What a long strange trip it's been.
Last spring, I was invited by Steve and Barbara Flynn to fly paragliders
from scooter tow at the Sun N Fun fly in at Lakeland, Florida.
This led to a series of strange events. First, I ran into Jack
McCornack, the designer of the Pterodactyl, then I thermalled
a paraglider, but had to bail from the thermal to avoid exceeding
500 ft. Definitely an unnatural act. Also, I received my tow pilot
rating while flying for the USHGA in front of a crowd of thousands.
Well, hundreds, anyway. Next I met the man who flew ultralights
with geese. And for a grand finale, I saw Jack blow a takeoff
in front of the same crowd of thousands on a trike equipped hang
glider. Unfortunately Jack's trike, and Jack ended upside down
in the ditch next to launch. (the runway, for those aviation oriented
among us) Jack survived to tell the tale, in the USUA monthly,
The Ultralight Flyer.
But the quintessential moment came, though I didn't realize it
until later, when I saw a Blue and White toy sailplane on display
at a booth there. Ooh, it was beautiful. It was really well made.
It classified as a rigidwing hang glider or an ultralight sailplane,
and there had been an article about it's predecessor, the wooden
Super Floater, designed by Klaus Hill and Larry Hall, which I
had read in the '70s. It was also called the Super Floater. I
stood around and admired the little glider. I found that it had
been foot launched at the Point of the Mountain, but that it was
only foot launchable in special conditions, a list of which start
with: "first, you need smooth 20 mph winds", and finished
with: "you need a launch site to which you can tow a 20'
trailer." Some where in the middle was "You need 3
people to help you pick it up." Since Point of the Mountain
was the only place I knew of that met those requirements, I had
faint hope of seeing it fly, but was told that the Super Floater
was going to be flown that day at the same time as the hang glider
and paraglider demonstration. Turns out that it was very aerotowable,
behind anything from a Dragonfly to a J-3 Cub.
I was flying my paraglider from Scooter Tow*, while the hang gliders
were towed by Dragonflys, the Flynn Aero Tug and an Airborne Blade
trike that cost slightly more than a day's deposits in Ft. Knox.
Different styles were displayed here. The Aussie pilots flew behind
the Blade and foot launched, the US hang glider pilots rolled
off on a dolly, I ran the paraglider off being towed by a stationary
Yamaha motorscooter, and the Super Floater took off like a proper
little sailplane on it's single little wheel. It was towed by
a Dragonfly. As we reached 500 ft. we would cut loose and fly
around to land in front of the crowd, except for one unfortunate
incident where the Super Floater landed in the parking lot to
avoid mowing down a landing hang glider. The Super Floater earned
it's name, seemingly just hanging around while every thing else
flew down and landed. It clearly had a better sink rate than the
hang gliders or my paraglider.
Jealousy forced me to consider asking the price and finding out
how to get a test flight. Sure enough there were going to be days
scheduled where it would be aerotowed to a different airport to
let neophytes fly it, which wasn't to be allowed at Sun-N-Fun
proper. Not only that, but it was being tested at the airport
where Jack McCornack was readying his trike to be flown to Sun-N-Fun.
So I went over there more hoping to get a few trips around the
pattern in Jack's trike than anything, but Jack was off, promoting
his "Loud Birdmen" association, and was nowhere to be
seen. Steve Flynn had given me a ride over in hopes of getting
to fly the Super Floater and perhaps to let me fly his Flynn Aero
Tug. I was in love with the idea of getting a Aero Tug Rating,
so I was hoping to get a flight in the Tug. I did, though it
turned out to be difficult to fly with Steve holding on to the
stick with both hands braced against his knees. We landed and
Steve apologized for not being able to "Let go" of his
baby. (Glad he had two boys and NO girl. She still would have
never had a date.) Steve went up in the Super Floater and flew
it like a champ. Tom Peghiny of early hang gliding fame flew
it too and loved it. I was afraid to ask to fly it. I had learned
to fly in '59 in a conventional airplane, in so far as an Aeronica
Champ tail dragger is conventional, but had flown true 3-axis
aircraft only about 3 times in the ensuing 35 years, though by
rare co-incidence one of those flights had been only two weeks
before. Kent Anderson, of Wind Walker Aircraft, walked up and
said, "You ready to go up?" "Gulp," I said,
"Sure!" So there I was, rolling off in the Super Floater.
