What is an Ultralight Aircraft
Although the definitions differ from country to country, in general an ultralight can be defined as an aircraft that is small and stalls slowly. An aircraft that weighs less than 1,200 lb (according to Canadian Aviation Regulations) and stalls at not more than 45 mph can be classified as a basic ultralight one. According to the US Federal Aviation Regulations an airplane has to weigh less than 155 lb in unpowered mode, or 254 lb when powered to fall into this category. This is much lower than a light aircraft, which weighs up to 12500 lb.
There are other specifications related to capacity, area of operation, registration, etc. An ultralight flying machine is usually 'single seat', which means it accommodates only one person. The pilot doesn't sit inside the vehicle. Instead, he stands upon it, or is strapped onto it. You don't need a pilot's license to fly this aircraft. It is, however, advisable that you train yourself with an experienced flier before you try this fascinating ride. The training fee for ultralight flying can be quite high.
Ultralights, or microlights as they are called in some countries, are generally cheaper than helicopters or private jets. The cheapest of these crafts is a hang glider. However, again, as a sport, ultralight flying is much more expensive than, say, bowling or surfing. It is much better to buy or build a recreational ultralight than to rent one.
Constructing Your Own Ultralight Aircraft
You don't need to be an engineer to make an ultralight model. The process is as simple as constructing a toy from Lego building blocks. With the right tools and information you can go as far as building it all by yourself.
- A kit/framework material
- Materials specific to the design
- Hand files
- Pinking shears
- A paint brush
- A tubing bender
- A bench vice
- A band saw
- A belt sander
- A rivet gun
- A drill press
- First decide whether you want the aircraft to be built in airplane or helicopter style. Also, choose between 3-axis control aircraft models with actual controls and weight-shift control aircraft models that require the pilot to move his/her mass relative to the wing of the plane.
- Once you've made your decision, you can start either from scratch, laid-out plans, or kits.
- When starting from scratch, you need to be careful and patient. If you are building from a plan, it will take 2500 and 5000 hours. The fastest way is to assemble from a kit, it will take lesser time, something between 500 and 1000 hours. It can be taken up as a science fair project, too.
- The plan will include blueprints and CAD (Computer-aided design) drawings. The charts of fittings will be of actual size or true-to-scale, so that it is easier to visualize the build of the aircraft. You will also get an instructional VHS (Video Home System) or DVD for demonstrative purposes. You can order brochures to find the prices.
- There may also be an interactive CD that gives you a 3-D view of the aircraft and includes simulations that give you a virtual feel of how to go about it. You may have to read the instruction manual several times in order to familiarize yourself with the entire procedure.
- You will need to build the frame or chassis first, then the engine, followed by the flight controls and finally, the tarps and other body elements. You can start building the aircraft in your garage, but by the time it's done, you will have to keep the airplane in a hangar. Also, make sure you have a decent parking space ready for the same.
- You can buy a partial trial kit to practice making small components of the craft. Once trained, you can make a small-scale business out of selling them to aircraft builders. For instance, you can buy a kit only to build the tail or the wings of the ultralight airplane and look for potential buyers.
- Students can also experiment with engines that are in accordance with the specifications for ultralight use. For example: one can install the Yamaha KT100 100 cc two-stroke-cycle-kart engine which has been adapted for use in ultralights.