Return to Flying by Kevin Dore

It was the South Island Agricultural Field days at Kirwee in late March last year that really got me back into flying.

I had snuck away from the office around lunchtime and joined a friend to stroll around and take in the exhibits with little more than idle curiosity as an objective.  After a spot of lunch on the go, my friend, who had arrived an hour or so before me, said "you're interested in planes, did you see that plane down on the far row?" "Plane! What plane?" I asked in a tone of genuine excitement and anticipation.


I made a beeline for the far row thinking that I was going to find a Cresco or something similar promoting fertilizer, but no, what I discovered was a brand spanking new Alpi Pioneer 300.

I was blown away by the design, sophistication and equally impressed by the performance data it promised.  I was smitten you could say.  The man I spoke to on the stand was Ross Marfell, himself an Alpi Pioneer 300 owner, a very active flyer and glider pilot.  Ross's enthusiasm for the Alpi was hard to conceal and somewhat infectious.  I took away a brochure, quickly losing any interest in most of the other exhibits at the show.

Around a week after the field days and with my Alpi Pioneer brochure by now looking rather worse for wear, I phoned Alpi Aviation NZ and spoke to the sole New Zealand agent for Alpi, Logan McLean.  Logan invited me to come out to Fernside and have a test flight.   I took up the offer, and really that was it, I was sold.  After some months of 'due diligence' I eventually placed an order with Logan and I am now the very proud owner of ZK KPD an Alpi Pioneer 200 Hawk.  As far as options goes the plane I purchased is quite basic although finished to Hawk specs with leather seating molded canopy etc., KPD has fixed gear and a fixed pitch prop.  Other models in the Alpi stable offer retractable gear, a constant speed prop and more, depending on the depth of your pocket.

It was necessary of course to get myself back up to speed with qualifications.  For me that meant renewing my long lapsed PPL.  A few hours with Nathan Clarke at Rangiora saw me pass a BFR and I sat an Aviation Law exam at the Canterbury Aero Club.  I renewed my PPL and at age 66 took the opportunity to apply for a Recreational Pilot License or RPL at the same time.  It's important to mention that if you want to get into flying microlight aircraft the simplest way is to obtain a Microlight Certificate.  This will obviously involve training by a CAA approved organization and you will be required to pass an aviation law examination and a fit and proper person test.

I well remember my very first flying lessons in the late 60's at Rongotai in Wellington, when I was doing harbor-entry circuits.  The inter islander ferry Wahine was lying on its side in its watery grave.  The plane was a Victa 115.

I then did nothing more about learning to fly until I moved to Rockhampton, Queensland in 1973.  I learned to fly and this time I stuck at it, gained my PPL on Cessna 172's and did around 130 hours or so before moving back to New Zealand.  I renewed my PPL back here but by then I was raising a family and buying a house and spare money for luxuries like flying just wasn't available.  Even today hiring a plane such as a 40 year old Cessna 172 or Piper Archer is a big outlay per hour.  Then along came the advanced modern Microlight which has put flying back on the agenda and mad it much more accessible to everyone.

There's a revolution going on in General Aviation, it seems to me.  Today I can fly to Omaka (Blenheim) in an hour and 20 minutes in my plane, around the same time as a Piper Archer.  I would use less than 20 litres Mogas fuel to do that at around 13-15 litres per hour compared to using 53 litres at around 40 litres of Avgas per hour in the Archer.  OK the Archer can take four people, but statistics would show that most flights are conducted with just one or two people.

Then there is the cost of maintenance.  An oil change or new plugs doesn't mean that you have to take it to a Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer or LAME, you can do it yourself.  Fortunately, for the LAME there are still going to be older GA aircraft around for a while yet and there will of course always be some maintenance for microlights outside the skill set of the owner.

The Aero Clubs have to be looking hard at all this and I am sure they are, some have already seen the economic benefit of operating microlights for ab initio training.  Chances are high that future airline pilots (if they haven't been replaced by drone technology) will have spent at least the first 50 or so hours of their training in a microlight.

Insurance for KPD costs me around $2,000.00 per year and then there is the cost of a hangar to consider.  Subscriptions to clubs and AIP's are another consideration, but really that's about it.  I am very fortunate to have Logan do my routine maintenance.  He is an extremely capable and versatile technician and a veteran microlight pilot.

Needless to say, I haven't looked back since taking delivery of my Alpi Pioneer, I just can't believe how fortunate I am to have, by chance found my way back into actually flying.  I have a good friend, a Boeing 777 Captain with around 30,000 hours flies regularly with me and he says he is staggered at the performance and handling of the Alpi and he likes it more every time he climbs in.  He and I went to Wanaka for lunch with friends recently, down there at 8,500 back at 9,500 and 1 hour 35 mins each way.

There must be more than a few lapsed license flyers out there who are just unaware at how easy and affordable it is to return to the skies.  Do them a favour and tell them.

A special thanks of course goes to my friend Clem at the Kirwee Field Days who pointed me toward that far row.