A lot of the attention-grabbers at Oshkosh are heavy metal: old military hardware, bought and lovingly restored, making loud and fast high-visibility passes at airshow center. But there are two ends to every spectrum, and with that in mind I took a walk one evening out to the Ultralight Barn.
The Ultralight Barn is exactly what it says it is: a barn full of ultralight-related merchandise. It sits next to a small grass strip surrounded by ultralight aircraft dealers and supply vendors. If you arrive early in the day or late in the evening you will be treated to the spectacle of dozens of little ultralight airplanes taking to their wings. Rather than the coarse grumbling roar of radial engines you’ll hear the nasal drone of VW and Rotax engines buzzing as people get aloft in these marvelous flying machines.
Some ultralights look like full-fledged airplanes. Others, such as this one, are basically a skeletal airframe with fabric wings and a lawn chair. Some of them appear to be pull-started, like your lawn mower. They’re whimsical, almost like children’s toys, but make no mistake: just like any other flying machine, you have to know what you’re doing to fly one.
Ultralight flying looks more like no-cockpit flying than open-cockpit flying. There’s probably some basic instrumentation, and I bet some of them have radios, but I bet they’re tuned to the local rock station. I’ve never been up in one, but I can say that ultralight flying looks like a rollicking good time to me. One of these days I’ll have to try it out!