What is an affordable ultralight?

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REVAN

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I've been wondering what folks would consider an affordable ultralight that would be ground breaking in one form or another.

It seems that in the ultralight market, price is a big consideration and the largest factor determining sales volume. My impression is that paragliders are the cheapest and also the most prevalent, even though they are unpowered and have very restrictive weather and operating requirements. Next is paramotors, then trikes and finally the ultralights that are airplane like, each successive group being more expensive, more capable flyers and fewer in the numbers of them in operation.

In each of these categories, the bulk of sales appears to favor the more simplified low cost models. Aerolite-103 sales outstrip Belite Pro-Cub sales, etc... and on down the line.

Are my impressions of this market space about right? I'm largely going on anecdotal information and the poor statistical sample consisting of what I have seen. So, one question is how right, or wrong is my impression?

Also, I came across the HBA thread linked below. The original goal from the OP was for a $5,500 ultralight.

$5,500 aircraft?

This was 7 years ago, back in 2013. Judging realistic inflation can become a bit contentious, as the CPI is a poor metric of inflation, IMO. I'm thinking that the equivalent would be over $10,000 today. My swimming pool safety cover is a domestic US manufactured product that I just got replaced. This one cost 2.3 times more than the previous replacement I got back in 2013. If I use that metric the equivalent US made ultralight would be almost $14,000.

I'm curious to know what others think. What is considered an inexpensive price for an ultralight today? For folks that were envisioning a $5,500 ultralight back in 2013, what would they expect that envisioned ultralight to cost now, and what were you envisioning for your money?
 
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BJC

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I've been wondering what folks would consider an affordable ultralight that would be ground breaking in one form or another.
What one may deem affordable is a personal judgement, and will vary widely.

To me a ground breaking ultralight would be something that looks and flys like a traditional airplane, has reasonable performance, a four stroke engine, solid on-going technical support, electric start, and fits me, at 6’ 2” and 215 pounds.

The Merlin Lite comes close, but doesn’t meet all the criteria. A similar configuration done in carbon (are you listening, BoKu?) might get the weight low enough to use a four cycle with electric start. The price for a Merlin Lite is listed at $31,000. A version meeting my criteria would be more.

I believe that there is more money to be made with a break through high end design than a bare bones cheap airplane. There is a big difference between wanting something and being ready and able to write the check. Don’t interpret all enthusiastic comments as potential buyers.


BJC
 
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Victor Bravo

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An affordable aircraft, to me, is something that costs equal or less than three months of someone's gross income.

If a person is making $3000 a month, then saving up for a year to buy a $9000 aircraft is reasonably affordable.

Another person who's making $10K a month would probably find a $30,000 aircraft to be a modest purchase thay could plan for and achieve in a reasonable time - but the person who only makes $3K a month in the first example would be pretty hard pressed to convince their family to let him or her spend $30K on it.
 

cluttonfred

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There are a number of affordable ultralight designs built from plans or materials kits that continue to be built often without the fanfare of magazine covers and feature stores. MiniMax (plans for which were actually free for quite some time), Sky Pup, various Roger Mann designs are just a few that come to mind. If you want to get in the air for substantially less than $10,000, it is certainly still possible and I don't mean scrounging and rebuilding, I mean all new materials and a new engine,, prop, and basic instruments. Vittorazi, Cors-Air, others offer 25-35 hp engines complete with redrive and exhaust for $3,000-4,000, Hirth F33 about $5,000.
 

BBerson

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I think my fixed wing ultralight will be about $2000.
Of course it is scratch built. A Briggs is about $900. That leaves about $1100 for aluminum and uncertified fabric and house paint and some cables. No instruments.
 

gtae07

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I think there’s a top end to viable ultralight pricing that ends somewhere about the point where you reach viable LSA-eligible aircraft and I’ll throw out that the number is around $25k. Around that point you start finding things like Sonexes with much greater performance.

By the time you get to that point or beyond your ultralight has to be something really special not to lose sales to homebuilt LSAs. Either it’s factory-built and looks like a “real airplane” or it does something real special (E-VTOL or something).


Affordable definitely depends on the person.
 

blane.c

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I have come to the conclusion I would rather spend my time and money on a motor-glider than an ultralight. Utility is part of the equation for affordability for me and in the end there isn't much utility in an ultralight. A motor-glider has a lot of unexplored potential for utility.
 

TFF

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I think people think because it is small, slow, and one person it should be cheap. I don’t think the original PT 103 ultralights were cheap. Were the original Challengers about $15,000 in the 80s? DIY everything you can make a Legal Eagle for $5000-6000, but you have to do everything.

Price reflects weight. It’s got to be strong enough to hold together and weigh 254 pounds. I think that and the gift of no license was the original challenge. It was a cowboy airplane. Frontier challenge. You have to mix NASA and rebellion.

It took off and economics of scale started to help but then it topped out. The rebellion was not so rebellious. I think the $5000 number is the number that people would cap out if they were to try the hobby. Just like buying a $2000 MG and put in $3000 to fix it up. John boat and motor to see if you like fishing. People who really want to fly, sell their children or realize it’s going to cost and work. They tend to pay until they get into the air.

