AirVenture 2022: Where have all the Ultralights gone?

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RyanAllenDale

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I feel a big part of the problem is financial. I have watched as the cost of living has gone up and honestly - UL's are a cheap means of flying. Many of the folks who fly or flew them were not financially wealthy. I certainly was and am not. I have a cottage on a lake and my folks own a home on a lake that they've had for 50 years. Everyone on the lakes noticed the dramatic decline of how many folks use the lakes for any type of power boating. I remember when it was easy to burn up 4 to 5 gallons of fuel in an evening. A decent day of pulling water skiers and tubes - 15 to 20 gallons of fuel. The general consensus is that folks simply don't have extra spending money to put fuel in the tanks.

The loss of the training exemption for 2 seat planes and the requirements for instructor training and aircraft certification has brought "sport pilot" training to a cost similar or more than what a private pilot license cost 20 years ago. Then factor in what I see in my area - VERY - limited numbers of instructors and aircraft. I do not have an instructor based less than 1 1/2 hours of drive from home. Given the weather dependency of a UL type aircraft - this can be a very significant factor - as it has by me. The instructor and student make plans on training on a certain day - possibly the student drives to the instructor only to find the winds don't co-operate.

Then - the cost of ownership. The plane, hangers. A newer plane is going to cost as much or more than a new car for the family. Tough choices have to be made.

I still believe we can recover some activity with club owned UL's like my club has. Shared costs will help some folks. We're trying to get folks into the joy of flying that we shared decades ago. It is a challenge.
Only the rich can afford the cost of living. And. What you call inflation is more like an embargo on your savings. To take away worth @50% is not inflation. It's a tarrif. The rest who aren't rich get shafted. So there goes the neighborhood of hobby and markets the rich (by chance?) are not vested in...
 

goney3

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Okay, Politics aside... a few takeaways so far:

- Lack of training aircraft/options to learn to fly an Ultralight safely/effectively.
- Financial stress of cost of ownership/purchase costs.
- Knowledge of building/maintenance/restoration.
- Interest as a whole since two seaters aren't a thing anymore.

So what are some solutions to these?
 

Dillpickle

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I see it as SOP; not practice, since my instructor in the Luscombe that taught me to fly made me go to idle abeam the numbers on downwind, on every landing. That was around 1990, and I still berate myself any time I have to add power before reaching the runway. I'd bet that what you & your partner were practicing is likely the primary reason he never seriously damaged the a/c (or himself).

Back to the original question of where have the ULs gone, I wonder if they haven't gone anywhere. Most UL operators are much more grass-roots than the typical OSH or SNF attendee (the *vast* majority of whom are likely coming to see the show; not the a/c & tech). It wouldn't surprise me if the reason you're not seeing as many ULs at the two big events is the same reason a lot of us on this forum no longer attend: the smaller flyins have more to offer, of the things that actually interest us. The only things at OSH that I *know* I wanted to see this year were Barnaby Wainfan's presentations on his low aspect ratio stuff. Just not worth the $1,000+ investment, even if I didn't need to avoid Covid superspreader events. I stopped looking up at the airshow stuff around 1997, and the last time I went to OSH on my dime was when the guy at Homebuilt HQ had to yell over the screech of the jet truck to tell me that EAA could no longer afford to hand out our 'I flew my homebuilt to OSH' name tags.
Man....wish there were more instructors teaching in basic airplanes. Flight reviews are horror shows with some CFI'S. Had one cut my power over water for my emergency landing drill. Plenty of altitude to burn, so had time to set up for a coastal runway. As I'm setting up to land on this unobstructed 4000' strip (mind you, nothing but water under us) the CFI ll nervously asked me "where are you gonna touch down?" I replied "the middle of the runway!" Her response...."oh! I forgot!" You can always add drag with an engine out, but not thrust. I left there wondering how many people she had trained to hit the numbers in an emergency. That could have deadly consequences. My instructor always had us aim for the middle if there was safe stopping distance.
 

