Map: Southwest aerotrekking route
Map by Jason Lee
Adventure Guide:
Aerotrekking in the Southwest
June/July 2008
The Sky Gypsies

Membership in the Sky Gypsies has its privileges: namely, the freedom to explore wilderness, discover ruins, run with coyotes, and soar with eagles—in your own fantastic flying machine.

>The Machines: Aerotrekking machines are a distinct subspecies of "light sport aircraft,"A kite-winged planes that are also known as weight-shift ultralights, trikes, or personal air vehicles (PAVs). Powered by rear propellers and steered with a bar at the pilot's fingertips, the trikes have a range of 300 miles or about five hours of airtime. Expensive models can hit 110 miles an hour or, when low-level flying is necessary, a minimum speed of 40 miles an hour. Trikes go for anywhere from $20,000 (for a minimalist machine) to $120,000 (fully loaded).

>Training: A Sport Pilot license requires at least 20 hours of flight instruction, at about $200 an hour. More than 500 pilots nationwide have been certified after a series of tests.

>Safety: Aerotrekking routes are rated like whitewater rivers for danger and difficulty. Low-altitude flight requires intense focus, and the planes are unsuitable for high winds or night flying. There's no crash data for ultralights, since the FAA doesn't track accidents and the National Transportation Safety Board rarely investigates them. But crashes, including fatal ones, are not unknown.

>The Sky Gypsies: The aerotrekkers' club is based in Rodeo, New Mexico, about 120 miles east of Tucson. Arizona airstrips are located near Rimrock, Pleasant Rock, Kansas Settlement, and La Cholla. New Mexico strips are near Deming, Truth or Consequences, Rodeo, and the Plains of St. Augustine. About 200 members pay an annual fee ranging from $1,000 all the way up to $270,000. The club is invitation-only with a strict no-alcohol policy. Contact the Sky Gypsies at skygypsies.com or air creation.net. For more about the Sky Gypsy Cafe, one of the most remote coffeehouses in the U.S., see skygypsycoffee.com.

Text by Tom Clynes