(Feeling) Pilot for a Day: The Ultra Light Aircraft Experience
I am sure most of us played with toy or paper aircraft during our childhood days and dreamed of piloting a real one someday. I am quite sure because when I was a kid, I also did.
I was a typical kid of the 80’s who had this fascination on flying machines. I played with paper planes and even had some role playing as pilot with my friends while humming the usual kiddie sound that resonates an aircraft “eeeeennnnnggggg….” And whenever I see a plane, a helicopter, a jet or even a tora-tora in the air, never did I miss to jump, shout and wave at them. Never mind if the kid on the other end didn’t wave back.
I dreamed of being a pilot but somewhere along the road of growing up, that dream seemed to be lost in the horizon or didn’t take off. I grew up thinking that piloting an aircraft is a very long shot, nearly impossible with my family’s economic status. Not until I saw my friend post pictures of his ride with ultra light aircraft. Seeing his awesome photos brought back the lost dream, and once again, the kiddie humming ala aircraft engine played on my head. I can be a pilot! May be not the commercial one, but still close to being a real life pilot. So I planned my trip to Angeles City, Pampanga on one weekend of March for this another awesome experience.
I left Manila at four o’clock in the morning and by eight I was already in Angeles City Flying Club (ACFC) in Talimundok, Barangay Sta. Maria, Magalang, Pampanga.
Located at the foot of Mt. Arayat in a site known as Woodland Airfield, ACFC is a non-profit flying club and school that aims to promote ultralight aircraft flying. They offer trial introductory flights too, a great jump start specially for those aiming to have a sport pilot license and an epic adventure for those who just want to experience the thrill of flying in an open cockpit light aircraft.
I couldn’t hide my excitement as I went to the office and told them that I want to experience the ultralight aircraft ride. There were two more flyers ahead of me so I had to wait. I went to their viewing deck and watched in awe as the small aircraft took off and landed on the airfield. The sound of their propellers and machines were music to my ears.
Not an hour passed and their staff called me. One of their other pilots came and was willing to fly me. Anxious as excited, I quickly stood up and followed the staff.
I was introduced to Chris, an Australian pilot who has been flying an ultralight aircraft for around seven years. He was in his mid 50 and he owns the aircraft. He asked for a couple of minutes to prepare and I took the time for some photo ops. It wasn’t everyday that I get to ride an open cockpit aircraft so I took some photos to brag.
Then Chris gave the go signal for me to board the aircraft so I quickly jumped into my seat, on the right side of the plane. I couldn’t believe that I was actually seated in the cockpit, with the intriguing and complicated buttons and gauges in front me. With curious look, I inspected the buttons and gauges without touching anything. Then Chris took his seat.
He checked my set belt and made sure I was comfortable and then handed me my ear phone which I excitedly wore. He taught me how the ear phone works, the basics and controls and then we started talking on the radio.
“Can you hear me?”, he asked.
“Aye, aye sir!“, I replied, trying to sound like a real life pilot.
Then he started the engine, waited for a few minutes for the temperature to rise and then maneuvered the aircraft to the end of the runway while constantly communicating with the traffic controller. My hands were tucked in my pockets and my feet carefully resting on the foot pedals. I just watched him and let him do his work.
“I will let you feel the controls when we’re up there so relax and take it easy while we climb“, Chris said.
I just uttered a simple “ok“.
When we were cleared, the aircraft sped past the runway and off we went. All of a sudden we were already airborne, slowly climbing to our assigned maximum height of 1200 feet. I gazed at my window and the structures on the ground were also slowly getting smaller. We stabilized after a few minutes, with the mighty Mt. Arayat in front of us. We got closer to the mountain and saw its rainforest and the summit before Chris turned the aircraft to the right. I could see the vast farm of Pampanga below me, the Candaba swamp far ahead and Mt. Pinatubo behind us. Everything on ground were too small, I could barely see the people.
Then he instructed me to put my hands on my controls and my feet to the pedals to feel what he was doing. Every action he made on his controls was sync with mine, so I was able to feel what he was doing. It seemed so easy, just hit the lever forward to go up, backward to go down, sideways to turn it left of right but with accompanying foot controls. He maneuvered the aircraft upward, downward, left and right while I was just quietly feeling his moves. He probably sensed that I was already comfortable so he made the aircraft move up and down, up and down, simulating a roller coaster. I felt the adrenaline on my stomach but I didn’t show any sign of discomfort. I really hate the roller coaster ride feeling specially when it is going down. After a couple of ups and downs, he stopped and continued piloting the aircraft at a constant speed and height. Few more minutes and we were already en route to the airfield. The aircraft gradually descended.
I took my hands and feet off the controls and let him do the piloting. I learned that the aircraft can go airborne for three hours on full tank, and can climb to as high as 5,000 feet. Wow! I can go to as far as Baler, Coron, Mindoro, Marinduque, Quezon or Zambales with that aircraft!
Chris communicated with the tower, I heard him ask for clearance. The sound of the aircraft and the radio mixed that I didn’t get what the man on the other end of the radio was saying. But we were going down slowly, the ground was getting closer, the structures bigger, and the shadow of the aircraft clearer. Chris made the last turn and all of a sudden we were already on the end of the runway and about to land.
“Touchdown!“, I said, when the aircraft’s wheels touched the ground.
“Yes, we’re down“, Chris said.
Chris hit the breaks and the aircraft slowed down and taxied to the hangar until it came to a full stop. Then he turned to me, in all smile and asked how it felt. I replied “awesome” in animated me – eyes wide and lips in perfect round . It was indeed awesome and surreal. Wow! What an experience!
I got out of the aircraft, thanked Chris and shook his hand with a promise that I will see him again. When? Probably, when I already have budget for the flying lesson, it’s pretty expensive but I guess very worth it.
Flying an aircraft is not really cheap and while I still don’t have the resources to take it to the next level, I will just live with the memories of that day – the day I flew on an open cockpit ultralight aircraft or should I say the day I co-piloted an aircraft, I want to say it that way.
ACFC is located at Woodland Airpark Talimundok, Sta. Maria, Magalang, Pampanga. They are open daily (except Wednesday) from 8AM to 5PM. Their short trial introductory flight is at P1650 for 10-12 minutes, P2900 for 20-24 minutes, P3700 for 30-35 minutes, P4600 for 42-45 minutes and P6500 for the whole 60 minutes. Advance reservation is not necessary. For more information, check out www.angelesflying.com.