Ultralight aviation (called microlight aviation in some countries) is the flying of lightweight, 1 or 2 seat fixed-wing aircraft. Some countries differentiate between weight-shift control and conventional 3-axis control aircraft with ailerons, elevator and rudder, calling the former "microlight" and the latter "ultralight".
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, mostly stimulated by the hang gliding movement, many people sought affordable powered flight. As a result, many aviation authorities set up definitions of lightweight, slow-flying aeroplanes that could be subject to minimum regulations. The resulting aeroplanes are commonly called "ultralight aircraft" or "microlights", although the weight and speed limits differ from country to country. In Europe the sporting (FAI) definition limits the maximum take-off weight to 450 kg (992 lb) (472.5 kg (1,042 lb) if a ballistic parachute is installed) and a maximum stalling speed of 65 km/h (40 mph). The definition means that the aircraft has a slow landing speed and short landing roll in the event of an engine failure.
In most affluent countries, microlights or ultralight aircraft now account for a significant percentage of the global civilian-owned aircraft. For instance in Canada in October 2010, the ultralight aircraft fleet made up to 19% of the total civilian aircraft registered. In other countries that do not register ultralight aircraft, like the United States, it is unknown what proportion of the total fleet they make up. In countries where there is no specific extra regulation, ultralights are considered regular aircraft and subject to certification requirements for both aircraft and pilot.
|Australia||Recreational Aircraft||2||600kg; 614kg for seaplane||—||—||—|
|Light Sport Aircraft||2||600kg; 650kg for seaplane||—||—||—|
|Brazil||Ultralight||2||750kg||daylight visual conditions||—||used mainly, or intended for, sports or recreation|
|Canada||basic ultra-light aeroplane||2||1,200 lb (544 kg)||daylight visual conditions||Ultralight Pilot Permit||may be operated from land or water|
|advanced ultra-light aeroplane||2||1,232 lb (559 kg)||daylight visual conditions||Ultralight Pilot Permit||may only carry a passenger if the pilot has an Ultralight Aeroplane Passenger Carrying Rating; may operate at a controlled airport without prior arrangement|
|Europe||land plane/helicopter, single-seater||1||300kg||—||—||—|
|land plane/helicopter, two-seater||2||450kg||—||—||—|
|amphibian or floatplane/helicopter single-seater||2||495kg||—||—||where operating both as a floatplane/helicopter and as a land plane/ helicopter, it falls below both MTOW limits, as appropriate|
|land plane, two-seater equipped with an airframe mounted total recovery parachute system||2||472.5kg||—||—||—|
|land plane single-seater equipped with an airframe mounted total recovery parachute system||1||315kg||—||—||—|
|Italy||ultraleggero||1—2||—||From 30 min before dawn till 30 min after sunset, flight must be below 500 ft (152 m). On Saturday and holidays flight must be below 1,000 ft (305 m) with 5 km (2.7 nmi) separation from airports not located within ATZ .||certificate exam, insurance and a medical examination.||requires a helmet for open cockpit aircraft and aircraft must remain within the territory of the state, flying over cities is prohibited.|
|United Kingdom||Single Seat De-Regulated aircraft||1–2||115 kg (254 lb) without fuel and pilot with a wing loading not more than 10 kg per sq m||—||National Private Pilots License|
|India||—||2||450kg without parachute||—||current permit to fly||—|
|New Zealand||NZ Class 1||1||510kg, 550kg for seaplanes||—||—||—|
|NZ Class 2||2||600kg, 650kg for seaplanes||—||—||—|
|Philippines||non-type certified aircraft||—||—||daytime VFR||—||recreational and sport use|
|United States||ultralight aircraft||1||155 lb (70 kg) for unpowered, with extra weight allowed for amphibious landing gear and ballistic parachute systems||daylight hours||no license required||less than 5 US gallons (19 L) fuel capacity, empty weight of less than 254 pounds (115 kg), a top speed of 55 knots (102 km/h or 64 mph), and a maximum stall speed not exceeding 24 knots (45 km/h or 27.6 mph). May only be flown over unpopulated areas.|
|light-sport aircraft||—||—||—||sport pilot certificate||—|
In Australia, ultralight aircraft and their pilots can either be registered with the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia (HGFA) or Recreational Aviation Australia (RA Aus). In all cases, except for privately built single seat ultralight aeroplanes, microlight aircraft or trikes are regulated by the Civil Aviation Regulations.
