LightSportGyroplanes.comThursday September 24, 2020
Shedding Light on
Ultralights satisfy the cravings of persons who dream of flying with the birds and, like birds, free of the necessity for a pilot license or having a number on their tail. For such avian-minded aviators, ultralights offer a remarkable degree of freedom from regulations, yet that freedom is curtailed by some severe practical limitations resulting from the definition of an ultralight. Specifically, the limitation on an ultralight’s empty weight imposes a practical limit on its non-empty weight; that is, the weight of the things it can carry.
The empty weight limit of an ultralight includes the weight of its engine, and from a practical viewpoint, limits ultralights to engines with anemic power, which means less speed and less lifting capacity.
One thing an ultralight has to lift is the fuel for its engine and a typical ultralight engine’s limited power doesn’t allow it to carry much fuel and still have enough spare power to carry anything else, thus an ultralight has a limited range. In fact, the definition of ultralights prohibits them from having the capacity for carrying more than five gallons of fuel, and it’s not just the case that they aren’t allowed to carry more than five gallons of fuel; ultralights aren’t allowed to even have a fuel tank with a capacity more than that.
After accommodating the weight of its frame, the weight of the fuel it’s carrying, and the weight of the ultralight’s engine, that engine usually has little horsepower left over to lift the person operating it. Although the very definition of an ultralight limits it to only one occupant—the operator—the ultralight’s empty-weight limitation imposes a practical limit on the operator’s weight, a weight that could be the best incentive ever for some ultralight operators to uundertake an extreme Jenny Craig diet, operators who are, shall we say, thick of body, although not necessarily of mind.
To stir the confusion pot a little more, it is indeed possible that a gyroplane could qualify as an ultralight, if it conforms to the definition in Part 103; but few gyroplanes can do that. In any case, an ultralight is not the same thing as a light-sport aircraft. In fact, the FAA doesn’t refer to ultralilghts as aircraft at all; the FAA terms them “vehicles”, and the sole occupant of an ultralight, the person at the controls, is called an “operator”, not a “pilot.”
Thus far we’ve seen that the term “light-sport” isn’t the same thing as “lighter-than-air” nor “ultralight”, but we haven’t discussed specifically what “light-sport” does mean. That’s next.
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