24 de noviembre de 2020
Hispanic World

Adventurer to recreate 1st biplane flight over Ecuador's Andes

By Susana Madera

By Susana Madera

Quito, Oct 22 (efe-epa).- On board a wooden biplane built over the course of seven years in garage after garage in a romantic neighborhood in Quito, Juan Rodriguez intends to repeat the first flight over the Ecuadorian Andes Mountains, a journey made by Italian pilot Elia Liut on Nov. 4, 1920.

Impressed since he was a child with the feat, Rodriguez used knowledge about construction he got from his father and set out upon a crazy adventure: building with his own hands an aircraft similar to that piloted by Liut, despite the fact that he had never assembled even a model airplane.

Like anyone who makes a purchase, in 2003 he went online to order a US-made biplane kit and, when he opened it at his home, he could not even make an inventory "of so many tiny pieces of wood and aluminum" that were in it. "What did I get myself into?" he thought.

At that time, "I didn't even have any space (to build the plane); I was renting a home, I put some of the parts under the bed and the others in closets," he recalled, adding that he had to rent ever-larger garages in the La Floresta neighborhood as the meticulous assembly job progressed.

There were thousands of pieces. "The smallest little pieces of wood are like little ice cream sticks and they are the ribs of the wing. The thickest ones are not even 12.5 centimeters (5 inches), the longest one about 3.5 meters (11.5 feet), but they're of white pine, a wood that has no knots, which makes it tougher," Rodriguez told EFE.

Ninety percent of the biplane is made of wood and the rest of aluminum. It measures 5.2 meters (17 feet) long, is 1.86 m (6.1 ft) high and 6.8 m (22.3 ft) wide, and its wings are covered with a special cloth.

With a red fuselage and silver-colored wings, the aircraft weighs 276 kilograms (about 610 pounds), including the 100 horsepower engine that he put in it, replacing the 65-horsepower engine recommended by the factory, since he needed more power for high-altitude flights.

Flying at a speed of up to 75 miles per hour, Rodriguez will be alone in the plane since he removed one of the seats to reduce the weight, given its bigger engine and two extra fuel tanks that he installed.

As luck would have it, the project was delayed quite a bit and he could pay the $35,000 cost of the plane in comfortable installments while he put together the pieces using a highly adhesive glue.

"Often I wanted to throw in the towel and I said: 'What did I get myself into? I don't want to do this, it never ends!'" he said, recalling the meticulous process of assembling the biplane, piece by piece, then waiting for the latest section to dry, and the process of painting and lacquering it, as well as covering the wings with the specially certified cloth.

Regarding the construction process, Rodriguez said that often he got to his workshop at 9 pm and worked for five hours after spending the day with his little daughter and devoting his energies to his adventure tourism business and taking flying lessons.

"Liut," as he named the biplane in honor of his hero, can remain aloft for about two hours and travel 140-150 miles within that time. But if fuel runs low, he lands and buys it in the same kind of canister he uses for his automobile.

The biplane has three fuel tanks: one of 30 liters (7.9 gallons) in the forward part of the aircraft just behind the engine and one of 11.35 liters (3 gallons) on each wing.

"A float that rises and falls tells me more or less (how much fuel I have). I have to look when I think I need fuel, there are no fuel gauges, there's nothing ... It's all very basic," he said.

To the speedometer, altimeter and compass that all aircraft have, Rodriguez recently added a transponder as required by the Civil Aviation Directorate but, he said, "I didn't know where to put it."

"I like to navigate as they did in the past, calculating the wind direction, doing all the calculations on maps, because it's a way of getting to know the geography," said the 54-year-old certified sports pilot.

One time, landing got complicated for the adventure lover when he came down too hard, wrecking his landing gear and having to replace it.

In the biplane, "visibility is terrible, it's rather unstable in turbulence, but at the same time it's magic." Landing - he said - is a headache, "but that makes it interesting."

"Are you going to fly in this wooden thing?" is the question relatives and friends always ask him, said Rodriguez, who is sure that his mother "has entrusted (my protection) to all the saints there are," adding that she may also have hidden "a rosary somewhere in the plane."

He also said that "people sometimes have difficulty understanding how a little wooden plane can fly."

"Since 2010, he has flown the Liut along Ecuador's coast and into the mountains, and next month he's planning to recreate the journey of the Italian pilot who for the first time linked Guayaquil and Cuenca by air 100 years ago.

