EASY MAGAZINE: Plane sailing
WHILE ALL OF HIS friends were riding waves on their surfboards, Paul Nugent was making model planes out of foil paper.
It was odd for someone growing up alongside Palm Beach to not be captivated by the crisp golden sand and cooling water.
However, Paul’s love for hydrodynamics and aerodynamics led him to be one of the few people in the region to own and operate a Flexwing Microlight aircraft.
“All my friends thought I was weird,” he told EASY magazine. “At low tide the water used to break into small pools and I would take my models into the water, tie them with a piece of string and pull it through the water.
“I had a stack of 30 exercise books filled with all my experiments because originally I was more interested in how an aircraft flies than actually flying one.”
The St Gabriel’s alumnus came to Barbados from England when he was four years old and since then he developed a love for island life. After school he worked with his father, Terry Nugent, one of the first marine engineers in Barbados.
“We used to do maintenance on the ships that used to come here and collect sugar. Unfortunately, over time my father realised that the sugar industry was not as fruitful, so he sold everything and we all went back to England.”
When Paul went back to Europe he got into hang-gliding and para-gliding in 1990 and became an instructor that same year; four years after he taught hang-gliding with the Hang-Gliding Association School in Brighton, London. There was nothing more thrilling and exciting than walking up to a high peak, jumping off and then soaring while looking down at the world in awe.
“I got into that sport because of a very bad break-up with a girlfriend . . . . I was into clubbing a lot, typical teeange stuff and I saw an advert for lessons in a magazine, and from there my life completely changed.
“I came back to Barbados in the holiday of 1989 and I brought a hang-glider with me and I hang-glided on Mount Pleasant. I was not the first person to glide in Barbados but the first to use an ultra-high performance competition glider.”
After his brief stay, he went back to England again and it wasn’t long before he returned to the land of flying fish and coucou.
“My friends kept asking me what I was doing here [London] since I had Barbadian citizenship. One day I woke up and thought to myself, “Yeah, what am I doing living in England?” I sold everything and moved back to Barbados, having no clue what I was going to do and around that time para-gliding had now been invented. That has always been my thing up to today.”
From then Paul had a new outlook on sports in the Caribbean. He thought it would be a great way to attract tourists to the island and diversify the idea of sports in the region.
“I always tried to link sports and tourism here and the one element we never had was air sports, and that is where I made the connection with Microlights.
“My wife Jackie and I talked about it for many years but we were concerned about the market for it. Also in the early days, the performance of microlights was very poor, but then, all of a sudden, helicopters left Barbados and we thought it was the right time to launch the business.
“We are unique in the sense that we are a non-profit business. We get involved with charities and any way that we can use the aircraft to help promote aviation and Barbados is what we are really about; the idea is to give back what we got from flying in Barbados.”
Officially, Microlights Flights has been in business since February this year and the 53-year-old wasted no time in lending support for a good cause. In tribute to two-year-old Daniel Best, who suffers from a rare condition, Paul flew his aircraft, the Pegasus Quik 912, with a special banner. He joined the campaign in raising US$52 000 for Daniel to get an urgent operation in Canada.
Although Paul thought the aircraft would have gained the interest of young people he said that unintentionally, he has a market of over-40s.
“Funny enough we get as many women as we do men, which surprised us,” he said, “and I would like to thank the Barbados Light Aeroplane Club because we could not have gotten this venture on the road without them.”