The Flynano airplane we discussed earlier this week brings up a great question – what is an ultralight aircraft? An ultralight aircraft in the United States is defined by the FAA through this regulation:
If you read through that page you will find the following points:
The 155-pound weight limitation has been retained for unpowered designs and is the only criterion for those vehicles. Those ultralights equipped with powerplants must weigh less than 254 pounds empty weight. In addition, powered ultralight vehicles must have a fuel capacity not exceeding 5 U.S. gallons and be incapable of more than 55 knots calibrated airspeed at full power in level flight. The power off stall speed of a powered ultralight must not exceed 24 knots calibrated airspeed.
An ultralight is a single-seat aircraft that is used for Recreation or Sport Purposes. You can fly it during the day and must follow visual flight rules.
If you are willing to live within these restrictions, then an ultralight aircraft does not require registration and there is no license required for the pilot. The industry is basically self-regulated.
Under this definition, ultralights come in many different shapes and sizes. There is the cloth-wing ultralight as seen here:
Inflatable wing aircraft:
Rogallo wing aircraft:
Powered paraglider trikes:
More “traditional” plywood designs are also possible (although the description makes this one sound too heavy to be a true ultralight):
What do you do with your ultralight? One option is areotrekking: