Is it a plane? Is it a bird?
Well, it’s a little of both…kind of.
This unique aeroplane is “Flappy Bird”, Lewiston resident Stuart McColl’s pride and joy and fondly named light sport aeroplane.
Stuart was kind enough to take me up in Flappy Bird on a beautiful Autumn’s day and what an experience it was.
One minute I’m getting strapped into the seat, headphones are handed to me and then before I know it we’re taxiing down the runway.
The next minute it’s blue skies and look-a-like toy cars, with grey clouds seemingly just out of reach.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of almost weightlessness of being up in the air, and while there was a moment or two (I’ll admit) of, ‘what if?’ going through my head, I was absolutely thrilled with the flight and my birds-eye view.
And it really is a birds-eye view.
I’ve been in planes before, but there’s just something different about flying in the two-seat Skyfox Aviation Skyfox Gazelle (Flappy Bird’s official name).
The space is tight but comfortable and as she dipped through the sky, cruising at about 2000 feet, my perspective of the world opened.
I gazed in wonder at the dams, livestock and trees below me.
I was enthralled by what I could see in people’s backyards.
The feeling of being in the air captured me and the emotion of ‘isn’t this amazing?’ was ever-present.
Stuart, a police officer with the police motorcycle section (also known as the Hopscotch Cop from last year’s Christmas Pageant) has been the proud owner of Flappy Bird since last year and was calm, confident and happy at the controls.
He has had a love of flying since he was a young boy, dabbling in radio-controlled aircraft in his youth.
“My actual flying career started in 1994, when one day I just decided that I would learn how to fly,” Stuart explained.
“I flew Microlight aircraft, which are a weight shift controlled, open cockpit aircraft, out of Strathalbyn until 1998.
“During that time I owned my own two-seat Microlight and also became a qualified tow pilot, towing up a tandem hang glider to between two and four thousand feet.
“It was a lot of fun but I hung up my pilot’s hat to concentrate on owning a house instead.”
It wasn’t until 2013 the flying bug bit again, and after discussing it with his wife, Karen, who also loves aviation; Stuart decided to take up flying once more.
“Being older and a little wiser, this time I wanted an enclosed aircraft so I wouldn’t freeze like I used to in the Microlight,” he laughed.
“I did not want to become a commercial pilot and wanted to make sure that my flying was just going to be for fun.
“As such I enrolled in a recreational flying school and within no time at all I was flying around the skies once more.”
After obtaining his licence Stuart had the choice of either hiring a plane or as luck would have it, buying one.
Whilst hiring a recreational plane is a cheap option at about $130 an hour fully fuelled, the thought of owning his own aircraft again was just too tempting.
There are many types of recreational aircraft with prices starting from around $10,000 for a single seater to between $15,000 and $150,000 plus for a two-seat plane.
But one of the catches in owning such a plane is you need somewhere to “hang” it.
Hangar fees can cost as much as $2000 per year so Stuart looked into the cheaper option of buying a recreational plane which could be trailered and kept at home.
“After looking at a few options Karen and I settled on a Gazelle,” he said. “It ticked all the boxes for us; trailer able, easily set up, dual place seating side-by-side, dual controls and the best thing of all, a heater.”
And so Flappy Bird came to live in Lewiston. But how did she come by her name? Most aeroplanes are identified by their registration number.
“When we purchased her last year I wanted to give her a unique identity,” Stuart said.
“Everyone in our family was trying to think of a name that would suit her.
“To me she isn’t the fastest aircraft in the sky however she gets us to where we want to go and is a lot of fun to fly.
“I thought that the name “Flappy Bird” suited her to a T.
“Giving our plane an identity has made her quite well known amongst other pilots. She’s not just a plane, she’s “Flappy Bird”.
It’s quite a sight to see an aeroplane folded up and travelling on a trailer, but that is what makes Flappy Bird unique and so versatile. Stuart says this ability to take his plane wherever he wants means holidays are much more diverse, fun and interesting. The family contacts local airports out in the country for permission to fly out of them or talks very nicely to property owners for permission to use a paddock.
One of the trips they would like to do in the near future is to tow Flappy Bird up to the Flinders Ranges and take in the magnificent Lake Eyre.
“Towing Flappy Bird around certainly gets heads turning, not something you see every day,” Stuart joked.
“I took her over to Angle Vale to get some fuel one day and the console operator said that she had now seen everything get towed into the service station.
“She is a huge talking point wherever we take her and normally attracts a crowd when we are parked.”
Stuart maintains and follows strict maintenance guidelines to keep Flappy Bird in perfect working order, which means he never gets nervous flying her.
Flying is something Stuart says anyone can do, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
The pastime has meant great family trips, new friends and an opportunity to see and visit much of the state. “Flappy Bird has been a great addition to our family and has brought a lot of joy to a lot of other people also,” he commented.
“I would thoroughly recommend a recreational aircraft to anyone that would like to fulfil their flying dreams but thought it would be too expensive.
“The minimum health requirement to fly a recreational aircraft is the same as for driving a car.
“To obtain your licence will set you back about $5,000 but I can assure you its well worth it.
“It has certainly been an absolute highlight in my life and I love nothing more than taking people up for a fly and to enjoy the world from a totally different and spectacular view.”
Well-said Stuart. Thanks again for taking my children and I for a totally unique and special afternoon.
It is one we will always remember fondly.
Facts about ‘Flappy Bird’
• The wings can be folded when not in use.
• Flappy Bird has a 2-blade wooden propeller and can cruise at a speed of just under 120 km/h.
• As a recreational aircraft she is limited to airspace outside controlled airspace, however this still leaves about 95% of the airspace in Australia that she can fly in.
• The maximum height Flappy Bird can be flown at is the same as any other non-pressurized aircraft, which is 10,000 feet (outside controlled airspace).
• Flappy Bird has a range of about 3.5 hours and uses just 14 litres of normal 91 unleaded fuel.
• Her engine is a Rotax 912 80hp four cylinder four stroke.
• The engine is serviced every 50 hours and the aircraft itself is inspected thoroughly by a qualified aircraft mechanic every 100 hours or yearly, whichever comes first.