Part 103 ultralight activity was not the news I expected to report from SUN ’n FUN 2015, certainly not as my first report.
But after an intense week shooting video interviews at SUN ’n FUN, I am impressed to report that Part 103 is much more than alive and well.
For those that may have missed this unique category, Part 103 ultralight vehicles (the FAA’s deliberate wording) are single-seat flying machines of varying description that need no medical, not even a pilot license, no N-number registration, and can be sold ready-to-fly. The entire FAA regulation can be printed on the front and back of a single piece of paper.
Adding to the charm of rarely having to interact with a government agency in order to have some fun in your airplane are a couple similar efforts in Europe. Germany has its 120-kilogram class (264 pounds) and England has its SSDR category (Single Seat De Regulated).
Between these two and the now-32-year-old Part 103, fixed wings, trikes, powered parachutes, and even helicopters that can keep their weight down to 254 pounds empty (278 with an airframe parachute, even more with floats) and can keep their max speeds to 55 knots max and 24 knots stall are given unusual flexibility in these times of government pushing to heavily regulate many activities. Celebrate 103!
So, with that in mind, we toured the grounds of SUN ’n FUN making video interviews with designers and their aircraft. At vendor after vendor, we encountered something I did not expect. Several Part 103 producers were featuring new aircraft and every one I spoke to related good sales and phones ringing with interest.
As longtime light aviation expert and Quicksilver specialist “Bever” Borne put it, “I’m selling airplanes to [some of the same] customers I had 30 years ago. Since then they went off and bought an experimental, then a Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA), perhaps followed by a Cessna or Piper. Now, they’re back. They tell me that after all that experience they realized the first ultralight they bought from me was still the most fun flying they had and now they want to return to their roots.”
Bever is not alone in his perception. Aerolite 103 producer Dennis Carley took over production of this charming aircraft in late 2012. In 2013 he sold 20 airplanes, not bad for a start-up year (adding to his other business of building aircraft for customers). In 2014, he sold 40 Aerolites. Now, flush with orders following airworthiness approval in Germany earned by his dealer in that country, Vierwerk, he is forecasting 60 Aerolites for 2015.
“That is my current maximum capacity,” Dennis related, and that’s before he potentially starts offering a four-stroke-powered model.
Another vendor, Chip Erwin of Aeromarine-LSA, is seeing more interest in his Zigolo and he has an all-new electric propulsion unit to offer for it Plus, he plans to offer not one, but two, single-place aircraft with a four-stroke engine that he says is singular.
Not left out of the mix, weight shift trike producers are showing better staying power than powered parachute producers that have become a bit thin.
Powrachute is still going strong, but many others are curiously quiet. Powrachute, with the fanciest carriages in the business, has created a sideline of producing trike hardware for Evolution Trikes, and they exhibit some of the finest metalwork in light aviation with numerous special features you rarely see on even the better fixed wing aircraft. Evolution showed its newest aircraft as promised at Sebring earlier this year.
Called Rev, I plan a full story on this trike as it is so unique that a paragraph cannot do it justice. When you read that story, you’ll see what we examined at SUN ’n FUN: The strangest-looking contraption imaginable, until you realize its purpose. Rev — shortened from Revo, the super-deluxe trike that I consider the Cadillac or Mercedes of weight shift trikes — is a single-place Part 103 machine that can go from flying to ready to roll into a trailer in six minutes, by a single person. We saw and videoed them doing precisely that. It’s an amazing construction that, like the Revo, seems to leave no detail unconsidered.
I look forward to telling you more about Rev, a surprisingly complete machine with a modest and affordable starting price of only $17,900.
Thinking of highly detailed aircraft for modest prices, we also looked at and videoed the Fly Hard SkyCycle showing the most stunning paint job I saw anywhere on the grounds of SUN ’n FUN. Mike Theeke’s SkyCycle on display was an out-and-out effort to win — get this! — his ninth award in as many years at the show.
What do you do when you’ve already won eight awards in eight years? Well, you’re seeing it in the above photo and this machine is also Part 103 and costs less than you might think … although not with the 15-layer-deep airbrushed paint job. You see the nose cowl where the quality was easiest to photograph, but the same treatment was executed on the wheelpants, engine parts, and even the BRS parachute canister. Combined with metal-flake finish on the wingstruts, the appearance was nothing short of stunning.
On the opposite end of Part 103 in light aviation, here come the Light GA or LSA 4.0 airplanes, four seaters from LSA producers that are building like an ocean wave. In between, we see continued strength in LSA.
Despite a still-recovering world economy, some years after the recession supposedly ended, global light aviation is doing remarkably well, in my opinion. I follow the light aircraft industry as closely as I can and I see it as healthy and vibrant, though more sales and less interference would both be welcome.