Ultralight aircraft offer fun and value to the aviation enthusiast. It’s true that you don’t need a license to fly these planes, but even airline pilots love flying them, just for the joy or flying. If you’re thinking about getting into the world of ultralight flying, here are ten of the most popular ultralight aircraft worthy of consideration.

True ultralight aircraft fall under FAA’s Part 103 Aerial Recreational Vehicle (ARV). These aircraft are essentially unregulated and pilots don’t need licenses to fly them. Many ultralights are kit built by their owner/pilots. 

Ultralight Aircraft Requirements:

  • One seat
  • Max empty weight: 254 pounds (can be higher if the aircraft needs floats or a parachute
  • Max fuel capacity: 5 gallons
  • Top speed: 55 knots / 63 mph
  • Can only be flown between sunrise and sunset
  • Can only fly in uncontrolled airspace
  • Must have an anti-collision light that can be seen from 3 nautical miles away
  • Can only be flown in unpopulated areas

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Ultralights come in many forms. The most common designs are trikes, which are simple fuselages suspended under standard hang gliding wings. Also popular are powered parachutes. But if you notice from the rules above, ultralights are not only limited to one category of aircraft. There are ultralight airplanes, helicopters, and even gyrocopters.

The term ultralight often gets overused to describe any very small or homebuilt aircraft, but this isn’t strictly accurate. As you can see from the Part 103 requirements above, these aircraft must be single-seat designs that have very strict weight and performance requirements. 

Many other designs are out there that have two seats, higher performance, or larger airframes. These may be built at home by a DIY flyer, or they might be partially completed at a factory and sold as a kit. They will then be certified and registered as an “experimental” aircraft by the FAA under FAR Part 23. They can then be operated under Part 91 (General Flight Operations) by a licensed pilot, just like any other certified aircraft.

These are the most popular Part 103 ultralight aircraft available today.

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1. Thunder Gull 2000

Thunder Gull 2000
FlugKerl2 | wikimedia Thunder Gull 2000

This design was first introduced in the 1970s and since then countless pilots have enjoyed this fun aircraft. This trailerable, kit-built aircraft is fun! The Hirth engine reduces vibration sometimes felt in ultralight aircraft and gives the pilot a smooth, easy ride. 

The Gull 2000 is one of the best looking ultralights in the sky. It has a sleek enclosed airframe with fiberglass components. 

The kit comes complete with a jig-welded roll cage, seatbelts, and a full cabin windscreen. Like many small ultralights, this one is trailerable for maximum versatility. Owners can keep these planes in their garages and tow them to the airport to save on tie down costs. It also helps that they can built and work on them in their garage workshops, then move them to the airport when finished. 

Thunder Gull 2000 Specifications

  • Empty weight: 248 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: 550 pounds
  • Engine: Hirth F33, 28 hp
  • Take off distance: 125 feet
  • Landing distance: 75 feet
  • Cruise speed: 63mph
  • Stall speed: 26 mph

2. Pterodactyl Ascender

Fly camping with a DFE Ascender III C two seater
public domain Fly camping with a DFE Ascender III C two seater

The Pterodactyl Ascender was first built in the late 1970s and they have been extremely popular. It flew at the Oshkosh air show in 1979 and nearly 1,400 kits were sold by 1984. The Pterodactyl has a hang glider style design. 

The original company was sold in 1984 and the design has since been owned by a variety of companies. The model has several iterations and variants such as the Ascender, Pfledge, Fledgling, among others.

Pterodactyl Ascender II
public domain Pterodactyl Ascender II

1979 Pterodactyl Pfledge Specifications

  • Empty weight: 125 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: 350 pounds
  • Engine: Xenoah 242 two stroke, 16 hp
  • Take off distance: not published
  • Landing distance: not published
  • Cruise speed: 45 mph
  • Stall speed: 17 mph

3. Composite FX XEL Helicopter

Composite FX XEL Helicopter
composite-fx.com Composite FX XEL Helicopter

This helicopter has floats and can therefore weigh more than the standard Part 103 limit of 254 pounds. The Composite FX XEL features a fiberglass airframe and can reach air speeds of up to 70 mph. The XEL is available as a kit or factory finished for under $50,000. 

Composite FX makes three other models of experimental helicopter, including the turbine XET.

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Composite FX XEL Helicopter

  • Empty weight: 314 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: 610 pounds
  • Engine: MZ202
  • Take off distance: n/a
  • Landing distance: n/a
  • Cruise speed: 62.5 mph
  • Stall speed: n/a

4. Aeromarine Merlin Lite

Aeromarine Merlin Lite
aeromarine-lsa.com Aeromarine Merlin Lite

The Merlin Lite is an exciting new entrant into the ultralight field. It’s a modified version of the Merlin. The Merlin Lite has a roomy cockpit that can fit a pilot up to 6’6″. It will require a BRS rescue system to increase the allowable weight under Part 103 or it can be registered as an experimental aircraft. 

It has a gorgeous panel in the cockpit with a GPS, Full EFIF with artificial horizon, airspeed, altimeter, G Meter, heading indicator, compass, and ball. It also has seven windows and a door. This aircraft packs features typically reserved for fully registered aircraft into an ultralight frame. It can have either tricycle gear or be configured as a taildragger. 

