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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ULTRALIGHT AIRCRAFT

written by Daniel Grunloh (grunloh@uiuc.edu).

Point your web browser to the following URL;

http://www.ultralighthomepage.com  

for more interesting information about the world of ultralights.

What is an ultralight (or microlight)?
Are there any regulations on these things?
How can I locate ultralights flying in my area?
Are Ultralights more dangerous than other aircraft?
What does it cost to build, buy, learn, fly?
Don't most ultralights in the USA exceed the legal weight and speed limits?
Why would anyone want to fly these marginal machines when they could be flying real airplanes?
I fly regular aircraft so why should I need any training to fly these simple machines?
Who can fly a 2-place ultralight?
What about those other non fixed-wing types ?
How do I contact the FAA Safety BBS?
Where can I get a copy of the regulations for the USA?
How high can you go in an ultralight?
Is there an Ultralight home page on the Web?
What is a ballistic parachute?

What is an ultralight (or microlight)?

In the U.S.A. an ultralight is defined in Federal aviation regulations FAR Part 103 as a single seat powered flying machine which weighs less than 254 lbs, has a top speed of 55 knots (63 mph), stalls at 24 knots (28 mph) or less and carries no more than 5 gal. of fuel. Excluded from the empty weight are floats for water landings and safety devices intended for deployment in an emergency. The weight allowance for a parachute is 24 lbs. so an ultralight with a parachute could weigh 278 lbs.

There are strict operating limitations, but no mandatory license or registration. Special 2-seat exemptions are granted to instructors for training purposes only. These training aircraft can weigh 496 lbs and carry 10 gal. of fuel. All single seat ultralights which exceed the above limits and any 2-seater not used solely for instruction must be registered as an Amateur built aircraft and must be flown by a licensed pilot. Regulations vary outside the USA, but many nations allow more weight, speed, fuel, and 2-seat operations at the expense of more safety requirements. Some call them microlights.

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Are there any regulations on these things?

Yes! Aside from the vehicle definition, there are strict operating limitations (USA) designed to limit the dangers to the non-participant. (You are permitted to risk your own neck.)

1. No passengers allowed 2. No flying over towns or settlements 3. No flying at night or above (or in) the clouds 4. No flying in airspace around airports with control towers without prior permission. 5. No commercial operations (for hire) except instruction. 6. Ultralights must yield right-of-way to ALL OTHER AIRCRAFT. 7. No! You don't have to have a pilots license (yet).

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How can I locate ultralights flying in my area?

There are several pilot organizations which can help. The U.S. Ultralight Association is an organization of ultralight pilots and flying clubs in the USA. They administer an ultralight instructor program and voluntary pilot and vehicle registrations. A monthly magazine Ultralight Flying is included with membership in USUA. The magazine is the oldest and largest ultralight publication. It is available only by subscription. You can contact the magazine directly at Ultralight Flying, P.O. Box 6009, Chattanooga, TN 37401. Phone: (423) 629-5375 / Fax: (423) 629-5379. Subscriptions are $30 (US) for 12 issues. (The January issue is the annual buyers guide.)

Contact the U.S. Ultralight Assn at P.O. Box 667, Frederick, MD 21705. Phone (301) 695-9100 or fax (301) 695-0763. Membership is $39.95 (US). The USUA can give you information about flying clubs, instructors, and flight parks in your area.

The Experimental Aircraft Assn. (EAA) is an organization for all types of homebuilt, antique, warbirds, rotorcraft, and ultralight aircraft. They have a very large network of local chapters. A week-long annual convention and airshow is held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin each summer. The next convention scheduled at Oskosh is July 29-August 4, 1998. Write to EAA Aviation Center, P.O. Box 3086, Oshkosh, WI 54903 or phone (414) 426-4800 or go to their web page at www.eaa.org.

A large fly-in with ultralights is also held each spring in Lakeland, FL. The next Sun `n Fun Fly-In is in April. Phone (813)644-2431. ( http://www.sun-n-fun.com/ )

Finally, you can go to a small airport in your area and ask around. There are independent clubs and airparks that are not part of the above organizations. Make every possible effort to locate a flying club near you because a group of pilots can provide invaluable help choosing an ultralight and finding a place to keep it.

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Are Ultralights more dangerous than other aircraft?

No. Not necessarily. They have a tremendous advantage over regular aircraft due to their low weight and speed. Minor accidents cause little damage and major accidents are less often fatal. As with hang gliders, when they were first being invented, there were many poorly designed ultralights being flown by untrained pilots. Hang gliders and ultralights are now well understood and we know how they should be built and flown.

Is engine reliability a factor? Gliders have no engine and the operators do not consider that a safety factor. Hot air balloons can only barely control their direction. Skydivers go mostly down! Each type of aviation activity must be conducted within its design limits. Accident statistics are difficult to evaluate. Should it be expressed as accidents or fatalities. Do you want it per mile, per hour, per flight, or per pilot. Airlines use seat-miles to get the best possible numbers. All the various types of *established* recreational flying are reasonably safe if you follow good practices.

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What does it cost to build, buy, learn, fly?

