Annual Nebraska Ultralight Gathering 2002
Planning an ultralight gathering when the temperatures are likely to be in the nineties would seem a bit crazy, however, as ultralighters are often described as such, July seems to be as good a time as any to host the largest gathering of crazy people in the Midwest.

This year marks the third time the Annual Nebraska Ultralight Gathering (ANUG) has taken place, and it was bigger and better than ever. David City, Nebraska was the venue as in previous years, and the local ultralighting clubs all banded together and worked with the David City airport, Chamber of Commerce, Fire Department and many other local organizations to make it so.

As in previous years, most of the planning was done via the Internet, using an open communication list. Any interested parties could log on and ask questions, voice opinions and make constructive suggestions. It worked just as successfully as in previous years. By the time my wife Anne and I drove in on Friday afternoon (my excuse for not flying in was that we were promoting our newly formed custom sheet metal cutting business, and needed the trailer to haul in our samples), there were already around 20 3-axis machines, a trike and several powered parachutes parked for the night, and several more enjoying the beautiful conditions.

The air was warm and the thermals were dying off as the sun sank towards the western horizon, encouraging several of the pilots to go off and play, or join in a flight around the town, as requested by the David City townsfolk.

Friday evening, safety officer Bob Harvey called a meeting to brief everyone on safe practices and procedures. He repeated the briefings on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Each pilot was given a hospital-type wristband to prove that they had attended the safety briefing. Not having a wristband meant not being allowed to fly, so all the "outpatients" could be seen wandering around the town sporting their washable wristbands over the weekend. If found wandering aimlessly, they could be shepherded back to the airfield on the shuttle bus provided by the city, and manned by volunteers from the local ultralighting clubs.

Probably the group making the greatest effort to attend the event were from Colorado. Five machines, supported by a great ground crew consisting of wives, girlfriends, families and friends made the mini epic adventure an unforgettable one, both for themselves and for all the new friends they made over the weekend.

Dean Spencer flew his GT 400, Cole Hanscome flew his MXL II, Chuck Ashbaugh piloted his modified Kolb fitted with a 750cc BMW engine, Barney Fletcher piloted his distinctive yellow T-Bird, and Michael Flannery flew his FireStar.

Setting out at sunrise on July 4, three machines from Longmont, Colorado and five ground support vehicles converged on Hanscome's farm in Greeley, Colorado to fly and drive out together.

The group had worked out a clever leapfrog ground crew system where vehicles carrying spare fuel and supplies would spread out along the route. The first vehicle would report to the others how many and when the ultralights left the ground. The next vehicle would then report when and how many landed, and once refueled, how many departed. In this way, it was possible to keep a close watch over the pilots. If any ultralight needed maintenance, there was always ground support at every landing point. Flannery, who modestly described the group's epic flight to me, said the pilots would not have been able to make it to ANUG without the fantastic efforts of their ground crew.

Flannery had his own exciting moment when he nosed the FireStar over at Curtis, Nebraska following a flat tire problem on takeoff. The ground crew and other pilots were able to quickly sort out both the blown tire and a bent Pitot tube, and get Flannery airborne once more, without wasting much time. The pilots mentioned rough flying conditions at times, but battled on to achieve their goal.

One of the ground crew vehicles had its own exciting moment, when it caught fire from a leaky muffler. Swift action prevented the fire from doing serious damage, and they were able to continue to ANUG.

All the pilots and ground crew met with incredibly friendly and helpful hospitality along the route, which brought them through Sterling, Curtis and Minden, Nebraska. They overnighted at Minden, shared a potluck dinner, and set off at sunrise on Friday, July 5, to fly into Aurora, Nebraska, where Dean Sombke ­ flying a white Challenger ­ joined up with them to fly the last leg to David City. A strong tailwind helped all the pilots.

They were not the first to arrive, however. Ed Burt from Osborne, Kansas reportedly got there first. Many of those who flew in the previous year came back again. On Saturday morning with more than 30 aircraft already on the ground and several more playing in the warm air, the spectators had plenty to look at. Ed Casey had trailered in from Red Oak, Iowa, and took no time at all to assemble his Fun Racer trike and get into the air. Casey spent most of the day flying around, practicing engine-off landings and showing everyone what triking is all about.

