The BMAA 2000

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 transit.
Image: 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 912 Quantum.

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 years.
Image: CT flies over Popham at 170mph

Other technical 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.

Image: 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.

The 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.

Notable 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!).

Major event 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.

Image: 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.

Long-time 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.

Other flight 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.

Finally, the 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.