Ultralights have evolved over the decades into safe and efficient aircraft. They are unregulated “single-seat cousins” to the certified light-sport aircraft.
Unfortunately, being unregulated they have developed a negative image as not being airworthy due to a small percentage not properly cared for, bad designs, or no pilot training done. Choosing a well-known manufacturer of ultralights, having the unit inspected for airworthiness, and proper training can all add up to a good alternative to light-sport aircraft.
Many people choose the single-seat ultralight after learning in a light-sport aircraft, in order to avoid all regulations, leave the world behind to get away on their own to fly. Or they choose it simply because of the lower price tag (of the single-seat versus the larger two-place light-sport aircraft). Manufacturers now produce ultralights along with light-sport aircraft, with the same quality in design and construction. Single-seat ultralights are available in all classes of aircraft and are an option for many.
According to Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 103, an ultralight is any craft that carries only one person and no more than 5 gallons of fuel, and is used only for recreation or sport purposes. This regulation is printed in its entirety in the FAR/AIM book, but it can be summarized as follows:
- Unpowered free flight empty weight under 155 pounds, or powered weighs under 254 pounds, excluding floats or safety devices.
- 55 knots maximum calibrated airspeed at full power in level flight; power-off maximum stall speed 24 knots calibrated.
- Can be inspected by FAA to ensure it meets criteria as an ultralight.
- Vehicle not required to meet any airworthiness certification standards.
- Pilot not required to meet any aeronautical knowledge, age, or experience requirements to operate or to have airman or medical certificates.
- Not required to be registered or to bear markings of any type.
- No operation is allowed that creates a hazard to other persons or property; pilots must yield the right-of-way to all aircraft.
- Can only be operated between sunrise and sunset unless equipped with a suitable anticollision light extending flight time to twilight periods, 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset.
- Must not operate over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons.
- All operations are conducted in uncontrolled airspace unless prior authorization from the ATC facility to operate within Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace, or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport.
- Must comply with flight restrictions in the proximity of certain areas designated by Notice to airmen (NOTAM) and Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR).
- Must be operated by visual reference with the surface.
- Visibility and cloud clearances similar to general aviation airspace.
The ultralight industry successfully self-regulated the freedom to fly with relatively few government regulations and public safety limitations. However, common sense and the need for training is well-recognized and today similar Light-Sport Aircraft are used for training.