This is a Skycraft Scout Mark I ultralight designed and made by Ron Wheeler between 1976 and 1978. The design and manufacture of ultralight aircraft, an aeroplane reduced to its most basic form, was pioneered in Australia by Ron.
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 placed 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