How did it all start?
In the I970s, many hang glider pilots loved the freedom their sport gave them but were often frustrated by the weather; they sought the freedom to go where they wanted rather than where the wind dictated. Performance of the early powered hang gliders was marginal until the idea of hanging both pilot and engine from a lightweight frame under the wing came along. There was an explosion of creativity (there were no legal controls), but the risks became unacceptably high and pilot licensing and design and construction standards were introduced. Since then micro light types have been greatly refined.
What about microlights today?
Today they are fast and reliable, but still exciting. Cruising speeds of 70 - 120mph or more, up to 1000 miles or more in range and 10,000ft+ climb ability are a reflection of the wide range of performance available from modern microlights. The excitement and adventure of the pioneering days has been retained, but ordinary people can participate at minimum risk - our safety record will stand comparison with any other adventure activity.
Don’t I need to be especially fit to fly?
The requirements are less demanding than for other classes of powered aircraft. All you need is to fill in an online form confirming that you have no medical condition that would prevent you from holding a driving license for a car. The minimum age to start learning is 14, you can go solo at 16 and hold a full licence at 17. As for the upper age limit, there isn’t one, in fact there are a number of pilots who have learnt to fly microlights in their seventies and one who recently flew his first solo at the age of 83.
What is the difference between a microlight and a light aircraft?
A microlight is lighter and usually slower flying than a normal light aircraft. They can land almost anywhere often in a friendly farmer’s field. Instead of needing highly qualified engineers for repairs and maintenance you can carry out most of the work yourself, supervised by BMAA-approved inspectors. Most microlights can be kept in the garage at home. They are less expensive to fly, service and maintain.
Can I progress to larger aircraft?
Many would be airline pilots start their flying careers in 3 axis microlights as it is by far the least expensive way of gaining all the necessary skills, and simply upgrading the licence subsequently to include heavier aircraft is very easy. It costs about half as much to get a microlight licence and upgrade it to a light aircraft licence than it does to go directly for a light aircraft licence.
Are there different sorts of microlights?
Yes. See our photos page for photographs of some microlights.
The ones that look like hang gliders are called flexwings, trikes or weight-shift machines and the pilot moves the cross bar in front of him or her to effect control. The majority of UK microlights are of the weight-shift sort. They offer a good all round view, and can also be quickly dismantled- the whole thing fits onto a trailer.
Microlights that look like ‘proper’ aircraft (three axis types) are controlled with a joystick and rudder pedals just like their larger cousins. Three-axis flying requires far less muscle power than flex-wings in rough air, can fly in conditions when flex-wings are grounded, and the pilot is warmer and less exposed (many are designed to fold up for trailer transportation).
Which is best?
That will depend on many factors; the best advice is to take a trial flight in both and ask the advice of your instructor and other pilots.
Buy or build?
Many pilots choose to build their own aircraft. It’s a way of saving money, but not normally seen as an entry level activity. Often pilots buy a share in an aircraft which reduces costs dramatically. The greater the number of people the cheaper it becomes.
How much extra gear do I need?
You will see a lot of accessories in magazines, but few are essential.
A good safety helmet with ear protection and a well insulated flying suit are essential for flying flex-wings but not necessary for 3 axis machines. An intercom makes it easy to talk to your passenger and a radio will give you a greater degree of safety (and may be required at larger airfields).
How do I get a licence?
You will need to complete a flying course of a minimum of 25 hours with an instructor. Of those 25 hours at least 10 hours will be solo when your instructor will be monitoring your progress from the ground. Initially lessons will concentrate on becoming familiar with the new environment and controls of the aircraft. Later lessons cover climbing, descending, turning and straight and level flight. Once you have become familiar with the controls you will move on to take offs, landings, dealing with emergencies and navigation in the air.
You will also need to pass ground examinations in Air Law, Meteorology, Human Performance, Aircraft Technical, and Navigation. (Don’t worry these are multi choice exams and are less forbidding than they sound). Finally you take a General Flying Test (GFT) lasting about one hour with a Microlight Examiner.
What will a microlights pilot licence cost?
A Microlight Pilots Licence could be obtained from about £1500 if you use your own Aircraft for the course or about £2500 if you use the school Thruster for training.. The important point is to understand that you will go solo and/or achieve your licence when you are safe and competent to do so. Your life/enjoyment and the lives/enjoyment of your future passengers depend on this philosophy and cannot be measured in hours flown.
How expensive is the microlight aircraft?
A good second hand two seater suitable for your early flying career can cost around £5000 or more, with new machines and more sophisticated machines costing four or five times as much. It is common for a number of people to get together and buy a share in a microlight reducing the overall costs. You should also consider hangarage costs if you don’t trailer your machine home. Again buying into a group reduces these costs also. When you call, ask and we can explain it further.
When can I fly solo?
This is often one of the questions a prospective pilot asks because not only is it the fulfilment of an aim but the cost plays a large part. Everyone is different with some needing more hours to be safe and competent. No one wants to fly solo before they are ready and frighten or harm themselves or others.
Your mind should be very clear on this issue as although the law lays down minimums for achieving these aims, they are simply minimums and the actual time taken will vary very much according to each individual.
Which is better - Weight shift or Fixed Wing?
Many people ask, “Which is better, Weight shift or Fixed Wing Microlights?”
Have a go in a weight shift and fixed Wing. On a clear summers’ evening in the still warm air you WILL be hooked. A 30-minute lesson in both will let you experience both and you can decide which you enjoy most. Fixed wing types tend to be warmer , more stable and the two pilots sit next to each other, whereas the Flexwing types are less tolerant of gusty conditions and the copilot sits behind the pilot like the arrangement on a motorcycle..
If I get a license can I fly both types?
Yes, whatever type you learn to fly, the pilot’s license is valid on both. You need to do a short conversion course. This can be a few hours just so you are safe and learn the different handling characteristics. Want to know more?
If you are interested and have whetted your appetite, come down and talk to other pilots or a B.M.A.A. instructor. Everyone is keen to share the joys of microlighting - whether pottering around the local airfield of an evening or setting off on a continental trip. It’s not difficult to do, it’s not outrageously expensive, and it’s tremendous fun!