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I've been thinking of getting an ultralight as a low cost way to pursue flying. And I've been wondering, when my instructor finally signs me off for a solo flight, am I allowed to do that in an ultralight? And, if so, is there equipment I would be required to have that isn't standard on an ultralight?

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Nope.

Your solo time must be done in the category and class of aircraft for which you are seeking a pilot certificate (the FAA doesn't come out and say it in those words, but that's what the "aeronautical experience" requirements basically boil down to). You must also pass a pre-solo knowledge exam and receive instruction in the particular make and model of aircraft you will be solo-ing in (the second of which is impossible in an ultralight: You cannot receive dual instruction in that aircraft as by regulation it can only have one seat).


As you don't need a pilot certificate to fly an ultralight you could just get one, get some basic instruction on flying it (from someone who has flown them before), and go fly. Some ultralights are pretty fine basic aircraft thanks to modern materials and construction techniques.

Your private pilot training & solo experience would be helpful in flying certain types of ultralight aircraft, but it's not required as long as you abide by the regulations applicable to ultralights.
Similarly experience in the more "airplane-like" ultralights may help you out in the rest of your private pilot training, but that experience isn't required (and not really "loggable" toward your training, through you can put it in your logbook if you wish -- just log the time as "Ultralight Flying" or something similar.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Any chance you could cite or inline the regulation you are referencing in the first part of your answer? $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ @JayCarr 14 CFR 61.109(a)(5) "10 hours of solo flight time in a single-engine airplane, consisting of at least..." $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @casey Ultralights have a single engine? So wouldn't this imply that you could use an ultralight if "having a single engine" is the only litmus test? $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ @JayCarr and for the pre-solo requirements he mentions, see 14 CFR 61.87. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JayCarr an ultralight is not an "airplane" according to the FAA - it's not even an "aircraft", but rather an "ultralight vehicle" (this is kind of like how the tomato is "legislatively a vegetable": It looks like an aircraft, it flies like an aircraft, so it must be...an "ultralight vehicle"). If your ultralight is registered as an "Experimental: Amateur-Built" aircraft (with an N number) that might change things though. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Jul 16, 2015 at 15:25
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Under 14 CFR § 61.51 (j) Aircraft requirements for logging flight time, the aircraft must have an airworthiness certificate, be registered in the US or with an ICAO member state; or be a military or law enforcement aircraft.

FAR 103 vehicles, by definition, do not have airworthiness certificates and can not be registered.

So while I agree that some FAR 103 vehicles are literally airplanes; for the purpose of logging flight time, by law they are not considered unless you somehow convince a police department or branch of the military to employ you to fly one.

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This is possible in one situation: if you were to build an ultralight kit and register the plane as a homebuilt. Then it would get an N-number and be an aircraft. However, if you were going to build, it probably makes more sense to upgrade to the LSA level, even with an ultralight-style plane.

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  • $\begingroup$ If it were N-numbered, it would no longer be an ultralight as far as the FAA is concerned. I suspect you are aware of that; answer might benefit from including that. (Still might meet the OP's intent of a low-cost way to fly.) However, saying that getting an N-number makes the difference as to whether it is considered "an aircraft" reflects a common understanding, but is not really accurate-- for a different view see aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/56294/…. $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2023 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, this is why I used the terms homebuild and ultralight-style. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Apr 21, 2023 at 16:38

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