|Norman Lethbridge is a hunting and fishing guide living and working
in the wilderness on Eagle River in Labrador. He uses his clipped wing
Challenger II Special on floats, skis and, when there's neither water nor
snow - just ice, on wheels. The airplane is his primary transportation
and life line to civilization, fetching everything from groceries and supplies
to the mail. You see, there are no cars or roads where Norman lives.
In spite of living in this very remote location, Norman qualifies as one of the true pioneers of ultralight flying in Canada having been active since 1978. Currently with over 6400 hours in ultralights to his credit, he also qualifies as one of the most experienced ultralight pilots in the country and probably in the world. “It’s not hard to accumulate hours when you use the aircraft as I do for daily transportation.”
He was born with a love of aviation and certainly got started early, soloing a Benson gyrocopter in 1975 while in his early teens and ultimately accumulating some 400 hours in these machines. It wasn’t long before he caught wind of the fledgling ultralight movement and bought a Skyseeker in 1978. Since then he has flown a wide variety of ultralight aircraft including the first weight shift Quicksilvers, then the later MXs, Rotec Rally, Chinook, CGS Hawk, Vampire, and Avid Flyer amongst others.
“The Challenger first caught my eye in 1992. I had sent for the video and information package and this looked like the perfect machine for my needs. I put in my order in September the following year and Quad City were very understanding of my situation and managed to ship the plane in time to catch the last ship of the season to Cartwright, Labrador before the ice closed things down in early November.”
Having been flying his Challenger in some of the most severe conditions imaginable, Norman has developed some strong opinions on the aircraft. “I chose a clipped wing for the extra speed it offered. It has not disappointed me. Using only a Rotax 503, I have a top speed of about 110 mph on skis with very low fuel consumption. Most other planes need much bigger engines to get near this kind of speed, and then they consume a lot more fuel. It’s in a league of its own in rough weather conditions and is extremely capable in a crosswind.”
“The snow up here is very hard. Strong winds quickly pack it and rut it almost like corrugated metal. As a result I do have to change the occasional bent gear leg, but at $50 each, it’s not a big deal.”
“The plane handles floats extremely well but it’s on skis that it impresses me the most. I have found that no other aircraft can even come close to matching the Challenger in deep snow or adverse conditions. I am convinced that if you put 20 engineers together and told them to build the perfect skiplane, they would come up with a Challenger. If you have ever had a bad experience with a heavy skiplane getting stuck, you will appreciate the Challenger’s ability to handle the worst conditions with ease.”
“Over all, you might find a plane that can beat the Challenger in one area or another, but you won’t find anything that can match its capabilities across the board and when you factor in the price, nothing even comes close.”
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