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I don't even know where to start, so I will just jump in....

I have a very slight interest in flying, so slight I will probably never fly anything but a paper airplane the rest of my life. Cant say I even enjoy commercial airline flying.

My son on the other hand, thinks all things begin and end in the air. He is 18 and currently a freshman at college studying Mechanical Engineering. The smartest kid I know. Graduated from an Engineering and Aerospace Science Academy High School with full honors. His greatest joys are flying his toys, whether it be online simulators or homemade model rockets, RC planes, or his quadcopter he designed and built. First person viewing or it wasn't worth his time. His ultimate desire is some sort of Aerospace Degree, working in space in some facet. As he works his way to space, he has to get thru the regular air space most pilots play in.

He crashed his quadcopter the other day, and has decided he thinks he can build a ultralight and put himself in the air, for about what he wants to spend on his quadcopter rebuild. Hence shelf quad, and move to the next step which is him in the air. That crashed part doesn't bother me on his quad, it does bother me when my son may be onboard.

We are both very mechanical, and building an ultralight is within either of our abilities. He thinks he can CAD up a design and build it fairly cheap, when he mentioned a harbor freight motor, my survival instincts kicked in because I know the reliability of all cheap things made in China. Are the Ultralights fairly easy to design, or are tried and tested plans probably a much better start. He was rattling off specs, weights, regulations, lift, blah blah blah so fast I could barely keep up with him on the phone. He can talk about roll, pitch and yaw all day long. I can see this being a father son project this summer when he is home and out of school on break.

My first questions, for the experienced flyers, do you recommend a pilots license before building and flying an ultralight?
Any advise to my one biggest concern, keeping my son alive as he transitions thru this desire to fly and has no money to do it any other way but on a very very small budget? Some day he will be designing stuff headed to space, but I gotta keep him alive long enough to get there, his desires usually exceed his abilities (wish I was 18 again).

I knew this day was coming, he will be flying some day. I am both excited and worried for my son, I had hoped it was after flight school and on a factory built plane, not something he wants to strap together in the shop and gain elevation with out the back field.

wsimpso1

Super Moderator
Staff member
Log Member
My advice is to stick with known good designs and equipment. You will be flying sooner and more reliably than you will with a design from scratch by not-yet-educated engineers using Chinese components. Really. Used airplanes in excellent shape are out there at really good prices. Really.

After he has a degree and some experience as an engineer, he can try his hand at design.

Billski

Vision_2012

Well-Known Member
The ultralight flying community has an interest in keeping members safe through competent instruction.
Investigate the internet for ultralight flying near you. Don't follow the examples of self taught flyers.
Quality components and materials cost money, buyer beware.

Congrats in raising a motivated and dedicated young person. You have a great opportunity to share the experience of building together. Learn, Build, Fly. The Legal Eagle has been a popular build with US sourced materials and engine.

bmcj

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
First of all, his ambition should be encouraged, but a little steering is greatly beneficial. What he is proposing can be done, but whether it is the best idea is debatable. I don't know anything about your personal finances or your son's finances, so I will make several recommendations and you can evaluate each according to your circumstance and ability.

1. I would suggest a Young Eagles flight, but that is only for kids up to 17 years of age.

2. Travel to Sisters Oregon and talk to Brian Lansburgh. He runs a great school, has experience in all types of aircraft (including ultralights), is very strong on teaching primary flying skills, and is enthusiastic and personable enough to probably get through to your son and offer up some good advice. Website: Tailwheel Flight Instruction - TailWheelersJournal.com

3. Sign up for membership and glider lessons at the Willamette Valley Soaring Club in North Plains Oregon (about 40 miles from you). Gliders (soaring) are a very affordable and rewarding way to learn to fly, and you learn some excellent piloting skills. Website: https://sites.google.com/site/flywvsc/membership

4. Recommend that he build an existing ultralight kit like the Dream Classic. The kit (less engine) is not too expensive, and it goes together easily. It will give him some practical experience before he designs his own. No one would ever recommend that he teach himself to fly in it... some lessons are always recommended. Website: Airdrome Aeroplanes ~ Holden, MO

5. Seek out an ultralight club in your area and get some input from them.

When he does design one, encourage him to take it to a qualified aero engineer for a thorough review before spending the time and money to build it.

Smutny

Member
Good advice in the post above. I'd add that he should connect with local pilot organization(s). I see you're in Oregon, so besides EAA there is also the Oregon Pilots Association. When I was in high school, I worked at the Museum of Flight in Seattle and got a lot of opportunities there to spread my wings, Oregon has a number of museums and organizations. Warbird Alley: Warbird Aircraft Museums

I was in his situation, hot to trot to fly with non-pilot parents. However, they understood the desire and helped me get to solo in a Cessna when I was 16. There are lots of avenues he could take, many with sweat equity as partial payment. But, one has to be around the community to find those opportunities. Walking into a flight school and asking to wash planes as partial payment isn't often going to go anywhere.