I took the glider up to 15 ft. as I had learned to do aerotowing
a hang glider, feet on the rudder pedals and hand on the stick.
I was slewing around a little, and my climb was accented by a
tendency to fly sideways. After a while, I concluded that I needed
to keep my feet still on the rudder pedals and fly with the stick
alone. The Dragonfly I was towing behind was a little tired having
many hours on the engine, and the day was hot, so the climb rate
wasn't outstanding, but I was soon past the 500 ft. I had been
limited to at the fly-in. Finally we got to the 2000 ft. release
point. I cut loose. I quickly found that the plane now required
the use of rudder pedals. Much like the Flynn aero tug, it required
leading a turn with the rudder, and then feeding in some aileron.
Once I found out how to turn it smoothly, I hunted for some lift.
This was Florida. I have claimed that Florida pilots can't know
how to thermal. Lift is everywhere! Once again this proved to
be true. The Super Floater seemed to just hang in the sky. I
flew it at speeds from 20 to 45 with no effort. 360s to the left
and to the right. It had no flaps nor spoilers, so I had to plan
my landing like a hang glider pilot, which strangely enough I
was. I flew over the field at 1000 ft. practicing slips. With
full left aileron and right rudder, it came down at an extreme
angle of yaw and a pretty good decent rate. Knowing that I could
slip it, more or less, I planned my landing as an aircraft approach
in a hang glider pattern. This turned out to place me way too
high, so I had to do about 2 360s on the cross wind leg to adjust
my height for the final leg. Though far from standard technique
for sailplanes, it served me well, preventing me from landing
in the next county. I still had to slip it in, but more by beginners
luck than technique, I touched down within 50 ft. of where I started
off. I then rolled another 200 ft. before stopping.
Pretty neat. The flying position was more or less supine or flying
arm chair as I once flew hang gliders and now fly paragliders.
After I landed, I realized that I wasn't tired. "The little
glider that could" was remarkably easy to fly.
I had many things to do at Sun-N-Fun, I was part of the program
each day, and trying to look at the displays. Walking around,
I came a cross a very small display, consisting of a beautiful
Pterodactyl Ascender II and a card table with a number of Pterodactyl
parts catalogs on it. I kept an eye on the table and eventually
a gentleman sat down there. I went over to ask, and found he was
Dave Froble and the present day, Papa 'Dac, being the current
distributor of Pterodactyls and parts. I asked how the flying
was, and it turned out that he didn't like flying in the traffic
there. I volunteered to fly his plane, mostly as a jest, and the
next thing I knew, he was pushing the plane out to the flight
line at a rapid pace. I didn't want to mention that I hadn't
flown a 'Dac since I broke my arm four years before, but it seemed
like the only honorable thing to do. This didn't faze him. Soon,
I was winging around the pattern. He had to be back to Pennsylvania
soon, so invited me to fly it at the 8 AM fly by, the next morning.
This required me to get up to make the 6 AM pilot briefing, which
I did by the skin on my teeth. It seemed that the grounds only
seemed to be deserted at 6 AM. There were a bunch of pilots in
the briefing tent along with coffee and donuts. When I got to
Dave's Pterodactyl, there was no one there. Remembering that Dave
had invited me to fly it in the 8 AM fly-by, I just pushed it
on out, fired it up and got in line. After the fly-by, I landed
it, and soon ran into Dave who was just arriving. He was totally
happy it had been in the air, exposure being good for his business,
but happened to mention that the fuel had been in the plane since
last fall. I was just happy that the engine ran. We started talking
about using a Pterodactyl as a Ptug***, which I liked, already
having one at home. Dave left for Pennsylvania that day, and I
had been in the air about 6 times on his plane.
Yeah, you ask, but this article is about Super Floaters, not Pterodactyls,
which now that you mention it is a pretty strange name anyway.
Well, I'm getting there, I'm getting there. Sun-N-Fun came to
an end. I had flown hang gliders, paragliders, a Pterodactyl,
and the world's only Super Floater. I had seriously committed
aviation, and I had to admit that my mind kept coming back to
the Super Floater. I thought about Super Floaters. I dreamed about
Super Floaters. I schemed about Super Floaters. One thing kept
coming back to me. There are approximately 220,000 pilots in the
US qualified to fly Super Floaters without further training. So
within a few weeks I had plunked my money down for Super Floater
#9 in the first production run. Wind Walker Aviation, or the Super
Floater Factory, factory for short, seemed to believe that they
would be pushing the first production Super Floater out of the
door about June 15th. The realities of complete load testing,
a small amount of redesign, and production machining moved the
estimated date of completion out to Aug. 15. Meanwhile, I was
having to secure a trailer which would carry a Super Floater which
turned out to be not so small after all. The trailer turned out
to be available only directly from the factory at Elkhart, Indiana.
