Building an airplane – first flight, August 29, 2017

Two months ago today, the Zigolo MG12 kit arrived as a 200+ lb. crate of parts (plus a bundle of long aluminum tubes) packing hundreds of seemingly random plates, bolts, rivets, cables, brackets, and fittings.  Today, with Chip Erwin at the controls, it flew for the first time.

Chip Erwin “crow hops” the newly completed Zigolo MG12 down the grass runway at the Verona Air Park (W19).

Last Thursday, Chip had found an unexpected break in his schedule that allowed him to come to Madison on very short notice for the final push. The five days since then have been intense: Chip, Jonathan, and I worked together through Thursday and Friday, Chip and I worked all day Saturday, I worked alone on Sunday from noon to midnight covering and painting the wings, and yesterday Chip and I madly worked from 8am to 7pm to complete everything on our list in time to cart the aircraft components out to our rented hangar at the Verona Air Park (W19) for final assembly.

It turned out that the bed of the University Fleet’s Ford F350 pickup was too short to be usable for our purposes, so we rushed out to find a 20′ flatbed utility trailer we could rent for the afternoon to transport everything in four trips between Stoughton and Verona. Paint was literally drying on one wing while we were driving the other one down the back roads.

This morning, the push continued starting at 7am at the Verona hangar; we needed to finish a number of items that had had to wait for resupply of the appropriate rivets; we also installed the ailerons, and Chip rigged the aileron cables. At 10:30am, we gave the plane a thorough preflight, checking for bolts that might still be loose and rivets that might have been missed. 

With everything looking good, Chip grabbed the Zigolo without ceremony and pushed it out onto the grass and started the engine. Wind was light and more or less straight down the grass runway.  Chip throttled up from mid-field and was airborne fairly quickly.  He stayed within a few feet of the grass and touched down again after maybe 100 yards. Turning sharply at the end of the runway — using a burst of power to bring the rudder into play — he repeated the crow hops in the downwind direction.

After a couple more passes, Chip taxied back to the hangar and declared himself extremely happy with the flight characteristics.  Unfortunately, that was it for testing this morning,  as Chip had already generously extended his stay through this morning after we were unable to complete all the necessary work in time for a test flight yesterday, and now he was facing a 7-hour road trip back to Ohio.

The next step will be more me to repeat the crow hops on a day with little or no wind, possibly as early as this evening or tomorrow.  This will allow me to get familiar with the handling during the critical phases of takeoff and landing.  I’ll be low and slow enough (maybe 10 feet at 35 mph) that the risk of serious miscalculation will be low — again, assuming little or no wind.

On Chip’s recommendation, the Zigolo won’t be taken to higher altitude until we have received and installed the BRS rocket-propelled parachute system  (we were supposed to receive it months ago, but a supply chain problem has held up delivery).  After that, I will be guided in part by the recommendations of Facebook friend (and experienced ultralight pilot) Bill Esker, who wrote 

Remember three things while flying lightly loaded wings.

[1] Airspeed is everything. Even more so than GA. When you pull power get that nose down and maintain airspeed.

2. Forward penetration inertia is almost zero. You have no weight!

3. You will be far more subject to turbulence. No big deal, but you will be bounced a bit more.Your takeoffs will be short, your landings will be short!

Enjoy because you now have a “motor-floater” and can go play with the thermals! … Even though you are a GA pilot fly only calm days for the first ten hours. Very light aircraft are a little weird to get used to, and no pulling the power half a mile from the numbers like GA , keep power on until you are 50 yards out! Once you get some circuits under your belt, then do some deadsticks right over the runway at first. You need to know what it feels like gravity only for your motor. It’s fun, you will enjoy it, but remember airspeed!

I had fully intended to blog more regularly about the build process leading up to this point, but that proved impractical. On the one hand there were sometimes week-long periods of time where nothing much was happening at all with the build, either because we were waiting on parts or because we were tied up with other things. On the other hand, the busy periods were so busy that I not infrequently worked 10–14 hour days at PSL and had no energy left for blogging by the time I got home at midnight! I apologize to those who might have been hoping for blow-by-blow commentary on the specifics of building this plane.  If you’re building a Zigolo kit, I’ll be happy to answer any questions that come up.  I had plenty of questions myself, and Chip’s on-site oversight and assistance saved us countless hours of head scratching and likely mistakes!

PS:  In the excitement and haste of the moment, I failed to get decent photos or any usable video, despite having good equipment with me (most of it still in the car).  There should have been a third person along whose sole job was to capture the moment. Or, in any case, more planning.

Comments are closed.