Microlights are extremely light aircraft powered by lightweight motors. They are tiny and slow-flying compared to the planes operated by aero clubs, or to ultralights (home-made aircraft). They first appeared in New Zealand in the early 1980s. Because they could take off and land in paddocks, they were soon being used for weed spraying and topdressing on farms, beach surveillance and other practical purposes as well as pleasure flying.
A microlight pilot’s love of mushrooms sparked a search and rescue operation one evening at Pāuatahanui, near Porirua. After reports of a microlight crashing in a field, a rescue helicopter was sent out. But it turned out that the pilot had simply landed in the field, and was calmly gathering mushrooms.
Types of microlight
Microlights appeal because they are cheap – they can be home-built from plans – and relatively easy to fly. They are categorised as one- or two-place machines – capable of carrying the pilot only, or the pilot and a passenger. Their variety is dazzling and includes weight-shift controlled craft like motorised hang gliders, stick-and-rudder aeroplanes, gyrocopters and helicopters, and powered parachutes or paragliders.
A Microlight Aircraft Association was established in New Zealand in 1981. Today the Recreational Aircraft Association of New Zealand administers the microlight licensing system and co-ordinates regional microlight associations and events. Pilots progress through novice, intermediate and advanced licences before they are considered fully competent, and a passenger rating is required to operate two-place microlights.
Another sport that has become popular in New Zealand since the 1990s is paramotoring – essentially motorised paragliding. The pilot wears a motor at the back of his or her harness to achieve and maintain altitude. Once airborne, the pilot can switch off the motor and soar as if paragliding. Paramotoring makes it possible to fly in places and conditions not suitable for paragliding. It is governed by the Recreational Aircraft Association. A New Zealand paramotoring rally was held in February 2005.