What is Aerosport
Microlight flying (or ultralight flying) involves piloting a lightweight aircraft, either a one- or two-seater, and with fixed wings. In some countries, there is a differentiation between weight-shift (microlight) and 3-axis (ultralight) aircraft.
Microlight flying started winning converts in the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by the popularity of hang gliding. Microlights are inexpensive (approx. Rs. 15-20 lakhs, roughly the cost of a luxury sedan), besides being the answer to man’s perennial desire to take to the skies on his own. Additionally, they’re straightforward and economical, both to operate and maintain (approx. Rs. 2000 per hour).
The definition of what constitutes a microlight – or ultralight – aircraft differs from country to country. For one, the weight and speed limits would vary, and these parameters would be further narrowed down to maximum take-off weight and maximum stalling speed.
Microlights with 80hp to 100hp engines use premium unleaded petrol as fuel. They come equipped with STOL, or short take-off and landing – most require a minimum of 50m, of tarmac or grass, to land. Microlights can reach an altitude of 9000m, and are capable of hitting speeds of 290km/h (the maximum speed permitted in India is 220km/h).
Here are some popular options for Aerosports Adventures in India.
Among light aviation aircraft, microlights make up the largest group. In recent years, these aircraft have even circumnavigated the globe. They might look flimsy but they’re incredibly sturdy, and boast the best safety record in leisure aviation. And if, in any unforeseen circumstances, the engine should fail (or the aircraft run into turbulence), microlights are capable of gliding safely back to land, thanks to their big, high-lift wings and low-stall speed (65km/h).
Know more about popular options for Paragliding in India.
Powered Hang Gliding
If any contraption evokes memories of the dawn of flight and the brothers Wright, it is the hang glider. Powered hang gliding involves launching, with one’s foot, a light aircraft-like machine called a powered hang glider. You are, literally, “hanging” on to the “glider” while in flight – the pilot is attached to a harness that’s appended from an airframe; flight is controlled by the pilot shifting the weight of his body in resistance to a control frame.
In good weather, powered hang gliders can reach speeds of anywhere between 40km/h and 75km/h, though powered harnesses are restricted in power, range and thrust. The best way to fly a glider is to reach a desired altitude and locate a rising-air (warm) thermal, then soar as if on autopilot.
Generally, the most skilled pilots of powered hang gliders are those who have had previous experience flying a hang glider. However, there is growing appeal for these machines, especially in those places where the “give” of inclines is absent – this, rather than straightforward flat ground, provides a challenge for pilots.
History of Microlight Flying
In the early days, piloting of light aviation aircraft was the realm of daredevils, of the adventurous. The single-seater machines of old were of a rudimentary design. The first ultralight was the Santos-Dumont Demoiselle, going back to the turn of the 20th century. The first generation of ultralight aircraft were, in fact, hang gliders with attached engines (powered hang gliders); the wings on these machines were flexible, and the aircraft was manoeuvred by way of shifting the weight of the pilot beneath the wing.
The second generation of microlights would arrive much later, in the 1970s; in design, these resembled proper aircraft (though obviously smaller in size), were powered by engines and came with a 2-axis control system – for example, the Pterodactyl and the Quicksilver MX. Third generation microlights (1980s) came with an airframe and 3-axis control system (the latter is utilized on standard aircraft) – examples of these models include the CGS Hawk, Kolb Ultrastar and Quad City Challenger.
Recently, to counter the deleterious effects of gasoline on the environment (and the increasing cost of gasoline), fuel-powered engines have been replaced by electric motors run by batteries. One upshot of this is that electric aircraft (as these microlights are called) can now fly longer, and on low power too.
History of Powered Hang Gliding
The first mention of gliders in flight goes as far back as 875 AD. Those gliders, however, were crudely designed, with little thought for the pilot’s safety, and with little idea of the theories of flight. Fast forward to the second half of the 19th century, and technology had caught up enough with design to allow for safer gliders to be built. A German engineer by the name of Otto Lilienthal is regarded as the inventor of the modern hang glider, and his pioneering designs would later inspire the Wright brothers to build their world-changing flying machines. In fact, ‘controlled’ flight can be said to have begun with Lilienthal.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Germany was at the forefront of this adventure activity, the Germans fast earning a reputation as nonpareil designers, of gliders that seemed to effortlessly combine practicality with efficiency. Their focus was on using atmospheric forces to get the gliders to fly quicker and longer. The majority of these gliders were controlled by the pilot’s shift of weight.
In these decades, the Germans would lead a gliding renaissance, with gliding enthusiasts from all over Europe converging on Germany to compete for prizes in the altitude, distance and duration categories. These competitions proved to be hugely popular with crowds. The Wasserkuppe, a plateau-mountain in central Germany that was the venue for these contests, became a sort of laboratory for the continent’s best aeronautical engineers.
