Buying an aircraft, aircraft buying tips, how to buy a used ultralight aircraft, how to buy an ultralight aircraft, things to look for when buying a used ultralight.

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10 point ultralight or light sport aircraft buyers guide.

Selecting an ultralight Part 1

Many pilots, aviation enthusiasts are looking at ultralight aircraft or light sport aircraft, as either an entry level craft, or as just a more affordable alternative to general aviation due to the steadily increasing cost.

One of the major problems facing this group is in selecting just what craft they should buy.

Questions include whether it should be new or used, on floats or an amphibian, the kind of engine and horsepower, should the craft be enclosed, partially enclosed, or fully enclosed.

Also, consideration must be given to speed and range. Once you have decided what kind of a craft will fit the bill, the most important consideration is convincing the wife on how much money you can spend!

If you use this article correctly, it will prevent a great deal of headaches down the road and should save you money when purchasing your craft. The least it will do is prevent you from becoming a "test pilot".

The following is a simple ten point program that can be used for either new or used aircraft. In my mind a passing score is 70% or over, to completely fail would be 50% or under.

1.The number of years the factory has been building planes: The longer the better, 5 years gets you 10 points anything less is 2 points less for each year.

Why must the manufacturer be in business for at least 5 years?

Here is an example. In 1984 a new factory shows up with a brand new aircraft at a show. The craft on display is the original prototype with about 20 hours of flight time on it. The plane is well received and nearly 30 orders are taken. The show is in April, first deliveries are about 4 months later. The craft in question takes about 250 hours to build for first time builders. The normal builder can spend about 5 hours a week on average building his plane. 5 into 250 is 50 weeks, meaning his craft is ready to fly approximately 1 year after receipt of kit, which was 4 months after placing his order. The kit is ready to fly in August of 1985. Now the pilot begins to fly his craft. Like anything new some problems are encountered. The average pilot flies about 50 hours a year, and lets say his problems start at this time. The year is now 1986. These problems are reported to the factory. The factory looks at the problems and begins changing the design of the aircraft. In most cases they already have material designed for the older style of craft, which they use to prepare any remaining kit orders.
The pilot checks to see what other updates the factory has put out. To his amazement there are 22 updates to his craft. After pricing the updates he calculates the cost at about $2,800. His craft is worth about $4,000 on the open market, and a new plane sells for $6,200 in kit form rather than update he decides he is better to sell and buy a new kit.
Who is he going to sell his aircraft to....... My recommendation is if you are buying used buy an aircraft that has been in production for at least 3 years. example: If the first kit produced was in 1985- buy a 1988 or later model.

2 points off for every year less than 5 that the manufacturer has been in business.

2. The number of planes that have been sold, and the number of planes that are actually out there
L'il Buzzard Ultralight Trainer flying: 
It is fine to sell 1,000 aircraft kits, but if it takes 500/1,000 hours to build a kit then it will be some time before those kits are actually flying and problems associated with their use are reported back to the factory, for correction.

Most of the factories that I have had dealings with over the years are selling at least 10 kits a month. This means that if they have been in business for 5 years they have produced a minimum of 5 x 12 x 10 = 600 aircraft. 600 aircraft flying generally means that even if the manufacturer goes out of business it is would be economically feasible for other manufacturers to produce parts and pieces (sails/tubing/brackets) for this aircraft.

10 points for 100 kits sold.

If the manufacturer has not sold 100 kits delete 2 points for every 10 below 100.
Many quick build kits such as the Quicksilver MX are ideal aircraft for this kind of chart. The kit takes about 50 hours to build, sometimes in a little as a week the owners had their craft flying. Because of this they would be flying very quickly resulting in problems being reported to the factory. With the marketing used by Eipper it was reported that in a 4 year span some 10-12,000 kits were delivered world wide.

3. 10 points for 100 aircraft flying. Delete 2 points for every 10 below 100.

4. Control system :

  • 3 axis standard control gets you 10 points
  • weight shift in a trike gets you 10 points
  • 2 axis control gets you 5 points*
  • weight shift control other than trike gets 2 points

    Standard three axis control systems get 10 points as do trikes because they allow flight in more varied conditions, during more hours of the day. They also give the pilot cross country capability because he knows that he can land in a cross wind at another field.

    Two axis control only receives 5 points due to the crafts limitation in cross wind, and windy conditions. Most two axis control aircraft will be flown in early morning or late evening conditions, and usually just around the take off and landing site.

    *I give this type of craft 10 points if the owner is buying the craft to fly in these conditions. I know of many pilots who own two axis control aircraft on floats, who fly only morning/evenings or on weekends from the lake where their cottages are located.

