The reason I went back home last weekend was to use a microlight voucher I received for my 21st birthday, a mere 10 months after I actually received it. The microlight centre (more accurately described as ‘a hangar in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere’) was about an hour’s drive away and while it seemed like the curse of bad weather that had foiled my attempts to go hang-gliding in Australia might return, the weather was perfectly acceptable when we got there.
A microlight is a cross between a hang-glider and a light aircraft in that it has a flexible wing but is powered. The whole craft is very small and when you’re sitting inside, you’re totally exposed; if you undid your seatbelt while up in the air, then with some effort you could jump out (of course, you’d have to be actively trying to do this). It would be useful to look at these photos of the flight while reading this.
I’ve gone flying in a RAF Bulldog light aircraft before so the experience wasn’t totally new to me; putting on the helmet and flightsuit were familiar (although sadly nowhere as cool as the Top Gun-esque suits I had for the Bulldog) as was getting into the cockpit. The takeoff was extremely rapid as we flew into the wind, and we go to 1500ft in no time.
For the most part, the pilot/instructor did the flying while he explained the mechanics of microlight flight to me, but I did spend some time doing turns and following land features myself. Basically, in a microlight you steer by moving the wing using the bar attached – however, you aren’t really moving the wing, you’re actually moving the microlight pod like a pendulum relative to the wing in order to shift its weight and tilt it. It’s all very simple and easy.
During the flight were were flying in unrestricted airspace, which extends across a huge swathe of the west of England and extends up to 2500ft. Go any higher and you have to start talking to Air Traffic Control, who, according to John (the pilot) demand an unreasonable number of things. Apparently it’s quite easy to take trips up to Scotland or down to France without having to ask permission from anybody.
The view from 1500ft up was perfect – low enough to see details, high enough to see for miles. I found it surprising to see exactly how much of the landscape was countryside – I suppose if you just drive across the land you only see the built up areas. Probably the two most interesting things I saw were the ruins of a castle (Beeston Castle, maybe?) and the Jodrell Bank radio telescope.
Landing was smooth, as was the entire flight, which lasted about an hour. On the whole the experience was a lot of fun although if I did it again I’d want to fly over another area.