One of the greatest thrills in life is flying. That’s definitely true for me, as I’m a huge aviation fan. But instead of wanting to be a pilot myself and pursuing my pilot’s license, trying to buy my own plane, or, God forbid, becoming a cadet in Trump’s new space airforce, I’m perfectly satisfied experiencing the pleasures of the sky safely (albeit not inexpensively) as a passenger.
In fact, I can quickly rattle off my aviation Bucket List and have most of the items checked off already. Last year, I took 64 separate flights, and, in total, I’ve checked off flying in a hot air balloon, a helicopter, hang gliding (three times), skydiving (three times), ripping through the treetops with the longest zip line in Asia, taking small 4-person charter flights, and more.
Well, just yesterday I was able to check off another item from my aviation bucket list, and it was one of the most enjoyable of all of them; flying in an ultra-light.
A couple of hours north of Manila sits the province of Pampanga, which is best known for its red light bar scene in Angeles City. However, there’s far more to the area, as Pampanga is the home to Clark Airfield, which used to be the largest U.S. air base outside of the states post-Vietnam era. It closed down in the 1990s after a nearby volcano erupted and is now a commercial airport, but there are plenty of ex-military types and aviation enthusiasts around carrying on the skyward tradition.
An easy 40-minute drive north of Clark brought me to the Angeles City Aviation Club, a really chill private airstrip that consists of green manicured grass in the middle of rice fields and countryside. Among many other activities and flying experiences available, I opted for a recreational ultra-light flight.
For only about $55 I was able to soar in this tiny 2-person vessel high above the lush green landscape below, reaching a max of 6,500 feet. (It can go higher, but after that, you run into Cessna airspace, so the skies get more crowded).
Ultra-lights are actually a pretty broad classification, and I never knew about them before, but they combine elements of a glider with what looks like a gocart motor on top of the center wing, and then one seat for the pilot side by side with a passenger set (if it’s a 2-seater). Ultralights can also be open-air, like this one, or covered in small bubble contraptions, as there are many variations.
We started with a small safety briefing that consisted of the pilot joking that he gets all of my worldly possessions if something were to happen (not kidding!), and then he did run me through the basics. After rolling up to about 40 mph on the green grass strip, the aircraft easily lifted off, soaring higher and higher. Of course, we’re strapped into our seats and wear safety helmets and ear covers to drown out the high engine noise, but other than that, it’s as if we’re flying. This ultra-light was controlled with a stick to change elevation, but then, foot pedals to “steer” in left or right in the sky. The whole console board only consisted of three or four dials, and it seemed pretty. Straightforward to fly when the captain gave me the controls for about a minute while we were aloft.
After fifteen minutes soaring around, we swooped down to buzz some enthusiastic field workers, who waved and yelled and even threw things in the air to us. Soon, we circled around and came in for a surprisingly gentle landing on the green grassy strip again, and within ten seconds or so, the engine was off, and we were unstrapping and exiting.
What an amazing ride, and one of the best aviation thrills on my bucket list!
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