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Unlicensed flying ...minimum hassle, maximum fun!

If circumstances rule out pursuing a pilot licence – or if you’re just in a hurry to get airborne, in full control – there’s always footlaunch. David Bremner explains.

FOOT-launched microlights (FLMs) are governed by fewer regulations than any other form of powered aviation.

Although you still need to comply with the rest of air law, 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).

Despite this, they are the safest form of powered aviation in existence, owing to their low speed 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 the FLM must weigh less than 60kg. 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 (see the centre spread for details), and if you pick one that’s approved by the BHPA (British Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association, www.bhpa.co.uk) you can be sure that it’s been checked against the highest standards.

The training courses are designed to turn a complete beginner into a qualified pilot with 10-12 days of solid training.

The course will 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, operating safety and further vital information.

Equipment is constantly improving and there are two-stroke and four-stroke powered models available. There are even electric paramotors under development (though these aren’t in general circulation yet). There’s a huge range of wings and powered harnesses available, and you would be well advised to discuss what’s best for you with your instructor before splashing out, since the best equipment for you will depend on your weight, skill level, and intended use.

The cost of a new setup will be £3500-£5000 and operating costs are minimal – even a two-stroke unit will use less than 5 l/h. 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!

Official statistics show that FLMs are the safest types of aircraft to fly. But despite having a safety record second to none, an FLM is only as safe as the pilot flying it. It is therefore down to you to ensure a safe and steady course into the sky in order to maximize the enjoyment and satisfaction offered by this fantastic form of aviation.

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