The economics of scale has killed the engine supply. Not enough being sold to be cheap as they were.
Adventure of danger. People seem to be way crazier or more sedate who side with their adventures. Flying a ultralight in the 80’s was like base jumping today. It’s more of a grandpa thing now.

The quality of designs are so broad, but people seem to be very finicky. Weedhopper to Challenger to the carbon Corsair. What you get for cheap does not reflect where the consumer mind thinks it deserves.

The old used prices of ultralights throws stuff off too. $1000 can buy you a complete derelict. It’s an airplane it’s got to be worth more, they say. It was probably worth $100 and now it needs $6000 to fly. Training is also a stickler. I think now most don’t think it’s cool enough to try.
 

ScaleBirdsScott

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An "affordable" ultralight kit in today's market should probably top out at $15k (sans engine) and that's for something that brings a lot of value like a welded frame or a complete pre-drilled-everything ARTF. Realistically the "standard" kit (that would be roughly approximate to a 51% compliant EAB kit) closer to 10-ish, and a materials+plans kit under 8. Probably closer to 6k, realistically.

That's based on current market trends and pricing. Obviously what would be nicer is to take about 5k off each of the above numbers. And that's where you get into needing volume+innovation+major cultural shifts but there you go.

Adding innovation is hard to predict. I can probably imagine that if someone had some depreciated manufacturing assets and shop space sitting idle, and was willing to invest into tooling that could be amortized over a long period, there is a case to be made for going long on a low-cost ultralight.

But every time I look at the numbers, if you have the former, you can almost always make better cases for a different product. Why make 20 ultralights when you can make 5 big kits and have the same revenue at the same labor rate? Each UL kit is, best case scenario, maybe 50% of the effort of a larger kit. So the 20 UL kits is still 200% of the effort for the same revenue.

Which all ties back into there being a pretty painful price floor for ultralights going forward.

It's the same with engines I'm sure. Lets take a hypothetical example of a cheap auto/industrial engine with a gearbox conversion. I'm grossly simplifying here but If a 40hp engine is the same shop conversion hours as doing a 100hp engine, the labor rate will thus be equal, and if the core engine is a matter of $400 vs 1400... but it's, say, $5000 to do the conversion work, then the resulting engine is 5400 vs 6400 to make. The market factors mean that the 40hp engine probably could sell for $7,000, but it would be expensive for the market space so you'll be having to market it hard to move enough numbers to justify it, to make a margin of $1600 per engine. Meanwhile, the 100hp model can move all day for 10,000 usd, being at the lower end of that market, and you make 3600 per engine. Which one are you going to make more of and sell more of if it requires the same space, equipment, and labor investment?

The UL market will need to find a design that is just so fundamentally inexpensive to make that the numbers for making them make way more sense than the complicated, big, traditional aircraft with all of their numerous parts. And then it also has to be a design that is so fundamentally ultralight that you couldn't just argue to scale that design and method up to the "big boys" size and sell them against the Sonexes of the world. And, circling around again, an innovative take on that sort of unique thing is hard to predict. But hopefully more people find it.
 

Dana

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Complete new paramotor packages are start a little over $8K nowadays (I paid $5500 20 years ago). The wing (around $3-3.5K of that) depreciates to zero in 300-500 hours, but paramotors have the huge advantage that they're portable, easy to store, and can fly nearly anywhere. Used flyable ultralights can be had starting around $1K. Around 20 years ago somebody was building new Weedhoppers for $8K, I don't think you could do that today and make any money. The problem is how much money will somebody spend for what's essentially a solo use toy? $15K for an ultralight, maybe, but you're getting into used experimental or classic money.
 

Dana

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Our Ultralight kits start at $11,700 base model and go to $29,000 for a full titanium frame. Ready to fly $20k-$40. We need more space, right now in fact. Our 4 stroke will happen, I just don't know exactly when.
Very nice looking aircraft, as far as I could tell, but I gave up on your website, it's horrible. Looks like you let your web designer go crazy with flash animations. You need a simple site where people can easily find information without waiting through all the cutesy effects.
 

REVAN

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I have come to the conclusion I would rather spend my time and money on a motor-glider than an ultralight. Utility is part of the equation for affordability for me and in the end there isn't much utility in an ultralight. A motor-glider has a lot of unexplored potential for utility.
What's the utility you are looking for that the ultralight doesn't offer, but the motor glider does? Are you looking for the soaring performance, speed and payload, or other?
 

TFF

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There are two big camps of USA ULs, One who just wants to be in the air and it needs to be cheap. The other is someone who really wants an airplane and for some other reason they have to settle.

In the USA, owning an airplane is easy.

If you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money. There are a lot of things I don’t have the money for, but people hold a grudge about it.

People feel guilty owning an airplane. You can’t use it a bunch unless you can tie it to work or live in an air park. Much easier to have a Rolex in the drawer. Much easier to have a 65 Mustang convertible. It’s the only hobby I have ever heard of that must break even.
 
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