Is This Legal?
June 26, 2017 |
Section II | Common Sense & The Law, Ultralights flying near clouds
As you can imagine, this doesn't do it justice.
The feel of air on exposed skin and immediate smells makes open air
flying the most compelling kind for those willing to do it.
This morning I went for a
hang glider trike flight and found myself amidst small cumulus clouds a
few hundred feet up. It was magical. Clouds served as pylons in the sky
allowing me to climb, dive and turn around them in a way that made the
sky feel like my playground. I was dancing with clouds.
It also made me think about
legality, perception and risk--how some people will look at these
pictures, or watch from the ground, and think "that's not legal!"
Sometimes I would zoom climb above a cloud which, from below, would look
like going through it. Overzealous FAA guys have made these kinds of
mistakes with statements like "you were flying over those houses."
Reality is that the FAA pays very little attention to us but
that's how we want to keep it.
So how is this legal? FAR
103's cloud clearance and visibility minimums are nearly identical to
what airplane pilots must follow. If we're in G airspace, which is
essentially the whole country, and we're below 1200' above ground level
(AGL), we only need a mile and clear of clouds. That's it. These clouds
were low, with bases at 700' and tops less than 1100' AGL so it was easy
to stay in G airspace.
We really do have amazing
freedoms here in the U.S. but, like all freedoms, they must be
preserved. Freedom is never free.
is about 130' above sea level so here I'm around 900'. G airspace goes
up to 1200' AGL (700' close to many airports) so as long as I keep this
reading below 1300' I'm good to remain clear of clouds and have 1 mile
What About The Risk?
So it's legal in the right airspace but is it smart? There may be a
modicum of extra risk because there could be someone else up there
coming around the cloud that I don't see. The only craft likely to be
doing this are probably pretty slow, and can turn sharply to avoid going
through the clouds. That's why it's so important not to fly *IN* the
clouds. Pilots flying on instruments won't be down here because airspace
is designed to keep them higher.
Another thing is where I'm at. In the above picture you can my runway a
couple miles north but I'm essentially the only one flying out there
right now. There are a lot of little airplanes here, because
it's Florida and beautiful weather permeates mornings, but they're
nearly all up higher.
Not only can we fly our little craft like this but we don't need to
worry about the 500' rule that mandates staying that far from any
man-made thing. Yuck. I can (and did) go play at 3 feet along fencerows
among Serengeti-looking pastureland without worrying about someone
sicking the law on me. Don't disturb the cattle, of course, but ief stay
clear of people and their creatures, we're good.
The freedoms we have here are remarkable but, like elsewhere in life,
have to get along with fellow humans lest they rise up and make laws
against us. So enjoy your flying, your dancing, and your pylons, but