Microlights, what is it all about?
(A beginner’s guide)
Basically it is all about flying for the fun of it and the satisfaction that it gives you.
The aim of microlighting is to make this pleasure available to a wider section of the public by making flying as affordable as possible and by keeping things as simple as safely possible.
Well, it is a small light weight aircraft the meets certain regulations and falls generally into 3 basic types, firstly the most easily recognisable:
This is the aircraft using a delta wing, often mistakenly referred to a as a “Hang glider wing” under which the pilot is suspended either in a “pod” or within a framework. Control is by using an “A” frame in the same way as a hang glider
These are aircraft with a more conventional rigid type of wing and many of them closely resemble ordinary light aircraft. As with light aircraft and conventional gliders control is by “stick & rudder”
As the name implies the wing on these aircraft resembles a large rectangular parachute and the pilot sits, as in a Flexwing aircraft suspended beneath his wing in a “pod “ or within an open framework. Control of these aircraft is by means of toggles and chords that control the shape of the wing in a similar fashion to the modern sport parachute
The BMAA publish an introductory guide which goes into more detail. It can be downloaded from [here]
For most types, yes you will need an NPPL (microlights). Sorry about the acronym by the way, aviation I’m afraid is littered with them like leaves under an autumnal tree. This one stands for National Private Pilots Licence.
There is a little description of what this entails is here
and a bit more detail here
Well that depends, no two people are the same but the two main factors are age and how much you can concentrate your training.
The young learn faster than older people in general and many things can affect how concentrated you can make your training. Having said that, age is no bar to learning to fly a microlight and many folk well passed retiring age gain their licence. Being able to train often and regularly is a big help in getting your licence as quickly as possible, many things however can conspire to prevent this from happening not least our wonderful British weather or simply not having the time or cash. These will seldom prevent achieving your licence; they only delay it for a while. If you know that it is not, in your case, realistic to fly several times every week when the weather is good, don’t despair every time you have a lesson you are flying and that is a awful lot better than being on the ground. Fly as often as you are able and you will almost certainly become a licensed pilot.
Only a qualified instructor may give flying lessons in a microlight and charge for them, but as a member of a club you might well find yourself being offered flights as a passenger with other members of the club who are already qualified. Such flights are not lessons but give the opportunity to experience a flight without the pressure of trying to learn something. Although there can be no guarantees, the more you participate in the life of the club, the better the chance of such an offer coming your way.
This page by the BMAA puts it in some context
Not at all, the BMAA (the British Microlight Aircraft Association) has managed to get agreements to allow our NPPL microlight pilots to fly in most European countries. There are different rules in some places and these are shown in the EMF (European Microlight Federation, I did warn you about the acronyms) web site here
They are a national organisation dedicated to helping microlight pilots get the most out of the sport
There are registered training clubs and training schools around the country. Most of these subscribe to the BMAA’s codes of good practice and are a good place to go and find out more. You will be able to buy a trial lesson at the school.
The BMAA also authorises a network of microlight inspectors and check pilots who are responsible for satisfying the CAA (UK Civil Aviation Authority) that all microlights meet the required airworthiness standards – the microlight equivalent of the DfT’s network of MOT testing stations.
The BMAA also publishes an excellent monthly magazine for members. It is packed full of hints, tips and inspiring articles. To join, print out the membership application form [here], fill it in and send it to the BMAA at the address given on the form.
There are aircraft that are known as “foot launched microlights”, there is no legal requirement to have a licence to fly these and have no formal airworthiness regulation. There are two basic types of these: one based on the hang glider that is fitted with a small engine and the other is the paramotor. The paramotor, as the name suggests is a parachute style wing in which the engine and propeller are mounted as a backpack. An advantage of these machines is that they can be packed away and using the family car taken from home to the flying site. Although you do not need a licence to fly these it is a very, very good idea to obtain training in their use. This is normally undertaken by clubs affiliated to the BHPA.
Most people buy their own aircraft although the option of renting a club aircraft is available in some places. Should you decide to buy your own, another option is to enter a syndicate and own a share in the aircraft of your choice.
Ok you have your nice new shiny Microlight NPPL in your hand and you are about to buy your very own aircraft, so how do you go about it?
Well you can buy new, but this increasingly expensive. A list of the aircraft available new, types, factory built, kits or plans with all the prices is in each copy of Microlight Flying (you are a member of the BMAA by now aren’t you).
Visit our Guide to Buying a Second Hand Microlight for more details of where to look and what to look at.
The biggest cost of ownership is often keeping the aircraft
at an airfield.
