The advent of
the 450kg weight limit (known temporarily as Small Light Aircraft, or SLAs)
prompted much interest at the annual Telford Trade Fair in December 1999. In
the event the only major new design on view was the German Flight Design CT on
the Pegasus stand. As it only met the 450kg rule by virtue of special
lightweight Germans (72kg each) not allowed in Blighty, work was under way to
re-engineer the whole airframe to pare off the excess pounds. It would be the
most extensive testing programme for any UK microlight approval, owing to the
very high speed requiring analysis of things like flutter, never previously
required. The Czech Lambada should have been there, but had got lost in
PHOTO 1: Zanzoterra engine at Telford show
The CAA issued
a document early in the year allowing the use of unleaded fuel in aircraft,
provided the engine and installation were approved to do so. Microlighters, who
had been using it without problems ever since it appeared at the pumps, were
not a little bemused.
Also in the
winter months, Brian Milton received the Segrave Trophy (awarded only occasionally,
and for ‘the most outstanding demonstration of the possibilities of transport
by land, sea or air’ in recognition of his circumnavigation of the world in a
A survey at the
beginning of the year showed 123 homebuilt aircraft on the register; a taste of
things to come, as the BMAA Technical Office geared up for what was to become a
flood of kit-built aircraft being registered through the office in coming
Photo 2: CT flies over Popham at 170mph
developments included fitting floats to a Thruster for an Irish client, Hugh
Lorimer designing a very futuristic-looking single seater flying wing, and by
the summer, a host of ‘Heavy Metal’ - aircraft fitting the new 450kg definition
were on the cards - editor David Bremner lined up no less than ten being considered
for import into the UK.
Photo 3: Ikarus C42 under review at Popham
One of the
factors encouraging potential importers was the increasing harmonisation of
aviation regulations across Europe. The standardisation of requirements for a
private pilot’s licence meant an increase in complexity and therefore cost of
medical requirements for a normal private pilot’s licence, and since
microlights were exempt from these changes, there was seen to be a large
potential market for disaffected PPL(A) holders wanting to trade down to
something that was only marginally smaller and lighter than the aircraft they
normally flew - and in many cases with a better performance.
By the end of
the year, however, the position had become even more confused by the proposal
for a National Private Pilot’s Licence (NPPL) - basically this would be a sport
pilot’s licence issued and recognised nationally with reduced medical and
experience requirements and limited to simple two-seat aircraft, but intended
the majority of sport flying in the UK. The BMAA’s attitude was watchful approval,
and close involvement in the committees putting the proposal forward.
Photo 4: Zenair CH701 with fantastic short field performance
foot-launched market was becoming more mature, although nomenclature was still
a problem. PPG’s (powered paragliders) were also commonly called paramotors,
and no-one knew what to call the flphg’s (foot launched powered hang gliders).
Paramotors had become sufficiently established that Andy Phillips managed to
fly (albeit with considerable backup) from John o’Groats to Land’s End and Mike
Campbell-Jones organised a seminar in the spring and a rally at his Eagle Hotel
over the Bank Holiday weekend. Richard Meredith Hardy competed in the European
Championships as a relief from organising them. Flphg pilots were also getting
more choice; the first generation Mosquito evolved into the sleeker NRG, and Ed
Cleasby and Richard Taylor developed the Wasp from the Mosquito concept, while
Billy Brooks at Pegasus came up with the Booster - a bolt on addition to the
Solar Wings’ standard hang gliding harness incorporating a fuel tank, the
ubiquitous Radne engine, and a snazzy folding propeller.
In the summer,
a group of foot-launchers - RMH on his paramotor, and Ben Ashman, Stewart Bond
and Barrie Tempest on Doodle Bugs crossed the English Channel successfully,
establishing the idea of ‘bivouac’ flying - touring with the absolute minimum
of equipment - and Geoff Tomlin reported on the Lt Col Basir’s Flying Circus -
a paramotor flying holiday in Malaysia.
achievements in the wheeled variety of microlight included Dave Macgaulay who resigned
his job and set off to circumnavigate the USA in his trusty Mainair Blade. Time
and circumstances forced some compromise on the overall ideal, but he
successfully made it despite several alarums and excursions, and raised a good
deal of money for charity into the bargain. Dave Simpson reported on a
two-Balerit trip from coast to coast - of Australia (strictly speaking, it took
place in late 1999, but it was reported on in 2000!).
however, was Colin Bodill’s solo circumnavigation of the world (the first) in a
Mainair Blade in company with Jennifer Murray in a R44 helicopter, arriving
back on 6 September after 99 days’ flying time - a truly remarkable
record-breaking achievement. Another microlight event to get into the record
books was the attempt to get as many aircraft into the circuit as possible,
using the Wrekin in Shropshire as the navigation mark. In the end, poor
visibility meant a more limited circuit, but even so 30 aircraft were
successfully shoe-horned in - enough for the Guinness Book of Records to
declare it a record.
Photo 5: Colin Bodill's solo circumnavigation of the world
In the spring,
Microlight Flying reported the untimely death through cancer of Russ Light,
designer and builder of the delightful Sherwood Ranger, a two-seat biplane with
classic folding wings that exactly fitted the microlight ethos. A flight test
in the summer confirmed its delightful performance and handling, and questions
were raised about someone to keep the design going.
microlight manufacturer Mainair, having been forced out of their long-time home
by a disastrous fire in 1998 had been in more or less temporary accommodation
since then but made the move round the corner to their permanent location at
Crawford Street, Rochdale in the late summer.
tests included the Thruster T600 - with both 503 and 582 engines - and the Quad
City Challenger, being relaunched with redesigned nose cone and smartened up
elsewhere, and also powered by the Rotax 582. Keith Wingate had a pre-approval
go in the first of the 450kg machines - the Italian Tecnam Echo, with a cruise
speed of 100mph and conventional all-aluminium construction marking a new
departure in the level of sophistication in the microlight market.
much-loved Round Britain Rally was given a facelift for the Millenium by the
Northwest Microlight Aircraft Club organisers, and was stretched to four days
instead of the usual three. The weather gods smiled, and it was generally
agreed to be one of the best ever.