Single seat ultralights – Aerolite 120 launches in UK

Aerolite 120 Kiwi GreenAs regular readers will know, I believe there is a yawning gap at the less expensive end of the new light aircraft market, which other countries (USA, UK, Germany and France to name a few) have already moved to fill. Their aviation authorities have done this by either ‘de-regulating’ (UK) or reducing compliance requirements (USA, Germany, France) for single-seat factory-built aircraft.

Unfortunately, Australia has been very slow (in fact has not moved at all) in adopting similar arrangements. I firmly believe that a sub A$30,000 single seat aircraft would sell well in Australia, if only the authorities here (where are you Recreational Aviation Australia??) would move to allow these aircraft to be factory built, rather than insisting they be amateur built. There are at least 5 or 6 aircraft types on the market overseas which would suit us very nicely.

One of my favourites is the Aerolite 120 (European) or Aerolite 103 (USA) which I have covered before. Basically, the aircraft are almost identical, with minor changes to suit the requirements in each country. The Aerolite 120 is factory-manufactured by Vierwerk GmbH in Germany to stringent standards and as a result has now been approved by the authorities in the UK, alongside a bevy of other single seat aircraft including the Belite.

First UK owner is Stephen Oliver, who writes in the UK’s Light Aviation Magazine of an entertaining first circuit and subsequent cross-country flight home in his new Aerolite 120. There’s also a short video of Stephen’s first take off and landing – in a 10 knot crosswind – released by Kairos Aviation the UK distributor for the Aerolite 120.

There’s an interesting and candid conclusion to the article, which is a reminder to all of us that getting out of a relatively high-powered Rotax 100hp engine LSA and into a 28hp very low inertia ultralight certainly requires care. In the old days, I think it used to be called ‘difference training’ – maybe still is. Aircraft are not all the same and speed management in high-drag, low-inertia aircraft is a skill to be ignored at your peril.

Nevertheless, I think the Aerolite would make a great weekend (or summer evenings/mornings) aircraft. For someone on a limited budget (aren’t we all?) or who wants to feel the thrill of open cockpit flying (which is very addictive), the ability to take off and land on unmade strips and even to thermal a little is an attractive proposition.

Aerolite 103 with 4-stroke engine

Aerolite 103

Aerolite 103 at Oshkosh 2014

Regular readers will know about my interest in cheap (or rather, ‘less expensive’ – nothing in aviation is cheap) single seat ultralight aircraft.

One of my favourites, the Aerolite 103 (Aerolite 120 in Europe) is now available with a 4-stroke Briggs & Stratton 22 hp engine. Although heavier and a bit less powerful than the 2-stroke alternatives, the B&S motor still gives the aircraft a climb rate around 600 fpm and a cruise speed in the same 60 mph range. And of course it does it more quietly, using less fuel and, dare I say it, more reliably.

These very light 1-seat ‘Part 103’ aircraft have been slow to catch on, even in the USA, where you can fly them legally without registration or even a pilot’s license. This, in spite of the low purchase and running costs and (optional) folding wing, which allows storage in a garage or in the corner of a hangar which can’t be used by conventional fixed-wing aircraft. However, Aerolite reports growing sales in USA – more than 40 in 2014 – and now there is a German type-certified version – the Aerolite 120 – it looks like sales are set to grow exponentially over the next few years.

Priced from under US$15,000 (factory built!) for a 2-stroke version and probably under US$16,000 for a 4-stroke version, the Aerolite represents a great starting point for impecunious aspiring young pilots.

Factory-built single seat aircraft which are accepted under FAA Part 103 still cannot be registered in Australia, you have to build from a kit to be legal. In spite of lobbying from several sources, CASA and RA-Aus have still not woken up to the potential of these low cost aircraft as entry points for the more expensive end of the market. I wonder when RA-Aus will stop moaning about declining membership numbers and do what they should be doing to open aviation at grass roots level and work with CASA to ‘de-regulate’ these single seat aircraft? USA has done it. UK has done it. The rest of Europe has, in its own way, done it. Australia is now well behind in this growing ultralight market – what a shame.