Kitplanes Magazine: "Challenger pilots enjoy year-round flying!"
Past events have attracted 36 ski-equipped Challengers and at least 250 enthusiasts. Members of the aviation press have concluded that it this is likely the largest single-make ski fly-in held. Amongst the Challenger owners in attendance are airline pilots, fighter pilots, and all manner of high time and low time civil aviators.
Top brass from Transport Canada (Canada's FAA) also attend each year. In the year 2000 they were impressed enough with the group to make a remarkable effort on behalf of the ICOA, changing international regulations to allow cross-border flights for the first time in ultralight aircraft. The new regulation, hammered out in record time by TC in conjunction with the FAA, allowed a group of owners to fly from Montreal to Oshkosh to attend the 2000 EAA convention. This was the first officially approved trans-border ultralight flight between the two countries, and it opened the doors to all who wish to follow.
Spring brings with it longer days and the best soaring conditions of the year. The purity of extended silent flight is something particularly special. Soaring comes far closer to my childhood "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" dreams of flight than the regimented environment of air traffic controllers and complex cockpit management. The Challenger's very low speed and tight turning abilities along with a low sink rate make it surprisingly competent at soaring. I have had engine-off flights approaching three hours using only thermals for lift.
It is hard to convey the euphoria of circling silently upward through the sky to cloud base. With no noise to frighten them, soaring birds such as seagulls, hawks and eagles often join me when they see I've found a thermal. Similarly, they aren't disturbed when I join them, which I do far more frequently since they are much better at finding the best lift.
I enjoy bringing my Walkman with some good music to enhance the experience. Hitching a ride in a 1000-fpm thermal is a thrill that brings new meaning to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". You can't help but feel as if you've achieved something special when you earn your altitude and flight time from your own skills and nature. It's like winning free games on a pinball machine and it becomes highly addictive.
Another thing I particularly appreciate about this plane compared to the gliders I used to fly is the ability to cheat. When I lose the lift, I simply start up and fly home, whereas a glider requires an out landing and a lengthy de-rig and trailer retrieve.
Summer is float season and the Challenger provides fun and practical transportation to our cottage on a little island in the lovely Thousand Islands region just east of the Great Lakes. The floats, made by Puddlejumper, are amphibious, so after I take off from my home airport I raise the wheels and fly to the island. Once there, after I land in the water I lower the wheels so I can taxi up on the lawn to a protected tie down behind the cottage.
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