Milestones in the Sky

Before the FAA established the “Light Sport Aircraft” category, the trikes that we flew fell under the title of “ultralights”, or at least they did in Canada. Both the UL, and the LSA classifications were designed for recreation purposes. That means they are to be used strictly for fun flying and although some people think getting paid is fun, that’s not what the FAA intended. Getting paid to fly means you must be a commercial pilot and because that often means carrying passengers, that licence, justifiably comes with a lot more rules.

In order to allow OM to continue leading birds south and to get paid for that and all the other work that a reintroduction involves, the FAA issued an exemption to the LSA rules. They did that for a number of valid reasons. First of all, safeguarding a species was considered beneficial to the American public and because we had never had a reportable accident, it didn’t compromise safety. A commercial licence comes with endorsements. You can have a commercial licence with a float endorsement to fly from water, or you can be qualified to fly multi-engine aircraft or helicopters. However, there is no commercial licence to operate a weight-shift controlled aircraft like a trike. There were also a number of other factors that the FAA considered like we didn’t fly in controlled airspace. We avoided cities and big airports and we flew during the day only. Plus we agreed to upgrade our licences from LSA permits to Private Pilot Licences and to buy new aircraft that were maintained by FAA certified mechanics.

Throughout that entire process, the FAA was very supportive. They worked within the rules governing the Light Sport Aircraft category and made provisions when the rules didn’t apply.
All of that negotiation, cooperation and rule-making, made the trikes that OM flew with Whooping cranes unique. They are the only Light Sport Aircraft to be legally used for a commercial purpose, other than flight instruction.

It seems that all the milestones in the history of aviation are achieved at the highest altitude, the longest range or the fastest speed and that often relates to the most expensive. Our trikes, on the other hand, flew slow enough to match bird speed and our best altitudes were short of a mile high. But despite their pedestrian flight envelope and reasonable price tag, they wrote history and earned a place in the world’s most prestigious aviation museums.

Two weeks ago, we donated our most historic aircraft to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Museum in Oshkosh. For ten years, November 2-6-1-6 Tango helped to lead 147 Whooping cranes on their first migration from Wisconsin to Florida. It flew over twelve thousand miles and logged over 700 hours in the company of birds.

That number is far greater if you include all the training flights it took to encourage the birds to follow and to develop their endurance. It helped to educate a generation and gave back-seat, life-time experiences to Jane Goodall and Charlie Rose and it was featured on national news. It’s a fitting retirement for an aircraft that bent all the rules and helped save a species.

N2616T will be on display at the EAA museum in Oshkosh, WI, beginning in 2018.

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  1. Catherine Wohlfeil November 6, 2017 8:55 pm

    A great milestone in the history of aviation and conservation. May the future of OM be as exciting and inspiring as its past and may the innovative minds that taught us that all things, including cranes learning to follow aircraft, are possible. We only have to believe… and to try…

  2. Anna M Osborn November 6, 2017 12:00 pm

    Read this in an EAA message and was thrilled! What a great home for N2616T and I am sure EAA with give it a great display with information. So appropriate that it be in Wisconsin. I have Mary Jones’ article from EAA Experimenter August 2002 page 26-32. I hope it will be in the display.

    • Heather Ray November 6, 2017 3:59 pm

      Wow! I remember helping Mary with that article so many years ago….

      • Anna osborn November 6, 2017 7:15 pm

        You will be interested to know Mary is being inducted in the Ultra Light Hall of Fame on Thursday 9th. I am going to Osh from Texas for the dinner and ceremony. I guess they call them Light Sports. Now but maybe not the trikes.

        • Anna osborn November 6, 2017 7:16 pm

          Yes I guess they are Light Sports.

  3. Mindy November 6, 2017 11:37 am

    An honor for OM….glad for this but still made me cry knowing how many Whoopers flew with this aircraft as “Mom”.

  4. charlotte mullen November 6, 2017 11:26 am

    Terrific! It’s the perfect museum for this fine aircraft. Since Wisconsin is the home of the OM migration program it is so appropriate that we can use it to inform future generations of the marvelous work done in the skies over Wisconsin

  5. Linda Connolly November 6, 2017 11:12 am

    You should mention your original trike is at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Plus the OM display is also there. Thanks for sharing with the world your unique vehicle!

  6. Grandma November 6, 2017 10:39 am

    Thank you for this information. As much as I, among many others, miss the flights south it is wonderful to know the aircraft is being preserved in the history of the comeback of the Whoopers. Thanks to all at OM that have made this possible!

  7. Maggie November 6, 2017 10:05 am

    What a great place for such a great aircraft to be retired to
    among so many other wonderful flying machines. It was such a thrilling time to follow the flights to Florida—-some successful and others discouraging but in time the final flight of the migration would arrive and the lucky people in Florida would be able to welcome them. Their home for the winter and with each Spring we would follow them back to Wisconsin and then it started all over again. Thanks N2616T for all the thrills.

  8. Jane Maher November 6, 2017 8:08 am

    That is wonderful news! I’m proud this display will have its home in Wisconsin.

  9. Jean P. aka CrabtowneMd November 6, 2017 7:58 am

    This is such a well-deserved tribute ! Who knows how many future conservationists or creative explorers will be influenced by learning of how N2616T and OM taught whooping cranes to migrate! So glad to see that both will continue to capture the imagination of young and old alike.

  10. Di Lowe November 6, 2017 7:06 am

    How cool is this!! What a great donation for E.A.A.