Becoming a pilot isn’t cheap, and some pilots will save for years just to pay for training. But there are many forms of aviation that can be learned with very little up front costs, and buying equipment may be cheaper than you think. So what is the cheapest way to learn to fly?
No form of aviation is going to be super cheap, but there are many aircraft that really can be bought by the average person on a budget.
Training makes up a big portion of the costs, so in this post we’ll concentrate on aircraft that are easy to fly and require very little training with no licensing.
I’ve chosen 6 ways that you can get yourself in the air, and you can start pursuing all of these today, so let’s check them out.
The cheapest ways to learn how to fly
1. Paragliding (PG)
Paragliding is an unpowered form of flight that can be learned in as little as five days. Pilots strap into a harness that's similar to a climbing harness, clip a fabric parachute type wing onto it, and takeoff from a hilltop by simply running into the air.
The training is cheap, and will usually cost less than $1000. Equipment is also cheap, and if you know what to look for you can get all of the equipment second hand for less than the cost of training. This makes paragliding the number one cheapest way to learn to fly.
There are some bargains to be found on eBay, or on second hand groups on Facebook, but leave buying your equipment until after training. This way you’ll know exactly what you need, and you’ll know what to look for in new and used equipment.
Paragliding does have its risks, but it can be a very safe sport if pilots take the time to learn about the dangers, and train with a school that follows a recognised syllabus like the USHPA 5 step rating program.
The training and rating system is built on knowledge gained over forty-plus years of teaching the sport of paragliding. So if you are thinking of learning to paraglide, be sure to confirm that your chosen school is recognised by the USHPA for US pilots, or the BHPA for UK pilots.
2. Paramotoring (PPG)
Also known as powered paragliding, paramotoring is very similar to paragliding, but the aircraft is propelled by a small engine surrounded by a protective cage that resembles a fan.
Paragliding pilots need a hill to launch, but paramotors can be launched from flat ground with very little runway.
Another bonus, and the thing that makes paramotoring much safer than paragliding is the fact that they can be flown without the reliance of wind or thermals.
Paramotors can be transported to the launch site in an average sized car. Pilots can then fly hundreds of miles, and enjoy flights that can last for many hours.
Paramotor training is also cheap and will cost from $1000-$2000, but it’s important to find a quality instructor. Training is unregulated and anybody can offer instruction, so a little research will be needed before choosing your school.
Equipment can also be bought on a budget, and there’s plenty of good second hand machines available on eBay or Facebook selling groups.
Training should be completed before buying a paramotor and wing, as there’s lots to learn. Some equipment should only be used by experienced pilots, so you need to buy the right equipment for your level of experience.
Paramotoring is the cheapest way to learn to fly for those who would like an engine. This website is dedicated to paramotoring so have a scan through our helpful posts HERE to learn more.
If you're torn between paragliding and paramotoring, you can find out all of the differences between the two in THIS POST.
Or learn to paramotor on a budget by checking out THIS POST.
3. Hang gliding (HG)
Hang gliding is another form of unpowered foot launched flight, that uses a simple cloth wing attached to an airframe. The aircraft is controlled by simply shifting body weight in opposition to a stationary control bar.
You can learn to fly a hang glider in around 5 days, and no license is required in the US or UK.
Hang gliding has a reputation for being very dangerous. In the early years of hang gliding, pilots used trial and error hoping to survive the mistakes long enough to learn the skills needed for extended flight. Many did not, hence the sport being seen as unsafe by many.
As with all forms of aviation risk is still present today, but with many years of knowledge, instructors are able to train pilots to a syllabus that will greatly reduce this risk.
This makes hang gliding risk comparable to that of paragliding, with pilot error being the number one cause of accidents.
Similarly to paragliding, hang gliding pilots will need a hill to launch, and wind or thermals will keep them aloft for many hours.
Training is cheap and will cost $1200-$1600 with a USHPA recognised school. UK pilots can train with a BHPA recognised school for £1000-£1500.
Equipment can be purchased second hand for a very affordable price by using eBay and second hand groups on Facebook.
4. Foot launched Powered hang gliders (FLPHG)
If you like the sound of hang gliding but you don’t fancy finding a hill every time you want to fly, powered hang gliders can be launched from flat fields in zero wind.
A standard hang glider is used for its wing and control frame, and a small two stroke engine is used to power the aircraft. This is known as a foot launched powered hang glider, or a FLPHG.
All beginner pilots must learn conventional hang gliding before training to fly a FLPHG, so there will be additional costs for powered conversion training.
