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Many months ago as a function of coordinating an ultralight owners club I found that many owned other old models of ultralights that have long since disappeared from the scene and realized that today’s ultralight aviation community has done a very poor job of recording the significant details of ultralight aircraft evolution.

It is hard to say exactly when ultralights started. Some think that it started when power units added to hang gliders started to become popular around 1978. Others will point to a half a dozen or so of very light and low power airplanes such as Hovey's Wing Ding in 1971 or the Kolb Flyer in the '74 time frame. Indeed there are a couple of models in the twenties powered by Harley Davidson motorcycle and other similar engines that would qualify today as ultralights and probably be pretty good flyers.

Ironically, detailed blueprints, flight test results and development details survive today such that we know more about ultralights and other planes from the twenties and thirties in some cases than we know about light planes from the seventies and eighties which I consider the boom era of light plane development like the world has never seen. Coincidentally, didn't the information era "a la personal computing " also start in 1980?

What began as the VINTAGE ULTRALIGHT REGISTRY has become the "VINTAGE ULTRALIGHT ASSOCIATION". After much research I can tell you that there are dozens ultralights that were favorably reviewed in flying publications in the early 80's and nowhere is it recorded today who the designers were... much less the technical aspects of design or construction. Ever heard the saying "those who don't learn from history will repeat it"?

After having loaded the details of every ultralight represented in ultralight buyers guides from 1979 to 1984 into a computer I think it would be safe to say that it would be very difficult to design a plane today in a way that has not already been tried. There were over two hundred models and variations offered for sale in this five year period. Some were good some were bad and some were ahead of their time in 1981 or 82 and would be ahead of their time even if introduced today! If the justification for not recording the details of some planes was because they were "bad", who can tell me which ones were bad and what made them so? Where is the list of things that we should NOT do in the future? Even in the cases where we know who the designers were or know of the existence of well preserved planes today, what have we recorded anywhere that would be of any constructive use to today’s (us) or tomorrow's ultralight aircraft designers and customers?

In analyzing and maintaining ultralights, aren't all ultralight pilots actually aircraft designers since they are individually responsible for the safety and integrity of their aircraft? That is the deal we made with the FAA in exchange for the freedom to fly non certified aircraft in a non regulated "ultralight" environment. In has now been between fifteen and twenty years since the explosion of design and development and unfortunately many innovative designers have taken their secrets to the grave. We had the opportunity to grab the technical details in many cases and blew it! How many thousands of times have we wished for an opportunity to go back and interview the great inventors and pioneers of the past to get answers to questions about their work?

Many opportunities still exist (yes 15-20 years is long ago but not compared to 50-70 years ago.) Many of the brilliant designers still live with details most likely stuffed in boxes in attics or the like.

We must decide before its too late . . . ARE WE GOING TO LET THEM GET AWAY ALSO? We have to find them NOW!

If you agree, please assist me in gathering and preserving as much information as still exists about all lost and forgotten light planes.

FIRST, we must endeavor to identify the designers, principals, significant contributors and employees of the companies that developed these planes.

SECOND, we must search for these people and request that they cooperate with our cause by assisting us in recording as many details as possible about what they learned was good and bad in the evolution of their planes. Ideally, technical drawings and details of construction, assembly, procedure and materials should be recorded sufficient for reproduction of the aircraft. Only if these kinds of details are preserved will future generations of enthusiasts be able to study and benefit from our past.

THIRD, we must endeavor to build as complete a collection of the published works as possible so that the "easy" and already recorded information does not get lost. This means every monthly issue of every major ultralight magazine (there were at least six) and the many books published by respected and knowledgeable authors. We should acknowledge that the foremost authorities likely will be the authors of these publications that researched their articles and conducted the flight reviews personally etc. Lets try to find those guys!

In the case of rare and valued publications let us register the "existence" in our computer data base and who owns it such that the idea is one of an "archives-without-walls." This way there would be no reason for people not to participate who could be of assistance because we are not asking that they give up their obviously cherished possessions. (If they weren't prized, they would've been thrown out long ago wouldn't they?) In many cases the most informative information about design etc. is found in the factory assembly instructions and maintenance manuals that may have come with planes that were never offered in plans form but only as kits.

FOURTH, lets attempt to locate, identify and photograph in detail the planes that might still exist even where we otherwise have no technical information on file. Let's continue to build the owners registries and document the many enthusiasts clubs that exist because that's where the real knowledge exists. This is where the old timers that remember first hand are located. Future advances in technology will allow us to store and retrieve enormous quantities of images economically... But not if we never capture them! 35mm and Videotape technology is sure to be with us a long time.

FIFTH, we must always be on the lookout for the vehicles that will best enable us to leverage the knowledge that we now have and the knowledge that will be found. Certainly, the personal computer based Internet is attractive as are CD-ROMs, published books or encyclopedias, museums etc.

SIXTH, we must acknowledge that costs will be incurred and that the benefits must be packaged in a fashion that will allow maximum value to be perceived by the recipients of our efforts to preserve technological history.

SEVENTH, mindful of the costs, we must always be on the lookout for ways to fund the promotional and operational overhead realities.

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