Quickly climbing in altitude, farm houses began shrinking in size as the wind whipped into my face. Every banked turn we made felt like we were about to fall out of this thing.
After a 15 hour intercontinental flight from New York to South Africa, the last thing you’d think I’d want to do was fly again. But that’s just what I did. Turns out flying in an open-air Microlight over the Indian Ocean is pretty damn fun too.
What is a Microlight? It’s a small, lightweight fixed-wing aircraft that can carry 1 or 2 people. They can also be called Ultralights. Most of them look like hang-gliders attached to giant tricycles with a big motorized fan on the back.
What, No Helmets?
We met with our pilots who went over some basic microlight safety tips with us. One safety issue when flying these vehicles is the potential for stuff to get caught in the single propeller that sits right behind you. It’s imperative to ensure everything you have on you is secure.
Dropping your camera could mean disaster for this little aircraft!
You actually sit on the microlight like you would on a motorcycle, resting your feet on a pair of pegs. A single seatbelt is all that keeps you from falling out. We also received goggles and a headset to speak with the pilot.
Cleared for Takeoff
After strapping ourselves in, our pilots fired up the large lawnmower engines that would take us into the sky. Ok, maybe they weren’t actually from lawnmowers, but it sure felt that way. :D
We taxied out on the grass airstrip and prepared for takeoff. With our headsets on, not only could I talk to my pilot Christopher, I could also listen in to air traffic control over the radio!
Listening to the radio chatter was very cool.
It made you feel that much more involved with the flight.
Flying in a Microlight
Christopher hit the gas and we sped down the runway. The surge of airflow lifted our craft off the ground and towards the clouds. This wasn’t like any other flight I’d ever been on! The wind rushed past my face as I scanned the area with a 360 degree view of the landscape.
The best way to describe the experience is feeling like I was sitting on a flying motorcycle. Any turns we made were banked, also just like a motorcycle.
My seatbelt is the only thing holding me in!
The first leaning turn was a bit nerve-wracking as I looked down 1500 feet below, but once my body realized that I wouldn’t fall out, I relaxed and just enjoyed the ride.
Initially we flew over expansive fields of sugarcane, macadamia nut and lychee fruit trees. Farmland that stretched out towards the Indian Ocean. Then it was time to turn and fly parallel with the rocky coastline. The turquoise blue ocean water reminded me of the Caribbean.
Waving down to people on the beach, we made our way South past homes and hotels perched on the beautiful cliffs of Wilderness.
Earl was in another aircraft at the same time, and we flew alongside each other in a microlight air race! My pilot spotted some dolphins in the ocean, but I only caught a quick glimpse of them. You can often see whales and Great White sharks in the crystal clear water below.
The views of the South African coast were spectacular from this height.
Awesome Microlight Experience
After about 30 minutes of flying, we began heading back. But first we climbed in altitude to have a little fun. On the way down to the airstrip, Christopher suddenly cut the engine’s power!
We dropped from the sky in a glide and my stomach jumped up into my throat for a second…
But then we’d motor along again for a while, before he’d reduce power yet again so we could glide down.
I was having a blast!
The ground got closer and closer as we swung around to set up for a smooth landing. Flying through the sky in a microlight aircraft was an awesome experience that I can’t wait to try again some day. Who wouldn’t want to ride a flying motorcycle?
Only next time, I want to be the one flying this thing.
(Click to watch Microlight South Africa on YouTube)
Location: Wilderness, South Africa
Company: Ballito Microlight Tours
Total Cost: $92 (30 minute flight)
Notes: Microlights are actually very safe. It may seem scary at first, but you quickly get over it. If the engine ever failed, all you’d need to do is glide down to earth and land! Did you know you can buy a microlight for about the same price as a nice motorcycle? And it only takes 2 weeks to get certified to fly one…