What were the reasons for Quicksilver to be where they are today?

Discussion in 'The light stuff area' started by erkki67, Oct 4, 2019.

1. Oct 4, 2019

erkki67

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in the 80ies and 90ies, Quicksilver Aircraft was the Ultralight Type manufacturer in the World.

The output was several machines a day.

I had the chance to visit the manufacturing site at Temecula once, and it was impressing.

The Kits they delivered were outstanding, several bigger sheets with the parts vacuumed and labeled on.

The assembly manuals, are even today a benchmark to reach.

Over 30’000 Quicksilvers of all types where produced, and shipped worldwide.

The numbers to be found here in Europe are less impressive the the ones in the US, for sure, but we got at least two cousins to pop up and disappear again of the venerable MXL.

But what went wrong over the time?

Many thousands of us did learn to fly in one of those sturdy little flyers.

One thing, for sure did not help Quicksilver to survive, is the fact that Rotax quit the manufacturing of the 447 and 503, the heart of almost all MX and MXL’s.

But the later alone was not the only reason, the whole market swapped into a different direction today, light, racy and more expensive looking rocket-ships, the simple rugged tube and fabric flyers are disappearing.

For sure, there will always be a niche for the later, but they will never be a mayor player again.

In Europe the mentality is like, oh you couldn't afford a sleek wonder, might be the same in the US.

There are some success stories of tube and fabric aircrafts, like the Ikarus Comco C22 and C42, the SkyRanger just to name two.

What makes them to remain in the market and not Quicksilver?

Pricing is in the same category, at least for the 2 seaters.

Even if I don’t like it, it has also to do with the engine choices, the Rotax 912 and the smaller 582 is the mainstream, ( the 582 was found on several Quicksilvers).

I believe, that the simple structure of the MXL with no suspension available was also a point that was not favorable in the new world of flying.

For sure, there was the GT line too, but it did not reflect the simplicity of the MXL, and in the same pool there where already a few we’ll established players with equal or better products.

I believe that the simplicity of the Quicksilver could live ahead just in a different layout, which could have made live Quicksilver longer too.

2. Oct 4, 2019

in2flight

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I have never flown one, but always appreciated the Quicksilver's place in the community even though it isn't my favorite. I remember very well its origins, which was the original weight shift hang glider that had a moveable rudder. I love simple aircraft the most, and the hang glider version really made an impression on me as a youth.

As for the engines, I lament the smaller Rotax engines going away. I have two Rotax 185s on a Lazair project. 8.5hp each... I do know that the Aerolite manufacturer based in my hometown really likes using the Kawasaki 440 engine. He says its the smoothest running small two stroke he has ever run. There are others worth trying too. Dennis at Aerolite did a lot of Quicksilver business before the company went away.

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3. Oct 4, 2019

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Whatever other reasons there are, the last nail in the coffin for Quicksilver and many other manufacturers was the demise of the ultralight two place training exemption. Today there is almost no ultralight activity locally and if you decided that you wanted to learn to fly a Quicksilver you would have to take training in a Cessna or Piper....not ideal nor inexpensive. Without easy access to training the customer base has evaporated.

When I started flying ULs in 95 you could find two place UL trainers everywhere. I learned in a Starflight and then soloed my first Quicksilver MX. I went on to fly many Quicks and similar types: a 10 hp weightshift model; lots of one and two place MX and MXLs; single and two place float planes, and a Rotax 912 powered M Squared monster able to fly with 500 lbs of fat boys on board.

4. Oct 4, 2019

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The FAA did their best to kill the ultralight industry....
As radfordc mentioned,ultralight trainers were everywhere at one time and the sky was full of ultralights with people having fun and enjoying life while doing it safely.
The FAA decided to "improve" things by passing regulations to make things safer for everyone because they know what's best for everyone.
So now,you have an industry that is still going,all be it very poorly,and no way for the pilots to receive training to be safe.
Great job FAA..... !!!

Funny story......
I knew a guy that got his PPL in a Cessna 150 and then bought a Flightstar ultralight so he could fly whenever he wanted....he was a pretty good pilot.
I told him to go get some time in a 2 seat ultralight trainer because he wasnt prepared for the Flightstar.
He informed me that he was more than qualified to fly the Flightstar because the FAA says that he was qualified with his PPL.
Long story short.....first flight he planted the plane nose in from about 50 ft.
2 broken legs,broken arm,broken collar bone.....etc.

Yep....the FAA is a lot smarter than the rest of us.

