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Thread: Has General Aviation Missed the Potential of Basic Ultralights?

  1. #1

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    Has General Aviation Missed the Potential of Basic Ultralights?

    40 years ago I cut lawns to take flying lessons and got my license at 17. I got into hang gliding a couple years later, built an Easy Riser for hang gliding and then put one of John Moody's first engine kits on it after he did his famous Oshkosh flight. So I've been around GA and ultralights for a good part of my life.

    I've always felt it's unfortunate that the basic ultralights like the Quicksilver MX have never been seen by the aviation community for what they could do for the growth of fuure of aviation participation.

    The MX got literally thousands of adults safely flying in spite of the relative unavailability and/or low utilization of decent instruction. The accident rate of early ultralight designs caused by "self-teaching" masked the fact that a design like the Quicksilver MX was probably the most successful basic aviation trainer ever built. It got more people aviating at a lower investment of time and money than any other aviation trainer ever produced.

    What I have longed believed is that aviation misses the potential of entry-level ultralight designs like the Quicksilver MX to build the next generation of aviation enthusiasts.

    Many yacht clubs on the inland lakes of the upper Midwest have dingy fleets to teach teens how to sail. Designs like the MX could be aviation's "dingy" with it's simple 2-axis controls and docile dihedral. If a 14 yr old can solo a glider with proper 2-place instruction, they can certainly learn to fly a 2-axis MX.

    I think we've missed the mark not using some simple basic ultralights to get teens doing entry level, basic aviating. The focus seems to be on producing licensed pilots when we could be producing a lot of teenage aviators.

    I'm one of the rare kids that was so bit by the aviation bug that I actually got a license as a teen. However, I would have jumped at the chance to learn to fly an ultralight instead. I would have started earlier because I would have been legally able to at a younger age in an ultralight. It would have been a much smaller, easier step for me.

    For every kid like me that does go from a "Young Eagle experience" to a license, there could be hundreds of kids that could go from Young Eagle to entry level aviator with a well organized youth program based around an entry level ultralight design. [I was "Young Eagled" by an EAA member next door that took me flying in his Mooney.]

    The aviation community might argue it would not be worth the effort to support a youth program around learning to fly ultralights because ultralight aviators don't transition to GA. I would argue differently. Not every ultralight flying teen would transition to the GA level, just as every kid doesn't move up from dingys. But I think the allure of begin able to carry a passenger would get a lot chasing at least the LSA license at a future date.

    I believe the stat I calculated it's an average of 5.4 years from when the average Young Eagle takes their flight until they could actually become an aviator going the GA route. With the number of other activities or pursuits that could capture their interest in the interim, I believe that's too long to convert YE's into aviation participants. I think we need to convert them from "Young Eagle spectator" to "aviator" faster. And I think the basic ultralight designs hold that promise with a well organized youth aviating program.

    My thoughts. Would be interested in what others think.

    -Buzz
    Last edited by Buzz; 09-05-2012 at 04:44 AM.

  2. #2
    Flyfalcons's Avatar
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    I think current LSA manufacturers are too concerned with stuffing as many glass displays into their panels to worry about the actual intent of the new LSA class.
    Ryan Winslow
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    Stinson 108-1 "Big Red", RV-7 under construction

