I am thinking of getting one.

What are the pros and cons of the various types?

Are they legal to fly over cities (I’m in Chicago)?

Best place to fly in Illinois?

How do you get a good deal on a second hand?

There is an open field about 10 minute walk from where I live and I ride a scooter, no car. Are some of the types something that you can carry for 10 minutes or on a scooter? in a bus / train?

I’d say that something with wings and a seat is out of the question, but maybe one of those fans with a parachute that you strap to your back might be small enough (but then again, maybe not.)

Over 20 years ago I used to see people flying around in those occasionally (also in the "go-cart with fan and parachute configuration) but it seems to have been a brief fad.

I found this FAQ page on the US Ultralight Association’s web site. While their direction on that page is rather confusing as to what sorts of licensing / certification you need, it does quote some FAA restrictions, including “No operations over congested areas” and “Operation in controlled airspace and restricted areas requires prior permission.” This suggests to me that flying an ultralight over the city of Chicago probably isn’t allowed.

Also, here’s a page on the Experimental Aircraft Association’s site, about various ultralight formats. I suspect that even the little “powered parachutes” are probably on the heavy side, and way too big for hauling with a scooter or on the bus.

According to the Wikipedia link I provided, the paramoter (which I assume means engine plus fan, but not including the 'chute) weighs 45 to 90 lbs. So not a sack of feathers, but not impossible. I’m thinking that the diameter of the fan would be a much bigger factor.

Agreed. That fan looks to be about 3 feet in diameter – probably not terribly scooter-friendly nor CTA-friendly.

I’m no expert on ultralights, but they sound like a hobby that’s much better suited to more wide-open spaces (and to a hobbyist with a vehicle with cargo room).

All Ultralights are somewhat limited to early morning and late evening flight when winds are down, or those rare days that are calm or light winds all day long. You can fly on windy days, but it gets old quick getting thrown around all over the place.

You have pusher and tractor designs which depends on whether engine and prop is in front or back. Each has different flying characteristics, pros and cons.

And as with traditional planes, you have a choice between tricycle or taildragger gear, with each having pros and cons as well, away from airports, taildraggers are more popular although needs a little bit more skill to take off and land. I encourage everyone to learn to fly one, especially young people, soon, you’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about. With an ultralight, probably isn’t as big of a deal, anyway, since they TO&L in such short distances.

Virtually all Ultralights use a 2 cycle engine, but they are notorious for seizing with no advance warning. Keep that in mind as well. Rotax, which had been the leader in 2 cycle engines for ultralights is only concentrating on the 4 cycle engine nowadays, and these are heavier and generally not suited for ultralights, just not the same performance. Finding a reliable engine for ultralights has always been a problem, and the 2 cycles needs lots of regular maintenance.

I personally like the Quicksilver Sprint and Sport single seaters, they are a well proven design. Tricycle gear. Take off and land in 50’, hard to beat that. Of course, you have lots of cables to deal with which are a pain. Consider Kolb aircraft. Taildraggers, makes a great ultralight that uses struts, and also foldable wing.

It depends on how one defines “congested area” in FAR 103.15. You need to always be high enough, to where if engine failure, you can steer the ultralight to an area that isn’t as congested. Been a while since I researched this, kind of a gray area.


What are hanger costs a month for an ultra light in the Chicago area? I am dreading the answer… Just a ballpark guesstimate would do.

I had a powered paraglider for a while. I used to haul the whole rig around in the back of my Civic hatchback. Generally speaking the props (not fans) are 4’. They’re opposite of “normal” aircraft in that they can be difficult to launch, but extremely easy to land. They’re funny in that they fly at a set speed, and any additional throttle just makes them ascend. They’re one of the world’s most impractical aircraft- they’re only good for fun, and maybe some photography. But flown properly, they are about as safe as an aircraft can be.

I think Broomstick needs to see this thread.

About ten years ago I was onboard for an ultralight crash almost immediately after takeoff. Somehow we escaped with no injury. My friend was an enthusiast and his aircraft was some sort of powered parachute (I’m far from an expert) – from my memory, the “wing” was a parachute, but it was large enough to have wheels and room for a passenger who sat right behind the pilot. I recall that it was stored in a small hanger at the airfield.

We took off okay but as soon as we were a few feet off the ground I could tell my friend was having problems steering – he was grunting and swearing and we seemed to be veering right. A few seconds later we crashed into a hill.

After a brief panic in which we both thought I’d broken my leg, it turned out to be nothing more than a bruise, and we worked out that somehow one of my feet got tangled in the control cables.

My one and only experience in an ultralight aircraft.




Glad to hear that injuries were minor.

Your friend needs to be a bit more thorough with his pre-flight checklist.

You need to get in touch with people near you who fly them. They will be able either to answer your questions or point you toward those who can.

Unless you spend some significant time learning this way, you’re almost guaranteed to spend a lot more money and be a lot less happy - and safe - than is necessary or desirable.

Think carefully. I flew ultralights in the (very broadly defined) Chicago area in the 1990s and the early '00’s. They are a lot of fun, but they are also real aircraft (regardless of legal definitions) with all the potential hazards that entails.


Although Part 103 in the US does not require lessons for ultralight flying you will have both less terror and significantly longer odds of surviving the experience if you take lessons. Due to a decline in income and various family/personal crises I’ve been out of the flying game for awhile now, but the both the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) and US Ultralight Association are sources to go to when looking for instructors and local enthusiasts (unfortunately, the man I first took lessons from is now in poor health and no longer flies).

Wow, that could be several threads right there… some of it’s already covered here.


I used to drive from the north side of Chicago to Bristol, Wisconsin to fly ultralights. Basically, you’re limited to flying over rural areas.

(I can get a LOT more technical about that, but only if you really, really want to be bored and baffled)

Again, see EAA and USUA - I’m sure things have changed since my day.

Take someone along who knows what the heck they’re doing.

Ask yourself this: can you do a competent pre-flight on an ultralight right now? If the answer is “no” then for Og’s sake don’t go shopping for a second-hand one without someone very experienced along. Shopping for a used ultralight is NOT like shopping for a used car, or even a used “real airplane” - there are NO regulations for either construction or maintenance on ultralights.

Be very VERY careful.

The “big fan on your back and a parachute above your head” style UL’s weight about 70 pounds on average (a range was given up thread, that’s pretty accurate, too). So… can you carry 70 pounds on your back for 10 minutes? Or while riding a scooter? And remember - you do NOT want to damage or tangle those parachute lines!

No, it won’t fit on a bus or train. I doubt one of those would fit in my car. Pretty sure I can get one into the back of my pickup.

And if that “open field” is in Chicago proper no, you can’t fly any sort of UL in it. Or over most Chicago suburbs. Also remember that when Obama is in Chicago the no-fly zone - which applies to UL’s, too - extends all the way into part of Indiana, or, if he’s hanging out on on the north side, nearly to Wisconsin.

Basically, if you live in Chicago you have to be able/willing to drive 50-75 miles outside the city to get to where you can legally fly the things.

Sorry if that dashes your plans, but I figured it was best to be up front about these things. If you have the means to get out to where you can legally and safely fly UL’s then I’d be happy to answer other questions, as would many of the other pilots around here.