I got the trailer built and went to pick it up. Meanwhile, the
factory was fine tuning the design and honing their production
line in Mountain Green, Utah, in the old UP International factory
building, with the new company, Blue Skies Aviation. My glider
still wasn't ready. My trailer was big enough for 2 Super Floaters,
so I said something along the line of "What the heck?"
and ordered another one.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch. I was working feverishly on updating
my old Pterodactyl Ascender, and the key word is OLD. I built
it from a kit, (remember those) in '81. Flying wires, rusty bolts
and rotten wooden plugs in the air frame were all replaced with
new stuff. I built a launch dolly, and began towing my buddies,
who all were feverishly enthused about aerotow, due to a spring
visit by Hungary Joe with his Dragonfly. My goal was to be able
to tow the Super Floater as soon as I had it in hand. Jack McCornack,
the original Papa 'Dac, visited, and pronounced my Ptug airworthy,
but needing a little more horsepower.
Meanwhile, I got the promise that my two, count em, 2 Super Floaters
would be ready by the first part of December. So I made my plans
for a trip to Mountain Green. My son, a friend of his, and I drove
to Utah in 25 hours flat. We left Friday morning, and Saturday
noon, I was climbing up into the Utah sky behind a Dragonfly piloted
by Dick Cheney himself, the driving force behind the production
of the Super Floater. I had been told to fly the Super Floater
without the rudder, and tried it. I yawed back and forth. I finally
found that it is best to keep the feet firmly planted on the rudder
pedals but not moving and fly it with the stick. Smooth as glass.
This plane, solid white, was my personal plane. Specially equipped
with a BRS rocket attached to a HES Quantum 550 reserve, this
was the glider I plan to be flying, perhaps for many years.
It was pretty clear that I hadn't made a mistake. The latest production
plane flew even better than the prototype. With 3500 ft of paved
runway, I didn't bother to spot land it, but instead, just greased
it in and rolled it back about 1000 ft. It was clear that I did
have to take pains to land it on the spot or I could really go
floating down the runway.
I spent the next four days fitting the gliders to the trailer
with a side trip or two to the Point with my son and friend to
fly hang gliders and paragliders. Finally, I got to fly glider
two, Blue and White like the prototype. Dave Chapman towed me
3400 ft. up. I could see over the mountains and to the other side.
I wrang it out, and flew all over the valley. My Ball M50 showed
a sink from 120 to 140 fpm, with an occasional dip when I decided
to go speeding around instead of min-sinking it. I had launched
down wind, but was advised to land up wind, down hill, and at
the far end of the runway as going down hill, I could float a
long way. As it happened, I practiced my slip and the "long
way" was the distance I had to walk the plane back after
I landed right at the end. Turns out in light winds, it is really
easy to roll the glider around. You do feel like you are handling
a sailplane and not a hang glider though. As a side issue, I also
got to fly John Heiney's personal 142 Predator. Really nice ship.
The next day, it was snowing, so we went skiing. I quickly learned
that snow boarding was harder than it looked so my only hang gliding
injury of the trip was due to an errant snow board. After we skied,
we loaded the planes and split back to Texas, my trailer full
with 2 Super Floaters, 4 hang gliders and 3 paragliders. Too bad
I couldn't get Wind Walker's Dragonfly in too, but they might
have noticed it missing.
Weather kept me from flying the Super Floaters, but I kept getting
email messages from Sam Martin, who has the very first Super Floater
off the production line hangered at Wallaby Ranch. One message
was that he had done 4 hours the previous day. Darned Florida
pilots. In Florida, there IS lift everywhere.
The history of the Super Floater is just starting, and there will
be many more stories to stories to tell. This plane flies well.
Probably a bit better than the best current hang gliders, but
not as good as the Carbon Dragon or modern sail planes, but that's
not exactly what it's about. It's like the sailplane pilot with
1000s of hours in glass competition ships said it after he flew
the Super Floater at Sun-N-Fun. "I can't remember when I've
had more FUN flying in a lot of years."