  3. #3
    taylorcraftbc65's Avatar
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    In 1964, I started learning to fly at 14. Any questions of "legality" were far from my mind, My grand father, father, and two of my uncles flew in two wars in the military, I had only ONE DESIRE since I was four, and that was to FLY. MY advantage was that my relatives owned the 7AC that I learned to fly in, and you didn't ride in the plane without being able to FLY IT. At 15 1/5, my dad died, and there went the plane. At 16, I started flying gliders, ANYTHING to get where I felt more at home, than in my own room. I finally gut the money up to get an old Champ, and not having the money to "Get Official", I kept it in a barn at my Aunt's place out in the farmlands of the deep south. I put a tick over 2,000 hours on it till I went into the Army. After I got out of the Army, I went back to putting illegal time on the plane due to the high cost of flying in the early eighties, when you were a minimum wage employed Disabled Veteran in a VERY hard hit area of the Country. In 1986, a friend of mine told me about these REALLY cool aircraft that were LEGAL to fly without ANY license, and you could LEGALLY work on yourself, so we went on a three hour drive and took a look. When we arrived, at the field there were fifteen or twenty ultralights there, most of them were MX's ans MX-2's four weedhoppers which reminded me of the Frenchman's Santos Dumont Demoselle in "Those Magnificent Men And Their Flying Machines". After three hours of transition training, I gave my instructor "three PERFECT ones", and he cleared me to buy and fly off with any of the new aircraft that he had. Being low on cash, I traded him my Aeronca for an MX, AND a Weedhopper. I flew the begeebers off those two aircraft, and have owned MANY Ultralights since then, currently owning four.
    As far as I am concerned, ultralights have it ALL OVER General Aviation. Brie

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flyfalcons View Post
    intent of the new LSA class.
    I don't know what the intent of the LSA class was. But with the Recreational pilot certificate being out there for years with very little adoption, it's clear that trying to grow aviation by "skinnying down" the regulations isn't going to work.

    What makes GA training at all affordable today is that there is a fleet of cheap high-time Cessna 150's and 152 out there today that flight schools can operate pretty cheaply. I don't see a lot of flight schools in my area building their training fleet around LSAs. The aircraft are too expensive to buy for training.

    As for ultralights, What Part 103 demonstrated is a very basic concept of aerodynamics. If you remove the additional weight of a passenger and all additional speed and horsepower required, you end up with an aircraft design that is simple enough and easy enough to fly and to maintain that you don't need government regulations [with all the attendant costs and hassles] to have a fairly decent safety record. What you also end up with is an aircraft that legally and affordably could covert a lot of Young Eagles to aviators.

    While the Air Academy is a great program, wouldn't it contribute more to building the future generation of aviation enthusiasts to have campers learning to fly one of the basic ultralight designs rather than building model airplanes and flying model rockets?

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    taylorcraftbc65's Avatar
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    I agree with your last paragraph one hundred percent Buzz.

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    The problem is- and it remains a vexing one despite the best efforts of those of us in the community- that people view ultralights as "not really planes" or as "incomplete" designs flown by people who are trying purposefully to cut corners. Those who are not already flying ultralights tend to view us who are as “wanting all the thrills of flying with none of the hard work, training, and maturity required to become a professional or military pilot” to quote one article looking at the aftermath of a small series of ultralight crashes. (In case anyone cares: Copeland AR. Ultralight aircraft fatalities: report of five cases. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 1987;8:296-8.) While I might agree in part with Copeland's assessment based on some of the incredibly immature and pointless crap I've seen my fellow pilots do over the years, a lot of people have thrown out the "baby with the bathwater" over it. It's going to take a lot of effort, a LOT of good PR and a whole lot of luck to overcome such long standing impressions. As someone who has more UL hours than anything else at this point, it really depresses me to say that but it is at least grounded to some degree in truth given that, when it comes to the general public at least, perception is reality.

    The "missing" an opportunity with the LSA niche is something that is kind of questionable although I agree with it in part (otherwise I wouldn't be building the prototype of a plans built LSA in hopes of maybe getting a few more people flying while increasing my own skills as a designer and builder) but at the same time, I see the whole sport pilot thing as primarily as something a lot of folks seem to overlook: an experiment to test the validity of self-certification from a medical standpoint. Presenting it as something else minimizes the chance of folks minding their Ps and Qs to skew the data. Just my two cents on that one but it's my take from some of the chatter I've heard in the course of my work in the aviation safety side of things.
    Unfortunately in science what you believe is irrelevant.

    "I'm an old-fashioned Southern Gentleman. Which means I can be a cast-iron son-of-a-***** when I want to be."- Robert A. Heinlein.



