The Great Ultralight Adventure - SunGlo Photo

The Great Ultralight Adventure

After nursing three cups of coffee, I just could not stall any longer. I was going to have to face reality. As much as I was trying to avoid it, I needed to tackle the top item on my “I DON’T WANNA DO” list. The aeration tank on our water purification system was in dire need of a good cleaning. Oh how I dislike that job. The sulfur the aerator removes from our well water smells like rotten eggs, really, really, rotten eggs and on top of that, no matter how careful I am, I always wind up getting soaked from head to toe. Today is definitely not going to be the highlight of my week, that’s for sure.

As I laid out a water hose and gathered up all the tools I needed, I became aware of an incessant buzzing noise coming from somewhere off in the distance. Not loud enough to identify the cause, yet at the same time, you knew it was there and it annoyed the bejeebers out of you…kind of like a mosquito buzzing around your head and knowing eventually, it was going to bite you.

I wanted to put my cleaning task behind me, so I ignored the irritating buzz and continued working on the aerator. I had just removed all the securing screws and lifted the large white cover off the tank, when all at once that foul odor hit me full blast. It felt like someone had wacked the middle of my forehead with a rubber mallet. This time the smell was so bad I expected to see a dead body at the bottom of the tank, but as I glanced inside all I saw was a white, slimy, film covering everything…and no dead body. I’m guessing it was a not so subtle hint that I needed to consider cleaning the tank more often…well, either that or wear a clothespin on my nose during the cleaning process.

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Once I opened the drain valve and emptied the tank, it was just a matter of using the water hose to blast that nasty white slime off the sidewalls and then scrub everything down with a long handled brush and lots of soapy water. This is the point in the cleaning process where I always wound up getting drenched, I mean truly waterlogged. After another quick rinse and another drenching, the inside of the aerator tank looked spotlessly clean and that “dead body” odor had disappeared, replaced by the refreshing smell of a pine forest.

It was after I had reinstalled the aerator lid and turned to gather up my tools that I noticed a rather large blob of white slime covering the lawn near the tank. It reminded me of an old, B-rated, science fiction movie I once watched, but in this case, the weapon of choice was a powerful blast of water, not a laser gun, that sent the slimy alien off to the land of tawdry special effects.

Once again, I became aware of that dadgum buzzing noise. To make matters worse, it seemed as though it had gotten a bit louder and almost sounded like a large model airplane, but I could not be sure. While the noise droned on, I searched for clues as to its source but came up empty handed…not a single hint, nothing, the only things I saw were lots of trees, bushes, and empty skies.

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It was then that I decided I needed to find the cause of that irritating noise. It was driving me bonkers and had my curiosity piqued…wait, I know what you are going to say, “Curiosity killed the cat”, yeah, but in this case, maybe, just maybe, curiosity will kill that incessant buzzing noise.

Sooooo, after a quick shower to get rid of the “dead body” smell and donning a set of clean, dry clothes, I grabbed my camera gear and headed off in search of a buzz…er, a…buzzing noise. I took a wild guess as to the area the noise was originating from and pointed my vehicle in that direction. Every so often, I would stop, turn off the engine, lower the window, and listen for the buzzing to make sure I was still heading in the right direction.

I was on my fourth stop to check for the noise and as I lowered the window, all I heard were birds, crickets, and katydids…no buzzing noise. So there I was, in the middle of my search for the holy grail…er, a…buzzing noise and I was suddenly stymied by the lack of a star…er, a…buzzing to guide me in my quest. What a revolting development that was. Do I sit in the middle of nowhere and listen to nature's sounds, waiting for that incessant buzzing to start back up, or do I head back home and chalk the whole experience up to “curiosity killed the cat”?

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I chose the third option, yeah, the one I failed to mention, I continued heading in the direction of my initial guess. Hey, was there any other choice? Surely you didn’t expect me to head home with my tail between my legs and admit defeat…nope, Mr. Ego reared his ugly head and off I went to continue my quest.

After several more stops listening to only noises nature could produce, I was beginning to lose all hope of ever identifying the source of the “buzzing from hell”. It was really looking as though Mr. Ego was going to have to face defeat and ride off into the sunset.

Just as I was about to finally admit I had failed in my quest, I heard a loud buzzing noise. I mean loud enough that I could hear it even with all the windows up so whatever was causing it had to be close, really, really, close. Mr. Ego was smiling and had his chest all puffed out. Now all I had to do was pinpoint the exact location. Just as I was getting ready to pull over and stop again, the buzzing turned into a loud roar, which sounded very much like an airplane engine. To make matters worse, it sounded as though that very airplane engine was about to land on the roof of my vehicle. I was ready to panic and even Mr. Ego was ducking for cover. I slammed on the brakes and skidded to stop half on the road and half on the shoulder. I threw open the door and jumped out just in time to see my nemesis, the source of that irritating buzzing, pass directly overhead.

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It was an Ultralight, a motorized hang glider, and a pilot that seemed to get a kick out of skimming treetops and rooftops. I hopped back into my vehicle and raced off to follow him, hoping to discover his landing site. I was in hog heaven, excited, because I had never photographed Ultralights in such close proximity.

Although the pilot kept circling around not landing, I was able to see a couple of trucks out on one of the many “small islands” that dotted the spreader canal. I was sure that had to be their little “airport”. Well, I guess it would be more correct to call it their little “Ultraport”.

