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Buying a drifter


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G’day, I have noticed a bunch of posts over the past few months from people wanting to buy their first ultralight. I finally bought a drifter late last year and thought people may be interested in a few experiences I had with it.


The aircraft I bought was a wire braced R503 Austflight drifter. The Rotax 503 has been overhauled approximately 25 hours ago. The undercarriage was bent, the skins where very faded and there was signs of minor damage on the wing tip. It had all the normal instruments, some old helmets but no radio. I paid a fair price given this kind of wear and happily got a L2 to do the inspection.


Just because someone is a LAME or has built their own aircraft does not mean they understand 2 stroke rag and tube aircraft. Aside from a few minor things the aircraft passed through its inspection. Now is when I had to deal with things that seemed very minor at the time. It had no compass, which amazed me. It took quite some time of searching and in one case buying a compass before I finally found the right one. The aircraft was missing numbers under its wing, and I can only assume had so for the past 10 years. I say assume because the maintenance records had been ‘destroyed’. A quick rule that I would apply here; no records than take a few thousand off. I’ll explain latter.


So with these items fixed I started the frustrating job of fitting radios, intercoms and good quality helmets. No point spending all that money, skimping on helmets and not being comfortable. I did as many jobs as I could making slow and very frustrating progress. I made contact with Spectrum Aviation and booked the beast in for new skins and any other work that Wayne identified. After a 2 hr flight to Lismore I was met by Wayne, who promptly put his fingers through the sails.


This was the first of many times that I realized the difference between a LAME used to dealing with GA metal or your average homebuilder at your local airfield and an expert like Wayne Fisher. As we pulled the red rocket down we found damage, after damage, after wear. This is where the extra few thousand come in. Without records a lot can be hidden. Who put the last set of sails on? What really caused that patch on the wing tip? The trip to Spectrum with new sails, a straight undercarriage and many other jobs set me back around $4000 (with me helping…or sometime maybe hindering!).


So my hints:


  • No records, take around $1000 off a drifter.
  • Get someone who is an expert on the drifter. A Cessna or Jabiru is no drifter.
  • Consider an aircraft with worn sails, but factor in the costs. I was happier to do it this way because now I know what is under them.
  • Flying an airworthy aircraft takes time and money. Do you really want to own an aircraft or just want to fly? Do you want to be cleaning plugs instead of flying, or chasing around for a part or repair during an amazing spring day?
  • All those little things add up to be a big bill. New fly wires, AN bolts, a compass, numbers, windscreen, any range of small things will add thousands to that cheap buy.
  • As with anything in life you will learn with experience and mistakes, you must minimize every single risk so that these mistakes don’t kill you.
  • Last, find an experienced friend with some maturity in the game of owning and operating aircraft. Mine was indispensable every time I wanted to sell my drifter after hours of work with no flying. Those who have done it understand the patients required and will quickly motivate you to keep going.


So that’s the longest post I will ever write! The final question I guess is was it worth the months of work? (in fact the tail is off as I type awaiting a new bolt!). I don’t know yet. I guess I will just have to get out and fly every single chance I get. I can too…because it’s my own drifter!;)







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On a rag & tube ultralight (or a trike) your list of hints should really include testing the sail material (with a bettsometer or similar).


If the vendor won't let you then he already knows its expired - walk away or budget for new ones and negotiate accordingly.







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Guest Juliette Lima

Hi Vorticity,


Interested to know what the approx. TOTAL bill is up to date (if you care to say so)...... If it is below $17,000 I reckon you are still in front, ie. what with new skins, wires, undercarriage, and other Wayne Fisher recommendations/replacements to certification requirements.


The 'newie' looks nice and I hope you get to enjoy your new friend soon....because once up there you WILL love it.


Best wishes.





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Hi guys,


Yep I agree on the testing but I stand by my opinion that you should find someone who is an expert. I can only assume that part of their assesment would be to conduct these tests, in the correct way, in the worst possible spot and interpret the results for you. If the owner does deny the test or you can see that they are rotten it's no problem, just adjust the price to include new sails in the budget and if the seller is happy than you now have an aircraft (after a fair bit of work and effort) with new sails for your money. If you just want to fly straight away then yeah, I'd walk away.


As far as costs go I used $17,000 as my starting figure and than minused all the items I wanted to get fixed. I also had quotes for overhaul of the engine or replacment to count a per hour rate of depreciation. Excluding the helmets/radios/antenna etc I have come in under my budget.



