Flying by Ultralight
by Cliff Thompson, Member, EAA, USPPA
The dream of flying has often remained just that. The high cost of purchasing a typical aircraft and maintaining it at an airport hangar, coupled with a considerable investment in pilot training, filing flight plans, logging flight time and achieving pilot certification, has often proved an insurmountable barrier to entry for many. In recent decades a new class of experimental aircraft has appeared at the lower end of the aircraft spectrum, generally described as "Ultralight". Many of these aircraft have evolved into robust and reliable designs that have passed muster with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who regulate ultralight use through Federal Aviation Regulation Part 103 – Ultralight Vehicles.
Flying by ultralight is basically self-regulated and one is not required by law to be a certified pilot. Training for such ultralights as the Powerparaplider (PPG) and Trike described below is usually several hours of classes typically distributed over a week before attaining solo flight and certification (for passenger carrying a higher level of training and certification is required). Equipment costs for new gear typically weigh in ranging from the price of a motorcycle to a car, while trading in late-model used gear or working with kits can significantly reduce costs. A number of national organizations have sprung up that are especially helpful in providing fly-in events, vendor expos and resources such as organization-approved training schools and certified instructors - the United States Powered Paragliding Association (USPPA), United States Ultralight Association (USUA) and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).
Recently the USPPA and EAA hosted 2 back-to-back Fly-In 2007 events in Florida, on April 12-15 the USPPA hosted the 2007 U.S. National Powered Paragliding Convention, sponsored by the EAA Ultralight Chapter 125 Power Paragators of Florida at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Clewiston, Florida, while on April 17-23 the EAA, who annually host EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, “The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration,” put on their other big show Sun 'n Fun Fly-In at Lakeland, Florida. Both of these events offered Airfields where ultralight pilots continuously demonstrated flying their various aircraft, as well as Seminars covering every aspect of ultralight flying, and Vendor Expos providing complete resources for equipment and training. These 2 Fly-In shows offered attendees a comprehensive look at the types of ultralights. Coupled with the developments mentioned above, Fly-Ins like these continue to usher in a new era of personal, affordable flying “for the rest of us”.
Types of Ultralights
|PowerParaGlider (PPG)||PPG Trike||HangGlider Trike||HangGlider Trike Amphibious||
|Ultralight||Ultralight Amphibious||Ultralight Seaplane||Ultralight Helicopter||Ultralight Helicopter Amphibious||Ultralight Jet|
The most portable form of flying, often described as a “foot-launched
inflatable wing” (or more colloquially the "flying chair") , the system primarily consists of a Paramotor, a
backpack-mounted small aircraft engine with a back-facing seat, and a
Parasail, a parachute of multiple layers separated by air cells
which inflate the chute in flight. Some in-line 2-seater systems are
available. The entire system can typically be stored in a large
duffel bag in the back of a car or in the two halves of a suitcase
suitable for airport check-in luggage. USPPA President Jeff Goins, (by day a 747 pilot for
Southwest Airlines), runs a comprehensive website
for all things PPG
which offers a popular set of
Top speed is typically 30-40 mph. Flying is generally limited to the early
morning and late afternoon until sunset, but not during the afternoon when gusty
winds and thermals are maximally active. Vendors currently popular
Fresh Breeze and
PPG Trike: Typically a three wheeled framework that frees the PPG pilot from having to carry the Paramotor and be attached to the Parasail - instead the Paramotor and Parasail are attached to the back of the trike, while the trike also supports the seating. Passenger seating is commonly available in both in-line and tandem side-by-side modes, and some trikes offer 4 wheels for greater stability. Trike platforms range from bare-bones tubular frameworks offering maximum visibility, to varying degrees of enclosed fuselage covered by fiberglass cowling. While rigid trikes are typically carried in the backs of trucks or towed on a trailer, some trikes of the bare-bones tubular variety are available as collapsible trikes, (a popular system being the Fly Products Flash Trike), so the whole system can still be carried in the back of a car. Vendors currently popular include American Flyer, Buckeye, Fly Castelluccio, Fly Products, Fresh Breeze, Para-Ski International, Paratoys, Phoenix Powered Parachutes and Powrachute.
