How to soar above Shakespeare land

UK OUTDOORS: Stratford-upon-Avon boasts one of the finest microlighting schools in the country. Rupert Isaacson reports
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The Independent Travel
STRATFORD-UPON-AVON is known for one thing - well, two things - and one of them is Aerolite, perhaps Britain's best microlighting school. Flying up into the blue above Warwickshire's patchwork countryside is a pleasure not to be missed, and easily combined with a trip to Shakespeare-land, a brief hour-and-a-half up the M40 from London. At least, a half-hour "taster" flight can be combined with a day chasing after our Will. Should you get a bit more serious about the sport and decide to go for your microlight pilot's licence (a mere fraction of the cost and effort involved in getting a regular aircraft pilot's licence), you will have to devote a little more time.

Aerolite proudly proclaims that it can take anyone, from beginners to world champions. You can go for a simple "taster" flight or a series of eight-hour courses culminating, after some weeks and all being well, with your PPL - private pilot's licence. Long Marston Airfield has plenty of hanger space for those wanting to buy their own aircraft, which can be done through Aerolite and this brings down the cost of PPL course. There is no human accommodation, however, except for camping, but Aerolite makes up for this by arranging accommodation for you if you're outside the area, even picking you up from Stratford station free of charge.

After paragliding and hang-gliding, microlighting is about the closest you can get to pure flying with an engine. But with microlighting you do not have to drift with the wind, but can go from A to B at will. Microlights do not require the same pilot training as light aircraft and this means it is an affordable sport, although some types of machine have enclosed cockpits and resemble small aeroplanes (the others resemble hang-gliders with engines). When flying an enclosed machine, officially called a "fixed wing" or 'three- axis type", you have to use controls that closely resemble those of light aircraft, and this can be off-putting for some people who do not want to use such complicated instruments. By contrast, the hang-glider type of machine, known as a "flex wing" or "trike", is controlled by moving the whole wing canopy and appeals to those wanting simplicity. Some flex wings can be assembled and ready to fly in under 30 minutes and can be stored in a garage. Most models of microlight can be towed behind a car in a small trailer.

Microlights can cover great distances and one British flyer has completed a London-Cape Town journey (thought not in one go) and Channel crossings are commonly made. If Stratford-on-Avon is too far to travel, the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) and Civil Aviation Authority recognise several schools around the UK, all offering "tasters" and full PPL courses. The latter, whether at Aerolite or elsewhere, are spread out over at least a month with several sets of exams to pass, as well as 25 hours of flying time (including 10 hours' solo and cross-country) to complete. Should you take up microlighting seriously, most of the schools encourage you to buy your own second-hand aircraft as this saves money in the long run and means that you will always have an aircraft available in which to learn. And that makes the process of passing pilot's courses that much faster.

Better still, anyone between 17 and 80 can get a microlighting pilot's licence and the physically disabled can also learn. If Aerolite is not convenient, but you want to give microlighting a go, ring the BMAA for a school near you (01869) 338 888

Information from the Action Guide to Britain (Harvill Press), by Rupert Isaacson, available from most bookshops.

microlighting fact file

Accommodation

Aerolite, Tel: 01789 299229. The centre will book local accommodation. Camping available on-site.

Children

Minimum age for pilots is 17 years. Those under 17 may fly as passengers with an adult.

Affiliations

British Microlight Aircraft Association.

Tariffs

30-minute trial flight, pounds 35; dual instruction (flex wing), dual instruction (fixed wing), pounds 62 per hour; ground school, pounds 12 per hour; solo supervision, pounds 18 per hour; 8-hour course (flex wing), pounds 452; 8-hour course (fixed wing), pounds 494. Booking: No deposit required. No charge for cancelled bookings. Late booking accepted up to 48 hours in advance if space available. Access: B4632 near Stratford. Trains and buses to Stratford, pick-ups from station can be arranged by centre. The school is open all year and clients require personal insurance.

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