Introduction to Ultralight Airplanes

Ultralight Gliders - Flying Without Engine

Do you know how the ultralight aviation started at? No, it is not coming from the general aviation. The ultralight airplanes have evolved from hang gliders. But this evolution did not kill the gliders. They are still widely used and available in many variations.

What exactly is an ultralight glider?

The gliders are unpowered aircrafts, used for sport and fun. In rare cases they might have engines, but the standard gliders are flying without any. The ultralight gliders are lighter version gliders, just like the ultralight airplanes are subclass of the light airplanes.

These aircraft usually have place for only one person - the pilot. They may have seat and even cabine, or might have only hangs like the unpowered trikes. The heavier gliders look more like airplanes and usually have closed cabines.

In most cases you don't need pilot's license to fly a glider. This is one huge advantage of the gliders against the ultralight airplanes.

Once in the sky, you can fly your glider for hours without engine. There is nothing closer to soaring like a bird than that.

How do the gliders take off the ground?

There are 2 main methods for lifting up your glider:

The most popular approach to start flying is to get the glider dragged and lifted up with a powered airplane. The glider and the airplane are tied with a rope and when the rope is released, you can start your free flight. This is an easy way, but of course you'll need to find someone with an airplane :-) This method is also called "aero-tow".

I was more interested to learn about the second way of lifting up the glider. It's called "winch launching" and a land locked engine is used for it. The winch is connected with a long rope to the glider. The winch is quickly picking up the plane and the pilot can release the cable when he decide he is ready for free flight.

In case you want to picture it better, see Understanding the Winch Launch written by by John Gibso.

Ultralight gliders safety

One of the accidents which happens often with gliders is the "mid-air collision". It is a wide topic, that I can't cover here. If you want to know more check out Collision Avoidance in Gliders.

There is also bunch of very useful advice on Gliders Safety Pledge.

Other than the mentioned issues, there is not much to worry when flying a glider. Since there is no power, you will not have problems with sudden engine downtimes or fuel outflow. The gliders are fully manageable in the air, so don't think that you just fly where the wind takes you ;-)

How much do gliders cost?

I was hoping that the gliders will be much cheaper than the powered ultralight aircrafts, but unfortunately that is not the reality. The cheapest single place gliders I found start from $6,000 - $7,000. This is not bad at all, but for the same money you can get a microlight airplane.

However the hang gliders (some are just delta planes) can be found for as low as $2,000 - $3,000 or even few hundreds (see here).

The two place gliders start from $30,000 and go up.

So why glider?

If the gliders are not much cheaper than the ultralight airplanes, is there any economical reason to buy one? Well, think about it. Once you are in the air, you can fly for hours - and for free. No fuel. No smoke. No noise.

Add to that the great feeling that you experience - flying on the wind. With some ultralight gliders you will feel the air around you. It's really an option to consider.

The main issue with the gliders is taking off the ground, as you don't depend entirely on yourself. But even this issue is solved in most hang gliders.

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User comments:

Zeal at Feb, 02 '16 19:50
Deep thinking - adds a new diomnsien to it all.
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