described as a “Sky Motorcycle”, utilizes a hang glider flex wing
mounted at the top of a mast on the trike. Generally best stored in a
hangar with the wing fully unfurled. Collapsible foldable wings
(which support trailer towing) are commonly available, but current
designs, for each unfurling/furling, require un-inserting/re-inserting
the spars that hold the wing’s shape, a procedure that takes even
experienced aviators typically an hour. Top speed, using the largest
engines (currently around 100 hp) is reaching 100 mph.
popular include Air Création,
was featured in the film "Fly
Away Home"), DTA,
Fly Products and
HangGlider Trike Amphibious: Use of the hang glider wing enables new possibilities such as water takeoff/landing, utilizing attachable pontoon floats. The most flexible designs support leaving the pontoons attached to enable land/water takeoff/landing as encountered; some of these designs offer for support for raising the tires out of the water. Vendors currently popular include Airborne Australia, Airbridge, Cosmos, J&J Ultralights and Krucker Manufacturing
HangGlider Trike Amphibious Flying Boat: Attaches a "Zodiac-like” inflatable rubber raft to the trike to support water takeoff/landing. Some designs offer simple wheels kits attached to the raft to support land takeoff/landing. Vendors currently popular include Polaris and Wettrike.
the earliest of the original designs for a personal flying machine,
frequently on display at major air museums (most commonly a design from
venerable manufacturer "Quicksilver").
Uses a fixed wing and tail rudder for the wing assembly. Some designs
offer a split-able fold-back wing for trailer-able transport. Passenger
seating is commonly available in both in-line and tandem side-by-side
modes. Top speed, using the largest engines (currently around 100 hp) is
reaching 100 mph. Often available in kit form, commonly assembled by
organization (such as EAA) members locating a local chapter and
assembling their kits together in a group supervised by an experienced
kit builder (assembly time is 40-120 hours depending on experience).
Vendors currently popular include
New Kolb Aircraft,
Ultralight Amphibious: Attachable pontoon floats enable water takeoff/landing, utilizing . The most flexible designs support leaving the pontoons attached to enable land/water takeoff/landing as encountered; some of these designs offer for support for raising the tires out of the water. Vendors currently popular include Aero Adventure.
Ultralight Seaplane: Integrates a boat hull into the design of the fuselage to support water takeoff/landing. Designs frequently include retractable wheels for land operation.. Vendors currently popular include Aero Adventure and Airmax,
available in kit form.
Top speed is typically 70-80 mph. Vendors currently
popular include Air Command,
Ultralight Helicopter Amphibious: Often available in kit form with added pontoon option. Top speed is typically 70-80 mph. Vendors currently popular include Airscooter and Innovator.
Ultralight Jet: Advances in jet engine design are reducing the size of the engine to fit sturdy ultralights built from carbon fiber composite materials. An early pioneer is Burt Rutan, (developer of the "canard-wing” VariEze and Long-EZ composite ultralights), who outfitted a Long-EZ with a jet engine (later evolved into SpaceShipOne, recent X-Prize winner for first private manned spacecraft). Several small jets flew over the ultralight airfield at Sun 'n Fun Fly-In 2007. Currently ultralight jets are commonly created by doing an engine conversion on a suitable composite ultralight, a popular company offering these services being “EZ Jet”.
PowerParaGlider (PPG): New system package deals which include training typically range from $6,000-10,000. Instructor-assisted searches for recommended and reliable late-model used equipment, often flight school training machines, can reduce costs by 1/3, while do-it-yourself systems built from plans (such as FootFlyer PPG Plans) have for some (sometimes in conjunction with used gear) dropped the price to $3000-$4000.
