Ultralight Fun

Joe hits the throttle, the engine roars and the sound of rushing air envelops us. We quickly accelerate down the short paved runway. Joe pushes forward on the controls, tilting the kite-shaped wing skyward. Soon our wheels lift off the ground and we smoothly climb as he pulls the lever to raise the landing gear.

“Where do you want to go?” Joe asks.

“I’d like to go north up into the canyon. We went there with a pontoon boat and it was so beautiful. I’d like to see it from the air!” I say.

“Sounds good, as long as the wind is low, it will be fine in the mountains.”

We head north from the airport, gaining altitude, and soon there are mountains creeping by on both sides. You can see the Colorado River, on the border of Arizona and California, off to our left snaking through a rock canyon. The water is crystal clear to the bottom. Amazing.  Below us is rugged rock with very little soil or vegetation.

This kite-shaped ultralight is a great aircraft for people with limited arm mobility.

This kite-shaped ultralight is a great aircraft for people with limited arm mobility.

We are flying among the peaks in an open-cockpit, weight-shift ultralight. I’m sitting in the rear seat, securely strapped in, while Joe flies from the front seat. We wear helmets equipped with microphones so that we are in constant communication.

“Can I try flying?” I ask.

“Sure can, grab the controls,” he says.

I reach out into the wind and, as well as a quad can, grab the bars.

“OK, I have it. It’s hard to reach far enough forward — you guys tied me in well.”

“You’re flying!” says Joe, letting go of the controls.

I gently shift our weight left, and we bank left. I shift our weight right, and we turn right. This unit is very easy to fly. I think it would be a great aircraft for people with limited arm movement or strength. To climb, you simply add power; to descend, you reduce power. For me, controlling it comfortably would require sitting closer to the controls or having extensions to reach them more easily. I soon get tired of stretching for the bar.

“I’m having to reach a bit far — my arms are tiring out. You take control.”

“I have it,” says Joe, taking over.

I resume my sightseeing. It is amazing to see the world from above. The mountains and valleys looked beautiful from a boat, but now to see them from the sky is surreal. There is nothing between us and the ground but a few thousand feet of air.

At first it is a little unnerving to not be inside a cockpit, but soon the beauty of seeing the world from above takes over, and it is no longer scary.

“Let’s go down over the river,” says Joe.

“Sounds good, it is so awesome to see it from up here!”

Flying Low

We come down low over the river in the valley. I can see the beach where we parked the boat to have lunch, and where others hiked in search of a geocache. It’s like zooming in with Google Earth.

“Now let’s go low over the lake,” says Joe. I know he wants to show me some touch-and-go maneuvers.

“OK, sounds great to me,” I say.

Joe lowers the power, and you can feel us going down. We are on the California side of the lake, lined up on the smooth-as-glass water. As we get down close, Joe adds a little power to reduce our descent. The floats gently kiss the lake. This is the first time I have ever experienced a touch-and-go on water. Joe adds power and we speed up again and gently lift back into the air. What a blast! Next, he turns the camera rearward and gets some footage of the spray as we skim the water again.

We stay low over the lake, maybe 20 feet high or so, and hug the shoreline. We bank to the right and go into an inlet, then bank left and turn around. Heading back to the lake, I notice some power poles on the hilltops.

“I assume you know where all the power lines and obstacles are,” I say.

“Oh yes, been flying this area for years. There are no lines on those poles.”

“Can we fly by Lizard Peak?”

“You bet!”

We are soon approaching Lizard Peak.

A week earlier, the rest of our group had made a several-hour hike to the top of the mountain. I stayed behind and took pictures of them, met people and was entertained by radio-controlled aircraft doing aerobatics nearby. I wanted to see their trail and the peak.

Looking down and to the right, I can see a trail zig-zagging up the front of the mountain, and the picnic table at the top. About 20 hikers at the peak wave at us. We wave back, Joe cuts the power and circles back, and as we zoom by closer, we wave once again. Then we follow the more gradual trail down the backside of the mountain, leading us to the lake. Banking right, we head toward the airport. What a fantastic day!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where are you flying?
We are flying over and around Lake Havasu, Arizona.

What kind of aircraft are you in?

We are in a weight-shift ultralight that is equipped with amphibious floats so that it can land on water or a runway.

How did you get into the seat of the ultralight?

We have a portable Hoyer lift. It worked out perfectly so that it could be pushed right up to where I could be dropped into the seat. The legs of the Hoyer fit under the floats.

Whose airplane are you flying?

Joe, from Hanging Over Havasu, owns it. He gives instruction and rides. You can take lessons, and he is very open to training people with disabilities.

Were you afraid?

Joe is very conscientious. I felt totally safe with him. You can find him at www.hanginoverhavasu.com.