Planning the adventure of a lifetime and hello from Germany!

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WorldWideWayne

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Feb 4, 2021
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Frankfurt, Germany
Hi there,

Since I am planning on flying an UL in the US in summer of 2022 I have tons of questions regarding FAR103 and just general questions about flying an Ultralight Aircraft in the US.

This might sound a little crazy.. My plan is to acquire a 103 compliant plane - preferably the "Merlin Lite" - and take it on a tour of my lifetime from the Atlantic all the way to the Pacific, flying through and enjoying as many different states as I can.

I do have some flying experience here in Germany, but no ICAO compliant license and I am not planning on getting one in the near future.

Since there are a lot of restrictions to be aware of when flying part 103 I would like to get an opinion from you as experts wether it is actually doable and what to be aware of when planning ahead and actually flying.


Some questions I have in mind would be:

Would you recommend only taking off and landing on small airports or is it actually possible to take off and land in parks, open grass fields or even on some empty country road? (I have read that people actually do it out in the deserts in the west?!)

Are you allowed to fly over open water for a longer period of time? For example the shortest route flying from somewhere north of Tampa, FL to Pensacola area would be over a couple miles of open water.

By not flying over "congested area" what is actually allowed and what would be definitely not allowed? Would flying over small towns with some fields here and there be considered unauthorized flying over congested area? Are you allowed to fly up to the "edge" of a city (congested area) and surround it as good as you can even though you will fly over a couple of houses or would that be definitely not allowed?


Lastly, what would you recommend regarding planning this adventure? I will for sure take some UL and basic theory classes before jumping into this adventure. And also when buying the UL plane I am planning of getting used to flying it for a couple of days before starting the cross country adventure.

I am really looking forward to hearing some of your advices and answers!


Best Regards and greetings from Germany,

Wayne
 

TFF

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Memphis, TN
It’s a very ambitious trip. I would read up on the 103 regulations and US Airspace regulations. That will give you an idea on where you can go. I would not land at parks, without clearance, and it is against the law to land at national parks. There is open use land in some parts of the country, but much of your destinations will probably have to be airports.
 

don january

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Feb 10, 2015
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I'll share my thoughts on this. First thing I'd look at is wind direction. In a UL going across states over little towns or big you'll need the proper altitude lets say a 3000 ft AGL. Cross wind of 15 miles an hour or more could get you killed on landing and could over power your rudder in cruise at altitude. Some restricted areas the US will gladly send up an escort to show you the error of your ways. Weight of the craft and you is going to be challenge especially if you plan on bringing a shaving kit and a spare change of socks not to mention a sleeping bag. Start trip heading from SE to NW say Florida to Oregon and plan like you would be in a covered wagon so timing of season is a big factor. Like a wagon you can pick your stops but hope fuel is with in walking distance of night camp. The US has miles of trees and mountains you would have to get over for this trip and it gets rather cold at 7,000 ft. no matter how good your coat is. A good flight plan would need to be organised before hand with some volunteers in route mainly to see to your safety and arrivals. Landing on public roads is a no but many farmer fields and small airstrips are around and that's were volunteers can be very help full in flight path. Good luck when the adventure begins. :popcorn:
 

Marc W

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Prevailing winds in the west tend to be westerlies. Jet stream blows west to east. I don't know about the east but winds would require a close look.
 

Dana

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Hi Wayne,

A “little crazy” is just fine.

What you’re proposing is certainly possible, if ambitions. Yes, people (not many) have flown ultralights coast to coast across the USA. The earliest I know of was back in the 1980s, I think, when Jack McCormack flew a Pterodactly across. More recently, Will Gadd and I forget who else did the trip with paramotors, IIRC it was a several month long supported trip. And Arty Trost has made some long ultralight trips as well. Google should find these. Also check out Colin MacKinnon's book "On a Wing and a Prayer".

While you can often land ultralights in farm fields, etc., getting permission to do so can be problematic and time consuming, so airports would be the way to plan. The thing to understand is that while the US air regulations are the same all across the country, every state has its own rules on where aircraft may land, and local (city/town) governments also have their own rules. So while the federal air regulations may say it’s OK to land anywhere, the state may have a law requiring only state licensed airports… or the small town regulations may prohibit it. Or not. Generally, it gets easier as you go west and away from big cities, until you get to California, where everything is weird.

Flying over open water, no rules against it, except common sense. Me, I don’t like flying any single engine aircraft over water farther than I’m willing to swim. “Congested” area, there is no real definition. Fly over a couple of houses, sure, don’t fly over a busy neighborhood. But you can fly close to the edge of town, no problem… airspace issues aside.

The other thing you have to understand is that the US is a big place compared to Europe. Especially out west, the towns (and airports!) are far apart.

