Charged up for flight

Electric plane stops in Woodsfield on 670-mile trip

WOODSFIELD — A 72-year-old woman flying an electric ultralight plane stopped in Woodsfield over the weekend en route from Valley Point, West Virginia, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

After decades of building model boats, Jean Preckel of Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, retired in 2019 and began looking for her next big adventure. She previously had biked across the country, along the Appalachian Trail, traveled across Europe working odd jobs, and was looking for something new. She eventually came across electric planes.

That is how she met Mark Beierle of Santa Margarita, California, who builds the aircraft for his company, Earthstar Aircraft.

“You only have one chance to live, you’ve got to give it a whirl,” she said.

Preckel has spent the last two years practicing piloting the electric plane, with 41 hours of solo time logged. The pair decided to make the 670-mile trek to the Experimental Aircraft Association Conference, taking place from July 25-Aug. 1 in Oshkosh.

“I wanted the experience,” she said about the reasoning behind the trip.

While Preckel pilots the aircraft, Beierle follows along in his electric car that carries the battery charger for the plane. The plane can fly around 40 miles, or 30 minutes, before she must land to charge the battery. There will be approximately 20 stops at various airports along the flight path.

Preckel landed the electric plane, which weighs 250 pounds without the battery, at the Monroe County Airport in Woodsfield Saturday with plans to take flight again the following day; however, the rain delayed the flight into Monday. The pair planned to continue their travels Monday afternoon once the sky cleared.

“You can’t fly without sight. The rain causes poor visibility, and you can’t see anything when you’re up there,” Beierle explained, adding that while the plane would fly in the rain, the lack of visibility is the issue.

“Even if we’re not there on the first day (of the conference), that’s OK,” Preckel said.

Preckel said she had logged less than 100 miles of the trip as of Monday.

Beierle, who has been designing and building planes since 1974 when he was 12, said the small electric planes are strictly for recreational use, as they cannot be flown long distances. He added that the planes are fun, do not require a pilot’s license and are much cheaper to fly.

Each charge uses 60-70 cents in electricity, meaning the entire trip will cost Preckel under $15.

Once the weather was clear, the pair planned to head to Cambridge. The trip would take Preckel half as long to fly as it does for Beierle to drive there. She said she will get acquainted with the airport, look for a hookup to plug in the charger and wait for his arrival. Preckel estimates they will arrive in Oshkosh on July 26, depending upon the weather.


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