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Joining sport and recreational aviation
Learning to fly: the air experience flight
The following text was written in 2004 by the late Tony Hayes (1943–2009) — the inaugural holder of the RA-Aus Meritorious Service Award. Tony had a long career in gliding, initially in the UK and then in Victoria and S.E. Queensland. He was deeply involved in the initial concept and subsequent development of the little-used Watts Bridge airfield into a recreational aviation centre. Tony established the Brisbane Valley Leisure Aviation Centre at Watts Bridge for training glider pilots but added the training of ultralight pilots in the mid-90s. The content is still valid in 2014 though the Light Sport Aircraft group was later added to the RA-Aus aeroplane range.
RA-Aus flying training can only be provided by an approved flight training facility [FTF], which has to meet certain operating standards at regular inspections. The flying is provided in a certified and registered, fully dual-controlled, approved training aircraft — 3-axis control aeroplane, weight-shift control trike or a powered parachute — maintained by the holder of a level 2 maintenance authority. The training is given by authorised flying instructors, who themselves are checked regularly.
Do not be put off by all the approvals and controls — they are there to ensure safety and quality of participation. You are not heading for something that seems like a QANTAS appraisal for new staff. What comes out the other end in our environment is a friendly, maybe even apparently 'laid-back', recreational flying ambience you will easily fit into and become part of. Sure, the backbone is there, but it remains under the surface.
So if we cannot give you a 'joy flight' we can give you something better, from which you will obtain a much greater insight and enjoyment — the TIF.
There are a number of components to a good quality TIF — it is not a simple case of just hop in and have a go! The objective is to give you a good and fair sampling of what recreational flying feels like, plus an insight into the flight training process.
The TIF follows the same sequence as a normal instructional flight:
Start asking yourself questions. The TIF will give you a flight, but what do you want to do with your intended future flying? Just 'fly a recreational aircraft' is not a sufficient answer — that is easy enough to arrange — but there are some things of which you need to be aware.
Some of your considerations are not just what you want the aircraft to do, but also the initial and on-going costs of possession and maintenance (in Recreational Aviation you will be able to service your own machine for personal use — will the complexity be too much for you?); and will your goals outgrow the machine? Although we have looked at the types of RA-Aus aircraft in the preceding module, it may help to reiterate a little.
Three-axis control aeroplanesFor fixed-wing aircraft with conventional flight controls, refer to the relevant groundschool flight theory section. The three-axis aircraft have two landing gear configurations — nosewheel or tailwheel. The latter is a little harder to learn on but far more suited for rougher operating strips. The nosewheel aircraft are easier to take-off and land, but if you gain your RA-Aus Pilot Certificate solely in such aircraft then you will need a further five hours or so training to then convert to the tailwheel layout.
Traditional ultralights. These mainly have a tubular metal main structure and fabric covering with three-axis control. They are often with open or semi-open cockpits. The usual operating range is up to 200 nautical miles (360 km) and cruising speeds of 55 to 65 knots (100 to 120 km/h). Usually they have two-stroke motors, but four-strokes are being increasingly introduced.
Newer types. These are heavier, faster and more expensive than the traditional low-momentum ultralights. Often they can be optionally registered with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority as a general aviation aircraft, or with RA-Aus as a sport and recreational aviation aircraft. They usually have fully enclosed cockpits. Range is around 250 to 500 nm and cruising speeds are 70 to 120 knots. Generally they have 80–100 hp, four-cylinder, four-stroke Jabiru or Rotax engines. (Cheetah, Jabiru J120, Lightwing.)
Weight-shift controlThis means an aircraft controlled primarily by shifting the pilot's weight in relation to the wing attachment point — these include RA-Aus trikes and some powered parachutes and also the HGFA hang gliders. See 'Hang glider and 'trike' wings and carriages' in the groundschool flight theory section.
Trikes. These look like a large 'powered hang glider' but are now in a class of their own. They comprise an open cockpit pod suspended below a 'Dickenson' wing (no tail unit) and are controlled by a 'trapeze bar' in front of the pilot. Range is up to 300 nm and cruising speeds are around 50 to 70 knots. They have two-stroke and Rotax 912 four-stroke engines, see the Airborne website.
Parawing controlPowered parachutes. This is a large, steerable parachute canopy with an open, two-place, 3-wheel carriage below it, suspended by shroud lines and steered by control lines. Power is usually a Rotax 65 hp two-stroke engine. Range is about 60 nm and they have a constant speed around 25–30 knots. Refer to the relevant groundschool flight theory section and see the Aerochute website.
There is another version of the powered parachute, the Group F foot-launched, powered parachute or powered paraglider. The power pack is strapped to the pilot's back. Obviously this has to be a single-person vehicle and no dual control instruction can be given; such vehicles are only suitable for an experienced powered parachutist.
list of FTFs. Pick a school and give them a bell. It is better to book rather than just turn up. If you are unsure of whether you want to progress with a particular school, or on a particular type of ultralight, then take a few TIFs at different places and/or on different types — you are not wasting money, you are probably saving it — plus broadening your experience base.
The most important person in the world of aviation is not the most experienced instructor — it is the rawest beginner, because the future of aviation will be partly in your hands. Unfortunately the beginner is by definition the least equipped to make decisions on what to do. We trust the words above will help you make those decisions.
... Tony Hayes — inaugural holder of the
The next module in this 'Joining sport and recreational aviation' series is another article authored by the late Tony Hayes about getting flying training underway.
The 'Joining sport and recreational aviation' series
Copyright © 2004 Tony Hayes