Liut, who has been an Italian air force pilot in the First World War, came to Ecuador in 1920 at the invitation of Quito's consul in Rome, who asked him to develop an aviation program in the South American country.

The Macchi-Hanriot HD 1 he brought with him was named the "Telegrafo I" and that was the aircraft he used to cross the Ecuadorian Andes.

Rodriguez's idea now is to commemorate, along with other ultralight aircraft, the centennial of that trip and cover the Italian's route in an hour and 20 minutes, but he has several potential routes he can follow if he runs into weather problems, and with the flight he also intends to celebrate the bicentennial of the independence from Spain of his hometown of Cuenca, the same reason Liut set out on his flight from Guayaquil to celebrate the centennial of that event.

If he wants to faithfully recreate that journey, Rodriguez would have to depart from Santo Domingo, where his biplane is at this time, arrive at Guayaquil and from there fly to Cuenca and return to Quito, and this would be the longest flight he has made since he learned to fly a decade ago.


Histórico de noticias
Iota deals another blow to Colombian archipelago's tourism amid pandemic

By Klarem Valoyes Gutierrez

Trump administration gives OK for Biden transition to formally begin

Washington, Nov 23 (efe-epa).- President Donald Trump said Monday that he had given the green light to the government to formally allow the transition to...

Pandemic worsens gender violence against women in Ecuador

By Daniela Brik

Trump appeals case tossed in Pennsylvania, hoping to get it to Supreme Court

Washington, Nov 22 (efe-epa).- The reelection campaign of President Donald Trump on Sunday appealed a court decision to throw out his most important...

Iota homeless in Colombia: between exodus and nights in the open

By Klarem Valoyes Gutierrez

Colombian island of Providencia devastated by Iota

Bogotá, Nov 17 (efe-epa).- The Colombian island of Providencia, a 17-square-kilometer paradise in the Caribbean Sea, has been almost entirely devastated by...

Pentagon confirms large troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in January

Washington, Nov 17 (efe-epa).- US Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller on Tuesday officially announced a partial withdrawal of US troops from...

Out-of-control Covid puts Trump up against urgent need to admit his election defeat

By Jairo Mejia

Obama's memoirs, a critical and optimistic look at a divided US

By Lucia Leal

Biden predicts more Covid-19 deaths if Trump continues blocking transition

By Lucia Leal

Hurricane Iota storm surge floods Cartagena streets

(Update 1: Updates headline, lede, adds information about Colombian islands, minor edits)

Kids with cancer, women, reporters: The forgotten ones amid Covid in Mexico

By Miquel Muñoz

Dustin Johnson notches Masters win

Augusta, Georgia, Nov 15 (efe-epa).- US golfer Dustin Johnson, ranked No. 1 in the world, on Sunday for the first time won the Master's Tournament, notching...

Trump admits Biden's win, then takes it back, insisting on election fraud

By Susana Samhan

Still reeling from Eta, Central America now bracing for Hurricane Iota

Tegucigalpa, Nov 15 (efe-epa).- Honduras is on "red alert" for the arrival of Hurricane Iota, which should make landfall as either a very powerful Category...

Pompeo in Paris to meet with Macron on 1st leg of Middle East tour

Paris, Nov 15 (efe-epa).- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday is in Paris, with a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron scheduled for the first...

El Salvador to aid Guatemala with aircraft to access Eta-hit zones

San Salvador, Nov 11 (efe-epa).- El Salvador's defense minister, Rene Merino Monroy, reported Wednesday that his country will support Guatemala with two...

Thousands anxious about leaving their flooded homes in SE Mexico

By Mitzi Mayauel Fuentes Gomez

Biden widens popular vote margin as Trump tries to delegitimize his win

Washington, Nov 11 (efe-epa).- The state of Georgia announced Wednesday that it will perform a manual recount of all ballots cast in last week's...

Apple unveils new MacBook Pro, Air, mini models using its M1 chips

By Marc Arcas

US Supreme Court suggests it will not overturn Obamacare

Washington, Nov 10 (efe-epa).- The US Supreme Court on Tuesday gave indications that it will allow to stand at least the major part of the 2010 health care...

Biden: Successful transition despite Trump's "embarrassing" defiance

(Update: Releads, recasts)

Dow Jones rockets to intraday high on Pfizer vaccine news, Biden win

By Nora Quintanilla

Esper, ex-defense chief who refused Trump on using Army to quash protests

Washington, Nov 9 (efe-epa).- US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was summarily fired on Monday by Donald Trump, will be remembered for having opposed the...