A full hang gliding course will teach you rigging and launching the wing, airspeed control, turning, approaching, and landing, which are all the foundations for foot launched powered hang gliding.
But with that being said, power conversion is relatively simple, and can usually be completed in a matter of days as there’s no license requirements.
Launching can be tricky, and more space will be needed than would be needed for a paramotor launch because of the extra weight.
Similarly to comparing paramotoring to paragliding, powered hang gliding flight tends to be much safer than regular hang gliding because they can be flown in calm weather conditions.
If you’re in the US you’ll be happy to know that ultralights can be flown without a license, providing the aircraft meets the definitions laid out in FAR Part 103 for Ultralight Vehicles.
Paramotors and foot launched hang gliders actually fall under this category, but many fixed wing aircraft and even rotorcraft can meet the definitions.
The definitions currently apply only to single-seat craft, with exemptions for two-seat craft that are used for instructional purposes only.
Training costs vary depending on what craft you’ll be flying, but on average most people require between 10 and 20 hours of ultralight instruction.
Second hand flex wing aircraft can be purchased for around $4000 meaning it’s still a relatively cheap form of flight.
Take a look at Paramotor vs ultralights for a good comparison between the two.
6. Sub 70kg (SPHG)
Similar to US ultralight regulations, pilots in the UK can now fly wheel launched microlights that fall into the sub 70 KG category with no license.
These aircraft are termed Self-Propelled Hang Gliders (SPHG) because of their familiarity to hang gliders. You'll also hear them referred to as sub 70 microlights.
In April 2017 the CAA issued an exemption allowing Self-Propelled Hang Gliders to be fitted with wheels. Prior to this point all take-offs had to be by foot, if the aircraft had wheels the pilot would have needed a license.
Training is still required, but there are no exams or qualifications to obtain which makes it much cheaper. Sub 70 pilots will also avoid the biannual medicals, and yearly inspections that microlight pilots must complete.
Paramotor trikes and quads fall under this category, as do powered hang gliders, and many flex wing aircraft. But the aircraft must meet all of the definitions of a sub 70 KG microlight.
It must have a stall speed or minimum steady flight speed in the landing configuration not exceeding 20 knots calibrated airspeed. And a maximum unladen mass, including full fuel of 70 KG, or 75 KG if the aircraft is equipped with an emergency parachute recovery system.
Sub 70 KG aircraft are still fairly new to the market, so you won't find many second hand at the moment, but you can take a look at popular aircraft like the Peebea for some prices.
Which cheap form of flight to choose
Now you know the cheapest ways to learn how to fly, the hard part is choosing which one is right for you. You should base your decision on more than just the costs, so use the following to help you decide.
Do you have hills close to your home?
If there's hills close to your home then you may be considering paragliding or hang gliding, but you'll need to make sure that these hills are suitable.
You'll need landing areas at the bottom of the hills, and if you choose hang gliding you'll want a way of taking a vehicle to the top, as you can't carry it by hand.
There are other things to consider, so speak to an instructor about your planned launch site before continuing.
If you have no hills close by then you don't need to rule these two out completely, but ask yourself if you're OK with travelling to the nearest launch site every time you wish to fly.
Where will you launch?
All of these forms of powered flight will need a large space for launching and landing. Paramotorists will usually approach a farmer and ask permission to use their fields, this will also be the best way to find a FLPHG launch site.
Sub 70 KG flex wing aircraft need a little more runway than paramotors, but a large field will usually work fine providing your vehicle is large enough to transport it there every time you want to fly.
If you can't transport it then you may need to pay for a hanger at your local airfield. Similarly, most ultralights will not be transportable in an average sized vehicle, so you may need to use a local airfield to fly one of these. This obviously depends on your choice of aircraft.
Would you like to travel with your aircraft?
Paragliders are by far the easiest aircraft to travel with, closely followed by paramotors. Both of these will easily fit in a small car, and you can even take paragliders abroad on a plane in your luggage.
Paramotors can be launched almost anywhere so they are great to travel with. Simply find a large enough space to launch, assemble it within the space of about five minutes, and takeoff! It really is that simple.
Do you want an aircraft that is also cheap to run?
The cheapest aircraft to run are obviously gliders, and all you'll need is regular inspections to keep then airworthy. For powered flight, the bigger and heavier the aircraft, the more fuel you're going to use, so bare this in mind when going through your options.
Check out THIS POST to find out how much paramotoring is costing me per year.
Thanks for checking out the cheapest ways to learn how to fly, good luck with your choice!