By Barbara A. Schmitz
Jean Preckel had just retired and was looking for a new challenge in 2020, something that was different from anything she had ever done.
She found her answer in an eGull, an electric-powered ultralight designed and produced by Earthstar Aircraft.
“The fact that it was electric was the deciding factor,” said Preckel, who arrived on Tuesday and is camping under her red and white ultralight near the Fun Fly Zone. “I had flown in gas planes before and didn’t like the vibration and noise,” she said. But she also didn’t want to deal with the gas and oil needed for an internal combustion engine.
Preckel said if she takes off with the battery at 100 percent, she can fly about one-and-one-quarter hour. “But when I fly, I like to fly with 20-30 percent reserve in electricity,” she said. That meant she had to fly in “hops” and zigzag a bit on her 808-mile route to get here. She flew 12 days and made 24 stops.
She thoroughly researched her route before, trying to find airports the right distance apart. If an airport was more than 40-50 miles away, she’d stop at a closer one, charge up her eGull and then do another leg.
She also called all the airports in advance to ensure she could charge her battery there. She found that about half had 220 outlets, half had 110. “But there are a lot of different outlets that are 220, and they are all shaped a little differently, so I had to buy several adapters.”
Preckel said she flew at about 1,000 feet over fields, but over the mountains of West Virginia or areas that were heavily forested, she flew about 2,000 feet above the ground, just in case there was a problem.
“You can see everything when you’re up in the air. It was absolutely a hoot.”
2022 may have been the first year she flew into Oshkosh, but it wasn’t her first trip here. She drove in 2021, she said, since she knew she needed more flight experience and the weather didn’t cooperate.
While the 72-year-old Preckel doesn’t need a pilot’s certificate or medical to fly her ultralight, she does have training, about 100 hours of training, in fact, with Earthstar Aircraft founder and designer Mark Beierle, who is also is providing ground support for her journey.
“I figured since he signed the plane he would know what works best,” she said. “After every flight, I have questions and he gives me pointers. I’ve really learned a lot on this trip.”
Preckel likes her eGull so much that she’s building a second one.
“When I first decided to get an airplane, I wanted to build it,” she said. But she didn’t want to wait a year before she could fly, so Earthstar modified her current ultralight from gas to electric so she could start flying immediately.
However, when she went to California last winter, she bought a kit and brought it home with her. “It’s now in my living room and I’m putting it together,” she said. “The fuselage is 18-feet-long so that fits in the house. But the 28-foot wings are at my hangar.”
For others thinking about learning to fly, especially at a later age, she encourages them to go for it. “You have one life to live,” she said, “so give it a whirl.”