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Aviators' Oasis : A Desert Airport--the Realization of a Man's Dream--Caters to Ultra-Light Craft

January 06, 1994|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

But his dream changed as the years went on. In the fall of 1987, Beryl died of cancer. He hired an airplane to skywrite "Goodby Beryl" over the Rose Parade on the New Year's Day that followed.

And general aviation had changed. Because of increasing aircraft and insurance prices, it was too expensive for all but a handful of people who dreamed of becoming pilots. Pilots also complained about the growing commercial air traffic in urban areas.

Ultra-light aircraft was, for those who wanted to avoid the big-ticket items and regulations, a way to fulfill their desire to fly.

But first the sport had to go through some rocky years. "The equipment was not so sophisticated in the early days," said Peter Klein, a Palmdale automobile mechanic who started flying ultra-lights in the early 1980s. "There were no gauges, there was a lot of experimentation."

"It was new and there were a lot of hot-doggers who were crazy," Klein said. "They did not know how to take care of the aircraft. They thought they could just do anything."

As the aircraft became sturdier and more airworthy, a national association of ultra-light pilots set the standard for training.

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There are still fatal accidents. Last year in Sonoma County, two men died when their newly purchased ultra-light crashed into a hillside. In 1992, a Camarillo man died when his aircraft went down in a strawberry field while he was practicing forced stalls.

In December, a Kern County man was killed when his ultra-light struck the guy wire of a radio tower.

"You can never forget that these are actual airplanes," Comperini said. "If you don't pay attention or know what you are doing, you can get into trouble."

Two years ago Brian retired from Hughes and moved to the airport to work on it full time. By then, he saw that his business would center on ultra-lights.

"We always stress safety," he said, and there have been no injury-causing accidents at his airport. Partly because of the safety record, he got permission in 1992 from the planning commission to house up to 30 ultra-lights on the property. He charges owners $60 a month for hangar space. At the moment, he has about a dozen signed up.

"It doesn't make money, yet, but if we hit 30 we will break even," he said.

Brain has started renovating one of the hangars to make it a pilots lounge. "It will be a nice place for pilots to fly in from all around here, have a cup of coffee, sit and talk," he said. "And we very badly need bathrooms out here."

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