As usual there were door and raffle prizes, many donated by ultralight organizations or suppliers. Ray Abbruzzese, an ultralighter known to many USUA members both locally and nationally, donated a GPS. Ray is recovering from throat cancer, and I know that we all wish him a speedy recovery.

The strong thermal conditions that developed throughout the morning did not prevent Karl Fricke, Steve Tweedt and Guy Stayner from flying in around noon from the Council Bluffs, Iowa area. Fricke was piloting his T-Bird, Tweedt a Quantum 912 trike, and Stayner an Aerotrike.

As J.D. Stewart continued to give introductory flights to students in his Challenger, the rest of us sought shelter from the sun and enjoyed slices of melon provided once again by the Dragon Fliers Club from Omaha, Nebraska.

Scott Dubsky from Schuyler, Nebraska entertained spectators with his superb radio-controlled aero models. A member of the Norfolk & Columbus Radio-Control club, Dubsky had picked up the radio-controlled model obsession from his father almost 20 years ago, and for the last 4 years had been flying almost every week of the year. Dubsky had brought along a P-51, a Lightning P-38, a Zero, and a Russian Yak, plus a tank. Dubsky loves to fly his models off snow and also off water, and says a beginner could start flying radio-controlled models for about $400, but that the obsession could lead to flying models costing more than $2,000 each.

One ultralight aircraft landed out with an engine problem. The pilot was able to fix the problem and flew back to the airfield a short time later.

In the evening, some pilots joined in a bean bag accuracy event. By this time, we were all watching the cumulonimbus clouds pumping up in the south and west. The other precision tasks had to be cancelled as thunderstorms started to sound off. About 10 minutes after everyone had tied everything down we were subjected to more rain than we had seen in several weeks.

J.D. Stewart sent the following item to include in this article: "Saturday evening, I had two introductory flights left. It was clouding over, and I thought we'd have enough time to get at least one student flown in my Challenger II. After taking off and flying over to the student's parents' farm, we started heading west towards David City. Seeing the rainstorm heading towards the airport, I made the decision to fly around it and follow it in, since we still had a lot of time left on the intro flight. We could see clearing conditions directly west and north of us.

"As we headed west, we caught the edge of the storm, and it got pretty turbulent. A 700-fpm bumpy updraft made me decide to head northwest to get farther away from the storm. We found a 1/2-mile hayfield that had just been mowed, with a long section where there were no bales. We set down nicely and yakked about airplanes while we waited for the storm to pass.

"Sure enough, a half-hour later a state patrol officer and sheriff showed up to survey what they thought was a crash. After telling them the situation, they called the airport to let everyone there know we were okay. Our spouses were certainly worried by now.

"The rain and winds started, so we moved the plane next to some trees for a windbreak. We didn't quite miss the storm, but only got 20 minutes of rain and wind.

"We saddled up around 8:45, with me in the front seat this time, and taxied to the north end of the field, noting rough spots along the way. With wet, 5-inch grass and 450 pounds of passengers, I knew it would take a lot of the field to get out of there, and it did. We flew directly south until we were west of the airport, and headed in. At about 2 miles from the field, we started to get a little mist from the back end of the rain. By the time we landed, it had passed, and everyone at the field greeted us. My student was excited with this adventure, and the next morning I took his wife up for her intro flight, giving her some extra time for her previous night's worry."

A town not much further to the west of us received a 10-inch deluge, which washed away parts of Interstate 80 and left many homes flooded. For us, the storms passed in time to allow David City to have their fireworks display, held off from the 4th to fit in with ANUG and other city activities.

On Sunday, five more ultralights flew in, and there were still plenty of machines on the airfield and sampling the air for spectators to see. Ultralights continued to fly around in the very muggy, humid conditions.

Chief organizers Harold Ostler and Dave Nissen were delighted with the event and it looks like we'll all be back again next year. I intend to be flying my trike in too ­ the business will have to take second place for ANUG weekend.

- Report filed by Kevin Rutland