Viewing the town you live in from 2,000 feet up in the air is quite spectacular. Doing it from a microlight on a clear spring day is even better.
Having never been in such a small aircraft before I was quite excited at the prospect, and I couldn’t have picked a better day for it. The sun was shining in Ilkeston when I met instructor Ian Barlow at his microlight flying school, close to West Hallam.
Ian, 63, has been running the business, close to West Hallam, for 15 years. Passionate about aviation, he has flown as far as Barcelona in his microlight for a holiday, with his luggage strapped to the sides, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You never get bored of seeing the views over Derbyshire,” he tells me. “People come from all around for a lesson to see the views we have.”
Before we take to the sky we have to get kitted out. Though the sun is shining it’s not so warm 2,000 feet up, and I’m advised to wear something warm under the jumpsuit. Ian then hands me a helmet, headphones and gloves before talking me through what’s what on the microlight. I’ll be the back-seat passenger on this half-hour flight, rather than having to worry about trying to operate any of the controls.
“We are in controlled airspace,’ Ian tells me. “We can fly up to 4,000 feet as far as Chesterfield. We normally fly at 2,000 feet - the higher you are the safer you are.”
Once seated in the microlight you get a sense of just how ‘micro’ they are. Unsurprisingly there is a weight limit of 16 stone per person. With nothing to hold on to in the back and your feet just tucked inside the fabric of where you sit, this feels very different to sitting on a commercial aircraft where there is just a small window to see the big wide world out of. There are no windows on this microlight, just you and the fresh air surrounding you, making it all the more exciting as you travel at 60mph.
Ian, who communicates with me through the headset, turns the engine on and does several checks before take off. As we climb and head towards my hometown of Belper the reality of being so high up in the open air makes me slightly nervous. The anxiety soon fades - a result of the amazing views of Erewash and Amber Valley, and the fact that Ian is so confident in the pilot seat that he soon puts you at ease. He has had the odd person who has changed their mind after a couple of minutes in the air, some have even been sick, but many people, like me, love it and would happily try it again.
“People like flying over places like Chatsworth and Carsington,’ said Ian. “People come from quite a distance, they like to see the county from a different perspective.
“The trouble with this game is you are operating in a medium you can’t see - you have to have confidence when you are flying and with what you are flying.”
As we fly over Belper, I identify my old school, the new Co-op store and even my own house. Seeing it from this vantage point makes it look a bit like Lego Land, but it is also quite refreshing. Ian points out that Belper has noticeably doubled in size in terms of houses since he started flying.
One place that is easily recognisable from the air is Kirk Hallam, with its outer loop. As Ian points out: “You can tell now what the developers where thinking when they designed it.”
As we continue our flight, over Kilburn, Heanor and the Smalley opencast site, Ian, a father-of-two, tells me that he spent 30 years in the fire service. In 1989 he was based at Long Eaton station when his crew were the first engine on the scene at the Kegworth air disaster, close to East Midlands Airport. Another major incident he was called out to was a gas explosion at flats in Cotmanhay in 1995 where one man died.
It was while he was in the fire service that he discovered his love of flying and wanted something he could carry on doing when he left. He completed the training and became a fully qualified pilot. Now he teaches other people and has six pupils, with the capacity for more. One of his former female students is now a commercial airline pilot and he would love to see more women and young people take up flying.
He explained the learning process: “There is a syllabus to go through such as climbing, spiral dives, descending, then it leads to the more serious manoeuvres like stall recovery.”
While out on our flight Ian demonstrated stalling the microlight. A bit like being on a theme-park ride it involves the aircraft slowing suddenly, dipping and then the nose going up so you are forced back against the seat. “That’s as exciting as it gets,” Ian tells me. Well, that was exciting enough for me, and that comes from someone who’s jumped out of a plane before.
We then go on to land, and I have to say it was a pretty smooth landing.
A lot depends on the weather when it comes to flying “You become very good at watching the weather when you fly’, said Ian, ‘Crosswind landings can be very difficult, we don’t fly if there is a risk of Easterly winds.”
How to book your flight: Ram Aid Microlights offer gift vouchers for people who want to have a go at flying. These come in 30-minute and 60-minute time slots. More information can be found at ramairmicrolights.co.uk or by calling Ian on 07974 466 923.
You can also follow them on Twitter at @RamAirMicrolight
People can learn to fly from the age of 16 and Ian is offering a discounted rate for those aged under 25.