Foot-launched microlights, or FLMs, are governed by fewer regulations than any other form of powered aviation. There’s no need to get a pilot’s licence, and the aircraft doesn’t need a permit to fly (the aviation equivalent of an MoT), although you still need to comply with the rest of air law.
Despite this, statistics show that they’re the safest form of powered aviation, owing to their low flying speed of 25-35mph and light weight.
Because you can keep them in your garage and generally fit them in the boot of your car, operating costs are kept to an absolute minimum. Due to these unique advantages, they are fast becoming one of the most popular recreational aircraft in the world.
FLMs come in two types: paramotors and powered hang gliders. In either case, the pilot must be over 16. And while there’s no legal requirement to take lessons, it’s probably cheaper than the bruises and repair bills you’ll get if you try to learn on your own!
There are plenty of schools in the UK, as you can see from the centre pages, and you can be sure that any school approved by the British Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association (www.bhpa.co.uk) has been checked against the highest standards.
The training courses, designed to turn a complete beginner into a qualified pilot with 10-12 days of solid training, consist of both practical and theoretical exercises. The practical element includes learning about the equipment, ground training, unpowered solo flights and powered solo flights, while the theoretical part covers the theory of flight, meteorology, air law, navigation and safety.
Equipment is constantly improving, and there are two-stroke and four-stroke powered models available. There are even electric paramotors under development, although they’re not widely used yet.
There’s a huge range of wings and powered harnesses available, and as such you would be well advised to discuss what’s best for you with your instructor before splashing out. The best equipment for you will depend on your weight, your skill level, and how you intend to use it.
The cost of a new setup will be £5000 to £8000, and operating costs are minimal: even a two-stroke engine unit will use less than five litres of fuel an hour.
And if you think spending less money will bring less enjoyment, think again – some of my most memorable flying moments have been on a powered hang glider!
You’ll need a field without obstructions around it to fly out of, but the landing area only needs to be around 100m across, so there’s no need to go to the local airstrip, although if you do, there’ll be a cup of tea and someone to talk to.
And if you’re worried that you need to be super-fit to fly footlaunch, rest easy. Anyone who can run 10 metres for a bus can manage it.
Safe, affordable and fun – it’s easy to see why it’s one of the fastest-growing sectors of sport aviation.
If the idea of carrying your aircraft on your back seems a bit too radical, just add a set of wheels, and your paramotor becomes a paratrike. You will need a pilot’s licence to fly one, but it’s simpler and quicker to get than for other microlights, and if you already have a recognised certificate for a paramotor, it’s even easier.
Like the paramotor, there are only three controls – the throttle and two lines. The throttle determines your altitude – more gas equals more lift – and the lines your direction – pull on the left to go left, pull on the right right to go right. On some models, the lines are connected to foot pedals.
With a cruising speed of around 45mph, comfortable and safe, the single-seater can consist of no more than a clip-on addition to a paramotor, while more sophisticated and powerful two-seaters may be the best way to show your friends round the local scenery. But whichever route you choose, the whole paratrike lives on a trailer that will fit in your garage. Couldn’t be easier!