In austere times the word “Downsizing” seems to be associated with reducing and consolidation and generally something of a lesser value. Not everything smaller is worse as I recently found when Alison Hougham invited me to take up a long standing arrangement to test fly her Ultramagic Tekno S-50.
Launched in 2010 this remarkable system has experienced tremendous success and proved very popular with pilots who want a two person system that is easy to transport and handle. As Alison said, “we are finding it harder to get commitment from crew for festivals as people manage their funds, so a system that fits neatly into a dedicated 4x4 seems a sound logical answer”.
In the Packhouse Balloon team case, the vehicle of choice, following a recommendation turned out to be a Mitsubishi Delicia which shares most of the running gear from a Shogun and can be configured to take four people and the full kit when packed away efficiently. With Alison’s kit the basket can remain fully rigged (saving some 15 minutes of assembly on the launch site); just needing the tanks installed and the burner frame mounted on its Nylon poles.
When drawn out of the vehicle , the bottom end is assembled quickly with installation in this case of three Worthington tanks offering 120 litres of fuel nicely held in a natty harness which looks like a locking mechanism from a rucksack. If space is a premium clearly two V30’s offer the same fuel range with less space used. In Alison’s Kit, the choice of Power plant is the very nicely finished Bonnano designed Power plus burner, but im told you can have Ultramagics mark 21 instead. This is fed by independent fuel supplies with twin piezo and colour coding on both the supply hoses and the squeeze action throttles, with approximately 2 hours 30 endurance in this configuration.
Inflation of the artworked envelope is simple with single karabiners linking the steel lines to the burner frame, and a well appointed parachute for the size of envelope. The inflation complete, checks finished, a gentle squeeze of the twin action blast valve resulted in positive rate of climb whilst remaining amazingly quiet in operation. Whilst I weigh 100kilos and Alison considerably less, you felt the balloon float instantly and you could tell that you can really lean on it to get you into tight landing spots. Compared to my Ultramagic H-35 hopper, the mouth of the envelope is positively huge which came as a nice surprise and should lead to little chance to scorch during inflation and subsequent flight. The power available from the burner is comfortably capable for this set up and very frugal with a mere 50 litres per hour or less very achievable depending how sympathetically you fly. During my one hour experience I never felt uneasy moving around the basket and I never at 6ft 2 inches, felt exposed to the elements.
The balloon descends in a predictable manner and arresting the descent from various heights was straight forward and fuss free. The balloon feels like a slightly bigger hopper and so within a short period of time I was at ease with its characteristics. During my flight we experienced winds in the 5-8 knot range and the response to wind direction changes were comfortable as expected.
Approach to landing was hopper like (due to the pilot) in its characteristics with an initial descent, followed by an easy float over the tree line into the chosen field, positive use of the parachute gave a quick response and both Alison and Howard Andrews (who was our crew for the evening and also regularly flies the kit), have confirmed my thoughts that you can really lean on the kit to plant it into your chosen field when necessary comfortably, with effortless arresting of the descent.
Trying to stay objective in my assessment, clearly the appeal of such a system is evident and sales figures back up its popularity. G-CGPH is the first UK registered example and with 30 plus hours in the book, shows no signs of wear and tear with the white of the envelope still prominently clean and tidy. If I had one small observation, it appeared that the gimball on the burner frame is very neutral in one plane with a lovely action but slightly tight in the opposite direction which may be to the owners request or tightened so during the annual check. (I personally would have preferred it slightly looser).
Having spent the best part of six months preparing for the flight, I have to say I can see the appeal and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest way. I think within a short period of time, spirited approaches could be quickly mastered and Howard has used the kit in competition winning several tasks.
Proof of the faith in the product has lead Ultramagic to offer a slightly bigger version in the Tekno 70 with bigger fold up basket and envelope and similar interest from the buying public.
Whilst not necessary in my flight, packing for a carry out would be easy to achieve and two people can easily lift the basket removing tanks making the lifting easier. In practise, better landing choices should lead to less need to carry the kit but rest assured it wouldn’t be a drama.
Should you find yourself in a diminishing crew situation, or with a view of compact travelling without the trailer whilst remaining the ability to fly as usual, a test flight in one of these remarkable craft is a must so you can see what all the fuss is about.
With many thanks to Alison for the loan of the Kit and letting me fly it unhindered, my experience of the Ultramagic S-50 Tecno system was both pleasurable and rewarding and certainly opens up options for the future.