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Getting started with an ultralight aircraft is a great way to take to the skies. Use this complete guide to learn all about the best ultralight aircraft.
No matter if you’re a novice pilot that’s just getting into flying or you’re an experienced pilot that wants to leave normal airplanes and try something new, ultralight aircraft might be the right choice for you. These aircraft are usually a bit easier to fly and learn with thanks to their slower speeds and less-capable performance, but they’re still a lot of fun to fly. But which ones are the best?
The best ultralight aircraft are:
- Thunder Gull 2000
- Jordan Lake Air-Bike 103
- Pterodactyl Ascender
- Buckeye Dragonfly Powered Parachute
- North Wing Maverick 2 RT
- Composite FX XEL Helicopter
- CGS Hawk Arrow II
Ultralight aircraft have been growing in popularity in recent years as people have been looking for a more affordable and convenient way to fly. Ultralight aircraft are small, lightweight planes that can be flown by a single person. They're perfect for short trips and are often used for recreational flying. In this article, we will take a look at the best ultralight aircraft on the market and what you should keep in mind when shopping for one.
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What is an Ultralight Aircraft?
Before we get into the actual aircraft themselves that we're going to look at in this article, we need to start with the basics and talk about what ultralight aircraft really are in the first place. This is important because the term has started getting more and more loosely thrown around in recent years.
That said, there are still some very specific requirements that an aircraft needs to meet in order to be considered an ultralight. These exact requirements are defined by 14 CFR Part 103 -- Ultralight Vehicles.
According to Part 103, ultralight aircraft are small planes that can be flown by a single person for sport or recreational purposes only. They cannot have an airworthiness certificate and must be less than 155 pounds if they're unpowered. If they're powered, they also have to meet a few other requirements such as having a maximum empty weight of 254 pounds, a maximum fuel capacity of five gallons, a maximum airspeed of 55 knots, and a maximum stall speed of 24 knots.
What Are Ultralight Aircraft Used For?
As mentioned above, ultralight aircraft are usually used for sport or recreational flying. They're perfect for short trips and can be flown without a pilot's license, granted they meet the aforementioned requirements outlined by 14 CFR Part 103.
However, that doesn't mean that they can't be used for other purposes as well under certain conditions. Ultralight aircraft have also been used in search and rescue operations, law enforcement, agriculture, and more.
When it comes to agricultural use, ultralight aircraft can be used for crop dusting, spraying, and even seeding. They're perfect for small farms or fields that are hard to get to with traditional farming equipment. As for law enforcement, ultralight aircraft have been used for things like surveillance and traffic control.
Now that we've got a general understanding of what ultralight aircraft are, let's take a look at some of the things you should keep in mind when shopping for one.
Ultralight Aircraft Buyer’s Guide
Just like why you buy anything else, there are some things you need to take into consideration before buying an ultralight aircraft. This is especially true if you've never owned or flown one before. To help make your decision a little easier, we've put together a buyer's guide of the major things you need to keep in mind while shopping for ultralight aircraft.
Type of Aircraft
The biggest thing you need to consider when shopping for ultralight aircraft is the type of aircraft you want. There are a few different kinds of ultralight that you can choose from, each of which has its own uses and capabilities. The biggest differentiator is whether it's powered or not, as that will not only affect its performance but also change the ultralight requirements. All of the ultralights that we will talk about in this article have engines, since that’s what people are usually looking for!
14 CFR Part 103 Requirements
As we mentioned before, ultralight aircraft must meet the requirements set forth in 14 CFR Part 103. This includes things like maximum weight, fuel capacity, airspeed, and stall speed. It's important to make sure that the ultralight you're looking at meets all of these requirements before making a purchase, or else you could face issues when the time comes to fly one and you don't have a pilot's license.
Whenever you're considering buying an aircraft of any kind, you need to take its condition into account. This is especially important with ultralight aircraft since they're often used for recreational flying and may not have been taken care of as well as a traditional airplane.
When inspecting the condition of an ultralight, pay close attention to the engine (if it's powered) and airframe. Make sure there are no cracks or leaks and that everything looks to be in good working order. It's also a good idea to talk to the owner about its maintenance history to get an idea of how well it's been taken care of.
Of course, one of the most important things you need to consider when shopping for anything is the price. Ultralight aircraft can range in price from a few thousand dollars to over $100,000, so it's important to have a budget in mind before beginning your search.
Keep in mind that the price will be affected by things like the type of aircraft, its condition, and whether or not it's powered. You'll also need to factor in the cost of things like training and maintenance.
What Are The Best Ultralight Aircraft?
Now that we've gone over the major things you need to keep in mind while shopping for ultralight aircraft, it's time to take a look at some of the best that the market has to offer. We've put together a list of our top picks for the best ultralight aircraft, taking into consideration things like performance, price, and more. Let's take a look.
Thunder Gull 2000
The Thunder Gull 2000 is one of the best ultralight aircraft on the market, thanks to its impressive performance and relatively affordable price tag. It's a powered ultralight that's made from all aluminum construction, so it's both strong and lightweight. As a powered ultralight, this is one of the best options on the market when it comes to learning how to fly.
As for performance, the Thunder Gull 2000 has a top speed of about 120 mph (cruise speed of 55-100 mph) and a stall speed of 26 mph. It's powered by either a Rotax 503, Rotax 447, or HKS 700E engine, can take off in about 125 feet, and requires just 75 feet worth of landing distance. This should be at the top of anyone's list who's hoping to get into ultralight aircraft.