You can build a variety of safe very serviceable ultralights costing from $3000 to $6000. A raw materials kit or construction kit less engine is the cheapest way to start. Plan on spending at least 6 months to 2 years on the project. An assembly kit has all the parts prebuilt and you just bolt it together in a few weekends. Cost of these kits starts at about $6000. You can buy a used or new machine ready to fly for anywhere from $2000 to $15,000. Older models must definitely be inspected by a knowledgeable friend. If you build one yourself, you will naturally be better qualified to maintain it.

There are many ways to learn to fly ultralights. Formal flight training in a 2-seat ultralight from a real instructor can cost $600 to $1200 or more. You could take a few lessons from an instructor or a friend in a conventional aircraft but the speeds and handling characteristics are quite different. It's better than the third option which is no training at all. In the USA it is legal but very stupid to attempt flight with no training whatsoever. Any experience in regular aircraft, sailplanes, hang gliding, or even RC-models is helpful. Much of the ground school such as weather, navigation, engines, safety, and regulations can be learned on your own by reading and study.

Actually flying the ultralight is usually very inexpensive. The engines burn only 2 to 3 gal per hour. Routine maintenance and even a complete engine rebuild is minimal. You could damage a prop ($150) or wipe out your landing gear ($300). Almost all ultralights must be stored under a roof protected from sun and weather. Direct sunlight will destroy some types of fabric coverings ($1000) in as little as 2 years! If you cannot disassemble the ultralight or fold the wings and trailer it home, you will need to rent hangar space if you can find it. Hangar rent can be the largest single operating expense at $30 to $90 per month.

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Don't most ultralights in the USA exceed the legal weight and speed limits?

Many ultralights do exceed the limits though most of them are only a little heavy or fast. Manufacturers design ultralights which just barely qualify so they can offer the most performance and features possible. Some owners then add bigger engines, more streamlining and other options which take it over the limit. The government relies on more or less voluntary compliance because they will never have the resources to hunt down every ultralight that is slightly over the limit. They realize that a little extra weight or speed does not significantly increase the risks involved. However, if you violate the operating limitations (see question 2), and someone reports it, you WILL be fined $1000 for each occurrence. Exceeding those operating limitations very greatly compromises safety.

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Why would anyone want to fly these marginal machines when they could be flying real airplanes?

First they are not marginal. Ultralights are designed to have the same structural strength as regular normal category aircraft. A major reason people fly them is the lower cost. In spite of what critics might say by comparing the cost of an old worn out conventional aircraft with a new ultralight, the average cost of owning and flying an ultralight is much less than conventional aircraft. Also, some people can never fly real airplanes because they can't pass the medical requirements. The most important reason people fly ultralights is because they are FUN ! The slow flight, often open cockpit, and light responsive handling make them more like a motorcycle of the air than car in the sky. One final reason (in the USA) is freedom from excessive regulations.

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I fly regular aircraft so why should I need any training to fly these simple machines?

Conventional pilot training is a tremendous asset when learning to fly ultralights but some habits will have to be changed. They have much less mass and inertia and thus do not retain airspeed as long as other aircraft. Control response time is often quicker so the regular pilot may tend to flare for the landing much to early. Also, headwinds and crosswinds have a much greater effect and can more easily spoil your navigation and use up all your fuel. Ultralights really should always be flown such that there is a safe emergency landing area within gliding distance. The pilot should be comfortable making power-off landings. You should get at least a few flights in a 2-seat ultralight and some ground school covering 2-strokes engines and ultralight regulations.

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Who can fly a 2-place ultralight?

All 2-place ultralights in the USA fall under special categories. The normal ultralight pilot cannot fly a 2-place ultralight. An FAA certificated pilot can fly a 2-place ultralight provided it is registered with the FAA, displays an N-number marking. and meets the other requirements of an AIRCRAFT. Except for these [Image] 2-place trainers, all 2-seat ultralights are considered AIRCRAFT and are subject to all the pertinent FAA regulations about registration, airworthiness, and pilot certification.

Probably the most common 2-seat ultralight-type AIRCRAFT is the 51% Amateur-built, registered in the experimental category. These aircraft will have the FAA "N-number" marking on the fuselage or tail, and will have the word "EXPERIMENTAL" near the cockpit where it can be seen by passengers as they enter. The pilot must hold a FAA Private or Recreational license or better. An FAA student pilot could fly such a machine SOLO ONLY, if under the direct supervision of a CFI.

A new type is the 2-seat ultralight-type AIRCRAFT registered in the new Primary category as a "Sportplane". These are FAA certified kitplanes which will have FAA "N-number" markings but do not have the EXPERIMENTAL placard. The Quicksilver GT-500 was the first to qualify. Pilot requirements are the same as above.

The 2-seat exempted ultralight trainer is a special type that can only be used for instruction. It is exempted from the normal pilot and vehicle requirements, provided the pilot qualifies as an official ultralight instructor. The pilot must carry documentation that he has such an exemption, available from the USUA or the ASC as part of their instructor program, or from the EAA, which has a program for CFI's. The instructor is not supposed to use this 2-place machine as his personal recreational vehicle. Finally, the aircraft must be marked "FOR INSTRUCTIONAL USE ONLY".

