19 August 2015


“(My) projects invariably risk and even court failure. For me tragedy is an inevitable by-product of a practice that is aspirational at its core.”

Jon Sasaki, January 2015

When Jon drafted these words into his application for the Glenfiddich residency he probably thought no one in their right mind would ever allow him to try and build his own aircraft, never mind fund it.

Even if a patron or sponsor could be found, would the project be viable? Could an artist with no practical background in aviation construction really manage to build a working air worthy plane using only a set of instructions from over thirty years ago? With some expert advice and with a fully equipped workshop at ones disposal it might be possible, but working un-assisted, separated from ones usual support network and using a three bedroomed semi detached house as a work space? Surely not! Yet the magnificent Mr Sasaki has indeed succeeded in overcoming his own self imposed hurdles and obstacles to construct his very own 32 foot wingspan ultra light single seat aircraft. With the aspirations achieved now all that remained was to avoid the inevitable tragic consequences of the test flight! Although the plane was designed to be powered by a small two stroke engine, the costs involved in acquiring one for a plane only intended to make one flight seemed extravagant. Instead given the light weight nature of the craft it was decided to try and get the plane and Jon off the ground using only the lift of a wind, in short attempting to launch the plane as if it was a giant kite.

This was to be a do or die mission, for Jon it marked the final culmination of three months labour and with only a few days before the exhibition that Jon was scheduled to exhibit in it was now or never. With all spare hands pressed into service the fuselage and wings were transported up to the Robbie Dhu Spring in the Conval hills overlooking Glenfiddich and assembled into one complete unit which was firmly attached to a handy fence post by a long length of steel rope. Jon donned his crash helmet and was strapped into his plywood seat and we waited for a gust of wind that would catch the wings and lift Jon and his construction above the hills and fields of Dufftown. Well at least a couple of foot anyway.

Alas there was no breath of wind to be felt that evening, which irritatingly allowed swarms of midgies to descend on the assembled bystanders so plan B was put into action. This was a much more fool proof technique with the ground wire being transferred from the fence post to the tow bar of the Slug

After half a dozen attempts to get the plane off the ground it became clear however it might handle in the air, it was totally uncontrollable on the ground. As we pulled the plane once again out of the rough ground to the side of the track Jon's initial nerves at the prospect of a glorious death dissipated to be replaced by frustration by not being able to keep the plane on a straight enough path for it to even offer to take off. A final attempt was made with out Jon, who is not a large man by any means but now freed of his extra ballast the plane lifted like a paper dart …for a few glorious moments it seemed to be suspended in mid air, hovering as if poised to fly and soar free above the Conval Hills .....however as soon as the slug ran out of road it came back down to earth in a very dramatic fashion.

Footage of the flight in its full three second glory can be seen at the following link