Backcountry beauty

There are airplanes that are built for show, airplanes built for backcountry camping, and airplanes built for IFR cross-country flying. One of the best things about building your own airplane is that you can create a machine that fits all these categories. Gordon Anderson, from Silverthorn, Colo., has achieved this with his 2012 Sportsman 2+2. The red and gold high-wing was one of the more talked about airplanes at this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh.

According to the Anderson, when the Sportsman 2+2 was introduced at AirVenture in 2004, it got his attention immediately because one of his favorite past-times is camping in the backcountry of Idaho and Montana in places only airplanes can reach.

“My son Quinn and I had been flying the American Champion High Country Explorer and we were looking for something with more horsepower and greater payload,” he explained.

The Sportsman kit comes from Glasair Aviation, based in Arlington, Wash., approximately 40 nautical miles north of Seattle. The airport is located on the very fringe of the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

The Sportsman 2+2 was designed as a backcountry airframe capable of hauling great amounts of equipment into unimproved areas. To illustrate this point, the first public appearance of the Sportsman featured a display with what looked like half of the floor stock from Cabela’s sporting goods store, including a camping kitchen that had “everything, including the kitchen sink.”

The display was not lost on Anderson, who put the Sportsman on his list of “Airplanes That Would be Good for Backcountry Flying,” but he wasn’t ready to commit yet, because he wanted to see how the airframe proved itself.

He also had concerns about how long it would take to build noting, “I wanted an airplane, not a project.”

In 2006 Glasair introduced the Two Weeks to Taxi program, a builder-assist program designed to help Sportsman owners accelerate the construction process while still meeting the FAA’s 51% rule.

Then in 2010 when Glasair introduced the carbon-fiber Sportsman 2+2 with the 210-horsepower engine, Anderson knew he’d found the right fit.

“I realized I am not getting any younger, so I decided to go for it,” he said. “I started April 16, 2012. My son joined us for three days. It taxied at 12:30 on the second Saturday.”

“The Glasair Two Weeks to Taxi Program was an incredible experience,” he continued. “I learned so much. There was no way I could have done this project on my own.”

One of the challenges — and bonuses — of building your own airplane is picking the propeller/engine combination. Anderson interviewed other aircraft owners before making his decision. “

“After discussing the pros and cons, I went with the Lycoming IO-390-X with the three-blade MT prop,” he said, adding that the combination works great for backcountry operations where climb performance is key.

Once complete, Glasair’s Ted Setzer put the first five hours on the airframe, then it was handed over to Anderson, who added another 35 hours before sending the airplane into the paint shop.

The plane is painted Ferrari red with a metallic champagne overcoat set off by a black pinstripe.

“I saw the Ferrari red and immediately liked it,” said Anderson. “I looked online for aircraft painters and went through hundreds of designs before I came up with the basic idea.”

The work was done by Jeff Miller of Aero Coatings in Arlington, Wash.

“I sat down with the painter and told him that I wanted the red with metallic Champagne on top. The painter then added a black line and I am glad he did because of the way it turned out.”

Another attention-getting feature of Anderson’s Sportsman are the delta wings, spade-shaped protrusions atop the wings designed for better Short Take Off and Landing or STOL performance.

“With the Delta wings I can get the airspeed down to 41 knots,” Anderson said.

Anderson learned to fly as a teen. He holds many certificates and has owned many airplanes. The Sportsman was the first airplane he built, but he prefers not to call it a homebuilt airplane because of the Two Weeks to Taxi program.

“As far as I am concerned, it is a factory-built airplane,” he said.

The airplane has a gross weight of 2,500 pounds with a useful load of 1,100 pounds.

“After taking out the back seats I can throw everything I need into the cabin and I’m not even close to gross weight and well within CG,” Anderson said.

He also added to the cargo space with the detachable belly pod option.

“I can put 150 pounds in the belly pod,” he noted. “It takes about 15 minutes to put the pod on or take it off, and it is a one-person job.”

Anderson, who makes frequent trips from his home in Colorado to Fargo, N.D., designed the instrument panel for maximum usability.

“I wanted all glass,” he said. “I have way more instrumentation than is needed for this plane, but it is a joy to fly — especially in IMC on instruments,” he said.

Anderson took advantage of the close working relationship between Advanced Flight Systems (AFS) and Glasair for his panel design.

“On the left MFD I split the screen between the flight director with terrain on the left and map on the right, with engine info on the bottom,” he said. “On the right I run the AFS map with terrain or the sectional or the low IFR map. The AF-5600 with its terrain is spectacular in the mountains and has me looking to identify towers when flying lower. The approach plates with the plane on the approach just helps verify all is well and on track and this is all backed up with my iPad and iPhone with ForeFlight Mobile and FlyQ Pocket.”

The panel features a Garmin GTN 750 with remote audio panel and transponder. He also has a second com, a Garmin GMA-35.

“I also have the TruTrax autopilot and flying coupled approaches with it is a breeze,” he said. “I sit back, drink coffee, and monitor everything.”

The panel also sports the Navworx ADS-B, he noted. “But a lot of my flying is between the mountains of Colorado and North Dakota — 20V and 6L3 — and there is little ADS-B coverage in this area,” he said. “Verizon, however, provides excellent coverage with weather and radar — and I find it better than the pixilated images of the weather from the ADS-B. Going east, ADS-B coverage is better.”

Anderson noted that he was particularly impressed by the customer service provided by Advanced Flight Systems’ owner Rob Hickman.

Although the airplane has the good looks of a show plane, Anderson insists its primary mission is that of a mountain-capable flying machine.

“When I take it into the backcountry I put a set of larger tires on it,” he said. “I wanted an airplane that I could fly and enjoy — I don’t need anyone to judge it.”

As of July the airplane had a total of 145 hours on it — “with many more to come,” Anderson noted with a smile.


  1. Steve says

    For a lot of us who regularly fly more humble airframes to the “backcountry;” would you mind, Meg, to reveal the price-tag of this dream project? As I’m now retired and only earning an hour or two here and there teaching a few people to fly, this all comes across as a sort of “Price is Right” show. And, please forgive me for expressing an opinion, this “look at what I’ve got” mindset is what’s now troubling general aviation. Or, you could be correct in saying, maybe I’m just jealous …

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