Dillpickle

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Yeah, you can read between the lines here. You're going to fly an ultralight vehicle right? No license or medical required right? Why are you still looking for a CFI? Any experienced pilot with a taildragger can take you up and help you get a feel for low and slow aircraft and taildragger ground handling. Are you planning to log your time in your UL vehicle? To what end? Don't get bogged down looking for unicorns. Find somebody who likes to fly, has the right aircraft, and understands you want to be safe in an UL. I'd be surprised if you can't find someone who would be up for it. Do you think all the hang glider folks on the sand dunes back in the day only learned the ropes from a CFI? It's like any other sport, if no license is required, you hang around with likeminded people, and if you aren't a PITA, they help you learn. To keep you safe and grow the sport.
This ! THIS! THIS!!!! I've seen so many posts about what people can't do, can't afford, can't find...and the posts DRIP with negativity. My thought has always been "Dude, you get out of life what you put out of life"

I entered aviation as a young dad too poor to pay attention. I ate slept and breathed airplanes. Hung out at airports and 100 dollar burger joints. Helped wash airplanes, bought airplane plans and dreamed.

There are people who buy their way into airplanes, and people who DO their way into airplanes. And if you find the latter, you've found someone who is pretty decent. Not to many bad people in that crowd. So as a dad with babies in my lap, I made parts out of donated materials, and just inherited a FAMILY of airplane folks.

Hanging with people that DO means you start doing too. You get better jobs, opportunities open up, your attitude gets better, and 30 years later, you find yourself giving back. Young eagles for broke ass moms and dads that wanted what you wanted. A guy stopped by our hangar to check out the airplane we were covering. Jumped into help, ran home and welded a cracked aluminum radiator mount. Shyly invited us over to see his old quick mx that he was rebuilding.
That guy got his first flying lesson on the spot. A couple weeks later my airplane partner called and asked if I minded if he let "X" solo. Hell no, I don't mind. It's just an airplane. We built that one, and have been blessed enough to where we can build another. Pass that torch! That was last fall. He's flying all over now in his mx. All it cost him was some gas that he would bring because we wouldn't take any money.
 

Bigshu

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Pretty much, especially considering that you can find LSA-legal homebuilts (e.g. Sonex family) with two seats, built and flying for the same price as a turnkey ultralight.
Sure, but LSA still requires a license, even if you are doing DL medical. And unless you built it yourself, you can't do the condition inspection, so then you have to find someone for that. None of that applies to "ultralight vehicles".
 

Bigshu

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Okay, Politics aside... a few takeaways so far:

- Lack of training aircraft/options to learn to fly an Ultralight safely/effectively.
- Financial stress of cost of ownership/purchase costs.
- Knowledge of building/maintenance/restoration.
- Interest as a whole since two seaters aren't a thing anymore.

So what are some solutions to these?
Well, we've tossed a few out here, but here's my thoughts:
- Find Sport pilots with low and slow aircraft (some Rans, Zenith, and Fisher designs, etc), that will take a novice up and let him get a feel for flying the wing, and safely maneuvering/landing. I expect there are folks out there who would do it for the price of fuel. No need to be a CFI, you aren't training a pilot, after all.
- I think we all agree that when somebody wants to do something, they find a way to pay for it. The bigger problem is where to store the UL and fly from. Hangars are hard to come by and not getting cheaper. Maybe we need more folding wing designs so folks can double up in a hangar. Or make a design that fits in a trailer, and park it at a field (need to work on how airfields can encourage this).
-Join EAA, duh! I think maybe there needs to be more training out in the field. Not everyone can get to Oshkosh for classes. They need to publicize the ones they do hold better too. Form a club and do a group build. These aren't complex vehicles! Get free scheduling software to help everyone get their share of flying in, and keep track of who breaks something. Keep building more until everyone is happy with availability.
- I know tons of people who ride bikes and cycles solo, just for the enjoyment of the ride. Groups are better, and there's no reason a handful of ULs couldn't do a group flight. Not formation, just arrange a time to be at the same field and go fly. UL clubs need to be organized to facilitate this. EAA and AOPA have club finders, right? Do the same for ULs. Like minded people getting together and growing their sport/activity is the only way any sport or activity survives. Maybe get aviation college programs to add UL to their curriculum and get people to learn in a very structured environment (this would be a short program not related to their professional pilot curriculum). Maybe those schools could field an UL demo team or compete with other schools. Make it a club sport to start, and maybe it could get sanctioned as a collegiate sport someday (Olympics anyone?). If we think big and aim high, maybe we get the scale we need to start driving costs down.
 