One of the cheaper alternatives is the use of a trailer/ hangar. This is a fairly common way of keeping a microlight and is suited to either wing fold or aircraft that are easily rigged
Cost of hangarage will depend normally on two things, the first is whereabouts in the country your are located and the second is the level of facilities that you expect from your base airfield. to ascertain that you will have to ask locally and at both the larger airfields, smaller airfields and at such farm strips as you have near you. You will find that the spread of charges is quite large, in my area (not one of the cheapest) it can vary between £250 to £60 per month.
Similarly the cost of tie downs will vary, around here from £100 to £50 per month. Most farm strips charge the same for a hangar/ trailer as for a tied down aircraft. Do not forget that in most places this charge covers full use of the airfield, but not all, so it is worth asking.
Aircraft that have a well proven record of being able to withstand being tied down outside with covers and a little preventive maintenance. This is mostly to protect nuts and bolts the rest of the airframe being covered in high quality powder coating. These aircraft are all the Thruster range and the AX3 and AX2000
Types commonly stored in hangar/ trailers are the Rans S6, if fitted with wing fold, Shadow, Challenger, Minimax and Easy Raider. Some of the MW range are also built to have a quick rig.
Most others are really best kept in hangars, but if you are looking at farm strips it is worth enquiring as the whether you would be permitted to build your own T hangar to save on costs.
Maintenance costs are basically what you make them, as the pilot can do all maintenance of permit aircraft and in the case of most of the older, simpler types is done that way. The only almost unavoidable cost is that of the yearly permit inspection and check flight by an inspector from either the BMAA or LAA dependant on which organisation is responsible for the aircraft type that you have chosen. This will vary from inspector to inspector, a few make no charge while others will charge up to £120 plus travel. Yes all microlights are on the permit to fly system (thank heavens) most of the C of A (certificate of airworthiness, issued and administered by the Civil Aviation Authority, the CAA) folks that I know pay more per annual inspection than I have ever paid over the 10yrs.
There is a fairly new class of microlight aircraft called either SSDR (single seat deregulated) or Sub115, which refers to part of the definition of this class of microlight, described here
As you can see with this type of aircraft the owner/ Pilot of one of these aircraft is solely responsible for the airworthiness of his aircraft. The pilot still requires a license to fly these aircraft but everything else is entirely down to them.
Sub 115kg microlights should have logbooks that you can check against information from manufacturers web sites These should have any safety related service bulletins but there are no airworthiness requirements and no inspection regime. So you are pretty much on your own, but if you are willing to accept responsibility for your own safety many of them are cheap for a new aircraft and you are free to design and fit your own modifications.
What petrol do they need?
When thinking of fuel costs it is worth considering that just about all microlight types use Mogas (ordinary motor fuel) and most GA aircraft use Avgas at a much higher cost per litre. The other part of the fuel burn equation is airspeed at cruise power and needs to be taken into account for instance a Rotax 912 produces typically 11-12 lPH and a Rotax 503 will normally give 11-13 lph. Not much difference until you take into account that the 912 powered machine will probably have an airspeed of 70mph and the 503 one more like 55mph. Cost of two stroke oil are negligible (mine costs £2 a litre, and that litre treats 50 litres of petrol) as is the cost of oil and filter changes to four strokes. Also don't allow the fact that some aircraft quote their speeds in Knots while others use MPH to confuse you there is a conversion table here
As far as reliability of two stroke is concerned, it is as good as your maintenance and well maintained Rotax 503 is a excellent engine but major servicing is due every 300 hrs (quite a lot for your average pilot) with a decoke recommended every 100hrs. Most four strokes seem to need a major service every 1000hrs with tappet adjustments and oil and filter changes about every 50hrs, but be aware that this cost a lot more than a service to a two stroke. A two stroke however is more likely to suffer from lack of use, so use it often and maintain it well and I have found that it will look after you
Then finally there is insurance. Under European law, it is compuslary to hold insurance for third party risks, and if your aircraft has two seats then also for passenger risks. It is uncommon for microlight pilots to get insurance for themselves because of the cost of premiums, but there are some policies available. Insurance costs are, as you would expect, variable depending on firstly the kind of policy you take up, third party only to full hull cover in the air and on the ground. The other thing that makes a significant difference is the number of hours that the insured pilot has amassed and the stated value of the aircraft if you have gone for higher than third party cover.
Nothing in this text should be construed as accepting liability for your purchase.
The old expression ‘caveat emptor’ (let the buyer beware) still applies.