Human Interest
Typography

PilotErnieSilva_05-11-28.jpg

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s Ernie Silva, the Birdman of Rimrock, in his Delta Wing Light Sport.

Silva, 76, flies his Delta Wing Light Sport [also called an ultralight, similar to a hang glider] most every day out of the Cottonwood Municipal Airport.

By Todd Etshman
Larson Newspapers

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s Ernie Silva, the Birdman of Rimrock, in his Delta Wing Light Sport.

Silva, 76, flies his Delta Wing Light Sport [also called an ultralight, similar to a hang glider] most every day out of the Cottonwood Municipal Airport.

Silva said his craft “looks like a large bird of prey” as he “buzzes balloons.” Balloon riders like to take his picture as he passes in front of them.

His wife, Barbara, likes to ham it up from the back seat and flap her wings, entertaining the balloonists.

Silva knew he wanted to fly ever since he saw planes taking off and landing at what is now Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, in the 1930s.

An eye injury at age 11 as a result of a cousin’s “clod throwing” prevented him from doing that for nearly 60 years, until he underwent an advanced laser eye surgery procedure in 2001 to remove scar tissue and his vision improved.

“I was having cataract surgery on my left eye and my doctor told me about a new procedure to shave the scar tissue off the pupil,” Silva explained.

The procedure worked and with the scar tissue gone, his vision dramatically improved.

Ironically, he served as an engine mechanic in the Air Force during the Korean War but didn’t think he’d ever get the chance to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot himself.

Silva credits his grandson, Jeremy Ferguson, an avid hang glider, with getting him interested in the sport and taking him for a ride after he moved to Rimrock in 2000.

“After that, I knew I was going to get one,” Silva said of his ultralight or “trike.”

He keeps a one-seater near his home in Rimrock a two-seater at the Cottonwood Airport.

Bill Gundelfinger helped train Silva to become a glider pilot and occasionally flies with him as he photographs elk, houses, the airport and whatever else strikes his fancy from the air. He also trained near Lake Pleasant.

“It’s so open, I can take pictures of everything at 9,500 feet,” Silva said.

“I think he’s one of, if not the most experienced ultralight pilot in Arizona,” Gundelfinger, an experienced pilot, said. “In all my years of flying I’ve never seen anybody enjoy it as much and stick with it as much as he has.”

Silva had his two-seat custom built ultralight built in Phoenix and flew it to Cottonwood in 2003.

Gundelfinger gave Silva the Birdman of Rimrock mantra and says the ultralight “looks like an airborne weed eater.”

Although a license wasn’t necessary in the past, the FAA now requires sport pilots to be licensed and Silva was one of the first to get the license in 2006.

“He can fly slower and lower than an airplane,” Barbara Silva explained. Airport officials sometimes ask him to look for crashes or missing planes.

Silva said he really hasn’t had any close calls of his own but one time when the engine quit he did have to “put down a borrowed one in a wash near Phoenix once.”

These days he’s having so much fun living out his childhood flying dream, he can’t wait to get to the airport each day for an early morning flight.

“I have more fun than guys who own regular planes,” Silva said.


Todd Etshman can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail to
 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS

Online Poll

What do you donate to during the holidays?

Sedona Gas Prices

Lowest Gas Prices in Sedona
Sedona Gas Prices provided by GasBuddy.com
Sedona United States Cloudy, 37 °F
Current Conditions
Sunrise: 7:28 am   |   Sunset: 5:17 pm
34%     7.0 mph     28.310 bar
Forecast
Sat Low: 30 °F High: 50 °F
Sun Low: 29 °F High: 53 °F
Mon Low: 27 °F High: 55 °F
Tue Low: 20 °F High: 55 °F
Wed Low: 29 °F High: 54 °F
Thu Low: 23 °F High: 44 °F
Fri Low: 16 °F High: 45 °F
Sat Low: 18 °F High: 46 °F
Sun Low: 20 °F High: 50 °F
Mon Low: 19 °F High: 51 °F