* ref.: Hang Gliding Magazine, Apr. '94, "Scooter Mania"
**ref.: Hang Gliding Magazine, Nov. '91, "1-800-BIG-FALL"
*** Jack McCornack, the original Papa 'Dac designed the Pterodactyl
Ptug to tow hang gliders in 1980, but went on to release it as
the Ascender, a popular single place ultralight. ref.: USUA Ultralight
Flyer '80-95 in the 'Skywriter Column"
The Journey Continues
It is absolutely essential at this point that I point out that
I liked the Super Floater so much that I became a dealer, so that
everyone can suspect me of sales hype and hyperbole. I am a believer
that the truth serves better than fiction, so you may, if you
want, take me at my word when I tell more stories about the continuing
saga of the Super Floater.
Soon after receiving my plane, I was put in the position that
Kent Anderson of Wind Walker was in when he had to decide whether
or not he could let me fly their one and only factory prototype.
I had to listen to various pilots qualifications and cock and
bull stories to figure out whether or not my plane would be safe
in their hands.
I took my Super Floater, which I had just fitted with a CG tow
hook, to the Fault Line Flyers home airport to let all qualified
comers fly it in test flights. We set the plane up, and first
I towed it up behind a payout winch to see how the tow hook worked
and how the Super Floater towed with a land based tow system,
a TLS payout winch being operated by it's designer, Chris Gagliano.
I was sure from the gross weight of a Super Floater and pilot,
of about 350 lb. that it would tow at the same tow line tension
as a tandem hang glider so we set it at 200 lb. with a 400 lb.
weaklink. The launch was smooth and after a relatively flat climb
to get clear of the ground, I nosed the plane back until the airspeed
was 25 mph. As the tow tension increased due to rope payout, the
plane seemed to speed up even with the same stick pressure until
finally at the top of the tow, I was towing at almost 40. This
was well under the Vne and maneuvering speed of the aircraft and
no cause for alarm. I tipped the nose down and released the tow
line. The day was moderately cold, about 40 degrees, typical for
the middle of the winter in Texas. I knew that there were thermals
as I had passed occasional columns of buzzards on the way there,
but not close together. There was a Schweizer 1-26 thermalling
in the distance where he had been dropped by a tow plane. Immediately,
I found that there was sufficient lift for the Super Floater
right where I had released from the tow line. I started circling,
but wasn't really trying to stay up as I knew that there were
people below who wanted to test my plane. Despite my haphazard
thermalling technique, I soon noticed that I was averaging 50
fpm up or more, almost no matter what I did. Remembering the people
below, I sort of moseyed down wind to the end of the runway, but
the Super Floater defeated me. I found that it was sort of like
an Ouiji Board. It seemed that my hands moved on their own to
keep me climbing. I ordered myself to fly down, and pushed the
stick forward to an airspeed of 45 mph. The vario immediate responded
to tell me I was climbing at 200 fpm. Hmmm. I sort of thought
the vario was acting up, but no, my altitude was increasing. I
must have flown through the mother of winter thermals. I finally
kicked the rudder and put the Super Floater into a slip and finally
started burning off enough altitude to enter the pattern. I slipped
it down right onto the grass strip and rolled to a stop. I found
that my little excursion had been 1/2 hour long. The Schweitzer
had long been down.
"Who's next" I said, and immediately had a list of hang
glider pilots and sailplane pilots who wanted to go up. As each
one flew, I noticed a disturbing trend. As each pilot exited the
plane, he had a grin from ear to ear. I was tempted to save these
people from permanent face distortion via a couple of quick slaps,
but instead, just waited while they told me how much fun the
Super Floater was and how well it flew. Music, of course, to my
ears. As I briefed these pilots before they flew, I began telling
them that the main characteristic of the Super Floater was that
there would be NO surprises. It wouldn't spin unless you forced
it, and it's stall was so mild that you could hardly feel it.
I ended the day with happy pilots and a big grin myself.
For my next stunt, I took the Super Floater out to my training
site to see how it would scooter tow from a relatively rough field.
I did about five tows, each to 400 to 500 ft The ground was mowed
but very rough with furrowed ground. The plane took it well, both
launching and landing.