In the 1950s, hang-gliding enthusiasts picked up on NASA’s “flexible wing” structure (the original design was by an American aeronautical engineer, Francis Rogallo – it was also known as the “flexwing” or “Rogallo wing”); the wing’s uncomplicated design and relative ease of assemblage (it would be used in the Gemini space capsules) allowed for unhurried flight and soft landings – perfect for recreational flying. Designers then configured the flexible-wing aerofoil for the hang glider to create a technically advanced – and safer – version of the glider.
The 1970s saw the motorization of these machines, and many of the new-age Leonardo da Vinci’s could be found in Australia, England and France. Through trial and error, the design of gliders improved gradually, helped by ever advancing technology.
Microlight Flying in India
Microlight flying is limited to an upcoming facility on the NH-8 (Delhi-Jaipur highway), 6km west of the town of Shahpura, Rajasthan. This facility will have a school, club for microlight owners and buffs, as well as a repair and maintenance centre. Meanwhile, the old aerodrome in Mysore, Karnataka, is home to the country’s only microlight flight training facility (Bangalore Aerosports).
To fly a microlight in India, one must have a Microlight Pilot Licence (PL (M)), and also be at least 17 years old. To obtain a licence, you must complete 60 hours of training, which includes time spent in the air (minimum of 40 hours flying) and on the ground, and also clear exams – oral and written – conducted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
Powered Hang Gliding in India
In India, powered hang gliding has, by and large, been restricted to the Indian Air Force. In 2006, an IAF team set a national record by travelling 3700km in a powered hang glider, in a 24-day expedition that started in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, and ended in Chabua, Upper Assam. One of the expedition members, Squadron Leader Ramakant, is India’s only trained powered hang glider. In early 2012, an Indian Army soldier, Naib Subedar Paramjit Singh, flew 350km non-stop from Bikaner to Sanderav in Rajasthan, setting a new international mark.
But this adventure pursuit lacks an organized structure in India, with barely a handful of clubs offering facilities and opportunities to fly. The busiest gliding venue in the Subcontinent is in Pokhara, Nepal, a centre for adventure activity.
Microlight Flying Equipment
As mentioned earlier, microlights, or ultralights, are defined differently. In India, a microlight aircraft is a two-seater, with weight not exceeding 450kg (without parachute) and 472kg (with parachute). The maximum stall speed is 80km/h, and the maximum level speed 220km/h. The aircraft has a single (piston) engine, either diesel or rotary, and an adaptable propeller (fixed or ground). Its wing area must not exceed 10sq m, and it must have fixed landing gear (except when being piloted on water, or operating as a glider). Lastly, the microlight’s cabin must be non-pressurized.
The difference between flexwing and 3-axis microlights is that the former requires the pilot to control the speed and direction of the aircraft, through moving the “trike unit” – the part of the aircraft under its wing – by a method called “weight shift”. In the latter, the aircraft is operated via a console that has control sticks and pedals.
Powered Hang Gliding Equipment
A powered hang glider – also known as a harness, nanolight or hangmotor – consists of a harness, motor and propeller. Where the powered hang glider differs from the regular hang glider is that the latter is built with a wing and control frame, can be foot-launched from a level surface or hilly ground, and requires a span the length of a soccer field to get airborne. Hang gliders are manufactured from an aluminium alloy, or a wing (made of a fabric) with a composite frame.
Best season in India
The winter months (October to March), and also late autumn and early spring, are best to indulge in a spot of powered hang gliding, or to pursue your passion for flying microlights. At this time of year, one is less likely to face the challenges that strong breezes invariably create. If the skies are clear and the conditions calm, that’s when you should ideally set out in your microlight/powered hang glider.
Microlight Flying sites in India
Mysore (old airport), Jakkur (Bangalore), Tambaram (Chennai)
Powered Hang Gliding sites in India
Meerut, Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh), Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu)
Tips for Microlight Flying
In India, microlight aircraft need to be registered with the relevant authority/authorities, and are subject to regular checks, to determine whether the machine is in an airworthy condition. An individual licence to fly must be renewed annually.
Tips for Powered Hang Gliding
If you want to experience this activity, get in touch with any of the flying clubs around India – there are 32 such clubs around the country, the most famous being the ones in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Gujarat. All clubs are apparently subsidised by the government. You don’t need a licence to fly a glider.
A reasonable degree of fitness is required if you yearn to take to the skies, in a microlight or glider. But flying is discouraged if you are pregnant, or suffer from a heart condition, epilepsy, high blood pressure, diabetes, or a neurological disorder.
Though both microlights and powered hang gliders are powered by engines, any harmful effect they have on the atmosphere is negligible. But do make sure that the machines are well maintained – used and older microlights and gliders tend to be more polluting.