KELOWNA - When diehard aircraft fans hear there’s going to be a Stemme at their airport, they make sure they are there to see it.
That’s because a Stemme powerglider is one of the most exclusive passenger aircraft available to private citizens. It seats only two and provides a flying experience unlike any other.
And a long-time Kelowna resident has one parked at the Kelowna International Airport.
Richard Visscher has lived in Kelowna for more than 30 years. As the owner of a successful engineering company, he travels often. Luckily one of his passions is flying his own airplanes. He received his private pilot’s licence in 1977 and has owned half a dozen aircraft over the years and logged thousands of hours both as a commercial and private pilot.
“I always had an affinity for flying and wanting to be in the air,” he says, standing next to a sleek, white plane which looks more like a Predator drone than a Cessna.
At 75’ across, the Stemme’s wingspan is more than double that of most planes its size. The massive surface area is why the Stemme can manage a glide ratio of 50:1 – about as good as it gets for a glider. Combine that with a dual GPS computer that maps out optimal routes based on updrafts, it’s possible to stay aloft, without power, for hours.
For takeoffs and landings, however, it has a Rotax engine with a prop which automatically retracts when not in use.
“It’s very responsive, very sensitive. You move the stick a little bit and it moves,” he says. “But the biggest thing is it’s sustainable. Most planes are running 18 gallons an hour and I’m running four. The cost of flying is really cheap versus other aircraft.”
That’s not the only benefit, according to Visscher.
“It’s the serenity of it,” he says. “It’s a high performance sail plane but it’s a fairly high performance single-engine plane as well.”
The cockpit seats only two, but they are housed under a bubble dome that gives pilot and passenger a truly immersive experience.
“Most gliders are one seat behind the other,” he says. “This is side-by-side. It’s more social to have someone sitting next to you.”
Visscher has only had the Stemme one year. With wings removed, it was shipped from Germany last June.
“You have to take a course to fly it,” he says. “It’s not something you can just jump in and fly. I was licenced several decades ago in gliders and fixed-wing but even so I had to be checked in and that was a 10-hour process. I did 25 takeoffs and landings in Germany at the factory.”
Visscher says there are only four of the handbuilt aircraft in all of Canada, which makes seeing it a unique experience for other pilots.
“I flew it to Golden and probably 15 people from town came out (to see it),” he says. “In Oliver 10 guys came out. They can’t believe it because compared to typical aircraft it’s very streamlined and well-built. It’s a very unique plane.”
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