Lastly, there is the illegal 2-seat ultralight-type AIRCRAFT. If there are no markings on the aircraft of any kind, and it's flying, it is most certainly illegal. If it has two seats, you must see "N-number" markings, or the placard for "INSTRUCTIONAL" use. FAA certificated pilots should avoid flying illegal 2-seat aircraft (even only solo), because they risk losing their license and paying stiff fines. Unlicensed pilots face the same fines, usually multiple $1000 fines for each flight. Passengers are strongly advised to avoid riding in unregistered, 2-seat ultralight-type AIRCRAFT which are flown by unlicensed pilots.

And now one final point. It is not possible to have a convertible or dual purpose vehicle which can be used both as a single seat ultralight and as a 2-seat N-numbered experimental homebuilt depending on it's configuration. While it's theoretically possible to make such a conversion, you must surrender the original aircraft registration and cannot change back and forth at will.

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What about those other non fixed-wing types ?

You may build and fly *ANY* powered aircraft which meets the (USA) ultralight vehicle definition. ANYTHING. One-man free balloons are considered unpowered ultralights (like hang gliders and other one-seat gliders) and must weigh 155 lbs. or less to qualify. An Easy Riser ultralight has flown with solar/electric power. A legal ultralight powered blimp has been built and flown. A full size rubber-band powered ultralight was demonstrated at Oshkosh '92, but did not achieve flight. It HAS lifted off, for a time, on smooth pavement,....going downhill.

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How do I contact the FAA Safety BBS?

The FAA operates an "Experimental Safety BBS" which has searchable database of accidents, incidents, and service difficulties, sorted according to aircraft type, engine type etc., and discussions related to homebuilt and ultralight aircraft. Usage is free and can be anonymous if desired. With your modem dial 1-800-426-3814 (9600,N,8,1). The password is "SAFETY".

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Where can I get a copy of the regulations for the USA?

An unofficial electronic copy of Federal Aviation Regulations Part 103 pertaining to ultralights is available on the web from Jon Steiger's Ultralight Home page at; http://www.cs.fredonia.edu/~stei0302/WWW/ULTRA/ultralight.html

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How high can you go in an ultralight?

Answer: Higher than you will probably ever want. Many ultralights can probably reach or exceed 10,000 ft. MSL. The record for a USA type FAR part103 ultralight is over 23,000 ft. The record for the higher performance microlight type is about 33,000 ft. Many ultralight pilots seldom go above even 5000 ft. It gets cold, the scenery below you is too small to make out, and it's not very exciting because the landmarks go by VERY slowly at the typical ultralight speeds. Here in the USA, numerous limits and restrictions apply to ultralights. In certain airspace such as around controlled airports, the maximum altitude is ZERO. You can't fly there at all without permission. The largest airports have an overhanging shelf of airspace which also must be avoided. Ultralights are NOT required to have a radio and transponder but, prior permission may be needed in some airspace where a transponder would otherwise be required. FAA regulations require aircraft to have supplemental oxygen at and above the 12,000 to 14,000 range to prevent hypoxia. Ultralight pilots are not immune to hypoxia. All flights which exceed 18,000 MSL require prior permission and an IFR flight plan.

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Is there an Ultralight home page on the Web?

Jon N. Steiger (stei0302@cs.fredonia.edu) maintains an excellent Ultralight Homepage with helpful references, and many pictures. Go to http://www.cs.fredonia.edu/~stei0302/WWW/ULTRA/ultralight.html

The Ultralight Home Page has classified ads, calendar of events, jump points to other aviation servers including ftp and email gateway to the Ultralight Mailing List. Also available are extensive lists of Manufacturers, instructors, and flight parks..... And More!

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What is a ballistic parachute?

Ultralight and hang glider pilots have long used emergency parachutes which are attached to the aircraft instead of the pilot. You don't have to bail out. Instead the pilot and the aircraft float down together. The early "hand-deployed" designs required you to throw a 6-10 lbs package containing the chute out into the airstream and you hoped that it inflated in time Ballistic parachutes have a mechanical device to very quickly "fire" the chute into the airstream which allows for MUCH faster deployment. Manufacturers have claimed a deployment in only 2 seconds which allows for a possible successful deployment as low as 100 ft. AGL. Some designs pack the chute very tightly inside a canister. The earliest versions used an explosive charge to fire a projectile which then pulled out the chute. Later designs have gone to a chemical rocket (no recoil). A new design uses compressed air or gas. The term "ballistic" is often loosely used to describe all types of rapid deployment schemes although the newer rocket types are not actually "ballistic". The cost of these units can be $1200-$1600. The only USA supplier is:

BRS, 1845 Henry Ave., South St.Paul, MN 55075 phone (612) 457-7491

http://users.aol.com/BRSchute/BRS.HTML
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Can I teach myself to fly in this aircraft.

This is a very easy airplane to fly, but we strongly recommend against flying this airplane without at least a few hours training in another ultralight or aircraft. Nothing would ruin your day worse than ruining a new airplane, or yourself, while trying to save a few hundred dollars on instruction.
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