I reached Jakkur airbase some 45 mins ahead of my allotted time, as I went directly there from Railway station.
While I waited, Captain Vinitha arrived on scheduled time and the staff prepared the xair microlight aircraft for the day's flight. It is an indeed small aircraft with space just enough for two normally sized people to sit. If you're little too tall or big, you might not fit into the craft.
The plane in which I was supposed to fly and fly myself for sometime was resting in its hanger in company of two bigger charter planes. Ground staff literally pushed the xair microlight plane out of the hanger. Axir light aircraft is fitted with a Bombardier 582cc engine on its roof and runs on regular automotive fuel. It has a range of about 300-350kms and has visual rating only (One can fly it only in day time and when there is clear visibility. Commercial aircrafts will have instrument rating which means they can fly in dark or in clouds)
Captain Vinitha briefed me about the controls- the throttle lever is located at the left of our seat, rudder controls located at the foot and a control column in the centre. Xair had bare minimum instruments, including an airspeed indicator, an altimeter, a level indicator and few more. A set of radio equipment helped communication with the tower. Aircrafts need to rely on nearest air traffic control to keep them safe in the sky. ATC ensures each plane is safe distance apart.
We seated ourselves in the seats and seat belt was put on. I put on the headgear which ensured near 100% noise isolation. Can't hear a thing. Now we need permission to start.
‘Victor Tango Uniform Victor Victor to tower, request permission to taxi’- Captain Vinitha spoke into the microphone. There was no response. (VT-UVV was the tail number given to our craft, they are pronounced with international phonetics)
‘Victor Tango Uniform Victor Victor to tower, request permission to taxi’ – request was repeated.
Capt Vinitha checked something on her smartphone- I am not sure what, but my guess is she checked whatapp status of the guy in the tower, to check if was recently online or probably still asleep!
Few seconds later, we tried again
‘Victor Tango Uniform Victor Victor to tower, request permission to taxi’.
We got a reply this time, a very brief one, which was affirmative.
The tiny aircraft was set in motion, powered by its bombardier 582 cc engine mounted on the roof. The direction has to be controlled using rudder movements and we reached the beginning of airstrip. Now we need permission to take off.
‘Victor Tango Uniform Victor Victor to tower, request permission to take off’.
Permission was granted.
Captain pushed the throttle bar to gain velocity and the engine revved harder. Few seconds late we were up in the air. Slowly the craft gained altitude and the airstrip, elevated express way, buildings around became smaller. We went to a height of 1000 ft only, too low compared to 10000 ft we’d gone in Cessna during skydiving. Scene below was nice- showed lots of green space and a lake. Wasn't too exciting, but good for an experience.
I was asked to make some basic moves, like gaining/reducing altitude, tilting left or right. It was difficult to talk to each other up in the air. Huge engine noise, wind and the thick noise insulation headphones were making it difficult to talk. If you ever buy one of these planes
I followed the instructions and flew for sometime. Captain would correct me if I ever over steer or try to be too adventurous. I would have enjoyed more if I was given 100% control, including communication with tower and liberty to decide speed, direction and altitude. But I can understand their apprehensions- it may not be safe to let a first timer take full control. For those who are serious, one year training course can be taken up at the cost of few lakhs, end of which you can get proper license.
It is very common in US to rent a plane just like we rent a car and go cross country trips. Unfortunately such options don't exist in India.
After about 20 mins in the air, we began our descend. I wanted to know how to ensure that nose is up and rear wheels touch down first. I couldn't get clear answer to this. It sounded like it doesn't matter much in a microlight which wheel touches down first- front or rear, given the tiny size, low speed, weight and other factors. But basics of flying would hold good for microlight as well- ensure rear wheels touch down first while landing.
Also I noticed that landing a microlight is little tricky. Wheels didn't seem to have any brakes and there was no reverse thrust. Braking was done purely using reducing engine power, ailerons and rudder control. There no simple formula like apply the brakes and it will stop. If not trained enough, there is a risk of overshooting runway. Eventually we taxied back to the hanger.
I was expecting a certificate but there was none. Had some light refreshment and left for my next task- to pick up the Nano Twist.