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goney3

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...
-Join EAA, duh!
...
I joined EAA as a complete noobie, they then appointed me as their chapter President! I then served in that role for over six years, in the end I resigned and left the chapter. I have been to multiple EAA leadership conferences, but the same issue is never fixed. Basically you can "lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink". No one wanted to help, pitch in, or do anything. I ended up being the President, Treasurer, Secretary, etc, it wore me down over the years. I was hoping to do a chapter build of an Affordaplane, but they didn't seem interested (since they already had their airplanes). Dillpickle's post above is inspiring, and I really wish people with that "pay it forward" attitude lived where I do. Hell, my wife and I would run a Friday night potluck in our hangar for years to keep that airport "family" together. We still have day-jobs mind you, we gave and gave and gave, time and money, and it has gotten us nowhere in nearly a decade. We've spent so much time and effort on the airport community that we never got work done on our project. We're just burned out now.

Recently I joined the Ultralight Airplane Workshop learning from Leon, I feel like I learned more from a YouTuber than I ever have from the EAA or the chapter. Which is sad, how do we fix that? I really don't want to have to wait for all the oldtimers to fly West to try and make a difference again, with hopefully younger folk who want to pitch in. Time will only tell if the local EAA chapter can survive (increasing hangar rents isn't helping).
 

Bigshu

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I joined EAA as a complete noobie, they then appointed me as their chapter President! I then served in that role for over six years, in the end I resigned and left the chapter.
I'm actually suggesting the value of the membership is in the resources and training they make available, on their website and in formal training classes in various skills for homebuilding. The SA archives alone are a treasure trove of designs, with commentary from the designer at the time. I'm not talking about the chapters in general, because it can be hit or miss on whether you find an active one, or one that's out of gas. Around me, there's a group that meets to work on and learn about building airplanes. They are specifically NOT interested in being a chapter, but some of them are EAA members. I'd hang out with them over my local chapter, but it's over an hour round trip to where they meet. Learning the skills and getting sound advice at the right time can be key to a successful completion. The gurus on HBA are terrific, and generous with their expertise. But they are scattered to the far corners of the country, if not the world. Tough to get the tips from the guy leaning over your shoulder if you're hundreds of miles apart.
 

scramjetter

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For anyone who knows, is it possible to trailer in an ultralight to Airventure? I'm not talking about vendors displaying product, but rather private individuals? How does that work, is there a place where ultralight owners camp or can keep a trailer for the plane nearby the ultralight field? I'm wondering about this because it's one thing to fly in and tie down the bigger planes but how do the ultralight owners and exhibitors keep their vehicles safe when the weather goes bad or just want to protect them from the elements? If anyone can shed some light on how Airventure ultralight operations work I'd be glad to know! I've watched some video over the years but I can't tell if it was shot by vendors or not.
 

BBerson

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Trailering an ultralight to Airventure is standard practice. In the past, maybe a decade ago EAA had free trailer/vehicle storage area but not anymore. There is a private campground across the street with reasonable rates. ($20/day) They will let an ultralight on a trailer thru the gate for a limited time to unload then vehicles and trailers are removed. You can still camp with your ultralight in a tent if you want, but no car.
The ultralight runway isn’t even open for early arrivals. It opens for the week only by Notam. Read the Notam and attend the 6am ultralight flight operations meeting every morning if you intend to fly.
 