BoKu

Pundit
HBA Supporter
At this point, your safest money would be spent on experience, not hardware. I think the best thing would be flying lessons with a real instructor.

Victor Bravo

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
BMCJ's post above is 100% correct, please take his advice. I would have said the same things he said, although I don't know anyone in Oregon.

I have a couple of extra things to add. First, you came to a GOOD and knowledgeable place to ask questions. Excellent decision! All of us will be happy to steer you and/or your son toward safe and positive experiences in aviation.

Second, I suggest you 100% support / help / promote / and participate in your son's aviation pathway. The only reason I'm not in jail, or on drugs, or stealing cars, or being a slacker beach bum ne'er-do-well is because my parents saw that aviation was a good influence. Honestly, I don't want to scare you, but without their support in aviation I would probably have wound up working in the television business :emb:

Their strategy worked... now I'm an airport bum instead of a beach bum. But I stayed out of jail, no smack/jack/crack or crank, no AIDS, no gang-banger friends, and I hang around with higher quality people. I also have a more adventurous and rewarding life because of flying. I also learned some incredible skills.

Find your 2 or 3 closest EAA chapters, and go to a couple of meetings at each one. See which chapters feel right, see which ones have real aviation activities instead of just coffee and donuts. Figure out who is concerned with quality, safety and proper engineering of airplanes. Figure out who is talking nonsense that they don't know anything about.

Oregon is a great place for aviation, lots of pilots, builders, airplane owners. Take full advantage. Van's Aircraft is in Oregon, and is just about the highest quality and most respected manufacturer of experimental airplane kits. Hanging around Van's will put you and your son in very good company as far as excellence in aviation, proper engineering design, etc.

Dana

Super Moderator
Staff member
I suspect if the internet had existed when I was your son's age my father would have written a very similar post.

It's not necessary or even necessarily helpful to have a pilot certificate before flying an ultralight, but some flight instruction is absolutely necessary, preferably in an "ultralight like" light-sport aircraft.

I too, with the support of my father, started building an ultralight of my own design during my summer break. If I had finished it then it would have been state of the art, but the ultralight industry moved so fast during those years that by the time I was in a position to finish it a few years later, it would have been obsolete. Anyway, today your son will be much better off working with an existing design, to get hands on experience with what has been proven to work... and design and build his dream machine while he's flying the first one. Project planes (used needing rebuilding or partially completed kits) are often available cheap, especially if he hooks up with local flyers. In some parts of the country, the local ultralight scene is not unlike the R/C scene.

There has been some discussion of harbor freight motors here; suffice it to say that any engines of that class, even the good quality ones, are marginal without major modifications, and the quality level of the HF motors is such that they're not worth the trouble. Again, a used / rebuilt aircraft 2-stroke would be a better choice.

Suggest your son join this forum, nobody will think he's crazy and he'll get useful advice.

Above all, don't worry too much-- ultralight flying is far from the death wish activity most people think it is-- and be proud you have a son who actually wants to DO things.

Dana

kent Ashton

Well-Known Member
My first questions, for the experienced flyers, do you recommend a pilots license before building and flying an ultralight?
It would be best to at least solo in a private pilot course before trying ultralights. Your son is smart and will likely get formal training sooner or later. Soloing will teach him lots of things that will keep him safe and motivate him to get more training.

There is a shortage of commercial pilots these days and he could have a good career in aviation if he wants but it has to start with solo in a non-ultralight. Pay for a few lessons and see how it goes.

Dana

Super Moderator
Staff member
There is a shortage of commercial pilots these days and he could have a good career in aviation if he wants but it has to start with solo in a non-ultralight. Pay for a few lessons and see how it goes.
He sounds like a born engineer, unlikely he'd be happy as an aerial bus driver.

Dana

bmcj

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Suggest your son join this forum, nobody will think he's crazy and he'll get useful advice.
+1 on this. I came back to suggest this, but Dana, as always, was one step ahead of me. Preface the suggestion of forum membership with a warning that we can be a tough, but fair crowd. If we see issues with a concept, we will call him on it. It is not meant to be harsh or discouraging, but to share our experiences going down roads that were dead ends so that he won't have to.

