Vaucluse ULM flight school are based out of a hangar in Avignon-Sud Airport where they are in possession of around ten different types of aircrafts – from gliders; to stunt planes, microlight aircraft and the bright yellow Auto-Giro that I’m going up in today.
I arrive at the hangar early enough to watch a husband and wife take flight, one after the other, while the grounded partner takes care of the baby in the pram. They seem pretty happy afterwards, if not a little shaky at the knees from the flight, but it lets me know what I’m in for with the take-off and landing.
The pilot comes over to discuss the flight plan with me when it’s my time to fly and we agree on a 20-minute flight over Avignon, although the offer of longer flights covering The Alpilles and Luberon Region are options too. I feel like twenty minutes will be plenty of time to be a passenger in what seems to be a large-scale version of a toy gyro-copter I got for a Christmas present a few years ago. The pilot tells me that he has been running the flight-school for 3-years and has taught pilots to fly from scratch and who are now able to perform loop-the-loop and barrel roll manoeuvres for fun.
I’m not scared of flying at all; in fact I love flying and enjoy the rush of take-off and landing in large commercial jets, but what I am sitting in is basically a go-kart with a propeller attached to the top and having watched the gyrocopter already complete two trips, I can only wonder how much fuel there might be left in the tank.
The engine roars loud enough to still be heard over the ear-defenders and helmet I’m wearing but it doesn’t drown out the Kenny Loggins song “Danger Zone” that has been playing in my head on repeat as we taxi to the runway.
The French control tower is crackling in our headphones, the pilot says “We’re ready to fly” over his headset to me and the little yellow go-kart is already getting up to speed as I respond “Roger that!”
We’re up and banking sharply to the right past the control tower and off along the Durance River towards Avignon.
I throw both my arms out to the sides like Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider and the pilot gives me a thumbs-up form the cockpit. The air resistance is huge and it’s impossible to keep my arms from being pushed around in the sky, so I decide to put them back inside the aircraft for fear of losing an arm. Every change of tone in the engine sets off alarm bells in my head, but I’m certain that we will be fine and I try to enjoy the ride which is quite comfortable all things considered.
Circling over the Palais des Papes produces some inspiring views and the banking turns mean I’m looking straight-down into the courtyards of the great palace. The whole walled city looks stunning and the luscious natural environment on the other side of the river provides a perfect backdrop.
I can see for miles around this region of Provence and the limestone peak of Mont Ventoux majestically glows in the sunshine making it difficult to picture the pain that the Tour de France riders must go through on the ascent to the summit.
All too soon we are making our approach back to the runway; there is so much beauty to be seen from this height that it would almost require back-to-back flights to take it all in. The pilot sways us from side to side as he lines us up for landing and with a small bump we return to terra firma and taxi back over to the hangar to complete the flight.
A 20-minute flight over Avignon costs €75 or 100€ for 30 minutes.
- Helicopter Tour