I began readying for my second trip to Sun 'N Fun, to represent
the USHGA, the Super Floater, and the Pterodactyl Ptug. To improve
the tow performance of the Ptug, I replaced the stock 30 HP motor
on the Ptug with a 64 HP Rotax ultralight engine. This gave it
approximately the climb rate of a rocket without a glider in tow,
and a climb rate of 650 to 750 fpm with the Super Floater behind
it. To make a long story short, the Super Floater and the Pterodactyl
worked great together. To tell the story of the rest of the trip,
I am going to a
But what is this wonderful toy plane? It looks a lot like the
original wood and cloth Super Floater of the '70s, but is made
with traditional hang glider material, 6061-T6 and with a dacron
covering. Probably the closest relative is another Klaus Hill
design, the Fledeling. The Super Floater has a wing made of two
spars held apart by compression struts. The wing assembly is inserted
into a wing covering made a great deal like a hang glider even
to the leading edge pocket with inserted mylar. The wing is then
given shape by the insertion of ribs very much like those in a
modern hang glider except that they are hinged at the end. The
hinged portion makes up the full span ailerons, which are sewed
onto the main wing covering and made of heavy reinforced dacron
much like the trailing edge of a full race competition glider.
But you ask, how can such an aileron not flex into uselessness.
The Super Floater has 5 cable operated aileron horns on each wing.
this means that the real complexity of the wing is in the cable
and pulley operation system inside the wing. The aileron is also
stiffened by a transverse rib on the trailing edge. The fuselage
is really a 5" diameter tube with an outer structure covering
it for better aerodynamics and appearance. The pilot seat is padded
and comfortable, but the flying position is supine much like a
racecar with a side stick in the perfect position for effortless
The advertising performance claims for the Super Floater are a
stall of 23 mph, min sink at 180 fpm at 28 mph and max L/D of
15/1 at 38 mph. Vne is 60 mph.
I weigh about 185 lb. clothed and ready to fly. I did a number
of flights at Mountain Green, Utah at the factory and my indicated
min sink was between 120 and 150 fpm. The indicated stall speed
of the Super Floater on my Hall airspeed indicator was about 20
mph. I did a number of 360s with an indicated airspeed of 23 to
25 mph and a bank angle of about 30 degrees. In these turns the
indicated sink rate varied from 150 fpm to 180 fpm. On these flights,
I flew over a much larger area than I would normally cover in
a hang glider. I had a sense that the glide ratio was much better
than the competition hang gliders I have flown, but as I was not
able to fly side by side with a hang glider I cannot verify this.
The SF has a trim system which allows one to adjust the pitch
trim in flight. I normally trim the glider to fly about 25 mph
hands off, but I can easily change the trim while under tow or
if I am flying faster for a distance.
Standard instrumentation on the Super Floater is a yaw string
and a specially marked Hall airspeed indicator. A hang glider
vario may be easily clamped to the tubular frame surrounding the
pilot. I did most of my flying with a Ball M50 clamped to the
frame in front of my feet and above the aerotow release.
During aerotow, the Super Floater is much easier to manage than
a regular sailplane and also easier to aerotow than a hang glider.
The tow plane ideally should fly at 35 to 40 mph. The Super Floater
tends to drop below the optimum flight point when towed at below
30 mph, and the handling gets a little twitchy above 50 mph. Other
than that, one just follows the towplane. Control under tow mostly
consists of keeping the wing of the tow plane on the horizon and
keeping the yaw string straight. Many of the pilots test flying
the Super Floater have commented on the ease of aerotowing the
Ground based tow is almost effortless. One just keeps the wings
level and pulls back on the stick to maintain 30 mph during the
climb. The plane comes with a 3 string aero tow release on the
nose built onto the glider but there is an optional CG release
available for a better climb on a ground based tow. I understand
that the SF will ground tow from the nose release however I have
only ground towed from the CG hook. I have towed behind a payout
winch and with a scooter tow stationary winch. The typical climb
rate with each was about 5 00 to 600 fpm.
Aerotowing the Super Floater at Quest Air allowed me to thermal
in real thermals for the first time. My first thermalling flight
was on a weak day where I had the longest flight of the day. My
thermalling technique was based on my hang gliding experience.
