A 4.30am alarm call sounds unpleasant, right? But when you haven’t slept a wink out of the pure excitement at what lies in store, it’s a welcome sound to jump out of bed to.
The reason for my unbridled joy lies East towards Al Ain, at Skyhub Paramotors at Skydive Dubai Desert Campus, the latest adrenaline aerial experience, Xcitor Trikes.
Now, to clarify, I’m something of a sucker for this sort of thing, with both a skydive over the Palm and a bungee jump long since checked off my bucket list. I can’t say the Xcitor Trike was on there with them, but that’s largely down to the fact I’d never heard of it. These part kart, part jet-propelled, part parachute-controlled flying machines are so new to the scene that only a few locations worldwide offer pilot licenses.
So what exactly is it? Bird? Plane? For a start, the name is befuddling. It just doesn’t look right on the page, does it? We bet you read it a few times just above. Even at reception I don’t really know what to say I’m there for… “parachute, motor, blades, or something,” I think is the best explanation available. In simple terms, it’s a two-seater, open-sided, wingless capsule, petrol-powered for thrust and with a paragliding parachute attached for lift.
Having said that, they aren’t the strangest things I’ve seen that morning; that honour goes to the guinea fowls and ostriches being farmed on site, next to the paintball field, behind the decommissioned army helicopter and around the corner from the Skydive runway; a playground of the unconventional. But back to the Trikes. Skyhub Paramotors has five on site and a whole heap of Paramotors – the solo and scaled-back version of the Trike – in their hangar, which is a petrolhead’s happy place, packed to the rafters with “boys’ toys”, including a fleet of imposing shiny propellers lined back-to-back. Once we’re pulled away from exploring, the briefing is, well, brief, and it’s down to the drop zone where we learn the reason for our early start – Trikes have to be up and back before 7am, when the first skydivers are taken up.
The parachutes come already rolled up, almost backpack sized, so are unfurled and clip-ped into position. Not the widest – slightly disconcerting considering how weighty me and my pilot are, plus the vehicle itself – they pack some serious wingspan of around ten metres.
Once seated and, of course, buckled up, my instructor gives me a run through of the buttons on the pilot’s controls. Right above my head is the emergency parachute release. “Never had to use it, and I intend to keep it that way,” he says, reassuringly, before explaining that if the proverbial muck hits the very real fan I’m sitting in front of, it’s best I lean forward and hug in tight. For further reassurance, I’m equipped with a radio headset, which feels cool Tom Cruise in Top Gun cool, especially as I become party to the constant dialogue between the two pilots occupying the sky at the same time.
Take off is smooth. We taxi for barely a few seconds before a large thrust takes us up, up and away, at first at a steady gradient, and then more steeply until we’re cruising around 3,000ft, high above the Dubai-Al Ain Road, which looks like a quiet stream meandering into the distance. It’s a curious feeling, such tranquillity despite having a giant propeller attached to your back, but that’s what the endless contours and colours of the empty desert will do to you. Every so often, the perfect landscape is punctuated by something eye-catching. First, it’s the gorgeous Dubai Lake, a man-made water feature carved into the dunes at Skydive Dubai’s desert campus to spell out “Dubai”; you’ve all seen the pictures, but much like the Palm drop zone, it’s so much more awesome in real life.
After that, we buzz over the famous Jetman hangar, base for the legendary Yves Rossy. The joy of seeing it is at first tempered by the fear that he, with his jet-pack power strong enough to race an Emirates A380, might be whizzing through the clouds with us. And in the distance I can make out a hot air balloon, cruising considerably higher than us.
Only once is the serenity hindered, when a small but stomach-unsettling gust of wind wobbles the Trike. My instructor is quick on the radio to confirm it’s perfectly normal and that he’s still fully in control. It’s actually quite thrilling, although I don’t tell him that. What I do tell him, though, is that I will be back to try and earn my stripes – Skyhub offers intensive courses for Dhs7,000 to help you one day to fly solo. Anything to get back in the sky.
Dhs750 (30 minutes). Skyhub Paramotors, Skydive Dubai Desert Campus, Dubai-Al Ain Road (052 983 3642).
Four to try Sky-high experiences
Fly over the iconic Palm Jumeirah and Burj Al Arab in a private flight from the Dubai Marina drop zone. Essentially a scaled-down helicopter, these vehicles are not for the faint of heart. Email for prices. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hot Air Balloons
There’s perhaps no better, more chilled out way to experience a sunrise over the desert than in a hot air balloon… so long as you ignore the fact that you’re thousands of feet above the ground in a wicker basket. Dhs950. ballooning.ae.
Not exactly “sky high”, but a rush nonetheless. Open to experienced jumpers and a first-timers, the freefall buzz is every bit as intense, except with a captive audience tracking your every drop of sweat. From Dhs220. theplaymania.com/ifly.
Get picked up by an Uber Lexus and enjoy a ride in the Uber Chopper for some spectacular views of Dubai's shoreline and architectural marvels. From Dhs530. Download the Uber app free from the Apple, Android and Windows stores.