Kevin

5. Oct 4, 2019

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Before Mark Smith passed away......he was the definitive word and knowledge on the Quicksilver's.
He is missed by many....

Kevin

6. Oct 4, 2019

choppergirl

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I think you could fill in the missing 2 place trainers with something we have now but nobody really had back then... realistic flight sims. That is how quadcopter pilots learn to fly - or how it's recommended they learn to fly - they do all their crashing and getting use to things in a simulator where it costs them nothing in damaged parts, before they fly a real quad.

The real problem is few flight simulators support all that many ultralight models, if any, and none of the cool ones from the 80's that you can pick up on the bottom of the market.

If you are really convinced the lack of 2 seaters is what's killing an ultralight resurgence - you could totally step around it with a training classroom with a decent flight sim with legit flight sim controls. It's nowhere near the same exact feeling, no more than driving a motorcycle sim is anything like driving a motorcycle in real life is (*it's not, at all)... but you can master the basic principals in one and learn a few of the gotchas when set to ultra-realistic mode (i.e, for motorcycles, slow down before curves, lean in to curves, shifting, braking, following the road with your eyes, use both brakes, etc).

The real death of aviation is the rise of the internet and mobile phones and tele-presence. The computer revolution in the 80's and 90's killed ultralights - computers were just way more useful, accessible, and fun to play with and the new hot hobby. They actually delivered (it took them a long while in development by die hard enthusiests and evangelists to get there, but they finally did), and opened up a whole new world of exploration and adventure and information. Flying - not so much so. Today, I can build a PC in an afternoon and reap all the benefits of it. Five+ years later, I'm still nowhere on finishing a plane. It's a money pit with no payback. I haven't gotten the first single flight out of any of my airplane projects yet. Meanwhile, by comparison, in the same amount of time... I've surfed billions of webpages...

The proof in the pudding or nail in the coffin, so to speak, is right in front of you - we can all be here and swap ideas and communicate with each other because of computers - not because we hopped in a plane and all flew somewhere to meet and chat.

Except for long haul flights... there are very few compelling uses for an airplane any more - the cost, complexity, maintenance, and storage problems associated with airplanes is staggering.

But, from my test post of giving away a free project ultralight, tons of people would love to fix up and fly an airplane... for no practical reason at all, just because they want to fly.

The real death of ultralight besides OTHER THAN that computers and just about everything else out there you could do has a far superior ROI... is that very few people I imagine have a 40ft x 25ft x 10ft high place to store a plane indoors out of the UV sunlight, with a 700ft x 50ft empty flat field right out side said storage space. Even I am still grappling with that one. How the heck am I going to solve that at $10/hr? Such land plus hanger on scrub land would cost$25K (probably way more where you live), and take me 5 yrs just to get to an airplane garage and empty field.

Because of that last one, everyone moved to gyros and trikes (powered rogollo hang gliders with wheels) and powered parachutes . Those markets bloomed and stabilized into new communities that continue to exist, because you can stuff them in a common car garage.

Ultralights are just too... big..! with too big of a footprint requirement (runway, legit hanger, etc).

Last edited: Oct 4, 2019
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7. Oct 5, 2019

bmcj

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You and others have hit the main points. Also, I think some of the reasons the Quick was so successful was it was cheap, easy to build, and it performed very well yay had some very straightforward handling qualities. Aside from engine availability, I think part of their downfall was market saturation and the move to faster, heavier, and more complicated designs (like the GT400). The sensationalized ABC 20/20 episode about those deadly ultralights might have put a dent in sales, but I don’t think it was too major.

Along with the new fascination of computers and smartphones, I think their has been an overall decline of interest in aviation compared to the rampant fascination from the 30’s through the 50’s that drove the adult purchases in the 79’s and 80’s.

The loss of the two-seat trainer took a big hit, but not just in a training capacity, but also in a sales capacity. We sold more Quicks to people who came out for a demo ride, then stayed on for some training. After that, they were hooked.

if you want to make and sell single seaters, I wonder if you could also make a two-seat E-AB that the dealer builds and keeps. When an interested party comes to the office, you thank them for their interest, sell them an info packet, and have one of your guys fly them over to a different field where the showroom is. Acceptance of that free flight would be entirely optional for the potential customer, but it would give him a taste if the Quicksilver.

8. Oct 5, 2019

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Yep. The level of regulation demanded by the FAA (via the Light Sport rule) was a deathblow to Part 103; in fact, it generally made production of any LSA that wasn't near the top of the performance category uneconomical as certification costs don't really scale with size or capability.

