Thursday, 3 July 2008


Dragonfly - with retracting undercarriage

Ace Magic Laser with a Rotax 447 engine

Viera, cross between Batplane and Noddy-plane

I am in love with three new microlights, one of them three axis, the other two, weightshift. All three of them weigh under 115kg (empty), so that they qualify as de-regulated aircraft. De-regulation is unheard of. The trend is almost always towards rule-making, constraints, hand-tying....but along comes the CAA and says that as long as you are only really likely to kill yourself, you can build and fly an unregistered aircraft, never have to submit it for testing, etc.


That said, all three of my new love-affairs have been rigorously tested to comply with American FAA standards (the Viera also complies with Czech stds). They are the Dragonfly (really a powered hang-glider with real soaring capabilities and a trike) with a retractable undercarriage, a very economical engine and beautiful lines, designed by Ben Ashman at Sywell, which is where I am learning to fly.

Then there is a Rotax 447 powered Ace Magic with a Laser wing, which is designed by a Brit, built in India and to be marketed here by P&M Microlights (a leader in the British market). This machine has real microlight performance while being small enough, like the Dragonfly, to fit in the back of a car with the wing on the roof.

The Viera was suggested to me by Cath Vickers at Sywell, who said that she sort of imagined that it would be my kind of thing. Not sure how to take that! Either she thinks I am an innovative type, confident of my manhood or she thinks I am a knob! The Viera is a very funny looking aeroplane. Again, it is deregulated, can pack down pretty small and weighs less than its pilot. It has this really funky Batmobile style control column and the pilot is effectively sitting on the leading edge of the wing behind an engine mounted on a snoot. Peculiarly cute. Here's what people have been saying about it.

a tricyle undercarriaged alternative - more conventional but somehow less cute

I was planning on buying a second hand aircraft until I talked to an expert at the BMAA about wings etc and concluded that it could almost be more cost effective buying a cheap microlight new, as the betsometer test, which tests to see whether the sail is sound, can only assure you that it is ok NOW. So you could face replacing it at the cost of several thousand next year if it is a few years old.

The Ace Magic will be selling for £8,000. The version of the Dragonfly I have my eye on is about £10,000 and the Viera will sell for about £8,500 if I assemble it myself or £12,000 factory built. Learning to fly is reckoned to take one hour per year of age, so it will be rather more expensive than I originally budgeted for and will eat into my aeroplane budget. I will just have to wait and see what I can work out once I have my licence.

Of course, if I get the Viera, having got my licence on weightshift, I will need about ten hours conversion, but talking to the people at Sywell, who are as enthusiastic about 3-axis as about weightshift, the conversion is very straighforward. I would love to be able to fly both types. Previously you were always expected to choose.

My mortgage company say the money is on the way to my bank right now! Very exciting.

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