The ultralite tribute to pioneer flight

Today a tiny ultralite emulates them, floating down to the river with the lightest of touches. Aboard are the pilot and his single passenger in a magnificent machine that owes much to the original pioneers of flight.

The beauty of the ultralite is the freedom of flight, uninhibited like the eagle on the wing as it soars above the Falls. There are no doors to block the view of the cascade below. The enchantment is in the surreal atmosphere a thousand feet up, alone in a sky of cobalt blue.

Glenn Moroney is the designer and manufacturer of the ultralite and it is a home-grown product, one of three he has developed, two as land planes and one as a float plane. Formerly known as Bush Birds Flight Safaris and now simply called Ultralite, his company has been operating for ten years, starting on commercial farms and diversifying into Victoria Falls.

One might say that, although he currently masterminds the jet boat on the river under the banner of Shearwater Adventures, his greatest achievement is the float plane.

“People love landing on the Zambezi River,” he says. “It is a most graceful flight with a short take-off and smooth landing. People take their video cameras and get brilliant shots of the Falls – it’s the only aircraft that can take you up with no doors, an open cockpit.”

It’s a flight for the young and old (from six-year-old children to grandmothers). Glenn speaks proudly of the Second World War bomber pilot who flies the ultralite every time he is in Victoria Falls. “You see, it’s like being a bird up there, a special sensation with scenery that is like no other. The whole history of flight is behind this and we have simply tuned it into the present age.”

Glenn admits that creating the aircraft had a touch of the Flight of the Phoenix about it. While he did not train elsewhere, he designed it, built it and tested it himself. “Victoria Falls is all about imagination but also in preserving the environment. And we are certainly working on new ideas. We want to create products that will continue to operate even in 50 years’ time.”

The ultralite is a three-axis light aircraft that has conventional characteristsics – fixed wing, two-seater, engine mounted on the nose and all the conventional controls of a light aircraft with very short take-off and landing (100 – 125 metres for take-off). Some people, however, prefer to fly in the company’s other ultralites from the airstrip.

There is a restriction of 1,000 feet over the Falls for noise reasons, so the aircraft is 4,500 feet above sea level. The main part of the tour – 15 minutes for the float plane, 20 minutes for the land plane – is over the Falls but there is also an opportunity for some game viewing. “There are strict laws guiding the height of an aircraft because there are canoe operations, bird watchers and small boats on the river below you and you want to preserve this heritage, too,” says Glenn.

“Although there have been no safety problems , the company is linked with the rescue operation Mars and there are standard procedures to follow, including the signing of indemnity forms. In the past there were bigger float planes operating on the river and these tended to create an environmental disaster. It used to take them a couple of kilometres to launch and even the birds would take off as it was so noisy. Our own aircraft are extremely quiet.”

Glenn says that other competitors have dropped out of sight and left the field and waters open to them to reach for the sky – a tibute to the Wright Brothers and their magnificent flights at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. The scenic spectacle at Victoria Falls over which the ultralite soars could have been their ulttimate dream.

November 2006
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