Jordan Lake Air-Bike 103
Next up is the Jordan Lake Air-Bike 103, which is another impressive ultralight aircraft that's available at a reasonable price. It's made from high-quality materials, so it's built to last, and it comes with a wide range of features that make it perfect for both beginner and experienced pilots. This plans-built aircraft meets all Part 103 requirements to truly be an ultralight.
The Air-Bike 103 has a never-exceed speed of 80 mph and a cruise speed of 55 mph. It can take off in as little as 250 feet and climbs at a rate of 475 ft/min. It also has an impressive range of 115 miles on a single tank of gas. As for the engine, it's powered by a 28-horsepower Hirth F-33. This is one of the best options on the market if you're looking for an ultralight kit to build yourself. It will take about 450 hours to build this bad boy from scratch.
The next ultralight on the list is the Pterodactyl Ascender, which is another excellent ultralight aircraft that's perfect for beginner pilots. It comes ready to assemble just like the Air-Bike 103 above, and it will also take a few hundred hours to put together and get it ready for flight. This aircraft also meets all of the requirements outlined by 14 CFR Part 103, so it's an official ultralight so you won't have to worry about breaking regulations.
The Ascender was originally built in the late 1970s and has been a popular choice among flying enthusiasts ever since. It has a cruise speed of 45 mph and a top speed of 50 mph. It can take off in as little as 150 feet and requires just 50 feet of landing distance. As for range, it can fly only up to 56 miles on a single tank of gas. It has one of the smallest engines in this guide, just a 16-horsepower Xenoah 242 two-stroke. This small engine also helps make it one of the lightest entries here at just 125 pounds empty.
Buckeye Dragonfly Powered Parachute
Coming up next as one of the best ultralight aircraft is the Buckeye Dragonfly. This one is a bit different than anything we've looked at so far because it's a powered parachute (think more like a paramotor than an ultralight airplane or hang glider). It has been around since 1982 and continues to be popular among ultralight flyers today. It too meets the requirements of 14 CFR Part 103, making it a real ultralight aircraft.
The Dragonfly comes in 3-wheel or 4-wheel models, both of which are powered by 40-hp Subaru motors. Even with these relatively large motors, the Dragonfly has a flight speed of 34 mph, making it one of the slower options you'll see here. But again, this is largely because it's a powered parachute and not a normal ultralight!
The 3-wheeled model weighs 250 pounds empty and the 4-wheeled model just sneaks in under the Part 103 requirement and weighs 254 pounds. They both have electric start, 68" propellers, PD 400 parachutes, and many other identical features. They even both come in at the exact same price. The only real difference between the two is the dimensions of the airframe and the number of wheels.
North Wing Maverick 2 RT
The fifth ultralight aircraft on the list is the North Wing Maverick II RT. This one is a bit more expensive than some of the other options we've looked at, with a price tag high enough to buy an actual airplane instead, but it's still a great choice if you're looking for an excellent ultralight aircraft.
The Maverick II RT is a ready-to-fly powered hang glider manufactured by one of the (if not the) biggest names in hang gliding: North Wing. This ultralight is built in the USA and has been called the "Jeep" of powered hang gliders because of its ability to be flown into more rugged areas and on rougher terrain than others. This is due in large part to its high ground clearance and relatively massive 17.5" tires.
The Maverick II comes with a 38-horsepower Kawasaki 444 engine that can get you off the ground within 250 feet of ground distance. You can also opt for more powerful engine options including the 50-horsepower Minari Stratos to get into the air even quicker. This ultralight can cruise at speeds from 40 to 60 mph and handles like a Cadillac in the skies.
Composite FX XEL Helicopter
Let's keep it going with another option that's quite a bit different from the rest of them that you'll see on this list, the Composite FX XEL Helicopter. One of the biggest differences from this one compared to all of the other ultralights here is that it doesn't actually qualify as an ultralight under Part 103 that we've been talking about. This is for two main reasons: the cruise speed is 62.5 mph and the empty weight is 312 pounds.
But everyone in the market for an ultralight is not necessarily in the market for an ultralight as defined by 14 CFR Part 103, so we thought it to be a worthy inclusion. This helicopter can be purchased in kit form (for 2x the cost of the North Wing above), or factory-built for an extra $11,000. It is powered by an MZ202 engine that allows it to soar through the air at up to a 70 mph max speed.
Its 5-gallon fuel tank doesn't last too long with the ~6 gal/hour fuel burn rate, so its range is only about 45 - 50 miles and you'll be running on fumes. One of the coolest things about this helicopter is that it also comes equipped with large floats, meaning it can take off from (and land on) water, just like floatplanes. Except, ya know, it's a helicopter!
CGS Hawk Arrow II
Last up on the list is the CGS Hawk Arrow II, which could be argued is one of the best ultralight aircraft you can buy. It's certainly one of the most popular, with over 1,200 flying around the world today. It was first introduced in 1984 and has been in production ever since with very few changes or updates needed along the way.
The Hawk Arrow II comes in both a single and two-seat model, but don't let that deter you from buying one since it doesn't necessarily meet the Part 103 requirement for a single occupant! That's because the empty weight for the single-seater is 330 pounds which is already too heavy (slightly more for two-seaters) and it has a cruise speed of 55-75 mph (and a stall speed of 28-34 mph).
It's powered by a 65-horsepower Rotax 582 engine stock, but it can be optioned out with three other motors depending on what you're looking for. The Hawk Arrow II is known for being an extremely stable and easy-to-fly aircraft, which makes it a great choice for beginners or those with limited experience.
So there you have it: the best ultralight aircraft on the market today according to us here at SkyTough! I hope this article was helpful in your search for the perfect ultralight aircraft and that you found everything you were looking for. Thanks for reading!