I flew with one eye on the airspeed and looking around to clear
my turns, while listening to the audio on the vario, occasionally
checking the visual indication and checking my altitude. Despite
the claims of the factory that the min-sink was at 28 mph, I found
that the glider thermalled best for me at 23 mph indicated. Flying
with both the Hall meter and a propeller ASI, I found that the
Hall indicated 23 and the propeller indicated 24. Because I was
in a bank, and experiencing some G force, the Hall was reading
low. In level flight the two agreed. The glider also gave me a
physical indication of the lift, pitching up the nose when entering
lift straight on and the lift side wing when passing to the side
of the lift. This was very consistent with both my hang gliding
experience and (very slight) sailplane experience. What was noticeable
is that maneuvering the glider in or around a thermal was practically
effortless. The stick gave feedback, but it was like power steering,
hardly any effort. My thermalling strategy was to circle in lift,
holding a constant airspeed while flattening the turn in lift
and tightening it in sink. I fly with the vario set at minimum
damping, and average out the variations in my head.
My next thermalling flight was started a little too early, and
after a 3000 ft tow and chasing a forming cloud which turned out
to have no lift under it, I arrived in the pattern at 750 ft.
The Quest Air people claim not to have a house thermal, but over
the swamp west of the field, I found a thermal. This particular
place is the same place I had found thermals on the weak day,
and on previous visits to Quest on a hang glider. I started circling
and after a while I found myself at 3500 ft. The tow planes,
meanwhile, had been using me as a thermal marker and dropping
off gliders in my neighborhood. None of these pilots directly
flew into my thermal, but one glider was left above me and the
pilot had the disconcerting habit of reversing direction of turning
as I thermalled up to it. Since the Super Floater has an excellent
sink rate, the air above was of great concern to me thus I was
very pleased in the Super Floater with the view above. The view
below was also quite good although not the unrestricted view to
which the prone hang glider pilot is accustomed. What was of greatest
importance since my head was only a foot below and behind the
leading edge was clearing turns, and I was splitting my time between
watching the ASI and the sky in front of my inside wing tip. My
impression is that the location of the wing was such that it occluded
less of the sky in the turn than a hang glider wing, but the blind
spot was in a different place.
On this day, I found myself in much stronger air than during the
previous flight. I had wondered how the Super Floater would handle
turbulent thermals. One of the exciting moments of thermalling
on a hang glider had been going out of a strong thermal and going
over the falls, forcing oneself to wrap the glider back into the
thermal while recovering from the dive. I found that this was
much less scary in the Super Floater. Rather than being in a dive
with the feet banging the keel, I just momentarily saw an airspeed
of 35 to 40 and an increase in the noise level. The fabric covered
fuselage behind me made a fair amount of noise in the 35 to 55
mph speed range. In fact, the Super Floater was a little nosier
than a hang glider at speeds above 30 mph. I soon grew accustomed
to it, and was able to block the sound out entirely. Regardless,
it was easy to punch back into the thermal and continue circling.
I did a number of 360s in thermals where the vario was going from
below 0 sink to full scale positive in a single circle, and this
was very easy to deal with. Of course, knowing that there was
a BRS rocket propelled HES QS550 Quantum Reserve right behind
my back certainly increase my confidence level. On the Super Floater,
the big red handle protrudes from the underside of the wing just
above and in front of my head where it is easy to look up and
My impression of the thermalling capability of the Super Floater
was that the glider would circle as tight as a hang glider at
exactly the same speeds and bank angles, but with a lower sink
The actual flying technique for the Super Floater is to turn the
glider primarily with the rudder and elevator while using the
ailerons to maintain the proper bank angle. Once the bank angle
is established, then the rudder pressure should be adjusted so
that the yaw string is straight back or shows a slight yaw to
the inside of the turn. A characteristic of some sailplanes and
the Super Floater is that you have to hold slight reverse aileron
in a tight flat turn to keep the wing from over banking. I found
that I did this naturally, and surmised that since in a tight
flat turn, the inner wing is flying much slower than the outer
wing, the aileron needs to be deployed to increase the lift on
the slower wing. I surmise that this capability accounts for the
excellent sink rate in very tight turns.
Some hang glider pilots may not be familiar with the yaw string.
For those who haven't flown a sail plane, I refer them to the
movie "Top Gun" The string trailing up the front center
of the canopy of the F-14 is a yaw string, and indicates to the
pilot the direction of the airflow relative to the aircraft. It
is very easy in most three axis aircraft to fly the aircraft yawed
at an angle to the airflow. This is inefficient and in sail planes
and F-14s where the pilot is concerned about maximizing the glide
slope, it is important to keep the yaw string straight back.
On the other hand, on most sailplanes, spoilers provide glide
slope control. Because of weight and cost considerations, the
Super Floater doesn't have spoilers. So how does one control glide
slope for landing? Well, the Super Floater slips like a bandit.