I pulled over, parked on the shoulder of the road, bailed out of my vehicle and began following two tire ruts that served as an access road out to the island. As I passed through the islands tree line and reached a large clearing, I only saw one person, not the ground crew I had expected and he seemed to be busy getting his own Ultralight ready to fly. While he was connecting all the hardware, I noticed he was also keeping a watchful eye on his fellow pilot, the person that tried to land on my vehicle’s roof.

As I approached, I noticed he was staring straight at my camera. Now, in many cases that can be a bad omen. It typically meant, “You take my picture, I take you to court.” Therefore, you can imagine my relief when he said, “You here to take some pictures of us, great, we’ll make sure you get some good shots.”

No sooner had he finished that statement, I heard his friend, the treetop hugging – vehicle harasser, coming in for a landing. Since this was a totally new experience for me, I could hardly wait to capture some pictures of the event. As he settled into his final approach, suddenly the wind started gusting to the point I was afraid I was going to witness a horrible crash landing and possibly the pilots “final” landing.

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Instead, I witnessed a perfect two-point landing…aaaaa, that’s two feet on the ground, not two butt cheeks. Now had it been me piloting that Ultralight, it would have been a perfect forty-five point landing as I bounced along on my butt because the wind spooked me so much that I forgot to kill the engine.

Once the pilot was stable on his feet and the “wing” had floated to the ground, I walked over to examine his equipment. He was strapped in a harness that had a connection on top for the “wing”. The other part of his equipment that both amazed me and at the same time scared the “doggy doo” out of me was the large engine and propeller that was strapped to the back of his harness. Not quite as bad as having a rocket tied to your butt, but certainly darn close to it. Yup, that pretty well ended any random thoughts I might have had about actually piloting one of those thingy’s.

We all talked a bit longer and finally, the “boss” asked if I would like to take one of the rigs up. I had a feeling he was just pulling my leg since I imagine there was a fair amount of training that had to take place before one actually lifted off the ground in one of those contraptions.

In response to his question, I simply indicated that it would be rather awkward taking pictures while manipulating the Ultralight controls…I really didn’t want him to know that deep down I was basically a devout coward. I mean it’s one thing to be flying safely thought the air sitting in a cushy seat inside an airplane, but a whole different story doing it without the airplane, without the cushy seat, just hanging from a wing in a harness with the engine physically strapped to your back pushing your butt through the air…nooooo thank you. The “boss” kind of got a knowing look and said, “Yeah, I guess you're right about that.”

Both pilots began to ready their Ultralights for another flight. I was enjoying myself because they took the time to explain what they were doing which helped me understand how those flying gizmos worked…yeah, just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

Oh, and before you ask, no, they do not wear parachutes. The theory is, if the engine quits you are supposed to float back to mother earth just like a hang glider…I am guessing with that big engine and propeller, a very heavy hang glider, probably floats down like a rock.

With the preflights complete, they began the “liftoff” procedure, and in no time at all they were both soaring into the wild blue yonder…UGH, now I sound like a recruiting ad for the US Air Force.

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With both Ultralights high in the sky, I was stretching the limits of my long lens and becoming a little discouraged since I had hoped to get some closer flight shots.

I was lining up to take another picture when someone snuck up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. After taking a burst of pictures that included the empty sky, the ground, and my feet, I was finally able to slide my finger off the shutter release button. My heart was pounding…I was sure the boogieman had caught up with me and was about to do me in. As I spun around to face my nemesis, I was relieved to see a friendly smiling face, not a purple people eater.

It took a wee bit longer to get myself calmed down enough to where I could actually speak. Well, speak yes, utter an intelligent statement, no, “Ya…Ya…You…You scared the poop out of me!” The response I received was not at all what I expected, “Oh no, and I’m standing downwind from you.” I did not think that was at all funny nor did I appreciate it when he actually moved up wind. To add insult to injury, he added, “I have a roll of toilet paper in my truck if you really need it” and then lapsed into a fit of laughter. As far as I was concerned, it was all “way over the top”, I mean the guy thinks he’s a real comedian…well, I guess it was somewhat funny…once I realized I didn’t need his toilet paper and calmed down enough to see the humor.

It turns out he is a friend of the other pilots and in no time at all was lifting off in his Ultralight to join his buddies up yonder. I guess the other two were expecting him because they gathered in a quasi-formation and then all at once the three of them turned and started heading directly at me. Looks like I was either going to get my closer flight shots or I was going to be the target of a bombing run.

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Down they came, like a swarm of bees looking for the despicable thief who stole the honey from their hive. It was amazing to see, let alone photograph…it was like being six years old and sitting in a big pile of gifts on Christmas morning, I was in my glory.

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From that point on, it was just one amazing shot after another…I could not click the shutter release fast enough. It was awesome, I did not want it to end, and it looked as though they did not want it to end either. They were having a ball whizzing around and performing all kinds of neat maneuvers, some of which caused me to fall over backwards, landing on my butt, as I tried to photograph them when they flew directly over my head.

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Like all good things, eventually they must end and in our case, sadly, we were running out of daylight. Although I knew my Great Ultralight Adventure was slowly ending, the remaining shots I captured were, in my opinion, the most dramatic.

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It was time for the pilots to leave their lofty world and return to everyday life. It was time for me to pack up my camera gear. With our great adventure ending, it was time for all of us to head off into the sunset.

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Another great adventure comes to an end. It doesn’t get any better than this…well, unless you’re talking about stubbing your toe on a rather odd-looking big rock only to find out it’s the world’s largest gold nugget. That might just be a step up from this story.

I guess as we travel the road of life, we can never be really sure which way the road will turn…one thing’s for certain though, if you are out looking for the source of a buzzing sound, make sure your wearing mosquito repellent.


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