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Frequently Asked Questions
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What are ultralights and microlights?
Why do people enjoy flying them?
Where can I learn more about ultralights?
What restrictions does FAA place on operating ultralights?
What are the pros and cons of ultralights as compared to conventional aircraft?
How much does an ultralight cost?
Are 2-seat ultralights legal?
How safe are they?
Is it true that no license is required to fly an ultralight?
How do I get my USUA pilot or instructor ratings?

What are ultralights and microlights?

There are many classifications of "ultralights." The term, as it is used in the Federal Aviation Regulations, applies to any vehicle, powered or unpowered, which meets the definitions of FAR Part 103 (Ultralight Vehicles). The terms "ultralight" and "microlight" are used in many other countries to describe single and 2-seat planes flown primarily for fun.

The terms include powered ultralights (fixed wing, rotorcraft, powered parachutes, etc.) and unpowered ultralights (hang gliders, paragliders, sailplanes, balloons, etc.). FAR Part 103 definitions restrict weight, speed, and fuel. The definitions currently apply only to single-seat craft, with exemptions for two-seat craft that are used for instructional purposes only.

Generally, the terms "ultralight" and "microlight" identify any lightweight vehicle designed to operate at very low speeds. Therefore, many vehicles commonly referred to as ultralights or microlight cannot actually be operated under the special rules of FAR Part 103. To operate these aircraft you currently need either an FAA exemption for flight instruction or a federal airman certificate with a 3rd class medical. You also need a biennial flight review, plus aircraft registration, and an experimental airworthiness certificate For the Aircraft (see FAA Part 61 and 91 or your local traditional flight school at the municipal airport).

Why do people enjoy flying them?

There are many reasons why people choose to fly ultralights. Some of these reasons include:

  • Their lower cost.
  • The minimal amount of training required. (No FAA license or medical required.)
  • The "wind in your face" experience.
  • The ability to fly "low and slow."
  • The desire to get back to simple "stick and rudder" flying.
  • They're "just plain fun." It's pure, simple, recreational flying.

The best way to find out why folks love to fly ultralights is to contact your local instructor and take an introductory lesson. Caution! This sport is addictive.

Where can I learn more about ultralights?

You can begin your search by looking over the list of USUA certified ultralight flight instructors and the USUA flying club list on this web site. Contact a few people from the lists, take an introductory lesson, or attend a club meeting or fly-in. That will give you an idea of what ultralight activity is in your area. You will also find that most ultralight pilots and enthusiasts are very willing to talk to you about their sport.

Consider joining USUA and subscribing to any of the magazines offered in the membership section of the web site.

What restrictions does FAA place on operating ultralights?

Among the restrictions of FAA's FAR Part 103:

  • Used only for sport and recreation
  • Daylight operations only
  • No operations over congested areas
  • Used by a single occupant
  • Maximum five gallons of fuel
  • Yield right-of-way to all other aircraft
  • Operation in controlled airspace and restricted areas requires prior permission

Two-seat ultralights, except for those used for instruction, are regulated by other portions of the FAR's (see question 1.4.) See FAR Part 103.

What are the pros and cons of ultralights as compared to conventional aircraft?

Conventional general aviation aircraft are mainly used for transportation from one location to another and thus are subject to the rules and operational systems established for transportation. Ultralights are used mostly for sport and recreation. Therefore, since ultralight pilots are subject to fewer rules and operational systems, those who seek to fly for fun will find ultralight operation less restrictive. Ultralights, however, are not necessarily less expensive as a hobby than conventional aviation operations.

How much does an ultralight cost?

The cost of most new single-seat ultralights begins around $9,000. On the used market, it is possible to find an ultralight for around $4,000. Be wary of purchasing a used ultralight with a price that's "too good to be true," unless you are willing to completely rebuild it. If you find one in your area, it's a good idea to take along someone who is familiar with ultralights and knows what to look for. If you're willing to rebuild an airframe, replace wing fabric, and do engine work, then sometimes you can find less expensive planes. However, some of the cheaper planes are obsolete because they aren't manufactured anymore and parts are no longer available. A search on the Internet will help to locate the manufacturer if they are still in business. The bottom line is, don't cut corners and take time to learn about these vehicles before you make your first purchase. Don't add unnecessary risk to your life by purchasing something that may not be airworthy. Get involved with a local club, or talk to your local instructor. They are a great source of information and they will help you choose the right plane.

Are 2-seat ultralights legal?

You will need a regular FAA airman certificate (Recreational or Private Pilot) and the plane must be registered with FAA and have a federal airworthiness certificate (such as amateur-built experimental). The pilot will then be operating under general aviation rules (FAR Parts 61 and 91). Dual training under Part 103 in a 2-seat ultralight is available through an FAA exemption.

How safe are they?

Ultralights, like any aircraft, are only as safe as the builders and operators make them. Through communication and observation, you must contribute to your own safety, as well as that of others. You will find those who are more experienced to be very willing and insistent upon safety when it applies to your training, flight operations, and general behavior.

Another factor is that lower speeds, lighter vehicle weights, and the recreational nature of the sport itself results in greater inherent safety. However, when accidents occur, it has been found that ultralight accidents closely follow the causes of aviation accidents, in general, with "lack of instruction" at the core of most unhappy landings.

Is it true that no license is required to fly an ultralight?

No license is required to fly a "Part 103 legal ultralight". However, flying is something that is not to be taken lightly. Just because ultralights "look simple" does not mean they can be flown without training.

USUA strongly advises people to obtain instruction from a certified ultralight flight instructor. Even people who are already general aviation pilots, for example, always benefit from ultralight instruction. Ultralights have their own characteristics that most general aviation pilots aren't accustomed to.

In addition, if you have no previous flight experience, the number of hours required for ultralight instruction is considerably less than what is needed to obtain a private pilot license. Normally, most people require between 10 and 20 hours of ultralight instruction.

How do I get my USUA pilot or instructor ratings?

Our Airman Registration web page, lists the requirements for obtaining your USUA pilot or instructor ratings.


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