5. Engine: Rotax engine gets you 10 points. Any engine that is still in production gets you 8 points, Cuyuna, Kawasaki 6 points.

I give Rotax a 10 because they have engines from 28 to 79 horsepower which can be bought as a complete package, including carb, exhaust, and cooling systems. Have a worldwide service network, which is factory trained. Rotax itself is not a small company and produces nearly 80 per cent of the engines used in light recreational aircraft.

Hirth engines fall short in some of the areas mentioned above but still should receive an (8). Cuyuna was one of the mainstays in the industry, parts are available. The only problem with the Cuyuna  was that it was either a good reliable engine, or it made a great boat anchor. (8)

Kawasaki was another engine that was widely used. Unfortunately it is harder to get parts and pieces for it, and it generally wasn't sold as a complete package meaning that the exhaust and carbs in many cases were not matched to the engine.(8)

6. Two place trainer: If the company produces a two place trainer then the plane gets a 10. It is great to be able to buy a plane when you can be trained in the same model in a two place.

While some of the climb rates and speeds may be different between he single and two place, the basic flying of the two craft is very similar. Having flown/and taught students to fly in the Challenger, Kolb, Buccaneer, Rans Coyote, Airaile, Quicksilver MX and MXL, Carrera in both the single and two place versions I can vouch for the fact that these craft fly very similar.

If the company does not produce a two place trainer, but your local dealer, or instructor has flown the craft and indicates that its flight characteristics are similar to the craft you are training in give it a 10.

If no information on the flight characteristics are readily available, from a knowledgeable source, then I would first grade the aircraft minus this category (90 points instead of 100), and then if it passes the other categories give it the per centage that it passed by e.g. 60 % = 6 points, and then recalculate.

7. Cross country capabilities: If the plane has good cross country capabilities 50 to 55 mph cruise then you get another 10 points. Once again if the craft has been purchased for the sole purpose of flying "around the patch" at 25 to 35 mph you can still give it a 10. However if it is three axis control and capable of 50 to 55 mph in cruise it means that more use can be made of the craft flying to flyins and other pilots fields. It also is less bothersome to neighbors, since you are not buzzing away in their ears for extended periods of time.
2 Points off for ever 5 MPH cruise below 55.

8. Dealer: If there is dealer within 100 miles give the plane a 10. Many factories sell direct. Unfortunately this means that you have no dealer support, for training, or parts and pieces. In some cases it means that you might not have a place close by to fly from with other pilots. Many dealers have engine specialist on staff with many hours of trouble shooting experience. Also a dealer can teach you how to fly. These problems are generally not part of the factory support package.

2 points off for every 10 miles from dealer.

If you have to buy direct from the factory, but a dealer near you stocks parts and pieces and offers training 8 points

9. Planes in the area: If there are a lot of that plane flying in the area, or you can talk to more than 5 owners who fly a lot then give it a 10. 2 points off for each pilot less than 5. I have never heard a mother say that her child is ugly! You are not very likely to hear a factory or a dealer tell you about the problems with their aircraft. The more people you can talk to the more feedback, both positive and negative you will receive. Better to make you own judgment.

10. Safety Record: What is the planes overall safety record in the years it has been produced? If the type of craft you are considering has no unexplained accidents give it a 10. If there seem to be several accidents with no apparent cause I would be a little nervous.

DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT get this information by word of mouth from a dealer. Get the facts from pilots, publications or government agencies.

If I were just entering the ultralight market the area of this chart that I would be most concerned about is number

8. The local dealer, and his customers. If there is a dealer near you, who has been able to survive the roller coaster ride that this industry has gone through, then he/his customers should be able to supply to with information on the industry and the craft you are considering. He can also supply you with parts, service, and a flying site. In my mind a craft without a dealer is like a one parent family. A mother and father (manufacturer & dealer) can supply a child (aircraft) the necessary care and attention that one may not be able to provide.

This is part one in a two part series. The second part will be dealing with used ultralights and things that you should look at on the aircraft, prior to buying. Basically it is a used aircraft buyers guide and will deal with many of the major brands of used aircraft, including those that are no longer in production. It will also list problem areas, parts suppliers, and give an approximate value of an aircraft in Good condition/Fair condition/and the area in between.

Using part one and two together should ensure that you get the safest most cost efficient craft for your buck. 

U.B. Judge

Mini Max all wood construction ultralight aircraft on take off at Airventure.
Mini Max all wood construction ultralight aircraft on take off at Airventure.

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