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Ultralight Aircraft

A Quick Comparison with Powered Paragliders

Are you looking for some kind of ultralight aircraft as the cheapest, easiest way to get your butt off the ground? Maybe you've heard of powered paragliding as well.

Technically, powered paragliders (PPG) are just one particular type of ultralight aircraft.

This page is all about the main differences between modern ultralights that look like scaled-down light aircraft, and those that are powered paragliders.

I'm assuming you know some of the basic language of General Aviation when reading this page, too.

Range, ceiling, that kind of stuff.

Note to U.S. readers: When I say 'ultralight', that's really the 'Light Sport' category of aircraft in your country. Your 'ultralight' category actually refers to an even lighter type of aircraft. So think 'Light Sport' as you read the rest of this page! :-)

I won't get into aviation regulations and training issues for these 2 types of aircraft here. These issues can be very different from country to country.

Putting Them Side-by-Side

Not greatly familiar with either type? Here's a super-brief summary for each...

Ultralight aircraft are fixed-wing, fixed-undercarriage craft with 3-axis flight controls and a single engine with propeller. They usually have an enclosed cockpit. Basically, Cessnas with anorexia! ;-) (Ask your wife/girlfriend if you don't know what anorexia nervosa is.)

A Skydart Ultralight aircraft in flight.

Actually, there are a few different types of ultralights flying today. Everything from gyrocopters to motorized hang-gliders. But aircraft like the one shown above are now the most common, except for that pusher prop!

Here's some interesting info and photos of a variety of ultralight aircraft, if you're curious about those other kinds.

Powered paragliders are foot-launched parachute-like craft with a combination of weight-shift and airbrake controls, with a pusher-prop engine hung near the back of the pilot. Weird, but it really works!

A powered paraglider in flight.

The table below has some figures showing just how different powered paragliders are, compared to what most people around the world know as ultralights or light sport aircraft. This info was current in mid 2007.

ultralights powered paragliders
max all-up weight 450-600 kg (990-1330 lbs) 80-250 kg (180-550 lbs)
t/o, landing roll 110-180 m (350-600 ft) 1-5 m (3-16 ft)
range 750-1500 km (400-800 nm) 90-180 km (50-100 nm)
duration 3 hrs typical 2-5 hrs
ceiling 2700-4600 m (9000-15000 ft) 5500 m (18000 ft) (world record!)
max speed 150-220 kph (80-120 knts) 30-65 kph (16-35 knts)
stall speed 55-85 kph (30-45 knts) around 22 kph (12 knts)
initial cost $50000-$120000 US $7000-$11000 US (inc. training!)
running cost $10-20/hr US around $4/hr ('whiff of an oily rag')

So different hey? A few more points on the above figures...
  • the ultralights figures include 2-seaters
  • the paragliders figures assume no 'engine-off' soaring flight
  • the ranges of figures are based on a fair sample of recent aircraft designs
  • running costs are really just approximate fuel costs, there can be other costs to factor in

Some Final Points

So much for the name 'ultralight', coined in the 70's! They didn't know what was coming. Mmmm. Perhaps the parafoil wing variety should be in a 'you-wouldn't-believe-how-light' category of their own... A slightly bizarre fact popped out at me while researching all this. The engine-off glide ratio of ultralights is amazingly similar to paragliders! That is, around 7 to 1. One final point - try folding up an ultralight aircraft and stuffing it in the back of the family car! Isn't it amazing that you can do that with the latest powered paragliding gear. Not only that, some paramotor units pack down into a suitcase! All this would have been science fiction in the 60's, but no-one even dreamed about it. Sorry, another final point - powered paragliders are more at home with the engine switched off than ultralights. This is because they are really a form of motorized glider, rather than a light aircraft. Engine-off, they become soaring machines which can stay up all day in the hands of a good pilot, if conditions are right.

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