Learn to Fly in Your Own Airplane

By Dan Grunloh, EAA 173888

The cost of getting
into flying has always been important to those dreaming of becoming a pilot.
Ultralights flourished because of the reduced cost, but sport pilot
certification brought back the cost factor due to the price of new special
light-sport aircraft needed for training. One strategy for would-be sport
pilots is to take flight training in their own aircraft. You only have to pay
for fuel and the flight instructor, so the cost of instruction is greatly

But many newcomers
don’t want to risk buying an airplane before they even know how to fly. Some
aircraft are better suited for instruction than others, and, in any case,
students must find a flight instructor willing to teach in their chosen
aircraft. If students know for certain what model they want, and plan to buy
one anyway, it can make training much simpler.

The Dream

For Roger Modrow,
EAA 1242988, of Wautoma, Wisconsin, it all started 15 years ago at the age of
25. He worked for Greg Klemp, EAA 504106, who had a Quad City Challenger and
owned a machine shop at the time. Greg took him for a ride, Roger thought it
was cool, and he told Greg someday he would buy one and learn to fly. At the
time he didn’t think it was something that was achievable.

Courtesy of Roger Modrow

Roger said he has
wanted to fly since that first ride. After 15 years, it got to the point where
he just had to finally do it. Greg, a longtime Challenger dealer, located a
good used two-place Challenger for a bargain price. Roger bought it with cash
and vehicle trades, including a motorcycle. It’s an older airframe with an
established history, and he was the right person at the right time. Sport
aviation doesn’t always have to be expensive.

The Flying Fish

The Challenger is 29
years old and was originally built around 1989. The Rotax 503 engine had only
130 hours on it, but the airframe was at about 700 hours. The data plate
indicates a date of manufacture of 1999, but the N-number selection was said to
be based on the year 1997 when a complete rebuild began. Since it is a
two-place aircraft, it may have been flown as an exempted ultralight trainer
prior to the rebuild. The airplane is on its fourth owner.

The flying fish
artwork on the nose was linked to a nickname for a previous owner. The wing was
re-covered two years ago, and Roger plans to re-cover the fuselage next. It
appears to be in great condition, but after 30 years and 700 hours, it will be
good to look over everything carefully. It’s doubtful the two creators of the
Challenger back in 1983 even imagined how long their design would be flown.

Buying the airplane
was the easy part. Next was the training. Not all instructors are willing to
teach in a small experimental two-place with a two-cycle engine. Fortunately,
Roger picked the Challenger, which has a great reputation with thousands of
examples flying. He credits members of his local EAA Chapter 1331 and Greg for
helping him get into the air. His flight instructor was Renee Dubois, EAA
1102753, of Manistique, Michigan.

Courtesy of Roger Modrow

He soloed on June
10, 2017, after about seven or eight hours of dual instruction. Two decades of
flying RC models, including large models and jets, likely helped him understand
the fundamentals. He started flying everywhere he could right away but didn’t
take the practical test until May 2018 — mostly because he was reluctant. He
took the test in his own airplane at the Wautoma airport (Y50) with examiner
Sean Curry, EAA 451681.

120 Hours in 15 Months

The best indication
of good training and appropriate selection of the aircraft is the number of
hours flown. Roger works as a truck driver all week, so when the weekend comes
he goes to every flying event he possibly can. The longest he has gone without
flying the plane is three weeks.

“I’m having more fun
than I know what to do with,” he said.

There is an active
community of Challenger pilots in the upper Midwest that is glad to show him
where to fly for fun.

Courtesy of Roger Modrow

He flew to Ultralight Day 2017 at EAA’s Pioneer Airport in Oshkosh one week after he soloed and appeared in the EAA video recap of the event. The EAA Skiplane Fly-In 2018 video shows Roger landing the Flying Fish with retractable skis. It wasn’t the airplane’s first time there. The previous owner brought it to the fly-in a few years earlier on a different set of skis. Roger flew to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018 and said he took it up in the ultralight pattern every chance he could, both mornings and evenings. He also flew it to Erie Airpark in Erie, Illinois, for the Challenger 35th anniversary, and to Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, for the Musky Day Fly-In. That’s how you get 120 hours logged in 15 months.

What’s Next

Looking to the
future, Roger said he could probably handle long cross-country flights because
he has been a truck driver for 20 years and is used to sitting for hours while
driving. The airplane has a handheld radio mounted on the panel and a holder
for his iPad. Roger uses ForeFlight, and he installed a Stratus 3 ADS-B
receiver, which he likes when flying near larger airports. It can show aircraft
above you about to descend out of the clouds, and it supports synthetic vision
on the iPad. He wants to get a floatplane rating. The theory is that a Rotax
503 can be sufficient power for a Challenger on floats with the right

Roger has shown how to save money on instruction and avoid any transition problems. His training, solo, and flight test were all in his airplane, and at his home field. What could be better? It could work for a variety of sport pilot compliant experimental aircraft and a few production classics. First, select the appropriate aircraft. Then connect with the community of owners and builders to find your dream airplane and an instructor to teach you how to fly it. EAA chapters play a role, so start there. It took less than two years for Roger to go from ground bound to exploring many exciting flying adventures. Don’t wait 15 years to take action.

, EAA 173888, has been an EAA member and
volunteer since 1981, and he has logged 1,600 hours in ultralights and
light-sport aircraft. He can be reached at dangrunloh2@gmail.com.

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