Aircraft, full size, Skycraft Scout Mark I Microlight, designed and made by Ron Wheeler, Australia, 1976-1978
Leisure aviation has been an activity pursued by a section of the Australian community for decades. Pre-World War II, the aero club movement with its government subsidised pilot training, allowed many people to learn to fly. Even so, the cost of training was prohibitive for many. Post-World War II the subsidies were removed and pilot training costs increased with inflation and the rising cost of aircraft, fuel and maintenance until leisure aviation was place out of reach of all but the most ardent.
The rise of hang gliding allowed more people to participate in leisure aviation but there were those who sought to recreate, in simple form, the powered aeroplane to give them more utility, as the hang gliders had to be launched from high ground and usually landed at a lower altitude requiring a climb back up to the high ground. Ultralight, or microlight, aircraft began to appear in Europe and the United States and in Australia it was pioneered by Ron Wheeler and Cec Anderson. Wheeler, a Sydney boat builder, first designed and built ultralights because he wanted to own an aircraft but was unable to afford one and was too old to go hang-gliding. One of the first production models was powered by a tiny 160 cc Victa lawnmower engine which Wheeler called a 'Pixie Major' and controlled by a 2-axis joystick. Ultralights were at first criticised for being a step backwards in aviation development and dubbed the 'poor man's aircraft'. However, they have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive and can be transported on the roof rack of a car. Although a pilot's license is not required, these aircraft can only be operated by licensed members of the Australian Ultralight Federation under restricted conditions.
This Wheeler Scout Mark I was built in 1976-8 and is the second of two prototypes produced to enable serious production. It was the first ultralight aircraft to be covered by airworthiness regulations in the world, in this case - Air Navigation Order 95-10 issued by the Department of Transport. It is shown fitted with floats for operation from calm waterways.
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry
In 1974 Ron Wheeler, a Sydney boat builder, took aircraft design back to basics. Although Mr Wheeler had no experience in aircraft design, he began the project in his spare time referencing information from his local technical college and council libraries. Using modern technologies of extruded aluminium and high strength synthetic fabrics, Wheeler produced one of the world's first microlight or minimum aircraft, the Skycraft Scout. The Scout is powered by a 12 horsepower engine behind which the pilot sits controlling the aircraft with a simple two axis joy stick. The aircraft is portable, able to be transported to the airfield and assembled on site and can be fitted with wheels or floats. Originally conceived as purely a recreational aircraft the Scout, like many pioneer aircraft, is a testament to the human desire for flight.
This aircraft is the first of the production models of the Scout Mark 1 to be produced. The first flight of the prototype Scout took place at Heathcote Oval, New South Wales in 1974. Wheeler, having already developed 'Tweetie', a successful hang glider, simply modified the design of the glider to have the pilot seated instead of hanging below the wings, and of course to accommodate an engine.
In 1975 Ron Wheeler approached The Department of Transport to issue an Air Navigation Order regulation for ultralight and minimum aircraft. Subsequently, the Department issued ANO 95.10 for unlicensed pilots to fly aircraft weighing less than 180 kilograms under a number of restrictive conditions, including altitude restrictions, and not to fly over sealed roads. This allowed the ultralight aircraft industry to take-off, and Wheeler went into full time production of the Scout as a leisure craft. The floats that are displayed attached to the Scout were designed by Wheeler and added to the aircraft in September 1977. The aircraft with floats was first displayed at the Schofield Air Show in 1978, and was the world's first microlight floatplane.
Ron Wheeler donated the aircraft to the Powerhouse Museum in 1985, and it has been on display in the Transport gallery since 1988.