Once you’re at an airport, you still have to get to wherever you need to go to sleep, eat, etc. Public ground transportation is limited, not like Europe at all.

Consider the logistics… while many (but by no means all) small airports sell fuel, nobody sells 2-stroke oil, and you’ll use a lot of it.
 

rv7charlie

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I'd join the Matronics Kolb List, and ask about your idea there. John Hauck has flown a Twinstar Mk3 from the SE US to Alaska, and many trips to the NW and back. There's also an Aussie who did something similar to your idea several years ago. Rockiedog2 on this list knows the Aussie personally, so maybe you could ping him for info, as well.

I'd strongly advise avoiding Class B & C airport airspace; not because it's impossible, but because life will just be simpler for you, and fuel prices will be much more tolerable. Others mentioned distances. As you probably know, 5 (US) gallons is the legal limit for an UL in the USA. If you're flying a 2 stroke, max safe range may well be less than 100 miles. Study aviation charts and road maps carefully. While landing on roads may be fairly common out in the desert west, don't plan on it much (if at all) in the more densely populated areas of the country, especially the south and east. Even if you didn't panic the locals, trees, power lines, *lots* of traffic, etc make it a really dicey thing to try.

One thing to consider is prowling multiple aviation groups for overnighting ideas. The VAF (RVx) forum has a page called RVHotel where members offer hangar/bedroom space to other members; I'd expect similar stuff on other forums. But you need to ask to receive. ;-) Post your itinerary, and you'll likely get offers of help with local logistics, sleeping, etc. But you might want to be sure that Covid is behind us before starting; some of us cannot offer in-person assistance until we're truly safe, due to compromised immunity of family members.

Sounds like a blast, if you can pull it off.

Charlie
 

BJC

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Are you allowed to fly over open water for a longer period of time? For example the shortest route flying from somewhere north of Tampa, FL to Pensacola area would be over a couple miles of open water.
Take a close look at that route (or as I understand it) and you may devide to go around north of Talahassee.

As others have said, look closely at the airspace. Learn about the ADIZ, special VFR corridors, restricted airspace and military ops areas, in addition to the FAA airspace.

Have fun.


BJC
 

Victor Bravo

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You may wish to plan your ultralight trip from the West coast of the US toward the East coast. The overall majority of the winds across most of the US will be flowing from West to East more of the time than from East to West.

With a "legal" Part 103 you will be traveling short distances on 5 gallons of fuel. This means you will have to plan your route close to gas stations. This is also a good idea so that you have a way to get help, or get the aircraft to a repair shop, etc.

The Australian guy is John Gilpin, www.stolspeed.com. The American John Hauck is from Alabama IIRC. They both have extensive experience doing this type of flight.
 

GeeZee

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Feb 25, 2019
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Indianapolis, IN
I just read this yesterday. Kolb Aircraft Co. Experimental and Light Kit Build Aircraft It’ll really get you fired up. Keep in mind this was flown in a MKIII. It’s way faster than a true ultralight and has some decent baggage hauling capability (and a 4 stroke engine). The Merlin Lite may be available with the 4 stroke V twin. Might be worth considering.
Something else to consider. Finish up your PPL here in the US then get something a little more substantial.
Flying a UL east to west will generally have you bucking a headwind- you might very well see little girls on bikes passing you on the street below. ;)
 

edwisch

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Aug 11, 2020
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Your plan has many, many challenges in it -- even for a US licensed pilot.
* ICAO license has many, many differences from the US practice
* You may not need a license, but you need the knowledge and the skills
* You should not count on being to repair airplane / engine at every stop, especially if you're not very, very familiar with it
* The applicable phrase is that an ultralight is a cross-county, not cross-country airplane
* Your proposed flight will be subject to many and numerous delays for weather (including wind) and mechanicals. Especially out west, best flying is in the first hours after sunrise and before dark. In Arizona, two hours after sunrise in the summer, I've seen 500 ft/minute thermals
* You might consider renting / buying a car (one way rentals are expensive) and getting an hour of dual instruction at various stops along the way. There are lots of cool details you can see driving if you avoid the freeways and consult a guide to local features. Besides, you'll learn more about the US talking to people than looking at scenery from above.

I've flown coast to coast a number of times in "real" airplanes, and there's plenty of places with, as the saying goes, miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, often with no safe places for a forced landing. You'll probably end up following highways for fuel, lodging, supplies and safety, not to mention avoiding boredom. And out west, density altitude can/will be a factor that may require re-jetting the carburetors.

Good luck!
 

davidb

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By yourself with no support, I can’t imagine crossing the US at 50 mph with a 100 mile range. With a sport pilot license and an LSA it is much easier. West of the Mississippi, you will want the speed and range of an LSA. If it fits your budget, spend the first couple of weeks getting your sport pilot license and get a good used LSA.
 

rollerball

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Aug 3, 2018
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Aquitaine, France
hmm... I've been flying for a good many years and have flown my ultralight several times between the Dordogne in SW France where I live and the UK where my family still are. It's still a challenge every time in an aircraft that flies at 150kmh (my 912ULS powered Savannah).