The technique is to just jam one rudder petal to the stop and
hold the glider level or banked the opposite way with the ailerons.
This will cause the Super Floater to glide like a brick. One can
instantly reduce the glide ratio of the Super Floater from better
than a competition hang glider down to the glide of an old standard
billow cruiser, then easily straighten out the wings and land
without risk. There, the yaw string shows that you have attained
a satisfactory yaw angle and suitable inefficiency by pointing
way off to the side.
The Super Floater stalls very gently in gliding flight. The stall
is so gentle that I have done some that were only noticeable due
to a sudden increase in airspeed. On the other hand, pulling
back on the stick and climbing at a 45 degree angle until the
glider stalls still produces a predictable and pretty unfrightening
stall. I also tried the same thing while holding the rudder at
full lock, and the resulting stall was still pretty easy. The
plane dropped into a turning dive that changed into level flight
without much input. I did not get the glider to spin but another
pilot, Campbell Bowen, more aggressive than I, did get it to spin
by climbing at 45 degrees until the glider stalled and just at
that moment, applying full left rudder and full right aileron.
The glider spun nicely 2 turns but recovered immediately when
the controls were neutralized. Incidentally, the same pilot, Campbell
Bowen, also cross countryed the Super Floater 10 miles up wind
to a sail plane Field, soared with the sail planes, out thermalling
them , then flew back. He has done the same with a hang glider,
but stated that it was considerably easier with the Super Floater.
As the Super Floater is rated at 4 gees positive and 2 negative,
it is a utility rated aircraft, not an aerobatics one, but having
done spins and stalls, I am certain that it would take major mishandling
to come to grief doing this sort of maneuvers.
Landing the Super Floater consists of flying down to the ground,
then rounding out the glide to kiss the wheel to the ground, Once
the wheel is touching, nosing the plane forward causes the landing
skid to touch ground. Once the skid starts dragging, the glider
Because of the 3-axis control, taking off or landing in cross
winds is very easy. Because of the light wing loading, the Super
Floater is almost as vulnerable to gusts while on the ground as
a hang glider. However if the pilot turns the glider into the
wind as the glider rolls to a stop, it is very easy to manage
the glider with the pilot in the seat or the trim set at full
The foot launching capability of the Super Floater is limited
by the weight to winds that help the pilot pick up the plane.
I was told by the European distributor that in England, a Super
Floater has been foot launched and foot landed in 6 Knot winds,
but I can only assume that this is a very manly task best undertaken
by a pilot built like Arnold Schwartzenegger. I must admit though
that the gentleman who did it, was about my size and apparent
age. I am 54. Who knows? Certainly the Super Floater has been
very easily foot launched and landed by Larry Hall and others
in winds of 20 mph at the Point of the Mountain.
Setup of the Super Floater, without some sort of holding fixture,
requires 2 people. These 2 people, if experienced, can take the
glider out of the trailer and set it up in 30 minutes. OR, 4 people
working in typical 3 Stooges firedrill fashion can do it in 1
hour. A trailer designed for long distance travel or as a permanent
home for the glider should be 4 ft wide, 5 ft high and 20 ft long
and covered. A short uncovered trailer can be built to carry the
glider for retrieval purposes.
The biggest drawback to the Super Floater is that compared to
a hang glider it is not very portable. It's portability is more
like that of a sailplane, requiring a proper trailer for transportation.
Another factor is that the very best way to launch it is behind
an ultralight tug. There are only a handful of certificated towplanes
that will tow slow enough, examples being the J-3 Cub, the Super
Cub, the Malle, and possibly an L-19 or a Champ. On the other
hand, it has such nice ground tow characteristics and such a good
sink rate that ground towing the Super Floater is sure to be a
viable way to soar. I have my own ultralight tug, the Pterodactyl
Ptug, but I am it's only pilot, so I plan to tow behind my trusty
payout winch this summer until I get some Ptug pilots trained.
I have yet to let anyone fly my planes who has not loved the way
it flies. So far, the biggest complaint I have had relating to
the aircraft itself is that the seat becomes a little hard when
the pilot stays up more than an hour or so. The factory has been
so advised and is researching more comfortable seat cushion material.
To sum up, I am 54. While I love flying hang gliders and paragliders,
I am sure that when I am too old to want to risk flying either,
I will still be able to fly a Super Floater safely without fear
of injury and have a hellofa lot of fun doing it.