In my last post I said I’d write about some of the places I’ve flown internationally – and why I’m so grateful for our comparative lack of flying limitations here in the U.S. I’ll start with my experience in South Korea.
First, let me be very clear that my experiences happened in the fall of 1994 and the regulations have changed since then…but how much, I don’t know. I searched the Web before writing this post but could only find the Korean Civil Aviation Authority website in Korean, not English, and so wasn’t able to track down current regulations. I also found one flying club – Expatflyers.net, which provides LSA training– and a company that gives scenic tours – Aerotourkorea.com – but couldn’t find any of the four ultralight clubs that existed when I was there.
I was scheduled to work in South Korea for three weeks in October, 1994, and of course wanted to find out about ultralight flying there. I was able to make contact with Mr. HoSun Park who was manufacturing a microlight called the Wizard. This wasn’t the American version (which is a bare bones fabric and tubing ultralight) but rather an aircraft that today would be considered an LSA here in the U.S. Made of Kebula honeycomb composite, it was a tricycle gear side-by-side trainer with a Rotax 582 engine and electric start. Fully enclosed, with twin booms, it was very sleek and modern, with folding wings. It could be set up or taken down in 12 minutes by one person.
Until HoSun Park and his partners started developing the sport of ultralight flying in South Korea, there was no civilian aviation at all – only military and commercial. The South Korean equivalent of the FAA – at that time The Aviation Department, Ministry of Transportation - didn’t know what to make of his request to fly ultralights.
What was finally worked out was to allow ultralights to fly in 19 designated places throughout the country. Unless they had special permission, ultralights could fly only within those designated areas – which measured on 6 x 10 kilometers (3.7 x 6.2 miles.) There were no flight corridors between the designated areas, so pilots had to either trailer their aircraft to get to another area, or they could call the local Bureau of Aviation seven days before their proposed flight to another area, to request permission to fly between areas. And they had to designate which area they were going to fly to – their permission to fly was only between their home area and the area they requested. So if the weather changed, becoming unflyable at their designated destination area, they were out of luck!
I went up on a clear day with almost no wind. I flew with an ultralight instructor who spoke no English. The takeoff roll was very brief; hardly any back pressure and we were lifting off, climbing at 1300 fpm. In just a few minutes the instructor indicated that I was to turn left. We were communicating through hand gestures as we had no intercoms, and he spoke no English and I spoke no Korean. I turned left and again – a few minutes of flying and then the tap on my arm, and his hand motion pointing me into another left turn. Now we were flying parallel to the 900’ dirt strip runway, over rice paddies. At this point I hadn’t been told about the minimal amount of airspace we were allowed, so I was really disappointed that we were just going to go around the pattern once and after less than 10 minutes in the air, were already on our downwind leg. But no, we weren’t going to land, just fly within the airspace box. We actually flew for about 30 minutes, round and round and round that circumscribed rectangular airspace.
Although I enjoyed myself immensely, I realized that the concept of being able to take your ultralight and just go flying almost anywhere you want was completely unknown in South Korea in 1994. This is true of the other countries I’ve flown ultralights in. We take it so for granted, but we should be really grateful that our freedom-to-fly envelope is so large.