Taking Flight for Fun
As Leonardo da Vinci observed, "When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."
It should be added that if you've never flown, you will always wonder what you are missing.
Colorado's Front Range offers excellent conditions for a wide variety of air sports, as well as spectacular scenery to view from the air. Here are nine ways to enjoy aviation - some just take you along for the ride while others let you take the controls and become pilot in command.
- First Published:
- August 12th 2009 at 06:00 a.m.
- Last Updated:
- August 11th 2009 at 02:53 p.m.
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For the ultimate thrill seeker, skydiving offers the opportunity to conquer one's fears, feel the rush of incredible speed, view spectacular scenery and walk away with well-earned bragging rights. A quick flight up to 17,500 feet and it's time to jump. After a breathtaking 130-mph, one-minute freefall, your instructor will open your parachute. Then it's an easy five-minute glide down to landing, while you enjoy a stunning view of the mountains and nearby Longs Peak. Mile Hi Skydiving Center serves everyone from beginners to world-class competitors. For first-timers, a tandem skydive with a licensed instructor is $209, including preflight training, all the necessary equipment and the one-way plane ride. Watch that first step, it's a doozy!
The powered paraglider is probably one of the newest forms of recreational aviation. The PPG consists of a motor with a propeller worn on the pilot's back and a paragliding wing. The pilot launches by running and pulling the wing to inflate it, somewhat like launching a kite. The motor allows the pilot to climb. There is no license required to fly a PPG, however thorough training by a qualified instructor is important for safety. Starting at around $6,500 for a kit, the PPG is also one of the least-expensive powered aircraft available. To fly like a bird, swooping over trees and dragging your feet in ponds, the PPG is the perfect aircraft. To learn more about flying PPGs across the Front Range, join the flock's yahoo group for information on training and upcoming flying events.
Aviation enthusiasts eager for a bit of nostalgia will find a ride in a World War II warbird offers the experience of a lifetime. One might be surprised at the variety of aircraft locally owned and available for rides. Mile High Skyride can put you in the cockpit behind the roaring engine of an AT-6 Texan trainer or a rare two-seat British Spitfire. Both aircraft feature dual controls so, under the pilot's close supervision, you can even get a little stick time. To really get a feel for what the aircraft were designed for and are capable of, ask the pilot to demonstrate some combat maneuvers! A 40-minute ride in the AT-6 runs $400 and will cost in the range of $2,000 in the Spitfire.
Soaring in a sailplane may just be the ultimate way to take advantage of the local terrain and resulting flying conditions. Nestled near the Boulder Flatirons, Mile High Gliding provides an excellent location to ride rising thermals in the summer and mountain waves in the winter. When the tow plane releases you high above Boulder, enjoy views of downtown and the University of Colorado, with the Rocky Mountains in the background as you quietly spiral back down to earth. Or, take a longer flight and experience smooth aerobatic maneuvers. A 15-minute City Flight starts at $79 for one passenger and $99 for two, with longer flights available. Flight training typically costs about $70 per lesson.
If you've dreamed of becoming a pilot, new sport pilot and light sport aircraft categories established by the FAA in 2004 have made recreational aviation less complicated and more affordable than ever. Under the new rules, a person can become a certificated pilot in half the training time previously required. Accordingly, the sport pilot certificate has fewer flight privileges, however many people are finding that the light sport restrictions don't limit the fun. Skyraider Aviation was the first local flight school to offer training in light sport aircraft and remains a top choice for sport pilots. The school has three different light sport aircraft in its fleet. Many pilots find the light sport aircraft to be sporty and responsive in comparison to other training aircraft. A 45-minute introductory flight lesson is $99. Flight training starts at $150 per hour, including the aircraft rental and flight instructor.
The helicopter brings a whole new dimension to flying. The ability to take off and land vertically, hover and fly low to the ground is not only cool, but also makes helicopters fun and engaging to fly. These flight characteristics as well as the great visibility make for excellent sightseeing. During summertime you can remove the doors and feel the wind rush by as you glide through the air. Rotors of the Rockies offers flight training, charter service and sightseeing tours from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. Enjoy a half-hour flight over Denver landmarks or the foothills with a view of the sunset like no other for $150. To pursue a pilot certificate, training starts at $380 per hour, including the helicopter rental and flight instructor.
To experience the thrill of free falling without the necessity of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, SkyVenture Colorado offers indoor skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel. No experience is necessary - just step out into the flight chamber and feel the rush of 120-mph winds. During an introductory flight, beginners learn the basic freefall position under the close guidance of an instructor. Additional skills may be learned during subsequent flights and experienced skydivers may use the wind tunnel to finely hone their technique. An introductory experience, two one-minute flights, starts at $43 for kids under 12 and $48 for those 13 and older, including all the necessary apparel and instructor supervision. Reservations are recommended.
If a smooth, peaceful ride on the wind in the cool of the early morning sounds good, hot air ballooning is the way to go. A balloon ride offers the chance to drift along with the wind, barely feeling movement, and enjoy the Colorado scenery with friends. The balloon pilot controls ascent and descent and the day's winds decide where the ride will take you. The Colorado Balloon Club holds monthly events for members and those who would like to learn about ballooning at locations all along the Front Range. A favorite spot is Chatfield State Park, which features beautiful views, typically favorable flying conditions, and the opportunity to splash and dash in Chatfield Reservoir. A typical balloon ride lasts about an hour and starts at $175 per person.
Young people ages 8 to 17 can experience the thrill of an airplane ride free of charge, courtesy of the Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagles Program. Designed to spur kids' interest in aviation by providing a meaningful flight experience, the program offers rides to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to fly. EAA member pilots worldwide donate their time, piloting skills and the use of their aircraft to treat the kids to free rides - gladly accepting the kids' excitement and smiles upon return as payment. Launched with the support of legendary Gen. Chuck Yeager and now endorsed by actor and pilot Harrison Ford, the Young Eagles Program has flown over 1.4 million kids since it began in 1992. A Young Eagles Coordinator in your area can schedule a Young Eagles flight for your child.