Conventional pilots sneered at them and called them toys, the public viewed them with suspicion and concern, ministry men saw them as a means of avoiding the due process of registration and licensing and hang-glider people scorned their use of engines and propellers.
However, after long discussions following a period when the authorities didn’t seem to know what to do about them, microlight aircraft have achieved the respectability of recognition by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Julian Dodswell, a director of Breen Aviation which flies, maintains, sells and instructs on microlights from Enstone Airfield in North Oxfordshire, was one of the originators of the British Microlight Aircraft Association, and although the CAA viewed this body with reluctant tolerance rather than acceptance, continued representation has convinced them that the BMAA was a responsible organisation rather than a bunch of cranks who seemed to want to turn back the aviation clock.
The acceptance has also come without too many controls and microlight aviators are delighted that their form of flying is not to be stifled by all manner of needless legislation. What is more, a link has been established between microlight and light flying, with recognition of the standards already laid down by the BMAA for its A and B certificates.
The BMAA A certificate, along with a declaration of medical fitness and tested knowledge of aviation law, will be enough for local flying within eight kilometres of take-off point and does not require a Private Pilot’s Licence issued by the CAA.
However, unrestricted flying for greater distances does require a PPL, and the Group 13 licence demands the same standards as the BMAA B certificate. This entails completing certain flying tasks and passing tests in flight theory and practice, meteorology, navigation, map reading and aviation law.
That sounds rather too ponderous for the chap who is taken with the idea of free flight from his local meadow and to blazes with all convention, but in reality it is not.
It is amazing how quickly one can become competent at both the practical aspects of flying microlights and the theoretical knowledge which is part and parcel of it. As the Breen information booklet proclaims, “It is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground”.
Breen currently markets two aircraft, the Eagle with its very simple controls by one bar, and the Mirage with its more conventional stick in the hand and pedals at the feet.
Instruction on the first, following ground teaching which includes rigging and de-rigging the aircraft, is commenced without the advantage of an engine. A denuded aircraft is towed down the runway by a Land Rover which contains the instructor linked to you by radio. When you can control the aircraft at around fifty feet you may then progress to becoming airborne under your own power.
If you opt for the Mirage, you first take to the air in a dual-controlled light aircraft until you have grasped the principles of three-axis control. Then you are ready for the Mirage conversion course.
There are various courses available, but it’s worth remembering that if you buy an aircraft from Breen your instruction is free, much as it is on light aircraft and helicopters bought chew-here. Another point worth remembering is the CAA acceptance of the BMAA B certificate, which can greatly reduce the number of more expensive light aircraft hours required for the issue of a conventional PPL. Even a CPL acquired by logging enough hours as a PPL holder comes some 100 hours sooner than otherwise if you are a competent, licensed mircrolight pilot
What are microlights like in appearance and behaviour? They are most certainly not replicas of Bleriot’s aircraft. Very basically, they are made of an aluminium frame on which is mounted sturdy canvas which provides lift and control surfaces.
In the air they are graceful, even though the pilots appear to be slung rather vulnerably beneath them. Actually, the suspended seats are quite comfortable, even that of the Eagle which utilises movement of the seat itself to vary the positions of the control surfaces. In the absence of stick and pedals, the pilot merely pushes or pulls against a fixed bar so that his now body moves sideways, forwards or rearwards, thereby moving the control surfaces by cable links.
On the ground they look rather out of place, although there is no impression of fragility when you get close enough to see exactly what they are made of. When de-rigged, rolled and slung on the roof rack of scar, you might even be forgiven for thinking that the driver was transporting a rather large frame tent.
The Eagle has a canard wing at the nose and no conventional tailplane, whilst the Mirage is designed more or less like a conventional light aircraft. The former is powered by a 242 c.c. Zenoah two-stroke engine which can get you airborne in less than 100 feet of still air and give you a rate of climb of 650 feet per minute. Its weight is 159 lb. and its maximum speed is about 50 mph. Fuel consumption is about a gallon per hour.
The Mirage has a twin-cylinder 440 c.c. Kawasaki engine which uses fuel at only one and a half times the Eagle’s rate. Take-off distance is down to just 80 feet and it will climb at 750 feet per minute to the same service ceiling as the Eagle. Its maximum speed is 65 m.p.h.
Both aircraft will, of course, respond just like gliders should pilots wish to take advantage of thermals to fly soundlessly.
Assuming you prefer Breen to assemble the aircraft for you, and you don’t want any of the options such as floats (either aircraft), electric starter (Mirage only) or even instrument packs, the Eagle will set you hocks VAT-inclusive price of £3,294.75, whilst the ready-to-fly Mirage costs I3,438.50. Assembling it yourself (Breen will check it for you) will knock £260.75 off the price of a Mirage.
We have been thwarted in all our plans to fly one of Breen’s microlights; whenever there was an opportunity, very strong winds at Oxford made it impossible. But they are not just for fair weather fliers. Experienced men take them up quite safely in various conditions, but high winds don’t really mix with good instruction for the novice.
Enstone, incidentally, is fast becoming a centre for all manner of airborne sport, including parascending and powered hang-gliding (which is not the same as flying microlights). Full details, including aircraft specification, is available from Breen Aviation, Enstone Airfield, Church Enstone, Oxfordshire. — G.P.