The plane comes ready-to-fly for only $35,500. Additional features include padded seatbelts, BRS 500 full aircraft rescue system, twin hydraulic brakes with tundra tires, bubble windows, and a cargo area that can fit your camping gear. 

Merlin Lite Specifications

  • Empty weight: 275 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: pounds
  • Engine: Polini 250 DS 2 stroke
  • Take off distance: not published
  • Landing distance: not published
  • Cruise speed: not published
  • Stall speed: 27 mph

5. Quicksilver MX 103

Quicksilver MX 103
quicksilveraircraft.com Quicksilver MX 103

Quicksilver is known for their full range of kit planes and ready to fly light sport aircraft. They make simple high-wing planes with open or enclosed cockpits. They’ve sold over 15,000 aircraft since starting in the 1970s. 

Their MX 103 meets the requirements of FAR Part 103 as an ultralight aircraft. They also make a two-place light sport version of the same airframe, which is the perfect option for pilots who want type training. 

Quicksilver MX 103 Specifications

  • Empty weight: 250 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: 525 pounds
  • Engine: Hirth F23, 50 hp
  • Take off distance: 40 feet
  • Landing distance: 60 feet
  • Cruise speed: 50 mph
  • “Stall speed: 24 mph

6. Jordan Lake Air-Bike 103

Jordan Lake Air Bike 103
jordanlakeaero.com Jordan Lake Air Bike 103

Unlike many planes on our list, the Air-Bike is available only as plans and unfinished parts kits. It’s a simple airframe that consists of a tubular steel frame with wooden wings. The company says it takes about 450 hours to built one of their planes.

Air-Bike 103 Specifications

  • Empty weight: 248 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: pounds
  • Engine: Hirth F-33, 28 hp
  • Take off distance: 250 feet
  • Landing distance: 200 feet
  • Cruise speed: 55 mph
  • Stall speed: 28 mph

7. Buckeye Dragonfly Powered Parachute

A powered parachute is the ultimate ultralight vehicle. For DIY builders, they represent a unique combination of simplicity, fun, and quick build times. There are two-seater and larger options for pilots not needing to remain within the limits of FAR Part 103.

The fuselage is nothing more than a tubular aluminum frame with tricycle or quad landing gear and a seat. A pusher engine is mounted behind the pilot, which turns a standard propeller. 

Lift is accomplished with a lifting-wing parachute. This enables the craft to have very short takeoff distances and low stall speeds. 

The Buckeye sells for around $14,000 ready to fly.

Buckeye Dragonfly Specifications

  • Empty weight: 240 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: pounds
  • Engine: Subaru 40 hp
  • Take off distance: not published
  • Landing distance: not published
  • Cruise speed: not published
  • Stall speed: 27 mph

8. North Wing Maverick 2 RT

North Wing Maverick 2 RT
northwing.com North Wing Maverick 2 RT

Trikes show of the ingenuity of ultralight builders. They use an existing airfoil that’s readily available — the hang gliding wing. To it, that add a tricycle-geared open cockpit and engine. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it makes a fun flying experience. 

Maverick Trike Specifications

  • Empty weight: 254 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: 600 pounds
  • Engine: Kawasaki 440, 40 hp
  • Take off distance: not published
  • Landing distance: not published
  • Cruise speed: not published
  • Stall speed: 25 mph

9. U-Fly-It Aerolite 103

Aerolites come completely assembled from the company’s plant in DeLand, Florida. You get to pick your colors, and the engine you’d like installed. For those wanting to build their own, a quick build kit can be completed in less than 50 hours. 

For less than $30,000, you can get a factory assembled Aerolite fully loaded. Since they are custom-built, you can get it with your choice of options like tundra tires, streamlined struts and fairings, or digital instruments. 

The plane is a good looking high-wing with external struts and a tubular framed fuselage. A clear windscreen surrounds the framing, giving an enclosed cockpit with an unlimited view. 

Aerolite 103 Specifications

  • Empty weight: 235 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: 600 pounds
  • Engine: Several choices available
  • Take off distance: 100-200 feet
  • Landing distance: 100-200 feet
  • Cruise speed: 45-63 mph
  • Stall speed: 26-28 mph

10. CGS Hawk Arrow

Hawk Arrow One
cgsaviation.com Hawk Arrow One

CGS has been building ultralights at their Florida facility since 1982. They’ve won many design awards from the Experimental Aircraft Association and at the Sun ’n Fun annual flying in.

The Hawk is a high-wing monoplane with external bracing. The wings are fabric covered, and the fuselage is composite. 

CGS Hawk Aviation advertises that the average first-time builder can complete this ultralight in 200 hours. 

CGS Hawk Arrow Specifications

  • Empty weight: 310 pounds
  • Max Gross weight: 600 pounds
  • Engine: Rotax 447 or 503, 40-50 hp
  • Take off distance: not published
  • Landing distance: not published
  • Cruise speed: 55-75 mph
  • Stall speed: 26-30 mph

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About the Author

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Matt Claiborne
Airline Transport Pilot. Certified Flight Instructor-Airplane, Single and Multiengine Instrument