To fly a microlight aircraft, the pilot must hold a Pilots Licence for Microlights. This can be a full Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) licence with a microlight rating, or the newer National Private Pilots Licence (NPPL) which restricts the pilot to daytime flights in good weather only. Since most microlight aircraft are only equiped with basic instrumentation, we are unable to fly in cloud or low visibility, and night time flights are not permitted.
Lessons are held at some of our local airfields, with Flexwing aircraft training primarily at Old Sarum near Salisbury. Fixed wing students will find a great range of instructors, based at places like Old Sarum, Popham, Lee on Solent and Headcorn.
Most new pilots need in the region of 40 or 50 hours instruction on type, which will include 10 hours of solo airtime and at least 2 qualifying cross country flights. Pilots also have to pass 5 written exams in subjects such as Navigation, Meteorology and Aircraft Technical.
Although the initial costs are high, the benefits and freedom that the coveted Pilots Licence gives to the holder are well worth the original outlay. Unfortunately there are no easy shortcuts to gaining the licence, Safety is paramount and training should not be rushed.
Some people find that training in Europe has benefits, mainly in that the weather is more reliable, so you are more likely to be able to fly for several days or even weeks consecutively by training outside of the UK. This allows the student to progress more quickly as they don’t have long gaps in their training schedule. If you do train in the UK, you need to accept that the UK weather will undoubtably play its part in the game. It will be frustrating, infuriating sometimes, but we get what we get and learn to put up with it.
Training is carried out all year round. The cold winter months can provide excellent flying conditions, and you will become skilled at wrapping up warm. Summer also can be good, but thermal activity in the height of the day may make the air too rough for the novice pilot to cope with, so early mornings and late evenings become popular.
Once you have your licence, you will need to fly a set number of hours each year to maintain the privileges it affords. Some of these hours will need to be with an instructor, who will make sure your skills are still on form, and you haven’t developed any bad or dangerous habits. The exact number of hours you need vary from time to time and are laid down by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) along with the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA). The rules are there to minimise the risk to pilots and public and must be adhered to. The result is that what was a highly risky activity has become one of the safest forms of transport known to man. It is often said that you are at more risk driving your car to the airfield than you are when you are actually flying.
Learning to Fly2>
Why fly? For as long as mankind has walked the planet, he has looked to the birds and dreamed of being able to fly like them. To spread wings and ride invisible currents of air high above the ground are things that people gone by could only dream of. Over the centuries, countless thousands have tried and failed, with many paying the ultimate price. Every time we fly today, we are benefiting from the experience of all those brave souls who went before, and those who failed. Whilst we are still very clumsy and inefficient in relation to the birds that we try to emulate, flying is now within the reach of anyone who choses to try. Our early ancestors would have loved to have access to the machines that we take for granted today, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude for playing their part in getting us here. Flying today obviously still has its risks. They are machines, and machines can fail, and the pilot is human and humans make mistakes. However, with the correct training, sensible rules of the air, and thorough maintenance procedures in place, the risks can be reduced to very acceptable levels.
To fly a Microlight Aircraft in UK and European airspace the operator must hold a valid pilot’s licence with a microlight rating. Gaining that licence involves many hours flight training and ground school with an approved flying instructor, culminating in a General Skills Test (GST), a bit like a driving test but in the air. Everyone learns at a different rate, so the number of hours required to reach the required standard will vary from one person to the next. There are currently minimum training hours specified for the granting of a licence, but no maximum. Most people will need 40 to 50 hours of flight training, with 10 hours solo time and several qualifying cross country flights included. There are also a number of ground school exams to pass.nppl
You will need to be in good health and may have to pass a medical examination depending on the licence you hold. Most light aircraft pilots will need a class 2 medical which is granted after a thorough examination by an approved Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). Its validity period depends on the age of the pilot, generally as you get older you need to renew the medical more often. In recent years the requirement for a valid medical has been relaxed a little. If you only ever intend to fly in daytime and not for any commercial purpose, you can get your own doctor to sign you off as fit to fly. This generally costs a lot less than a full AME examination and is the course that most microlight pilots will take.
Once the licence has been gained, the pilot must remain current on type to maintain the privileges of that licence. At the time of writing, pilots must fly at least 12 hours in every 2 years, and one of those hours must be flown with an instructor. Failure to complete the required hours in the given time frame will result in the pilot having to take the dreaded GST (General Skills test) again to revalidate the licence. Also, for a pilot to be able to carry passengers, he or she must have carried out at least 3 landings in the last 90 days.
Flying training takes place at various airfields across the UK, a quick Google search will soon bring up available options in your area. There is no doubt that learning to fly is expensive, the school aircraft used must be fully maintained and insured for training use, and the instructors have to keep up their instructor rating to be allowed to instruct. Instructors are tested too, and if they mess up, they can have their instructor rating revoked and their chosen career path closed down overnight. Add to this the cost of fuel, landing fees and aircraft hangarage, and that the instructor needs to earn a living while teaching, and you can see that the price will easily be in excess of £100 per hour. Most instructors only charge for actual flying hours, and the briefs and de-briefs which can often take up a similar amount of the instructor’s time are not normally charged for.
On the plus side, the training is interesting and varied, learning to fly will test you to your very limits, you will have good days and bad days, but the eventual satisfaction you will gain from strapping yourself in to your chosen aircraft and safely taking it into the air is indescribable.
If you already have a valid pilot’s licence you may only need to do some conversion training to be able to fly the microlights. If you are used to 3 axis controlled aircraft, you will probably need between 5 and 10 hours training to safely operate a flexwing. They are very different to fly than conventional aircraft, and also handle differently on the ground. Even if you intend to fly 3 axis microlights and currently hold a Single Engine Piston (SEP) licence, you will find you need some retraining to fly the 3 axis microlight. The aircraft behave differently as they are so much lighter than General Aviation (GA) aircraft.
We have a number of instructors within the club who are active flyers and contribute to the club activities.
Sandra Reid is our resident Flexwing instructor, currently operating from Old Sarum Airfield near Salisbury. She has many years of flexwing instruction under her belt, and previously used to fly Paragliders with the hampshire based Sky Surfing Club.
Mark McClelland is a fixed wing instructor also operating from Old Sarum. Mark is also a fully qualified flexwing pilot and examiner and brings a wealth of experience to the role.
Dave Robbins operates from Lee on Solent airfield on the south coast, and is our newest qualified instructor. Dave’s background is in competitive flying.