ERIE, Ill. — For 30 years the Quad City Ultralight Aircraft Corporation has been manufacturing the Challenger Light Sport airplane and on Saturday, the Eric Airpark will host a celebration to commemorate that anniversary.
Jim Robinson, owner and operator of the Erie Airpark, has been flying the Challenger aircraft for 26 years and for the past 15 of those years, he has built more than 20 planes as a Quad-City Challenger dealer.
“I like to tell people that flying a Challenger is flying the way it was 50 years ago,” Robinson said. “Saturday is a way to celebrate the company that made it all happen.”
In 1983, a man named Dave Goulet started the Quad-City Ultralight Aircraft Corporation, building the very first Challenger Light Sport airplane. To this day, Goulet is still the owner, making the Quad-City Ultralight Aircraft Corp. one of the oldest ultralight companies still under the same management.
It wasn’t long after that Robinson gained an interest in the Challenger series and began flying the small, 520-pound, stick and rudder airplane.
“It’s a very safe airplane. It’s got a great track record and very forgiving,” Robinson said. “If the engine quits while you’re in the air the plane essentially becomes a glider and for every foot you drop in altitude you go 10 feet forward. It almost won’t do anything wrong.”
Saturday will be an opportunity for fellow Challenger enthusiasts like Robinson to celebrate the ingenuity and success of the Quad- City Ultralight Aircraft Corp. and the more than 3,000 airplanes they have sold in their 30 years of business.
Robinson expects anywhere from 50 to 100 Challengers to be present on Saturday, whether permitting, with some traveling from as far as Canada.
“People will come from Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico — all over the United States — and eight Canadians,” Robinson said. “Most people who are flying in are coming from 1,000 miles or less and the rest will come in RV’s and cars.”
Because of the Challenger’s small size, the average gas tank is around 10 gallons, which only allows around 150 miles of travel before requiring another fill. Planes that are flying into the 30-year celebration will take several days before arriving at the grassy field at the Erie Airpark.
To welcome them, Robinson has set up several food vendors selling a variety of choices, including barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, barbecue ribs, ice cream and an assortment of refreshments.
Although Robinson himself does offer rides in his Challenger airplane, the crafts that will be present on Saturday will only be for pleasure viewing. Some pilots will display some flying but the Challenger is not meant to be an acrobatic aircraft.
“At first it was promoted as an air show but it’s not an air show,” Robinson said. “It’s just going to be guys flying around, looking at planes and talking about planes. It’s more like a car show, but for airplanes.”