Microlight Aircraft started in the United Kingdom during the late 1970’s , in the form of hang gliders with small engines attached. These evolved over the next few years into weight shift microlights, similar to, but more basic than, those we know today; with an undercarriage, three wheels and a seat for the pilot. Three axis microlights, the conventional looking aircraft with a tail and main wing were being developed at much the same time in the USA, and started to appear here a few years later.
At this time there were no design or licensing regulations, but, due to a few unfortunate incidents, it didn’t take long for the authorities to take note. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) stepped in during 1982 and the aircraft became regulated and a licensing system was borne, the ‘Private Pilot Licence (PPL) A Group ‘M’ specifically for Microlight Pilots.
All microlights are now structurally tested and, of course, thoroughly flight tested and approved by the CAA before they can be produced and sold. Microlight aircraft ‘permits to fly’, instructors, examiners and pilot licensing are all now under the wing of the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) and the CAA. Modern microlights can now carry two people for 500 miles in comfort on a tank of fuel and are flown all over the world. The safety record for microlights is as good as any within the General Aviation field.
In the UK a microlight aircraft is now defined as ‘an aircraft having a maximum all-up weight (including pilot, passenger and fuel) of no more than 450kg, and a stalling speed of no more than 65 kph’.
This means these aircraft have relatively short take off and landing capabilities making them ideal for use at smaller airfields. They also normally run on unleaded petrol so refuelling them is as easy as a trip to the garage. Flex wing microlights can be de-rigged at the end of the day meaning minimum hangarage requirements. All aircraft are given an annual inspection just like a car would get as well as being designed and tested to very stringent requirements laid down by the CAA.
Types of Microlights
At Clearprop! Microlight School we fly two types of aircraft, both of which fall under the microlight category.
For Three-Axis training we use an Ikarus C42. This is a conventional aircraft and is controlled using a centre mounted joystick and rudder pedals. The seating is side by side within an enclosed cockpit ensuring no frost bite in the winter! Powered by a four stroke Rotax engine the aircraft cruises at around 80mph and has a maximum fuel capacity of 65ltrs burning around 12 ltrs per hour giving a very respectable range.
Our flex wing aircraft is a Pegasus 912. This aircraft stems from the early microlight designs where an engine was attached to a hang glider. Nowadays they have fantastic performance similar to that of the fixed wing microlight aircraft. The seating arrangement is front to back and the cockpit is open. Flying suits are worn for extra warmth as well as helmets and headsets. These aircraft are controlled in the same way as a hang glider using weight shift.
A good comparison to make between the two common types is that flex wings can be compared to three-axis microlights in the same way as motorbikes are compared to cars. The only difference is these machines fly!!