Of course, Choppergirl hit on another good point:
A lot of the good Part 103 designs aren't really portable/trailerable, and even if they were, a lot of people don't live in areas conducive to operating them. Finding an airport that will permit ultralights to mix with the "regular" traffic can be difficult; if you can't find one, you'll need to live near somewhere with accessible/public land that's suitable. Most of the population also lives in areas that the FAA might well consider too "congested" or "populated" for Part 103.

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9. Oct 5, 2019

FritzW

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I'm not disagreeing, I just don't understand what your saying. How did the LSA rules effect part 103? (I'm sure it did, I just don't know how it did)

10. Oct 6, 2019

gtae07

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The FAA was growing concerned that people were operating two-seat ultralights for more than strictly flight training (e.g. offering "flight instruction" that was really just paid rides). Naturally, the FAA figured that regulating the design and production of these two-seaters under a "certification lite" regime would magically make them "safe". Thus the Light Sport rules were born. It says so right in the Federal Register that the rules were primarily intended to address two seat ultralights and regulate them, and that the FAA primarily envisioned them being used to train Part 103 pilots.

Of course, as we all know now, Part 103 is a shadow of its former self and Light Sport is basically just a way to fly without a medical certificate.

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11. Oct 6, 2019

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When the FAA brought the LSA rule into effect the planes that were currently flying were no longer legal for training.
And the new factory aircraft that had originally been $18k -$20k to buy and operate before the rule went into effect then skyrocketed to $70k -$80k for the same aircraft because of the "certification" paperwork that came with the new kit/aircraft.
All of the current instructors sold their aircraft off or parked them in the back of hangers/barns because they weren't legal to fly anymore and they weren't legal CFI's anymore unless they invested a great deal of money and time to recertify in an aircraft that wasnt related to the aircraft they were teaching in.

The FAA did not outlaw ultralights,they just made it pretty much impossible for people to get trained to fly them after the implementation of the new rule.
Lots of $money$ became the only option to be trained in a sport that was affordable by almost everyone before the new rule.

Kevin

Last edited: Oct 6, 2019
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12. Oct 6, 2019

mcrae0104

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Were they CFIs before? What certification (if any) was required to offer instruction under the previous 2-place exemption?

13. Oct 6, 2019

bmcj

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No, that was not a requirement, though at one point, they called for joining and certifying under the USUA (which was not a governmental entity).

14. Oct 6, 2019

BBerson

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They were BFI (Basic Flight Instructor). I think the three community organizations were authorized to issue the exemptions and instructor qualifications certification. I think 100 hours was required.
Today, getting a Sport Pilot Instructor certificate probably isn't difficult. But buying a two seat trainer is far too costly.

15. Oct 6, 2019

Turd Ferguson

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There was none. It was supposed to be self-regulated. The FAA allowed them to use non-Part 103 vehicles to train with. The industry abused the crap out of that provision so they lost it. Not sure the FAA deserves more than their share of the blame.

I used to live near 3 different ultralight flyparks in the '80's. There were ultralights tied down outside year round. Very few people kept them inside. There was flying at the ultralight parks everyday. At another field they eventually built a community lean-to and then had a roof to park under but it was still open on all sides.

There is quite a bit of Part 103 ultralight activity where I live now. It's very local, people don't stray far from the field where they base their plane. MI is home of Hayes Aero and the Aerolite 103. They build planes and parts at a pretty good clip. It's not unusual to see a dozen ultralights flying around Ortonville during a summer weekend. So they are still out there, people are still learning how to fly in them. Just not a mainstream activity.

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16. Oct 6, 2019

BBerson

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Well sure, it's much easier for the FAA to entirely ban an activity rather than enforce the rules against the few rule breakers. The three organizations did not have regulatory authority. Only the FAA has that authority and did not use it, apparently.

17. Oct 6, 2019

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BFI' not CFI's.....I stand corrected.

Kevin

18. Oct 6, 2019

Turd Ferguson

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I think the "ultralight movement" of the early 80's would have imploded regardless. It was just a fad, grew like a bubble when all the planets aligned and over time people would have moved on to other activities anyway.

19. Oct 6, 2019

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It wasn't a "few" rule breakers. Almost every two seat UL trainer was being used outside of the exemption rules. In my view, the FAA should have just continued to look the other way as they have done with "fat" single place ULs.

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20. Oct 6, 2019

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