Barnstormer

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I am one of the survivors who taught himself in a Phantom in 1984. I had already gotten my Private license in a "regular" airplane that had surprisingly similar performance to the Phantom so the only transition I had to make was a lower visual cues sitting closer to the ground, and the side mounted stick.
Over the years I have owned/built/restored 9 u/l's from mx's and clones to more "modern aircraft" looking enclosed cockpit types.
I began flying out of East Side Ultralights in Arlington, WA; one of the west coast's best ultralight operations; in1990 where we were not only welcomed at the local airport; we were provided our own runway, pattern and hangars.
There was an outstanding ultralight club/chapter there and the camraderie was wonderful.
Fly-ins, gaggle flights to other fields; as Bigshu mentioned; major presence at local airshows, barbeques, etc.
Weekends would see a dozen airplanes flying and during the week on a nice evening there would always be someone to fly with or people there just to work on airplanes or simply to visit and talk flying.
Sadly, the driving force passed away and the operation passed through a succession of owners and operators until there is virtually nothing left today. The ultralight chapter has folded long ago. I was out there recently and there is virtually no activity anymore and sadly, no friendliness or camraderie anymore from the few people still there.
Part of this is due, I believe, to the advent of Sport Pilot where most of the people registered their overweight, overspeed, and 2 seat aircraft as E-lsa's got a Sport Pilot license and moved on. Also, a lot of people are shut out of the airport now as there is a fence round it and coded cypher locks to get access so people who are curious are pretty much locked out and denied the ability to talk to anyone and learn about ultralights.
As Goney3 mentioned about EAA; after the ultralight club folded I joined a local EAA chapter but found it very cliqueish where a small group of people monopolized all of the chapter owned tools and were not willing to help or even advise younger, newer members who wanted help with their projects. Being an A&P, I made it a point to offer my help but the overall attitude of the group turned me off so I did not renew.
After having been out of the genre for a number of years due to FAA over regulation; more controlled airspace, adsb, higher cost, etc. and just plain aviation burn out as well as watching ultralights become what they were originally trying to get away from; I find that hope springs eternal, fun flying is still out there and I am now retired and looking to return to the fold with just a basic rag and tube 1980's type aircraft for just fun flying again.
There used to be a 2 place B1RD at Arlington, WA with camouflaged sails that was calle "The Rambo Bird" but it disappeared sometime in the 90's. I would love to find that airplane and restore it and put it back in the air where it belongs but in the meantime, I will look for another B1RD to fix up and fly.
If anyone out there knows anything of Rambo; DM me and let me know.
I sincerely hope that the future of ultralighting might show some return to the fun and camraderie of the old days.
They really were a golden age of our sport.
 
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scramjetter

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Thank you, that's great intel! I've never been there but the ultralight field is something that has always intrigued me and looking at its small size I couldn't imagine a lot of trailers parked on it. I wonder if the camp you mentioned is De Relleumtdats? I just looked it up and I gather it's the owner's name spelled backwards? That's neat and what a reasonable way to be close to the flightline. Well as the original post wondered where all the ultralights were, I am just guessing it's probably fuel costs this summer. I'm really hoping to get a chance to get to Airventure in the coming years and I will be absolutely oogling the action there!

Trailering an ultralight to Airventure is standard practice. In the past, maybe a decade ago EAA had free trailer/vehicle storage area but not anymore. There is a private campground across the street with reasonable rates. ($20/day) They will let an ultralight on a trailer thru the gate for a limited time to unload then vehicles and trailers are removed. You can still camp with your ultralight in a tent if you want, but no car.
The ultralight runway isn’t even open for early arrivals. It opens for the week only by Notam. Read the Notam and attend the 6am ultralight flight operations meeting every morning if you intend to fly.
 

Bille Floyd

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It was 1978, when I was doing airshows for the State fair, behind the
Del Mar fairgrounds, in Southern Cali. We were using a very
dangerous combination of a keel mounted Soarmaster with a Hang
glider called the Wills Wing SST , that had no real fixed tips for
stability. I racked up near 300 hours on that devise .

Based on all the interest we received back then ; I thought for sure
that powered ultralights would be the wave of the future for a poor
man to get airborne. I was wrong ! :(

Bille
 
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