At a Glance
Wings Over Cambodia ultralight flights, rentals, tours and flight-training school. Five-minute “discovery” flight US$20.
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In 1971, Donald Cooney and a group of Long Island adrenaline junkies began experiments to see if their hang gliders could do more than glide. The first crude model was little more than a glider with an 8-horsepower MAC 101cc chainsaw engine attached.
It worked — and Cooney has gone on to win countless medals for his innovative designs in ultralight aviation.
“The difference between flying a conventional aircraft and an ultralight is like the difference between driving in the countryside in a car or riding a motorbike,” Cooney said. “You’re out there in the elements. You’re part of the scene instead of just observing.”
Cooney’s six ultralight aircrafts imported to Cambodia from France, the USA and Australia are a little more advanced than his chainsaw-engine powered models of the 70s. These modern machines are snowmobile- and jet ski-engine designs with 65 horsepower that fly at 70 km/h.
Twenty-four kilometers from Phnom Penh, Lee Baer is harnessed into the control seat of what the locals call a “flying motorcycle.” He’s waiting as Cooney shoos cows from the short narrow strip of dirt road that doubles as a crude airstrip.
“We don’t worry about the kids on the runway anymore. They jump out of the way,” said Baer. “It’s cows and traffic we have to worry about.”
The take off is quicker than expected. And rising above the nearby pagoda, regular wind surges from below create a rollercoaster sensation. Baer, who also holds a commercial pilot’s license, explained that these bumps are caused by thermals, or updrafts of warm air rising from the overheated ground below.
“A general aviation craft is a precise thing. You direct it,” said Baer, “but with an ultra light you herd it around. Even small puffs of air affect it. It takes finesse to fly this.