  7. #7

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    I've been reading a lot of this U/L sub forum. NOW you guys have got me hooked into wanting an ultralight.
    I remember some 25 years ago, riding in a Rallye Rotec B (I think that's the correct "name") anyway, it was a 2 seater. I don't know if the guy had a PPL or not. I had/have mine so it really didn't matter, I don't think, anyway. BTW, I do remember his name too.
    Anyway, as I remember it, it was really fun. But I haven't really given U/Ls much thought til now.

    I think Buzz is spot on at getting new aviators using U/Ls. Everyone wants to grow GA, but I don't really know very many young people with enough money to get their license, sport or private. The LSA thing was supposed to "fix" all that, with affordable, cheap to fly, airplanes. Ha Ha, yeah, you can build your own for 60K or so, but still, you've got the fixed costs.

    What does a person (me) have to do if I want a 2 seat, I know it can't be an ultralight w/2seats, b.....u......t, I want to take a passenger along. I do have my PPL. So, what would I need to do?

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    I certainly think that we need more affordable ultralight aircraft. A pilot needs to own an aircraft, not just get a pilot certificate and never fly again.
    But todays ultralight should look a bit more modern, I feel. A "proper little airplane" (I think these words came from P. Poberezny)
    I am working on it. But it is quite a challenge. Very few engine options.

    malexander- you will need to buy or build an E-AB (experimental- amateur built) for a two seater.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Berson View Post
    I certainly think that we need more affordable ultralight aircraft. A pilot needs to own an aircraft, not just get a pilot certificate and never fly again.
    But todays ultralight should look a bit more modern, I feel. A "proper little airplane" (I think these words came from P. Poberezny)
    I am working on it. But it is quite a challenge. Very few engine options.

    malexander- you will need to buy or build an E-AB (experimental- amateur built) for a two seater.


    I sort of thought I knew that. Just needed confirmation. I can still buy a 2 seat ultralight type a/c a lot cheaper than say a 150.
    I do agree a person needs to own an aircraft to be able to get the full benefit of an airplane. I know I do,even though it is just a 150. But I'm build ing a Rans S19. AND looking for the ultralight type 2 place.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by steveinindy View Post
    It's going to take a lot of effort, a LOT of good PR and a whole lot of luck to overcome such long standing impressions.
    It is unfortunate that the actions of a few cast a bad light on the activities of a lot that are not yahoos.

    The other thing that u/l aviation always has working against it with respect to the bad actions of a few is the public's general fascination with anything involving aviation.

    I learned this first had back in 1986 when I had a fouled plug in a 2-place QuicksilverM, landed in a rough field and bent my landing gear. I got 2 column inches in the Milwaukee Journal when 4 people killed in a boat collision the same day got 1/4th the press. I and my passenger got some alfalfa stains on our tennis shoes but that was more newsworthy than 4 people being killed in the boat collision because planes are more interesting than boats for most people. People get killed everyday in cars and motorcycles and they get little press. But if a Cessna 172 runs lands long, takes out some runway lights and no one is hurt, that is still BIG news. That is just the nature of the public's interest in aviation.

    All that said, maybe GA also needs to take a page from Apple Computer's playbook. Part of the thing that removed the perception that PCs were hard to operate was Apple's effort to get them into schools. When your 6th grader could operate a PC, that pretty much demystified them for a lot of people. A successful youth aviation program using basic ultralights that got a lot of kids actually becoming aviators would go a long way towards showing the public that aviation isn't such a hard community to get involved with. ["If a teen could learn to fly, maybe I could, too."]

    What is interesting about u/l is that only GA sees them as "not real airplanes". The public does see them as "real airplanes", albeit one with a "safety" reputation. [Those with intimidate knowledge of the history of the u/l industry know it's not a "safety" problem they have/had, but too much "self-training" and people operating outside their own limitations and experience. It also let a certain number of "yahoos" into aviation that would not have been able to get into it if training was required.]

    The last point I'll make is that a youth oriented aviator club utilizing basic ultralights would be a huge press bonanza for EAA. It would capture the public's attention. Aviation already has the public's fancy. Getting a new age group aviating would be hugely unique.
    Last edited by Buzz; 08-12-2012 at 01:58 PM. Reason: corrections

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