Great Plains 2021

I flew up to the Great Plains fly-in, held over Waitangi weekend in Ashburton. 

About 70 microlight and sport aircraft were at the fly-in and many more visited for a day. 

Low cloud forced me to stay below 1500ft as I crossed the Southland, but thankfully I was able to climb into clearer skies after Gore. 

After passing my son’s house at Brighton beach, I dropped into Taieri to refuel. Then I flew north up the Otago Harbour and tracked along the east coast of the South Island.

The headwind gradually increased in strength, slowing my progress. I decided to refuel at Timaru, before struggling against a 20kt ‘breeze’ to Ashburton. 

A long hangar provided some much-needed shelter from the relentless NE wind. I parked my Shadow and pitched my tent. 

There were lots of interesting people to chat with during the afternoon and a very fascinating aviation museum to explore. I attended the gala dinner in the evening, which featured an inspiring talk by a young woman from the NZ Air Force.

On Sunday morning, the NE wind was still blowing strongly. After refueling the Shadow, and watching some short take-off and spot landing competitions, I departed for Timaru. 

It was an hour quicker getting back south to Taieri. The wind was so alarming, that I had to wait for a passer-by to help me before I got out of the aircraft. Once again, I parked the Shadow behind a hangar to protect it from the wind, then headed off to Brighton with my son for the night.

Next day, there was very little wind as I took off for Otautau. 

And what do you know, I found myself pushing into a strong W wind. It was bumpy and uncomfortable for the last hour, until I descended below 500ft on approach to my home airstrip. 

Good to be home again, but I was very satisfied with my achievement.

Testing Times

After a couple of years of flying solo, I decided that it was time to take passengers up with me.

Because the Shadow microlight has been completely re-built, RAANZ requires it be test flown at maximum all-up weight. 

Being a newbie to the Shadow, it was a bit nerve-wracking to do repeated stalls, steep turns and power descents. 

After each flight, I added another large steel weight (borrowed from the farm tractor) into the rear compartment.

Surprisingly, even at 6000rpm, the stall was pretty docile. The nose didn’t fall away. No sudden wing drop. Just that nose pointing ridiculously high in the sky, with the aircraft bobbling along at only 35 knots.  

Under-belly fuel tank

The original fuel tank on the Shadow microlight is only 23 litres. That’s very small when you’ve got a thirsty 2-stroke. I’ve done some one hour flights, but you can’t afford to ‘linger’ en-route.

Many Shadow and Streak owners fit an underbelly ‘slipper’ tank to gain extra flying time.

Working part-time in the Fi Innovations composites factory, I have access to some pretty cool technology. I decided to use vacuum-assisted resin infusion to build my slipper tank.

Derakane vinylester (like they make commercial petrol storage tanks from) is the preferred resin, because it does not get attacked by petrol.

After making and sealing an MDF and plywood mould, I carefully laid double-bias fibreglass fabric, stiffened with fuel-resistant foam core and layers of glass tissue inside. Resin inlet and outlet ports were fitted, then everything was sealed inside a see-thru plastic film, I applied a 99% vacuum for 30 minutes.

The magic happens when you open the inlet tap. It only takes a few minutes for the vinylester resin to completely saturate the reinforcements. Excess resin is automatically sucked out, so you end up with a lightweight, strong structure.

The tank’s top moulding was complicated. I designed it to fit around the undercarriage braces and wing strut tie-bar. 

The fuel sender is shrouded by its own cylindrical baffle, so that the fuel gauge reading is unaffected by any surge.

Six mounting points were added, each one strong enough to hold the fuel tank on its own. Probably over-built.

Lots of testing followed for leaks, unusable fuel and fuel feed. Fuel gauge was calibrated. Then it was off into the sky.

Now with 50 litres fuel, I can fly for 2.25 hours or more. Great.  If only my bladder would last  that long!

A Nose Job

The Shadow’s nose wheel got damaged recently during a landing.

I didn’t realise what had happened at the time.  All I knew was that the aircraft headed sharply to the right on landing.

It wasn’t until later that I saw the mangled nosewheel. The video taken by the onboard Sony action cam confirmed what had happened.

Looking at the video, you can see that the wheel was pointing to the right before landing. It did not like it having to instantly line up with the direction of travel. In addition, there was zero suspension movement because the bungee was way too tight. At touch down, the wheel just sledged sideways and everything bent. 

A real mess. The trailing arms got bent. The alloy spacers and AN5 bolts were bent as well. The tyre was severely rubbed, as I limped back to the hangar.

Anyway, a new noseleg was required, so I set about manufacturing one from 6061-T6 aluminium.

At the same time, I replaced the heavy rim and tyre with an original-spec unit saving 600g weight. 

I even added a mudflap to stop the sheep poo from splatting all over the underside of the fuselage!

Pourakino Peregrination

After winter, trying to fly in New Zealand can be frustrating. Strong westerly winds tend to dominate springtime. Fortunately, I did get a nice day to go flying in my restored CFM ‘Shadow B-D 582’ microlight aircraft.

I took off from Otautau, flew around Bald Hill in the Longwood Range, then down the Pourakino Valley to Colac Bay. Tracking east, I followed the rocky southern coast to Riverton. There I turned inland and returned to Otautau, via the winding Aparima River.

Butterfly or Moth?

Is a Shadow microlight, with its wings folded, a butterfly or a moth? 

You know. When buttterflies rest, they hold their wings vertically. On the other hand, moths spread their wings out wide. 


I guess that a Shadow is more of a butterfly, because its wings are vertical when at rest.

