During the late ’70s and early ’80s a new breed of aviation and transportation was born. People were getting used to flight, both commercial and personal, and wanted something cheaper. This wasn’t the only reason though; the paragliding fad had recently begun, and adrenaline junkies found themselves looking for newer, more exciting, ways of getting from point A to point B. Through these desires and needs ultralight aircraft came into existence. Light-weight and single (sometimes two) seated aircraft quickly became popular, paving the way for a whole slew of variations and manufacturers.
The weight, speed limits and restrictions of ultralight aircraft differ from country to country; the sporting definition in Europe limits the take-off to a maximum weight of 450kg (992lb), whilst the stall speed is set at a maximum of 65km/h (40mph). This means that the aircraft must be capable of a slow landing speed in case an engine failure occurs; it also forces the aircraft to have a short landing roll.
As previously stated, this differs from country to country. Germany and France (to name but two) both allow a further 10% on the take-off weight for either amphibians or seaplanes. Ballistic parachutes can even increase the maximum take-off weight in several countries.
Several manufacturers have risen to prominence in the world of ultralights, due to their prowess in the creation of cutting-edge models. Quicksilver are one such company, having a thriving customer base and a wide range of products; P&M Aviation is another company which has had significant success developing and selling ultralight aircraft.
There are a number of different types of ultralights, varying quite significantly in some cases. Weight shift aircraft are similar to hang gliders in appearance and design. They are controlled by manoeuvring a horizontal bar and, generally, have a fairly impressive climb rate.
A gyroplane is one of the most popular and sought after ultralight aircraft. For those that seek a little excitement in life, the gyroplane really delivers. They utilise a rotary wing with a small cart mounted engine. The rotating wing isn’t actually powered, making it different from a helicopter, however, the engine does provide forward thrust; the subsequent airflow through the rotary blades allows the gyroplane to lift.
Some helicopters are actually classified as ultralights (or microlights) aircraft. This is due to them being single-seat, or two-seat, and falling beneath the weight threshold for classification. Another aircraft which wouldn’t normally be considered as ultralight is a hot air balloon. Several hot air balloons are small enough to be considered ultralight.
Two other types of ultralights are powered paragliders and powered parachutes. The parachute is essentially just a set of parafoil wings (similar to a skydivers parachute, hence the name) which is mounted with a cart engine, or motor scooter engine.
Powered paragliding is a little different, and a strange sight indeed; a pilot will wear a motor on their back, which is known as the ‘paramotor’, this provided the required amount of thrust to take off using a paraglider.
Before deciding that ultralight aviation is a path you want to follow in life, you must first consider the costs etc. Obtaining a license and a flying permit for the zone you wish to operate within is required, on top of this you will actually have to purchase (sometimes build) the ultralight aircraft you desire.
It’s also necessary to decide which ultralight is for you; amphibian, landplanes, floatplane etc. If you’re still interested and believe that this is an opportunity you don’t want to miss out on, then make sure you do your research. Stick with a reputable company and only pilot the safest of ultralight aircraft; making sure to obey all rules and regulations, concerning the vehicle itself, as well as the area you are piloting within.