Trip around Northern Ireland

Written by Mark Smith on Thursday 04 October 2018 6 minute read

Change of plans

On Friday 28th September, I was meant to be taking a trip to Scotland, my first time up there, but unfortunately my flying partner couldn’t make it last minute, so a new plan was hatched with Ben Ringland.

I share a hangar with him and after the news came through, he convinced me it would be a great idea to get up at 6:30am and go for a flight around the country. I thought this would be great!

The Outward Route

We planned an anti-clockwise route around Northern Ireland that would take us from the Ulster Flying Club in Newtownards, up the mountainous east coast and then along the north coast past the likes of Ballintoy Harbour & the Giants Causeway, then onto Bellarena; the home of the Ulster Gliding Club.

Skydemon plot of the route.

As we were in the hangar after an evening meeting at the club, we got the planes ready the previous night. I added the Bellarena frequency to our radio so I wouldn’t be faffing or distracted in the air, checked the oil and gave the plane a thorough check over.

Departure was pegged for 7:30am, so pre-prepping the planes saved us a bit of time. All that was left in the morning was to pull out the planes, cabin check, top up fuel and check for water & debris.


We were in the air at 7:45am and had planned to fly in formation but that proved tricky as my plane was a good bit faster than Bens which is a Rans S6. I was doing the radio communications as a fight of 2 (first time doing this) and once past Whitehead realised I was much further ahead so had to pull back to 70kts to let him catch up.


As we flew north and hit Larne there were lots of worrying showers hanging over the mountains. If you don’t know the east coast of Northern Ireland it’s incredibly scenic with mountains and cliffs pretty much the entire way up, the perfect place to get mountain fog and clouds. Luckily the showers weren’t heavy and I could see that further North & West were clear which suited me as that was the destination. Due to this we carried on, if I hadn’t have been able to see through them we would have turned round. Never want to end up in IMC in a microlight!

North Coast

As I rounded Fairhead, Ben cut the corner to catch up again over Ballycastle and we then dropped down to 1k feet to get a good look at the north coast. Ballintoy Harbour is where Game of Thrones is filmed, from the ground it looks great but from the air it looks even better (doesn’t everything?), a quick glance over my shoulder and I could see Ben not too far behind me. Formation flying is brilliant! I do need more practice at it though to get tighter.

As we progressed along the north coast I had trouble reaching Eglinton Approach, they could hear me but I was reading them strength 1; I informed them of this and that I would try again over Portrush. A quick radio check once I was there and I got them loud and clear, I always like to be in communication with somebody, just in case something was to happen and I can listen to what other traffic is doing. At this time of the day though we had the skies to ourselves!


I last flew here about 15 years ago in a glider trial lesson with my Dad. I forgot that it was literally just a field, they are meant to have some runways cut into the grass but I couldn’t see them so landed on 13 keeping to the north of field as this appeared a bit shorter. An uneventful, but bumpy landing later thanks to it being a field and I was powered off ready to watch Ben landing.

You can always go around!

He came in a bit hot and made the correct decision to go around, remember, you can always go around!

Both planes safely on the ground at Bellarena.

Once down we got a quick snack, unfortunately there was no-one around so we didn’t stick around for too long before heading back. Ben also had to get to work (I’d taken the day off), so we popped the landing fee under a pot at the door to the club house and prepped the planes.

Ben warming up before departure.

Return Route

The return brought us down the western shore of Lough Neagh, the biggest freshwater lake in Europe. I was looking forward to this as I hadn’t flown this close down that side of it so there would be lots of new sights for me to see!

Return route via Dungannon and Ballynahinch.

Before setting off I took a look at the latest rain radar from NetWeather to see how clear the route back was. Mountains surrounding Bellarena limited our visibility of the skies to the south so this was really useful, and a decent tip for others in a similar situation.

It seemed the route back was 100% clear with some showers still hanging around the east coast, so off we went!


Due to the trouble staying in any form of formation on the outbound leg we decided to fly separately instead of a flight of 2 to avoid confusing controllers. I aimed to get a Basic Service as always, first from Eglinton Approach and then Aldergrove Approach, who were extremely busy.

Ben took off first and I followed him, gaining visibility of him around Limavady. I didn’t get too close but loosely followed him around the hills over the area which looked amazing. I lost him around Magherafelt so I sped up to my usual cruising speed of 85kts and climbed to 2,400ft and took in the views!

Lough Neagh looking stunning.

Wrap up

All in all it was a great flying day and the return flight had none of the showers which bothered us on the outward leg. Smooth skies and excellent visibility were the order of the day through the whole return flight, except for under a few small cumulus which were bumpy fellas!

Killyleagh Castle on the shore of Strangford Lough.

Northern Ireland really does have a lot to offer when it comes to flying, as you can see on the map about 90% of the flight was in clear class G airspace which makes for a low workload. There are also plenty of hidden gems like Killyleagh Castle which I spotted on the shore of Strangford Lough before turning north.


After we landed we grabbed some lunch at the club house and then headed for a wee walk around the hangars. That’s when I came across the below beast, don’t know how I had never seen or heard of it before!

Huge Wilga resting in a hangar.

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