Microlight Flying is The Ultimate in Freedom FlyingMicrolight flying offers probably the best and most affordable way to enjoy powered flight, without having to break the bank.
So what is a microlight flying about anyway? Well as you may guess from what the name implies, it is a type of powered aircraft that has certain limitations on weight and capacity. In the case of the UK, a single seat design must not have a MTOW(Maximum take off weight) of more than 300kG and for a twin seat aircraft the MTOW must be no more than 450Kg.
These weight restrictions are in fact a fairly significant improvement from the restrictions placed on microlight aircraft some years ago. Today, modern microlight flying has far greater performance than those aircraft from the 80’s and 90’s. Flexwing or weight-shift types can now cruise happily at 100mph and some of the newer sleek fixed wing microlights can cruise up to 150mph, this being better than a good number of GA aircraft.
With a full load many microlights can climb at over 800ft per minute and with a single person on board and half a tank of gas, I have experienced climb rates well in excess of 1000ft per minute. With a rapid acceleration and low takeoff speeds, microlights have the benefit of being able to make use of the smallest airstrips. In fact farm or grass strips are the normal mode of operandi for most microlight flying pilots.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits and attractions of microlight aircraft is that the plane itself is largely affordable. A second-hand, two seat flexwing aircraft can cost as little as £2500 and a fixed wing three-axis aircraft can be yours for around £5000. New aircraft start from around £20,000 to in excess of £60,000 for the super quick CTSW.
Running costs are equally micro compared to GA aircraft or helicopters. Expect to pay around £30 per hour, which allows for fuel and servicing. Insurance for a new aircraft costs around £900 per annum. For the ‘Real’ flying enthusiast, (I say that because I’m a flexwing microlight flying owner and pilot), there are two principle types of aircraft available today. The flexwing or weight-shift type, developed from hang gliding with the added benefit of an engine eliminated the need to climb and jump off cliff tops.
In their early days these powered hang gliders had a small 2-stroke engine attached to the wing and the pilot foot launched the aircraft, usually by running down a shallow slope, then used the engine to find thermals before switching the engine off and soaring just like a hang glider. It wasn’t too long before wheels were added and the three wheeled carriage, seat, engine and a fuel tank became the forerunner to today’s modern ‘trike’ unit. As with all things, development took over and more power, more comfort and more goodies drove design. Two-seat aircraft were developed for training and then became the norm as pilots wanted to take friends flying. The powered hang glider became a powered aircraft.
At the same time as flexwings were developing, fixed wing hang gliders were also being fitted with engines and wheels, developing into microlights that look almost identical to standard fixed wing aeroplanes. These fixed wing microlights have largely conventional controls, although some of the early craft such as the Eagle and Pterodactyl mixed weight-shift and aerodynamic controls within one machine.
A third type of microlight aircraft, using a steerable parachute wing mounted to a trike unit, also joined the ranks. These aircraft were fairly limited in performance and until recently almost had become extinct in the UK. Within the last year, however, a new two-seat design has entered the market and many foot launched paramotors have sprouted wheels, and the evolutionary cycle that started flexwing development has appeared again in the powered parachute world.
To qualify for a licence to fly a microlight, a student pilot must fly for a minimum of 25 hours under tuition with a qualified instructor; 10 of those hours must be flown solo. In practice, however, most students take a lot longer to reach the required standard — how much longer will generally depend on how often you fly and even the age of the student. There is a navigation training requirement to make sure that the newly licensed pilot is able to get around without getting lost and the course is completed with a General Skills Test (GST) conducted by an authorised examiner.
While undertaking the flight training, the student pilot will also undergo ground school training for the ground syllabus teaching him or her the normal aviation knowledge requirements of Navigation, Meteorology, Technical theory, Air Law and Human Performance and Limitations, each of which is accompanied by a multiple choice style test.
Microlight Flying – The Cost of Learning to Fly!
The cost of microlight flying is usually lower than other powered aircraft. Lessons are between £85 and £110 per hour using the school aircraft, and less in your own. Ground school and exams will add about £250 to the total bill, although the more homework the student puts in (and there are plenty of text books offering help) the better, and less time with the instructor in the classroom is usually reflected in lower bills.
Further details on training and a list of clubs and schools can be found on the BMAA website (www.bmaa.org).
Before you’ll be allowed to fly a microlight solo, you’ll need a form of medical known as a self declaration of fitness, which uses the DVLA driving medical standards as the bench mark and needs to be countersigned by your doctor. While a certain level of fitness is required for this self declaration to be valid, this type of medical has allowed people to become pilots who might otherwise not have been able to pass the more stringent requirements for flying other powered aircraft. So once you have your licence in your hand and your aircraft ready to fly, what next?
For pilots who are members of a club, trips out as a group are common but so is the solo flyer going out for an hour cruise on a summer evening. Alongside this there are fly-in events organised by clubs to encourage visitors to share a day and a barbecue — these are a great way to meet like-minded aviators and perhaps plan future flying adventures together. It is even becoming common for British microlighters to fly into Europe and beyond, while there have been several flights to Australia and two around the world by British flyers, although these longer trips take quite a bit more planning!
Meanwhile, competitions across the country offer beginners and experts the chance to test their piloting skills in flight accuracy tasks. The British microlight flying team do extremely well in International competition and in 2007 brought home three world gold medals. In fact, when it comes to microlight flying you can be as adventurous as you like, although ultimately it’s the sheer fun of flying these lightweight aircraft that is their greatest attraction.
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