|Ed Sweeney with his original Hummingbird ultralight, wearing one of the original Hummingbird company shirts. (photo by Jim Raeder)
|L-R Austin, Sean, Sean Jr., and Ed Sweeney with Sean's Hummingbird. Austin, 17, recently soloed in his grandfather's Aerocar and then earned his driver's license in the vehicle on the same day. (photo by Jim Raeder)
By Mary Jones
Ed Sweeney wasn't planning on attending EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012.
It would be one of those rare years he'd skip.
Then he learned his two sons, Sean and Eric, and three grandsons-Austin, Colton, and Sean Jr., who live in Florida and California, were planning to meet up at AirVenture.
That changed his plans; he had to make his way from Black Forest, Colorado, to join the rest of the Sweeney boys!
Soon after, he learned EAA was celebrating the 30th anniversary of Ultralights.
As an Ultralight pioneer, he didn't want to miss that celebration either, but his ultralights would have to come, too. So he and his Sean, of central Florida, each trailered a Hummingbird to Oshkosh. (Their machines are parked just in front of the Ultralight Red Barn.)
You may recognize Ed's name as the owner of one of Molt Taylor's Aerocars, but what he's not as well known for, at least outside of the Ultralight community, is his involvement in the production of the Hummingbird ultralight.
Ed provided the engine for Hummingbird designer Klaus Hill.
Following Klaus's untimely death in a Hummingbird accident, Ed took over producing parts and the complete airframe, providing royalties to the Hill family for each machine sold. But, as a result of Klaus's death, Ed decided to change the machine to a twin-engine configuration, using the Gemini twin thrust engine that Ed's company produced.
Some 215 Hummingbirds were sold before the infamous November 1983 20/20 television episode in which a reporter lost his life flying an ultralight caused the collapse of the ultralight industry.
Just weeks before, Ed had concluded the sale of the Hummingbird design and manufacturing rights to Raven Industries, but the new owner hadn't yet picked up the inventory.
The day after that television program, with the semis en route to pick up the inventory only about 5 miles away, Raven Industries called the deal off.
No more Hummingbirds were ever produced, but Ed estimates that about 30 are still flying today.
Ed also was actively involved in the development of FAR Part 103. He gives credit to FAA staffer Bernie Geier who suggested that ultralights be called vehicles instead of aircraft.
"That was the idea that freed ultralights from having to comply with all the FARs; if we weren't airplanes, we didn't have to meet pilot or aircraft certification requirements."
Ed recalls that it was the first year of Ronald Reagan's administration. "His platform of less government definitely helped encourage the FAA to legitimize the sport without over regulating it."
Earlier this week, Ed once more flew the same Hummingbird Ultralight he flew here in 1983 around the ultralight pattern.
"It sure felt good to be up in the air in a Hummingbird," he said. The Sweeney boys are having fun in Oshkosh!