One other thought, and a big life changer... he sounds like he would be a good candidate for the Air Force Academy. Suggest he look into that to see if he would be interested; maybe even go out there for a visit (Colorado Springs, Colorado). It's a top notch university and an opportunity for a career in the Air Force for those that have the temperament for it. Air Force pilot training is almost guaranteed after graduation, plus he will have ample opportunity to fly while he is there. If he decides to go civilian after that, companies hold AF Academy grads in high esteem when hiring. Typically, kids start applying in their junior year of high school, but that doesn't preclude applying at 18 years of age. If he is interested and you have any personal connections with local U.S. Congressmen (House or Senate), start putting a bug in their ear about your son wanting to go... they will be his most likely means of gaining an appointment.

BJC

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
He crashed his quadcopter the other day,
Proof that unintended things can happen in aviation, as well as life in general.

We are both very mechanical, and building an ultralight is within either of our abilities. He thinks he can CAD up a design and build it fairly cheap, when he mentioned a harbor freight motor, my survival instincts kicked in because I know the reliability of all cheap things made in China. Are the Ultralights fairly easy to design, or are tried and tested plans probably a much better start. He was rattling off specs, weights, regulations, lift, blah blah blah so fast I could barely keep up with him on the phone. He can talk about roll, pitch and yaw all day long. I can see this being a father son project this summer ...
Do every father son project that you can, aviation-related or otherwise. Neither of you will regret the time spent together, and it will help him learn to, someday, be a father.

My first questions, for the experienced flyers, do you recommend a pilots license before building and flying an ultralight?
Yes.

Any advise to my one biggest concern, keeping my son alive as he transitions thru this desire to fly and has no money to do it any other way but on a very very small budget? Some day he will be designing stuff headed to space, but I gotta keep him alive long enough to get there, his desires usually exceed his abilities (wish I was 18 again).
Flying is inherently hazardous, as is riding a motorcycle, sky diving, playing football, etc. The hazards can be minimized through education, training, experience, vigilance, good judgement, and a set of rules to guide personal behavior.

I knew this day was coming, he will be flying some day. I am both excited and worried for my son, I had hoped it was after flight school and on a factory built plane, not something he wants to strap together in the shop and gain elevation with out the back field.
The joy and the anguish of parenthood.

BJC

D Hillberg

Well-Known Member
Out of my fathers six children 1. pvt pilot/business owner 1. A&P IA commercial helicopter pilot 1. A&P IA pvt fixed wing & helicopter pilot 1. race driver / communications expert
1. race driver/ business owner 1. scientist mother.

from what I've seen racing is more hazardous- but get training ! the more he knows the better off he'll be.

Member
Thanks for the suggestions, I don't doubt my son has lurked on this forum as well as many others. Its amazing how much time he spends reading on the internet, forums, chats, youtube vidos, educations stuff etc......

We are not rich by any means, just working folks who get by. I work for an Engineering Dept for a City, wife is a school teacher. Son has to pay his own way thru college, we help with some stuff, but he has to pay for tuition, books, room, board. I don't want a kid at school screwing off, and not getting a degree that will not pay back the loans. He is working hard at school so he gets return on his spending. Son worked about 70 hours a week for a contractor all summer and with a small loan can pay for college himself.

When he was a sophomore in HS, he was headed to the Air Force Academy, we looked into the requirements, was trying to figure out how to get the senators signature and it wasn't long later and he said it would take too much time in the service, he wasn't interested in that route. His dreams hop around a bit, but they always are in the space/flight world. He isn't happy he hasn't accomplished what elon musk has accomplished at his age, my son sees himself owning a company like SpaceX. Lofty goals are good, but I fear his patience to get there, gets stressed. He cant afford college and flight lessons, so I think he sees ultralights as his chance to spread his wings without the $6000 or so to get a fixed wing pilots license. I know a guy local with a Cessna, son has gone up with him and they talked their language for a day in the plane. Son got to take the stick for a while and maneuver the plane around a bit. Wish my son was more patient, and after college got a pilots license, but patience has never been our strong suite. It would help if he wasn't 5 hours (driving) away at college and was closer to home. Edit: you know the generation he has grown up in, gotta have it right now. Everything is at our fingertips you can see it all on the internet. (Sigh) bmcj Well-Known Member HBA Supporter What town is he going to school in? We might be able to direct him to some positive guiding forces, glider clubs, etc in his area. If he's smart and driven, he may very well having a company like Space-X. If he gets an engineering or aero degree, he might have luck getting on with someplace like Space-X, Scaled Composites or The Spaceship Company... they tend to hire a lot of young engineers so that they can train them "their way" before big industry kills their creativity. NASA is also another possibility, or maybe civil service for the Air Force someplace like Edwards AFB Flight Test Center. Yes, the new generation wants things 'right now', but I suspect that we were all like that to a degree when we were young, and have conveniently blocked it from our memories. skier Well-Known Member We are both very mechanical, and building an ultralight is within either of our abilities. He thinks he can CAD up a design and build it fairly cheap, when he mentioned a harbor freight motor, my survival instincts kicked in because I know the reliability of all cheap things made in China. Are the Ultralights fairly easy to design, or are tried and tested plans probably a much better start. He was rattling off specs, weights, regulations, lift, blah blah blah so fast I could barely keep up with him on the phone. He can talk about roll, pitch and yaw all day long. I can see this being a father son project this summer when he is home and out of school on break. My first questions, for the experienced flyers, do you recommend a pilots license before building and flying an ultralight? Any advise to my one biggest concern, keeping my son alive as he transitions thru this desire to fly and has no money to do it any other way but on a very very small budget? Some day he will be designing stuff headed to space, but I gotta keep him alive long enough to get there, his desires usually exceed his abilities (wish I was 18 again). I knew this day was coming, he will be flying some day. I am both excited and worried for my son, I had hoped it was after flight school and on a factory built plane, not something he wants to strap together in the shop and gain elevation with out the back field. If you are both technically inclined, I have little doubt that you would be able to safely build an ultralight or light aircraft. As many people on here can attest, designing one is a completely different story. You cannot just "CAD up a design" and expect to have something that will fly safely. Further, the plans don't really add much (any) cost. Minimax posted their plans online for free some years ago. Even if you do have to pay, they <$100.