I built my own wing-fold system and fitted it to my restored Shadow B-D a few months ago. I like it, because I can easily rig and de-rig solo. The large-tyred castor wheels allow me to push the de-rigged aircraft across the loose gravel surface to/from the hangar.

Shadow Migration

Having finally found a hangar only 40mins drive from home, I flew my CFM ‘Shadow’ microlight from Manapouri down to a farm strip at Otautau.

After pre-flight checks and fuelling up at Fiordland Aero Club’s hangar, I took off and headed south-east. En-route flying conditions were very pleasant with a 10 knot easterly wind @ 2000 ft. Some low cloud in the valleys, but always a clear path towards Otautau. 

Since it was a lovely morning, I flew over Lake Manapouri, around the Monowai basin and wombled through the Twinlaw  hills, before descending to the farmland. At cruise speed, I covered 107km in an hour’s flight. 

The farm strip at Otautau is only 280m long, so first I did a low pass to check it out. Nearly calm at ground level. My landing was pretty average, but the Shadow pulled up with 100m to spare. I’ll need to practice accurate approaches.

Video, sound and GPS data was recorded on a Sony HDR-AS200V action camera.

This camera has WiFi, so I could remotely control the camera settings, and Start/Stop filming, with the live-view app on my iPhone.

The removeable Li-ion battery easily coped with more than an hour of Full HD video recording, with both the WiFi and GPS running.

A few days later, I edited the video using Garmin “VIRB Edit”. This free software allowed me to overlay the camera’s GPS track, speed, course, distance, etc onto the video clip.


Eggshell ‘bits’ were my thoughts as a pilot from further north handed over his lightweight carbon-fibre cowling for repair.

“Can you fix it?” was his question. The air intake was obviously smashed. Fortunately, he had all the broken pieces, so I’d be able to re-create the original shape. 

The related stress cracks were relatively easy to trace and no problem to fix. 

In addition, the exhaust pipes and muffler had been rubbing on the cowling. We found charred carbon laminate under the ‘heat proof’ shields. So more clearance between hot metal and cowling was required.

“Of course I can,” I replied after quickly running thru the possible repair scenarios in my mind. I was very conscious of the need to do a professional repair restoring strength and flexibility, but with no weight increase. “And fix the exhaust problems at the same time.”

First task was to carefully re-create the missing air intake shape from all the broken pieces. A bit like gluing a broken eggshell together. Humpty Dumpty all over again. 

To increase the air gap near hot exhaust parts, the air outlet was widened and a strategic ‘bulge’ was added.

This new cowling shape was filled, faired, surface primed, spot-filled, pinhole-filled, etc to get the shape correct and the surface smooth. Then waxed and sprayed with release agent. 

At this stage, I made a temporary fibreglass part-mould of the lower cowling. 

The lower cowling was cut back and prepped, before the part-mould was mated with it.

I laid-up carbon fabric to create a new air intake, wider air outlet and an exhaust ‘bulge’. Final job was to fill and prime the outside ready for painting.

The rebuilt cowling is as strong and lightweight as original. But with better exhaust clearance. I even incorporated a more sturdy landing light mount.

In the Basin

I took the opportunity to spend a weekend at Manapouri flying my recently-restored 1988 Shadow microlight aircraft. Beautiful smooth conditions, although the air was very cold.. 

Enjoy the short video that i took with my mobile phone, while flying near a tiny settlement called “The Key”.

The Te Anau/Manapouri basin is about 600ft (200m) ASL and surrounded by high mountains. Although it can get gusty NW winds, particularly in spring, the basin is pretty sheltered from bad weather. Nicest flying is typically in autumn and winter when air is cooler and still. In mid-summer, we’ve had some neat flights between 7 – 10pm in evening. 

The Fiordland mountains lie to the west of two stunning lakes (L Te Anau + L Manapouri). Aside from the developed farmland, from the air you appreciate the many tiny lakes, wetlands, streams, rock outcrops and other interesting landforms. 

I never tire of flying in this area. No airspace restrictions below 28,500ft, and only 1 commercial flight a week into Te Anau Airport, so I can relax.

I’m trying different intercom systems in an attempt to increase clarity of radio comms. Need to reduce engine noise and electrical static.

Best option was the PS Engineering “Aerocom 3” intercom, but the Shadow guys in UK enthused about the Microavionics radio interface and ANR headsets, so I’ll probably buy that.

Yah. I’m finally flying again!

Over Manapouri township

I travelled back up to Manapouri Airport to do some familiarisation in the Shadow microlight. Two days of near calm weather – perfect for me. Under Murray’s supervision, I did lots of taxying practice, and then some short hops just above the grass runway.

Then it was time to take-off. The Shadow climbed surprisingly steeply at 50kt, as I tried to keep it below the ‘flap’ speed. Landing is easier than I expected. 

I did 5 flights in just over 24 hours, so I was stoked.  After lots of circuits, I’m learning to control my speed on approach.

A new spring on the elevator trim tab, means that the Shadow will now climb ‘hands-free’ at 60kt airspeed and it can be trimmed to fly straight and level by itself. It still needs further fine-tuning, so it will hold a 50kt approach speed. 

At the end of the second day, Murray suggested that I go for a “tiki tour” of the district. I headed south-west past the little town of Manapouri, then followed the Waiau River down to the diversion weir. A left turn took me up the Mararoa River for a few km, then I headed back west. It wasn’t long before I was calling “Kilo Lima Hotel joining right base for Runway 32”. Very satisfying feeling to have re-built and now flown this aircraft.r