PPG Trikes: Adding a new collapsible trike to an existing PPG system typically range from $1,500-2,500, whereas rigid trikes range from $5,000-10,000. New system package deals which include training typically range from $12,000 for a bare-bones tubular framework to $25,000 or more for variously enclosed fiberglass cowling covered fuselage designs.
Hanglider Trikes and Ultralights (including Amphibious): New system package deals which include training typically range from $10,000 for a bare-bones tubular framework to $30,000 or more for variously enclosed fiberglass cowling covered fuselage designs, Lower cost ultralight kits are popular, particularly from Quicksilver kits.
Amphibious options: Adding a new pontoon system to an existing ultralight, typically ranges from $2,000-8,000.
Helicopters: kits including training run from $20,000-30,000, while a "factory built and tested" option typically runs another $5,000.
An album of nearly 100 photos of various types
of ultralights, taken at Sun 'n Fun Fly-In 2007 in the Light Plane/Ultralight,
Helicopter/Rotorcraft and Seaplane Exhibit Space vendor areas.
The collection is organized by type of ultralight, introduced by title graphic slides.
For a given ultralight, the type, make, and/or model are generally listed in the photo filename which is used as a caption.
A collection of nearly a dozen video clips of
various types of ultralights performing
takeoffs, fly-bys and landings, taken at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In 2007 Light Plane/Ultralight
PowerParaGlider (PPG) Amphibious:
PPG Amphibious: Suspends the Parasail parachute in inflate/deflate positions from masts on the amphibious platform, available from Rapid Launch.
Towable Vehicle Trike: Rather than use a trailer to transport a trike, allows being pulled by car via a towing hook on the front of a trike like the Fresh Breeze Xcitor.
Car-Transportable Collapsible Trike: Combinations of collapsible frame and foldable wing enable some trikes to be carried in a car with the folded wing on the roof, such as the Quander Micropfeil Trike.
Bicycle + Trike: On the ground, the machine can be pedaled as a recumbent bicycle, or alternatively, pushed along by running the aircraft engine, which propels the vehicle as an "air car" at up to 40 mph, such is the Fresh Breeze Flyke.
All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) + Trike: On the ground, the machine's single engine powers the prop and wheels. Current designs utilize 4-wheel ATVs like the Hegger Dynamics All-Terrain Hangglider.
Ultraflight "USUA and USPPA Flight School Listings": The monthly magazine offers a running section of USUA and USPPA approved schools by US State.
United States PoweredParagliding Association (USPPA): Offers an online "Search Clubs & Schools" by US State at Schools.
Aerolight: The oldest and most experienced Powered Paragliding business and training facility in the US, run by USPPA approved certified flight instructors Javier and José Casaudoumecq in Miami, Florida.
World Directory of
Leisure Aviation: A comprehensive international print listing of all
types of ultralights. For looking up information on equipment, their
World Internet Directory of Leisure Aviation (WIDOLA) offers a useful Search page.
DVD / CD / Video / Magazine / Book
Powered Paragliding Risk and Reward : A DVD presenting a thorough-going look at the sport. Written by USPPA President Jeff Goins and hosted by Star Trek's Captain James T. Kirk, William "To Boldly Go" Shatner, whose first PPG Solo flight occurred at age 70.
Paramotoring from the Ground Up: A book offering a popular beginner-to-intermediate look at the sport.
The Powered Parachute Bible: A book providing a comprehensive and thorough-going advanced study of the sport.
R/C Parachute Power Glider: Radio Control a model PPG Trike.
USPPA U.S. National Powered Paragliding Convention
Sun 'n Fun
2w = Southern Skies
3w = Ohio PPG
4w = Contraptioneering
5w = Adventure
6w = Macwet.com
7w = Usparagliding.com
8w = Paracruiser
9w = Paragliding Unlimited
10w = Debra Anderson
1e = Aerolight
2e = Aerolight
3e = South Florida PPG.Com
4e = USPPA.org
5e = Aerothrust
6e = Time2Fly.biz
7e = ParamotorCity
8e = Paramotorkits.com
9e = JB propellers
10e = Andy McAvin