Also known as an ultralight in America, and a ULM (ultra-light-machine) in France, a microlight is an aircraft defined by its maximum take-off weight, which must be less than 450kgs. Anything above this weight brings it in to the category of Light Aircraft. There are many more regulations governing light aircraft, which makes flying a microlight more attractive. Regulations for microlights vary from country to country.
Microlights are grouped into two categories, flex-wing (also referred to as weight-shift or trike) and fixed-wing (also known as 3-axis). Fixed wings look like small aeroplanes. Here are a few examples of them:
These are flex-wings – a bit like motorcycling in the sky!
In order to fly a microlight you need a licence which can be gained by taking flying lessons with a qualified instructor, followed by a general flying test. There would also be a number of classroom lessons covering a range of subjects such as meteorology, air-law, and navigation etc.
Our microlight is fitted out with a radio, a GPS which shows what air-space we’re in, and a transponder (a gadget that gives out our signal to airports and other aircraft, and tells them where and who we are).
We have lived in France, in the Dordogne since 2004. We bought our flex-wing microlight in 2007 and are lucky enough to rent a field just five minutes away where we have our own airstrip and hangar. My husband is an ex Royal Air Force aircraft engineer and used to do deep repairs on tornadoes and harriers, so I have complete confidence in his flying skills, and in his upkeep and servicing of our machine.
Flying has been a whole new experience for me, and I have to admit it still makes me nervous at times – even with an experienced pilot and two seat belts! I was into scuba-diving for ten years, diving thirty to forty metre decompression dives in cold water around the coast of the U.K. I dived the wrecks of the German battleships and cruisers in Scapa Flow, and wrecks off the south coast of England around the Isles of Scilly, to name but a few. At no time in the cold syrupy dark depths, with the knowledge that there was up to forty meters of water above my head, did I ever feel as nervous as I do when we’ve taken to the air and there’s a little bit of turbulence. Nor did I ever feel nervous motorcycling and knocking up speeds of 90 mph and more.
I put my nerves down to the fact that I’m not in control of the machine (but at the same time I have no inclination to be!) and for some reason it seems far more unnatural to be thousands of feet above the ground than it does to be a hundred feet below the sea! And there’s no doubt about it, statistics will tell you that flying in a microlight is infinitely safer than being on a motorbike.
I love flying when it’s flat calm, which is usually early morning or early evening in the summer. In the cold air of winter turbulence is rare. The calmer the weather the better it is for aerial photography which I do a lot of. And there’s no doubt that the Dordogne is a beautiful area to photograph.