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Ultralight pilot dies doing activity he loved

The 37-year-old Largo man was killed while flying a friend's plane, which crashed into a farm.

Michael Covert felt at home in the sky. As a child, he would fly with his father from New York City to the Canadian border in a twin-engine Piper Aztec.

"When he was 8 years old, he used to stand on his tippy-toes and actually fly the plane," his father, Peter Covert, said Sunday afternoon.

Michael Covert, a 37-year-old Largo resident who began flying ultralight planes three or four years ago, died Saturday when he crashed a friend's ultralight that was more powerful and faster than his own.

Covert slammed the single-seat AirBorne Delta Wing Trike into a farm near Parrish in central Manatee County shortly after taking off from Airport Manatee, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

The Sheriff's Office is investigating the crash because the Federal Aviation Administration does not regulate single-seat ultralight aircraft.

On Sunday, four of Covert's ultralight-flying friends gathered to reconstruct what happened when Covert crashed the ultralight into a field near the intersection of Grass Farm and Green Grass roads. Sheriff's officials say he died on impact.

Roger Nathanson, one of Covert's flying partners, said Covert most likely was about 300 feet high when he lost control of the plane after a high-speed stall, which occurs when there is not enough lift under the plane's wings.

Covert, who had logged about 400 hours of ultralight flying, had his own ultralight but wanted to try flying a friend's faster ultralight, Nathanson said. Covert spent as much time as he could flying and loved to share his passion with anyone willing to listen.

"He was the kind of guy you could count on," said Nathanson, 40, of Sarasota. "You really enjoyed calling him a friend."

An ultralight is any plane weighing less than 254 pounds. They vary in design, but many are made with an aluminum frame covered in fabric. The pilot hangs beneath.

Most have a 5-gallon gas tank and a two-cycle engine that uses about 2 gallons of fuel an hour. Some are capable of flying 70 mph, but usually cruise at 50 to 55 mph.

Covert and a friend were flying together Saturday and decided to switch planes at midday to try each other's equipment.

"The one he tried had extra power capable of higher speeds, and that may have been a contributing factor," Peter Covert said. "He was not as familiar with that airplane as he was his own."

Described by his father as "an avid sportsman," Michael Covert also scuba dived and flew conventional aircraft.

Covert is survived by his father, Peter of Largo; his mother, Sylvia Frazier of Roanoke, Va.; a brother, Craig, Arlington, Va.; and a sister, Kathy Pfeifer, Louisville, Ky.

He received a bachelor's degree from James Madison University in Virginia and worked for the U.S. Forestry Service for about two years fighting forest fires out West, his father said. He came to Pinellas County 15 years ago to work for his father's company, Therapy Staff Services of Madeira Beach, where he handled human resources.

About a year ago, he launched his own business, selling artwork and cameras on eBay, an Internet auction site.

"He did die doing something he loved," Nathanson said. "He really loved to fly, and now he'll be able to fly without an engine."

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.