Just some planes that can be built cheaply to think about:
Volksplane
Minimax
Flybaby

Flying any aircraft without instruction is asking for trouble. I would highly recommend your son get some training. As others mention, at least enough to solo. However, if he can't afford college and lessons ($6000) he probably can't afford to build a plane either. You aren't going to find one that you could build for <$6000. As a mechanical engineer, after graduation your son should be able to get a job that pays enough to let him build and/or fly a small aircraft (if those are still his priorities).

I would definitely encourage your son to start studying aircraft design. Only after he tries a few times to start designing an aircraft will he realize how big a project it really is, even for a little ultralight. It isn't just making a pretty picture. Perhaps a copy of Raymar's "Simplified Aircraft Design for Homebuilders" and his "Aircraft Design, A Conceptual Approach" would be a good Christmas/Holiday/Birthday gift. If he's anything like me, those would be great gifts.

What town is he going to school in? We might be able to direct him to some positive guiding forces, glider clubs, etc in his area. If he's smart and driven, he may very well having a company like Space-X. If he gets an engineering or aero degree, he might have luck getting on with someplace like Space-X, Scaled Composites or The Spaceship Company... they tend to hire a lot of young engineers so that they can train them "their way" before big industry kills their creativity. NASA is also another possibility, or maybe civil service for the Air Force someplace like Edwards AFB Flight Test Center.

Yes, the new generation wants things 'right now', but I suspect that we were all like that to a degree when we were young, and have conveniently blocked it from our memories.
I had luck as a kid wandering the local airport and talking with pilots/aircraft owners there. I got offered many free airplane rides from the old geezers there.

I know Scaled definitely looks positively on homebuilding and/or flying experience. I got an offer for an interview there after I had already accepted another job. I would suggest your son look into internships. Cessna, Piper, Sikorsky, Boeing, Lockheed, NASA, etc. all have programs.

I'll never forget going to a career fair at my school and waiting in line to talk to recruiters at Lockheed, only to be told that they hire more Computer Science majors than Aero-Engineers. Go figure.

Member
He is going to School at Oregon Tech, Klamath Falls Oregon.

TFF

Well-Known Member
Spend money on lessons. First off, it will cost in the same area of 6K to build a UL unless you are a great scrounger and can evaluate the stuff you got cheap. Even if you got one cheap, you still have to know how to fly it, even if he already understands how it all works. I have crashed plenty of RC airplanes over the years , but it is unacceptable to crash something you are in. Safety has to be prime. Which comes to how do you learn? The FAA got rid of 2 seat ULs a couple of years ago, so the only two ways now to learn how to fly a UL, by your self, not the smartest way, or get some training in a normal plane. There are some subsets of planes that were the 2 seat ULs but now they take a pilot license of a couple of choices to fly. Now if building something is more important than flying right away, I would pick a more normal homebuilt, and have something worthwhile in the end.

don january

Well-Known Member
Log Member
jacksdad: I have been right where you are with your son other then it was my Daughter who started to reach for the sky. Kelsey my daughter for months talked of getting her ticket and taking my KR2 around the country and I must admit I was worried, but supported her 100%. After a few months her attention changed to horses then boys and now she just pats the bird on its back once in awhile. Good luck on whatever plays out, but I would get your boy some duel time in a plane and stress to him to build a proven design for his first craft.