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Taking it to the Skies


Whether by pipe dream or attainable reality, many of us have aspirations of freely soaring the skies, high above the world we view every day.
One of the best ways to experience that feeling is by piloting small aircraft, which is something that Bowsman area resident Dennis Long always wanted to do, but only achieved later in life, into his retirement years.
“I’ve been a pilot for nine years,” said Long. “It’s a lot of work to get (your pilot’s licence). I used to pilgrimage to Yorkton twice a week.
“I have a recreational licence, so I can only take one passenger, but to me, I don’t care about flying to Winnipeg. I just want to go and fly.”
While Long owns a small aircraft that is stored in the municipal airport hanger, his prized project is a Preceptor Ultrapup-style aircraft that was handcrafted and manufactured by himself and his friend Les Giles, with the close guidance of aircraft mechanic John Twilley.
“We ordered the plans in 2003, and didn’t start until February of 2011,” said Long. “We sat on it for a while and didn’t do anything, and in the process, the company went bankrupt so then we started, we had to build everything.
“If the company had delivered a kit, you could have gotten things pre-welded and the ribs in the wings made, but we had to build everything and it took a long time.”
Based on the plans provided, every piece was machined to spec, starting with the tail and moving on to the fuselage.
Once the structure of the aircraft is built, a fabric is secured tightly over the wings and the fuselage, before a lacquer known as ‘dope’ is heavily applied for weatherproofing and making it airtight.
“It sort of smells like fingernail polish,” he added.
The finishing touches were applied last fall, and final inspections from Transport Canada were completed.
“It took us six years, but on and off, mostly in the winter when you have more time to work on it,” said Long.
Inspectors thoroughly examined the aircraft both before the fabric was put on, and after when it was completed.
“They wanted to check all the controls, making sure everything is operating and the engine is running fine,” said Long. “They want you to use aviation quality controls and such type of hardware, so they look at that to see that things are followed as it should be built.”
Long showed great pride that his name and Giles name appears on the official registration plate of the aircraft as manufacturers, instead of a company name that one would normally see.
Flying with a 75 horsepower, 2,100 cc. Volkwagon engine that he pulled out of a different aircraft, Long’s plane can max out at approximately 90 miles per hour, although for the first 25 hours of flight, he is restricted to cruising within 25 miles.
“I can only take myself, but it’s a two seater, so I put a water jug in the back to see what a little more weight would do in the tail,” said Long, adding that a similar sized aircraft such as a Piper Tomahawk might be 1,500 pounds with fuel and passengers, his Ultrapup only tips the scales at 1,100 pounds.
Long enjoys the luxury of having a private runway in his backyard, a 2,300 foot grass runway that he initially built when he flew model airplanes, and extended once the scale became more life-sized.
Long estimates that he spent approximately $20,000 building the aircraft, with considerable savings by not buying the pre-manufactured kit pieces.
Even though there are less flying restrictions on the commercially-made airplane he owns, with either aircraft, Long prefers to stay close to home and examine the beauty of the Swan Valley from 1,000 feet above.
“It’s just a lifelong dream,” he said. “There’s a lot (to keep track of), but it’s relaxing. And, you get to see everything from a different perspective. The Valley changing seasons is neat to see. I wish I would have done it earlier in my life.”

Jeremy Bergen