swaying and squeaking. Don’t know about you, but I was smiling as stupid as possible and shaking my head after that flight was over. After about a hundred hours in the cockpit and much more in the passenger cabin I finally discovered what a real flying is about. Not even the hang glider trikes I have tried earlier were that blatantly honest in what lifting yourself in the air is.

I enjoyed the flight very much, and I loved that weird and beautiful machine, Breezy, EZ Flyer. It is not that “easy” to fly properly, you need to really get a grasp on the lowest possible energy management, but it’s definitely one of the best flyers I’ve ever experienced. A real aircraft, live magic of flight. If you’ll ever find yourself next to it – do not hesitate, try it, you’ll never forget.

EZ Flyer

EZ Flyer