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Hey Vorticity,


Good to know i'm not the only one battling through a drifter rebuild. Also a Aust flight 503 wirebraced, mine unfortunatley was not flyable at purchase, a real basket case but, this is the important bit for me............ It had maintinence records and.......... I knew the owner or more to the point trusted him. I'm progressing slow but surely with the help of a few experienced friends and that amazing lifeline to Wayne Fisher who has supplied new skins and all the needed extras complete with video. I must admit to getting fed up and frustrated at certain points but a quick fix of watching Wanye throwing his machine about at the end of his tape is more than enough to get me motivated again.


Mid March looks like the date.


A couple of questions if you please: flying wires what determines replacement? Ive removed the heat shrink and there is no corrosion on the swage


What type or style of compass did you end up with ?


Helmets from the pic looks like raptor gear, are you happy with them?


Regards Jordy



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I was lucky and only had to replace one wire, I honestly cannot recall the exact criteria wayne gave me so it would be best to ask him. HE had a rule for how many broken strands.


The helmets are micro aviation. They are pretty good. I have flown for just over 2 hrs at a time with them with no problems. I also seem to have my ICOM A6 working through their radio interface. I am told the A6 has issues with a number of headsets but this mix seems to work. Fairly pricey though...mine package was kind of an impulse buy! :big_grin:



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G'day Vorticity and jordy


My old man and I are in the process of rebuilding our Drifter, also an Austflight WB 503. The skins have all been fitted, weve made a full new set of flying wires (surprisingly big job, took nearly two days to build the full set and I started to develop 'swaging elbow'..), tail bracing wires and have fitted the refurbed engine and are getting very close to taking her to the skies again.


Vorticity, when you say damage after damage - what sort of damage do you refer to? Our Drifter has been hangared by the Coast for most of its life and we were very surprised at how little corrosion there was once we had all the skins off. Overall, the airframe was in very good shape. I am interested to know what problem areas you came across and whether it was general wear and tear, the result of 'dodgy' past repairs, accident damage, etc...


We certainly had an unfair advantage for the fitting of wing skins as an old friend of dads who just happens to be L2 generously (and a very experienced one at that) spent a week with us whilst fitting the wing skins and making up the flying wires. It certainly does pay to have someone that knows these types of aircraft to extract info/advice from.


We can definitely vouch for Wayne's assistance. A mine of experience and knowledge, and o/nighted parts down to us so there was no time wasted... Dad purchased the covers from Wayne around 6 years ago, and they fit perfectly.





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Wires should be replaced if there are any broken strands, if they are Stainless steel. S.S. fatigues and the first broken strand is telling you what is happening. Leave it in service and it won't be long before another and then another go.



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Some of the damage we found was quite odd. At some point it had been ground looped as there was a chunk of damage under a patch on the wing tip. There was also dints in spots that required repair. One piece of damage was along the aileron. Some brackets were worn out and needed to be replaced. There did not seem to be a pattern, just random things throughout. Nothing that major that wayne couldnt repair it.



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  • 2 weeks later...

Harv ,


Wayne is definitely the book of knowledge on this one. Mine didn't have a lot of damage, an out of shape vertical stabiliser frame which was staightened and sleeved, the rudder had a crack in the top of the frame which we cut out and engineered a sleeve to insert.


Be wary with the stay pole that runs from the rear wing saddle down between the passengers seat and fuel tank. This stay eliminates all forward and aft movement from the engine It should have no movement at all. My old girl had a fair degree of slop so I had to drill and sleeve it .The "U" bracket that the pole sits in has 2 bolts that run though the pan. Check or replace these. I also replaced all those little plastic washers between the poles and clamps. no doubt you have read the alert on the bell crank underneath the passengers seat. Aileron rod end are new. When the stick is moved from side to side to its absolute max (gently) check to see if the swivel in the rod ends at the base of the stick and into the bell crank haven't maxed out and are starting to turn the actual rod end. (Its a fine ajustment).


Check where the end of the main tube wraps around and is rivetted to the vertical pipe whiich holds part of the tail wheel assembly and the vertical stabiliser. Check the rivets for wear.


Mate these are just a few of the jobs i had to do on mine and shouldn't be considered gospel but might be worth a quick look.




PS. I have a copy of one of the original owner manuals and can e-mail to you if you wish.



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