Two seemingly unrelated events got me thinking about how incredibly much freedom we have to fly ultralights—and all private aircraft—here in the U.S.
I was at a meeting of my ultralight club last month, and one of the members began a familiar refrain. He was grumbling about the FAA and how difficult they made things for pilots. “We need to be free to fly!” he groused. “They do everything they can to throw obstacles in our way.” On and on, like a broken record, with others nodding their heads, until the subject shifted to a discussion about whether or not doing crow hops was safe.
I have already made my views about the FAA known at my club: in thousands of hours of flying ultralights throughout the United States, I’ve encountered nothing but helpfulness and good will from FAA staff. But his complaint wasn’t about individual FAA employees—it was about a system that he perceives as limiting his ability to fly.
We finally had a break in the rain last week; skies were actually blue with scattered clouds. One of the great advantages of being a consultant is that I have control of my own time and I decided to put aside my office work and go flying.
By the time I had fueled up and done my pre-flight, there were a few more clouds in the sky but nothing that said “stay on the ground”. I decided to fly south into the Willamette Valley. Aimless flying – no place in particular I wanted to go; I just wanted to be in the air.
As I headed south I saw clouds building up in the distance. Twenty minutes of wonderfully leisurely flying and the cloud layer was getting thicker. I climbed to 2000’AGL and saw solid clouds ahead. So I did a slow 180° turn and headed north. Another 10 minutes and I decided I wanted to veer east and see how construction on a new high school was coming. So I did another leisurely turn and now I was heading for the foothills of the Cascades. I followed the Clackamas River to a small town and flew around the construction site, taking photos. The project manager always likes it when I send her construction progress photos from the air.
The clouds were beginning to come up behind me, so I finished my picture taking and headed home. Not straight home—I wandered here and there, taking in small changes in the landscape below.
Putting the two events together:
When I got back to my hangar, I grinned, thinking that if I had been using a GPS tracking program it would have shown me flying around in absolutely no coherent pattern. Then I thought about my friend complaining about the FAA-created barriers to our flying. I’ve been fortunate enough to fly ultralights (or microlights, as they’re called overseas) in Italy, Israel, South Korea and Puerto Rico – and I realized that I should have spoken up at that meeting. We have more freedom to fly than anywhere else that I’m aware of. What I had just done would have been impossible in many other parts of the world.
My next post will detail my microlight flying experiences in South Korea, Italy, and Israel. By the time I’m done, you’ll probably agree that we’re really lucky to have our own system.