Learning to Fly, part 1

Let’s start with – Why?

I love flying, I always have – my earliest memory is ‘flying’ across the floor in one of those baby walkers as if I was weightless – and for as long as I can remember, flying has always fascinated me – on commercial flights I spend more time staring out the window than watching the film – well, as long as there’s something to see. Let’s face it, we spend pretty much our whole lives stuck to the ground, so seeing the world from up there is a very different and magical perspective.

And I know people say they’re afraid of heights – so am I – but a fear of heights is a proper and healthy thing – and it’s NOT the same as a fear of flying!  I get vertigo peering over the edge of a cliff – frankly there’s probably something wrong with you if you don’t!  But flying is different – you’re secure, strapped in, and at least for me, it feels so safe and comfortable.

I chose Microlights – why?

While the term microlight covers both the weightshift/flexwing /trike style that I fly, and the ‘3 axis’ that look like traditional aircraft, I’m talking about the weightshift/flexwing here.

So why microlight and not a light aircraft? 

I think it’s about 3 main things – the experience itself, the accessibility in terms of the number of places you can fly from, and accessibility in terms of cost

For me, flying in an open cockpit just magnifies the magic of flight, the pretty much unrestricted view that gives you is just fantastic, and a bit like a motorbike instead of a car – the car insulates you from the environment, the smells and so on, and the bike exposes you to all those extra inputs and sensations – and so it is with the microlight – well, specifically, the flexwing.

Plus, they are incredibly easy to fly – really! And even the technical side – the cockpit instrumentation for example, is a much simplified version of a light aircraft – essentially keeping all the essential things and leaving out all the additional stuff we simply don’t need. And that makes it all a lot easier to learn.

It’s worth being aware too that while we do have to pass a skills test as well as theory exams, we don’t have to do quite as many hours, or theory exams as for the PPL (private pilot’s licence)– again, a reflection of the wonderful simplicity of the sport.

Places to learn and places to go

Not by design, but by happy coincidence I live a short drive from a great microlight school and airfield at East Fortune.

There are lots of microlight clubs and airfields around the country – we don’t need thousands of feet of tarmac runway, so clubs can run from grass airstrips as well as more conventional airports and airfields – and we can land in way more places than the bigger planes  – chances are there’s one closer to you than you thought.


Filthy Lucre

Caveat, I’ll not even pretend to know what you might consider affordable, ‘cheap’ or ‘good value’ – I can say though, that when it comes to powered aircraft in the UK, this is definitely the cheapest option.  For me, on a pretty average UK salary, with a mortgage, it is still within reach – and as a friend pointed out recently, it’s not really much worse than the cost of motorbikes in many ways!

Of course, costs will vary according to which school or club you fly with – and they are so variable it’s impossible to say what it will cost.

The aircraft themselves are also much more accessible for the ‘average punter’ (whoever the hell they are..) To reiterate, I don’t pretend to know what you might consider affordable, ‘cheap’ or ‘good value’, but I’d argue that if you could afford a decent 2nd hand car, chances are you could afford to buy into a mircrolight.

You can buy them from just a couple of grand for older machines, and a more modern, used machine might be closer to 14k to 25k, but the world of aviation has this wonderful thing called Syndicates, where you share the costs with a small group, which is what I’ve done. The exact costs and arrangements are up to each syndicate, but it not only allows you to share the capital cost, but also the ongoing costs, like hangar fees, servicing and annual permit costs – as they’re all shared too, the whole thing becomes a much more realistic proposition.

P&M GT450

Of course, costs and opportunities will vary, but without revealing exactly what I’ve paid, I will say that it’s an investment rather than an ‘out the door and never seen again’ type cost, and I’ll keep telling myself that!!    

Flexwing Microlights for sale, AFORS UK

It’s dangerous though?  

You might THINK that microlights look dodgy, but they are really safe – honestly – think about this – they are essentially a powered hang glider – that is after all what they evolved from – so if the engine fails, they glide beautifully – and believe me, the training for your licence covers this a LOT – but then so does a PPL – so why would I say the microlight is safer than your light aircraft? 

Well, let’s just look at the 3 most important aspects – speed, weight, glide slope.

Speed and weight together can be considered ‘energy’ – and the simple physics is the higher the energy, the greater the potential impact and damage.

Microlights fly slower, and are lighter – so the total energy on landing is much less than even a ‘small’ light aircraft. 

Glide slope is important too – that describes, in an engine out, or engine at idle, for every unit of height lost, how far can you glide – the better that glide slope, the more time you have to think, to make better decisions, and you have more range for potential landing sites.

Like I said – safer!

A final word

It’s hard to articulate the sheer joy of taking off and climbing up into the sky!

It’s fun, it’s simple, it’s affordable – I absolutely love it!

Look up your local microlight school – ask about experience or trial flights – be warned though – it’s addictive