Aerial Sports

Flying, hang-gliding and other options

Aerial Sports

Most aerial sports in England have a wide following, particularly gliding, hang-gliding, paragliding, hot-air ballooning and microlighting. The main thing most aerial sports enthusiasts have in common is madness and money, both of which are usually required in abundance to fulfil man’s ultimate ambition, although there are a number of inexpensive options available.

One of these is hang-gliding, which has become increasingly popular in recent years with hang-gliding schools in all regions. Paragliding is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to ‘fly’, and entails launching yourself off a steep mountain slope with a paraglider or being tow-launched by a vehicle. When you’ve gained enough height, you release the tow and float off on your own. Although generally safer than hang-gliding, paragliding can be dangerous or even lethal in the wrong hands. Paragliders must complete an approved course of instruction lasting around four days, after which (if you survive) you receive an F1 ‘licence’ that allows you to purchase a paraglider and fly when supervised by an experienced pilot. Paragliding equipment costs from around £750 second-hand to £4,000 new. It’s as well to bear in mind that every landing is a ‘controlled crash’ and have insurance to cover all eventualities.

Hot-air ballooning has a small, but dedicated, band of (wealthy) followers, the most famous of whom is Richard Branson (the owner of the Virgin group of companies). Participation is generally limited to the wealthy because of the high cost of a balloon, although the sport has never enjoyed greater popularity. To buy a balloon costs anything from £13,000 to £60,000, plus over £100 an hour to fly it and over £1,000 annual insurance (it’s the only form of transport more expensive and less reliable than the UK’s railways). A flight in a balloon costs around £100 and is a marvellous experience, although there’s no guarantee of distance or duration, as flights are dependent on wind conditions and the skill of your pilot (not to mention a safe landing).

Aircraft and gliders (sailplanes) can be hired with or without an instructor (provided you have a pilot’s licence) from most small airfields. A new plane can cost anything from £50,000 to £100,000, although shared-ownership schemes are bringing the joys of flying to a much wider audience. There are many gliding clubs and parachuting and free-fall parachuting (sky-diving) flights or jumps can be made from most private airfields.

Microlights and ultralights (a go-cart with a hang glider on top and a motorised tricycle below) are an excellent alternative to ‘real’ aircraft as they can be assembled and disassembled quickly, are easily transported and cheap to run. They are designed to carry a maximum of two people and can be stored in a garage. Most machines are strong and safe, and the sport has a good safety record. It’s one of the cheapest and most enjoyable ways of experiencing real flying, costing from around £5,000 for a second-hand machine up to £30,000 for a new top-of-the-range craft. Fliers require a private pilot’s licence that costs up to £10,000 in tuition fees and normally takes up to six months and 40 hours of instruction to obtain, including classroom training and written examinations. (It’s cheaper and quicker to learn to fly in the US, where costs are lower and the weather is better.)

Most aerial sports and private aviation are specifically excluded from many insurance policies, including, for example, health insurance and mortgage life insurance policies. Before taking up any aerial sport, you should ensure you have adequate health and accident insurance, that you have sufficient life insurance and that your affairs are in order. Why not take up fishing instead? A nice, sensible, safe sport (not that the fish would agree).

This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.

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