Thursday September 24, 2020


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Dan Johnson's
Light-Sport Aircraft

Shedding Light on
Light-Sport Gyroplanes

Ultralight is Not Light-Sport

I sometimes hear persons attach the word “ultralight” to any gyroplane, apparently with the mistaken understanding that all gyroplanes are ultralights. For instance, they might say, “I had a friend who used to fly one of them ultralight gyroplanes until he met Peggy Sue—that’s Peggy Jean’s sister—and she made him trade it in for a new diamond-studded nose ring and a toenail transplant.”

Properly used, “ultralight” is the term used for certain flying craft that have extremely limited capabilities. As the name implies, an ultralight is essentially defined by its weight, and specifically, its empty weight must be less than 254 pounds.

The less-than-254-pound limit applies to ultralights with engines and that operate to and from land. An ultralight is allowed to weigh more if it’s rigged with floats for water takeoffs and landings or if it’s equipped with certain safety devices. An ultralight that doesn’t have an engine—a glider for example—can’t weigh more than 155 pounds.

Ultralights are the offspring of the popular wave of interest in flying that emerged not long after World War II and included persons attracted to the idea of crafting their own flying machine, an allure that led to the formation of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in 1953.

In 1981, the EAA parented the EAA Ultralight Association, which sought affirmation from the FAA for an authoritative recognition of the right of persons to fly these craft that had become termed “ultralights”, which were small, lightweight, and usually homebuilt. The result was Part 103 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), adopted in 1982.

Part 103 defines an ultralight precisely in terms of weight, performance limits, fuel capacity, number of occupants, intended use, and certain rules for its operator, and as long as the flying craft and its operator conform to those terms, the FAA doesn’t require much else of them. It doesn’t require the flying craft to be registered or to have an airworthiness certificate and the operator doesn’t have to have a pilot license.

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Light-Sport Gyroplanes:
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