When I moved to France I flew down in my then AX3 Weedhopper ultralight that only flew at 85kmh. That took 2 days and the 'planning' and 'doing' were beyond the capabilities of the average ultralight pilot and certainly beyond those of one who has no experience whatsoever. Unlike a road vehicle, you can't just 'jump in and go'. Every leg is dependent on the performance of the aircraft, the prevailing wind and the actual weather at the time and fuel stops have to be carefully planned every time - not just where you can land at the distance limit of each leg but also where fuel is actually available. That is not an easy task and for a trip like the one you're envisaging will likely take you several weeks to do.

But there's also one hidden factor that non-pilots usually don't appreciate. In a heavier aircraft, like a LSA, to a great extent you can take off, trim it for level flight and 'relax', just making sure that you keep it on the right heading and the correct altitude (that can be a challenge for even an experienced pilot on a long flight). However, you can't do that in an ultralight. You are flying it stick and rudder the whole time and that's very exhausting. If you can manage 6 hours a day with fuel stops you're doing very well and you will not be able to do it day after day.

Back in 2015 a friend and I flew the west coast of France, me in a 582 powered X-air ultralight and he in a single-seat Weedhopper. It took us 5 days and we planned a maximum of 3 hours flying a day. Anything more over such a period could have ended up being unsafe. Last year I repeated my flight from SE UK to the Dordogne in another 582 powered X-air that I still have alongside my Savannah in my hangar. Due to weather I had to abandon the flight the autumn of 2019 after sitting around literally for weeks waiting for a suitable weather window. The day I made it over the Channel was the only suitable day in several weeks as I sat re-planning the flight day after day as hoped for windows came and went because they actually weren't suitable for flying in such an aircraft and when I actually got over into France the section from northern France to the Dordogne was in turbulence the whole way. As a result it took me the around 8 hours (I also had a battery charging problem and had to get help to jump start my engine twice on the way - these things happen, bad luck if you're in the wilderness) and by the time I'd got to my destination my ass ached like hell and I was pretty much exhausted.

I'm not saying don't do your planned flight but I am saying don't take it lightly. It will be a major, major challenge.

As a footnote, last year I sold a Weedhopper ultralight to a guy who lives in Belgium. He was an experienced pilot of types like PA28s and 172s but wanted to own his own ultralight and planned to fly it up from our area (SW France) to his home base just over the Belgian border. I warned him that without experience he'd find even that a challenge but he didn't believe me. Only when he test flew the aircraft and I had to take the stick in the flare to get it safely back on the ground did he understand what I was talking about. He had arranged to get some instruction at an airfield a bit further south and I ended up flying it there for him while he drove down in my car and even after he'd got it he still asked my to fly it up to Belgium for him. I unfortunately couldn't due to other commitments but that's another story.
 

Wayne

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Chicago, IL
Hi Wayne, from another Wayne :)
Your plan is exciting and will be the trip of a lifetime, no doubt about it! I grew up in the UK (been here in the US over 30 years now) and I'm still amazed at how huge this country is. That said, you take these things one step at a time and with enough of that time I'm very sure it can be done.

I'm pretty inexperienced compared to many of the people on this forum, especially as I only got my Pilots license at 50 (I'm 56 now) but have done two major cross country trips - one from Phoenix, AZ to Chicago and one from the Florida Keys to Chicago. Both trips involved last minute planning in terms of overnight stays and meals etc. The good news is that with a smartphone and a credit card you can handle transportation (Uber/Lyft) and accommodations almost anywhere you can get a signal. The caveat being, of course, that in very remote areas you might not get a signal or Uber 😂

As you know the small planes many of us fly, especially at our lower altitudes, are exceedingly dependent on weather. It took 4 days to get back from the Keys in the Paradise P1 Light Sport - most of that at 3,000 feet to avoid a headwind the entire way and unable to fly at night because of a broken light that I could not get repaired because no one had the part at any of the airports I stopped at. You will be day VFR as well. Ground speed was in the 60 knot range but it was epic fun because I didn't have a timeframe and there's nothing like seeing that terrain roll past - day after day of amazing views!

If it were me doing the trip I would plan as many stops as possible within range of someone you have either connected with or someone who has a network you can connect to. Between this forum and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapters across the Country you should be able to get a decent list of people to help and, to me, that would be a game changer. There are about 900 EAA Chapters at various airports across the Country so if you can tap into those you should have decent logistics. If you need help navigating EAA I can probably help since I ran a Chapter for many years.

