World of contrast: flying in Dubai

Thousand-year old kites have taken a new turn with extreme sports such as kite surfing or speed riding that have become increasingly popular. Their big brothers have helped us getting airborne like in paragliding or paramotoring using a propeller-powered glider. Come on board with us to experience this thrilling adventure of flying a paramotor over Dubai and over the desert!

“Ready for take-off?” I hold onto my seatbelt that straps both of my shoulders this early morning at dawn. In the seat in front of me, my pilot starts the engine that makes the blades of the one-metre diameter propeller behind me rotate. As the blades pick up speed, the wheels of the buggy we are seated in start rolling, pulling on a kite the size of a paraglider that rises up in the sky. In only a few seconds, we are airborne!

The small carpet of green grass we departed from soon seems to be swallowed by an endless ocean of sand that is about to be lit up by the rising sun. A few orange clouds taint the sky. We are gaining altitude in our paramotor flying over the dunes of the desert of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

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Up in the sky, we are making a few turns awaiting for the sun to rise above the mountains bordering the neighbouring sultanate of Oman. I catch a glimpse of my partner who has taken off as well and dances the same ballet about one hundred metres above us in. The purple colour of the sky slowly evolves into an orange-red glow. Shyly the unmistakable first bow-shaped ridge of the sun arises above the mountains. As the eye of heaven steadily ascends, contrasting against the dark serrated summits, the colours in the sky intensify. It feels like we are alone in this world, far from the eight-lane highway that we took this morning and the continuous noise of skyscrapers being built in the extravagant Dubai. I seem to only be able to mutter in my microphone a series of “wow’s” and “ah’s”, that my pilot Alex confirms in his strong Russian accent, still being amazed himself by the serenity and beauty of the desert.

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Although by now he flies here frequently as a pilot for SkyHub Dubai, he could not be more enthusiastic. “No flight is the same!” he tells me. “See! Down here, antelope!” he enthusiastically calls into my headphones. Alex pulls delicately on the controls with his left hand in order to change the shape of the glider. We soon smoothly turn left and I spot the gracious antelope that does not seem to be bothered by us. Further, I distinguish a camel farm; past some more dunes, a training track for falcons, a privilege of the sheikhs of the Emirates; a small village is surrounded by irrigated fields, contrasting greatly with the sand.

Paramotor desert sunrise4

As we fly at an average speed of 65km/h we cover a good 40 kilometres in our morning flight that leaves us plenty of time to observe life in the desert. We could go for more than one hour easily, depending on the weight of the passengers with the fuel we have. The paramotor that Alex has chosen to fly today is a very special one fully equipped and is even geared up with a transponder to communicate with air traffic control if needed!

Paramotor desert sunrise5

As the sky keeps changing colours, the rising sun plays with the dunes to project ever-changing shadows in the sand.

Paramotor desert sunrise6

It is already time to start our descent from 500 metres down to the ground. I only notice that we were that high as the ground below us seems to move towards us. I tighten my muscles, expecting a forceful impact. On the contrary, right before touching down, Alex breaks, switches off the engine, smoothly hits the ground, and lowers the kite.

Claire and her pilot Igor walk towards us, both with a big smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. “That was just fantastic!” she enthusiastically adds. “How about tonight, a sunset flight over the Palm and the Dubai Marina? That will be a totally different experience!” Igor suggests.

Paramotor Dubai 1

It is a deal. Barely 12 hours later the buggy gains speed, this time next to the airstrip of Skydive Dubai extending into the Persian Gulf. As we are up in the sky, I face gigantic skyscrapers bordering the seashore. The feeling of height is stronger than over the desert, as sunbathers become small dots. Soon, we fly over the surreal man-made Palm Jumeirah with the enormous Atlantis hotel, seeing the group of artificial islands forming the world at large, the marina, and the crazy traffic. North of us world’s highest tower seems to pierce the sky with its 828 metres. In the foreground the setting sun leaves a surreal silver reflection of the iconic Burj El Arab hotel in the sea.

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As Alex is asking the air traffic control permission to land, I can only be puzzled by the contrast between with this evening’s sunset flight over the most dynamic city of the Middle East and this morning’s sunrise experience in the middle of the desert. It is hard to conceive that not even fifty years ago, the country of the United Arab Emirates did not exist, and the Dubai we have just flown over was hardly more than desert. As we descend with the sun, booming Dubai is lighting up at night, while the deserted desert gets dark. What will it look like only a couple of years from now?

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Claire & Marcella

Travel tips:

  • If you would like to explore either the desert or the Dubai Marina from the sky, get in touch with Skyhub, to experience paramotoring with a professional and highly trained team of pilots.
  • If flying in a paramotor seems to be too adventurous, check out the view on Dubai from level 124 of world’s highest tower: Burj Khalifa.
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.

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This article was published in the Xtreme Adventures online magazine Beyond Boundaries:

Sky high in Dubai - Beyond Boundaries magazine.JPG

7 thoughts on “World of contrast: flying in Dubai

  1. Caught my breath as I read this article…such an amazing adventure and what a perspective you gained. I loved your tag line…it has many meanings. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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