Bonus History Blog

Back when I had more hair and less sense.


Around 1981 I had a Tomcat ultralight. I made several innovations such as flying on floats. And I believe was the only ultralight with the Cuyuna engine with electric start. Cuyuna was not available with electric start so we made our own. We thought it was pretty cool.

One fine spring day I was flying ‘cross country’ from Oconomowoc, WI to Aeropark, near Milwaukee, the home of EAA Ultralight Chapter 1. I had climbed exceptionally high that day to a whopping 500 feet.

In my infinite wisdom all too common with our young group of ultralight pilots, I decided to turn off the engine and glide for a while. I wonder now what I was thinking on how far I was going to glide in a 1980s ultralight from 500 feet. But I had electric start so no big deal. Easy to restart. I glided for maybe 10-15 seconds then hit the red push to start button no doubt acquired from Radio Shack. The Cuyuna turned over just fine but, as 2-strokes often do, loaded up and wouldn’t start. I held that button down until my knuckle went white, and the battery died. Back then 2-strokes stopped stroking often enough by themselves without any help from the dufuss pilot.

So, technically, maybe I was the first to ‘fly’ and ultralight on electric power? Turning the prop had to generate some thrust…..

I happen to be over Okauchee Lake which was still about half frozen over. I basically landed on an iceberg a hundred yards or so from shore. No problem I thought. I will just give the rope starter a pull and take off from the slab of ice I found myself on. Snap, the rope broke first pull.

Now I was out of options but eventually the ice slab with me on it drifted to shore. There happen to be a guy working on his car in his back yard. I asked him for a jump, and he complied. I thanked him in advance and told him once this sucker starts, I am gone like it or not. The jumper cables will pull off. Ultralights back then had only Flintstone brakes (my Sorel boots) and they are not effective on ice!

The Cuyuna really spun up and started fine with a full-size car battery and off I went heading toward open water. I did manage to take off and complete my cross country to Aeropark, which I believe is now a subdivision.

Some of us proved Darwin was wrong and lived through our misguided youth…..