Phuket from the Sky
October 16, 2014
Sometimes great adventures come in small packages. Paul Ehrlich boards a pint-sized gyroplane to experience the newest way to see Phuket. Photographed by John H.
Published on Oct 16, 2014
I am 300 meters in the air in a gleaming, canary yellow, outsize toy plane. Below, the scenic scope of Thailand's largest island, Phuket, is spread out in spectacular views of stately villas, luxury resorts, sun-glinting swimming pools and green hillsides. "Even the party town of Patong looks good from this height," quips the pilot. We now cruise at a slow speed along a soft-sanded beach low enough to look right into sunbathing faces, and then take a graceful turn out over the aquamarine Andaman Sea. The view is arresting, spectacular.
By The Air (+66 93 592 7558; facebook.com/bytheair), the country's sole distributor of the German-import AutoGyro Cavalon, provides 30-minute trial flights over Phuket and 60-minute flights to the nearby islands, including Khao Phing Kan, better known as James Bond Island, where it just so happens that 007 flies an autogyro nicknamed Little Nellie in the movie You Only Live Twice. The diminutive craft can fly up to five hours—or 650 kilometers—on a full tank of gas, so it also can be booked for longer aerial adventures, such as to Koh Samui or any nearby island with an airport, but since you can't bring any luggage, it is better suited to sightseeing tours than practical transport.
Also called a gyroplane or gyrocopter, the two-seats-side-by-side, high-tech Cavalon, winner of the 2012 Red Dot Design Award and 2014 German Design Award, is a hybrid helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft, using an unpowered rotor to develop lift and an engine-powered propeller to provide thrust. The Rotax engine is considered more environmentally friendly than some other types of engines and can reach maximum speeds of 160 kilometers per hour.
The sensation? It's like riding on waves of wind, or astride a big, sexy motorcycle on a road of air. While the Cavalon, the craft I flew in, has no doors, the tandem MTOsport, another model in their fleet, also has no roof, just a windshield in front for the ultimate one-with-the-sky experience.
The adrenaline-fueled, extreme-sport rush is sky high, so for those who find the flight addictive, By The Air has an aviation school for full gyro pilot licenses and a mini starter course that can be continued. Who says only Bond gets all the great gadgets?
Everything is photogenic, so go fully charged with extra camera batteries and memory-card space. Or even better, ask By the Air to add a GoPro Hero camera to video your flight, at no additional cost, freeing you for heavenly views.