By Randy Dufault
August 2, 2013 - Flying into Wittman Regional Airport during AirVenture Oshkosh is something every aircraft builder aspires to do. And stories abound of airplanes that seldom leave the local confines of their home airport, launching off on a cross-country experience that may take days, or even weeks, to get here.
It is no different for aircraft designer and builder Mike Blyth. He was determined to get an example of his new Sling 4 four-place kit to Oshkosh this year.
Except that Blyth lives, and builds his kits, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
For the journey Blyth modified a Sling 4 to hold 120 gallons of fuel. He also added an HF radio, backup instruments, a second electrical system, and redundant fuel pumps.
With his son, Greg, the two launched from Johannesburg, and with stops in Luanda, Angola, Accra, Ghana, Dakar, Senegal, the Azores Islands, and St. John's, Newfoundland, they completed the final leg to Oshkosh.
"I've been an adventurer all my life," Mike said. "I've always done long trips, even when I first started flying with ultralights."
One ultralight adventure took Blyth from Buenos Aires, Brazil, up the east coast of the Americas, across the North Atlantic via Greenland and Iceland, and down the west coasts of Europe and Africa to Cape Town, South Africa.
"That was over a nine-month period," Mike said. "I've been doing long trips all my life."
This is not the first time Mike took the long way to get to Oshkosh. A 2009 circumnavigation of the globe in a two-seat Sling 2 included a stop in Oshkosh. He repeated the effort using a four-seat Sling 4 in 2011, though timing did not allow for a stop at the fly-in. That journey included a 27-hour leg between Cabo Frio, Brazil, and Cape Town, South Africa.
Mike designed the Sling 2 and Sling 4 specifically for the South African market.
"All the planes being sold in South Africa were imports," he said. "I decided to make one out of aluminum that I could sell here."
The around-the-world flight came about when Blyth decided to fly the first one to Oshkosh.
"If you want to take a plane you built yourself anywhere in the world, you want to take it to Oshkosh," he declared.
After AirVenture, then what? "I said let's just keep going."
There will be no flight around the world this time, however. But Mike's business partner, James Pittman, along with a friend, will fly the Sling 4 back to Johannesburg via the North Atlantic route.
According to Mike, The Airplane Factory in Johannesburg where the Sling 2 and Sling 4 are produced now employs 120 people. They are producing four complete airplanes and two kits each month.
The long-distance capable craft can be seen in the company's North Aircraft Display booth.