If your route brings you through Northern Illinois I can help you out with advice, places to stop, and maintenance on the plane. I'm based at 1C5 (Bolingbrook, IL - 30 miles from Chicago) and have buddies South West of the city located at airports/grass strips that you can take an Ultralight into.
 

ddsrph

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Tullahoma, Tenn
Wayne
I would order sectional charts that cover your planned route or whole country. Look at the trip as an airport to airport event. Most of the east and Midwest has airports close together and you will find many people to help you at most of them for ground transportation, finding fuel etc. Start the trip very late April, leaving Florida around May 1. This will give you the whole summer for travel. Avoid larger towns and cities as much as possible. I am one of those RV guys and if you make it to Tullahoma Tennessee I can provide ground transportation and other help you may need. Just plan as a bunch of short day trips and eventually you may find yourself in California.
 

Pops

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If you happen to be in my area , you have help, food and an overnight and hanger space. 3150' long Grass field airport 2WV3.
 

Doran Jaffas

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Joined
Jun 25, 2019
Messages
484
Hi there,

Since I am planning on flying an UL in the US in summer of 2022 I have tons of questions regarding FAR103 and just general questions about flying an Ultralight Aircraft in the US.

This might sound a little crazy.. My plan is to acquire a 103 compliant plane - preferably the "Merlin Lite" - and take it on a tour of my lifetime from the Atlantic all the way to the Pacific, flying through and enjoying as many different states as I can.

I do have some flying experience here in Germany, but no ICAO compliant license and I am not planning on getting one in the near future.

Since there are a lot of restrictions to be aware of when flying part 103 I would like to get an opinion from you as experts wether it is actually doable and what to be aware of when planning ahead and actually flying.


Some questions I have in mind would be:

Would you recommend only taking off and landing on small airports or is it actually possible to take off and land in parks, open grass fields or even on some empty country road? (I have read that people actually do it out in the deserts in the west?!)

Are you allowed to fly over open water for a longer period of time? For example the shortest route flying from somewhere north of Tampa, FL to Pensacola area would be over a couple miles of open water.

By not flying over "congested area" what is actually allowed and what would be definitely not allowed? Would flying over small towns with some fields here and there be considered unauthorized flying over congested area? Are you allowed to fly up to the "edge" of a city (congested area) and surround it as good as you can even though you will fly over a couple of houses or would that be definitely not allowed?


Lastly, what would you recommend regarding planning this adventure? I will for sure take some UL and basic theory classes before jumping into this adventure. And also when buying the UL plane I am planning of getting used to flying it for a couple of days before starting the cross country adventure.

I am really looking forward to hearing some of your advices and answers!


Best Regards and greetings from Germany,

Wayne
for starters if you do do this trip you have a place to stay with us in central lower Michigan. Closest airport where I have my airplane is a local one with no towers it is KY70 Ionia Michigan. The "K" meaning it is a United States designated airport. On the United States Aviation GPS just plug in Y70.

I was around ultralights in the US before the Federal Aviation Administration knew what to do with them so hopefully I have a little bit of insight here. Yes it's doable according to weather. No I would not land at larger airports. I would recommend non-towered airports and if you can get permission in advance to land in a field you can do that but that might be a little more difficult. We have a multitude of non-towered general airspace airports here in the United States that would suit your purpose for landing. This depending on how many states you're planting on hitting could take a couple of years. Maybe not but the weather here can be a little fickle at times. You can fly over smaller towns without a problem but I would definitely avoid the large cities even if it would be legal at certain altitudes. this is a trip that is supposed to be enjoyable and flying over a large metropolitan City would detract from the enjoyment anyway especially wondering where you would put it down if you did have a problem somewhere.

As far as the ultra light itself goes the reds are fairly simple and without quoting them directly you could look them up or feel free to contact me directly and I will leave my contact information at the bottom. It sounds like an incredible trip definitely a trip of a lifetime!

as far as flight experience you do not need any flight experience to fly a legal ultra light in the United States but I would recommend getting some dual instruction in a slight and airplane as possible. Without that and I assume you mean with no flight experience you would have a problem. Just my opinion of doing some aviating for over 36 years.

I'm not looking at your request right now so I don't know if I've answered all your questions but feel free to contact me at the email below or on here as a private conversation and I'm more than willing to give you a hand. Again I have been around ultra lights for many many years and though there are many on here that are more than qualified to answer these questions I will help you out in any way I can. Again you will have at least one place to stay if you come to Michigan and I'm sure I can set you up with several and maybe even help you arrange places in other states. It would be great to meet you on this venture.

Doran Jaffas
Y70
N625MS
[email protected]
 

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BBerson

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I would trailer the ultralight behind a car and fly around at key locations and return to the car. Otherwise expect to be stuck several days at a time waiting for weather to become flyable. With the car you can drive on in bad weather instead of waiting with nothing to do.
 
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