The current UK regulations match the European ones although earlier UK legal microlight definitions described an aeroplane with a maximum weight authorised of (finally) 390 kg, with a wing loading at the maximum weight authorised not exceeding 25 kg per square metre. Other than the very earliest aircraft, all two-seat UK microlights (and until 2007 all single-seaters) have been required to meet airworthiness standard BCAR Section S. In 2007 a sub-category of aircraft (SSDR) was introduced which allows owners more freedom for modification and experiments. In 2015 the SSDR rules changed. The definition of a single seat microlight was adjusted to effectively de-regulate all single seat microlights for airworthiness purposes. There is no airworthiness requirement or annual inspection regime for SSDR microlights although pilots who fly them must have a normal microlight licence, and must observe the rules of the air. In the UK the microlight licence is currently called NPPL (National Private Pilots Licence). It can be upgraded to an LAPL licence with few hours training in Cat A aircraft (Allowing holders to fly any simple single engine aircraft up to 2 tons)
The United States FAA's definition of an ultralight is significantly different from that in most other countries and can lead to some confusion when discussing the topic. The governing regulation in the United States is FAR 103 Ultralight Vehicles. In 2004 the FAA introduced the "Light-sport aircraft" category, which resembles some other countries' microlight categories. Ultralight aviation is represented by the United States Ultralight Association (USUA), which acts as the US aeroclub representative to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Types of aircraft
There are several categories of aircraft which qualify as ultralights in some countries:
- Fixed-wing aircraft: traditional airplane-style designs.
- Weight-shift control trike: use a hang glider-style wing, below which is suspended a three-wheeled carriage which carries the engine and aviators. These aircraft are controlled by pushing against a horizontal control bar in roughly the same way as a hang glider pilot flies.
- Powered parachute: fuselage-mounted engines with parafoil wings, which are wheeled aircraft.
- Powered paraglider: backpack engines with parafoil wings, which are foot-launched.
- Powered hang glider: motorized foot-launched hang glider harness.
- Autogyro: rotary wing with fuselage-mounted engine, a gyrocopter is different from a helicopter in that the rotating wing is not powered, the engine provides forward thrust and the airflow through the rotary blades causes them to autorotate or "spin up" to create lift.
- Helicopter: there are a number of single-seat and two-place helicopters which fall under the microlight categories in countries such as New Zealand. However, few helicopter designs fall within the more restrictive ultralight category defined in the United States of America.
- Hot air balloon: there are numerous ultralight hot air balloons in the US, and several more have been built and flown in France and Australia in recent years. Some ultralight hot air balloons are hopper balloons, while others are regular hot air balloons that carry passengers in a basket.
Electric powered ultralights
Research has been conducted in recent years to replace gasoline engines in ultralights with electric motors powered by batteries to produce electric aircraft. This has now resulted in practical production electric power systems for some ultralight applications. These developments have been motivated by cost as well as environmental concerns. In many ways ultralights are a good application for electric power as some models are capable of flying with low power, which allows longer duration flights on battery power.
In 2007 Electric Aircraft Corporation began offering engine kits to convert ultralight weight shift trikes to electric power. The 18 hp motor weighs 26 lb (12 kg) and an efficiency of 90% is claimed by designer Randall Fishman. The battery consists of a lithium-polymer battery pack of 5.6kWh which provides 1.5 hours of flying in the trike application. The power system for a trike costs USD $8285. to $11285. The company claims a flight recharge cost of 60 cents. 
A significant obstacle to the adoption of electric propulsion for ultralights in the U. S. is the weight of the battery, which is considered part of the empty weight of the aircraft despite efforts to have it considered as fuel. As battery energy density improves, this will be less of a problem. By mid-2015, progress is being made to construct an electric air vehicle that complies with Part 103 requirements.
Notable microlight/ultralight manufacturers
- Aero Consult Light Aircraft
- Air Creation
- Asso Aerei
- Aviasud Engineering
- Avid Aircraft
- Beaujon Aircraft
- Comco Ikarus
- Electric Aircraft Corporation
- Fantasy Air
- Flight Design
- Jabiru Aircraft
- Loehle Aircraft
- Micro Aviation NZ
- Murphy Aircraft
- New Kolb Aircraft
- Preceptor Aircraft
- Quicksilver Aircraft
- Raj Hamsa Ultralights
- Rans Designs
- Remos Aircraft
- Spectrum Aircraft
- Titan Aircraft
- Urban Air
- Aerosport (airshow)
- Backpack helicopter
- Experimental Aircraft Association
- Recreational Aviation Australia
- United States Ultralight Association
- United States Powered Paragliding Association
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