Our first micro light flight!

Ashley and I were talking to a couple in Fiji who were from Australia.  They mentioned Port Douglas and said it was a great place to do an Ultra Light flight.  An ultra light is essentially a powered hang glider.  Ashley and I were both really excited to give it a shot and it was one of the first things we scheduled when we arrived in Port Douglas.

We took a cab out to the airport which was only about 20 minutes from Port Douglas.   As we arrived we took a look down the grass run way and we were both getting excited for the flight.  We elected to take the sunset flight so it was a little later in the afternoon around 6:00.   The pilot was already there with the glider pulled out and fueled up ready to go.

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Our first ultra light experience

Ashley wanted me to go first so she could get a sunset view, but I think she really wanted to have me test this thing out and see if it worked before she took her flight.   We have both been paragliding in the past and I’d spent some time researching it.  I knew paragliding, while generally safe, is less safe than sky diving.   I asked the pilot how safe an ultra light is compared to paragliding.  Without hesitation he said, “Oh it’s much less safe than paragliding from an insurance perspective”  Wonderful.   Where do I sign again?  We filled out our forms and I was ready to go.

We were able to mount a go pro on the wing and we were also taking photos from the ground as well.    I jumped in the seat and put on my seat belt.   He handed me the head set and I put it on one ear and left the other side off my ear.    He looked at me for a second and said, “Are you a pilot?”.  I said, “Not at all, why?”.   He says, “Well a lot of pilots do that before take off to hear air traffic and also what’s happening on the ground”.  I said, “Well, I play a lot of video games and my wife tries to talk to me so I have learned to keep one on and one off.”   He chuckled a bit, hopped in his seat, and we were headed down the run way ready for take off.

I went first and I have to say the experience was absolutely amazing.  As soon as we took off there was a huge adrenaline rush!  The seat you are sitting in does not really have anything that holds you in on the sides.  You have a seat belt on but you can lean over the side and look straight down to see the ground beneath you.   Once you get in the air you look down and quickly realize how unprotected you are!  I have to admit that I was actually a little bit scared looking down for the first timing and checking it out.  The pilot and I were able to talk through the flight and he seemed reasonably sane so that was a plus.

Once we took off we made our way over to Port Douglas for a view of the city.  We then made our way down the beach and eventually a little bit over the ocean.   One of the most unexpected things was the amount of things I was able to see in the water from the air.  I saw multiple manta rays, turtles, and even a couple sharks as we passed a couple hundred feet over the water.

One our way back to the airport the pilot asked if I wanted to fly.  Uhhhhh YEAH!  He gave me a brief tutorial on how the controls worked and then let me take over.   I don’t mean to toot my own horn here but I was basically a natural.  All those video games were paying off!! I was knocking out turns and getting us set up on the right course in no time.   By the end of the flight I was ready to add another hobby to the list and I asked him how much one of these sweet ultra lights cost.   $40,000……ok maybe I don’t need another hobby….

With the pilot back in control we make our way back to the run way.  We’re coming in towards the runway with the wind so we need to loop around and go back into the wind.  We start to make the turn back towards the runway WAY ahead of when I expected and we have very little time to line up and drop altitude.   In the back of my mind I’m thinking this is not how you land but I’m obviously not the expert here so I keep my mouth shut.  We drop altitude and gain speed in the process as we quickly approach our landing going faster than we were cruising.    The landing was text book and we quickly come to a stop.  I asked him about the approach and he said that with ultra lights you land at a faster speed because a stall in an ultra light is a disaster so you’re better off landing with speed than slowing down.  Makes sense!

My ultra light flight was over and it was time for Ashley to suit up.   One of the thing we had to do was wear a heavy flight jacket.  It seemed crazy on the ground where the temperature was in the 80’s to 90’s but once you get a few thousand feet in the air you appreciate the jacket!  Ashley got the jacket on and settled into her seat as well.  After the flight Ashley was all smiles and really enjoyed the experience a lot.  That said, she was terrified of falling out as well on the flight!

Below are some of the photos from our flights!

Eric’s Flight

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Ashley Flight

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After the flight was over, Ashley and I were both smiling!  It was a little scary but also a lot of fun!  It was definitely an amazing experience.   The instructor packed up the ultra light and put it back in the storage unit and then offered to give us a ride home which we accepted saving us the cost of another taxi.

The very next night Ashley and I were back in our hostel watching the local news on TV.  The local news came on with their lead in story for the night about an ultra light crash in Port Douglas.   They mentioned the pilots name (it wasn’t our pilot) and said,  “The unfortunate crash happened on landing when the ultralight flipped over and instantly caught fire causing the pilot to die”.   We both just looked at each other in silence thinking, “holy crap we just did that yesterday!”.   Well we can mark that one off the list and move on!

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