Flying an Ultralight Aeroplane – Operations

This guide was created by and for ultralight pilots, but it is also a helpful reminder for all pilots to fly safer. In addition, it is important that you understand the specific rules and regulations related to the airspace you’re flying in, your licence and its limitations, your aircraft, and your abilities.

Let’s all do our part to improve the safety culture in our community by applying these best practices.

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Flight planning

Create a flight plan or itinerary and share it. Let someone know when you’re wheels up, where you’re headed, and check in once you’ve landed. If you intend to deviate from your planned route, make sure to share that too.

It’s a good idea to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) or to subscribe to a tracking app and turn the “share” feature on so others can see your location. When possible, fly together.

Ultralights are for daylight operations only. Remember: ultralights aren’t allowed to take off before sunrise or plan landings after sunset.

Weather, visibility limits, and altitude

Altitude is always your friend if your engine fails. Statistics show that engine failures and the resulting loss of control are the primary cause of accidents. Whenever possible, choose an altitude that offers you an “out” should an engine failure occur.

Weather is an ongoing factor in aircraft accidents. How many times have you heard of a pilot venturing into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) without having the knowledge or equipment to manage?

Wind is a significant concern when flying lightweight ultralight aeroplanes. An aviation weather app with forecasts (TAFs) can be a big help—some apps can even overlay winds on a runway in a graphic.

Many ultralight pilots like to fly in the early morning. Winds are calm and the air is stable, but there’s often mist or fog along your route. Fog can develop quickly as cool morning air warms up. It could cover your landing area, and you might not have another option, at least not one that you can reach with your fuel reserves. Get a weather refresher and check what conditions are favorable for the formation of fog.

If you run into a fog patch, make sure it’s clearing and not spreading. Flying higher may not be the answer. Our advice: wait on the ground until you’re sure the fog has cleared. If you’re already in the air, make sure you have an alternate route.

Weight and balance

Have you ever weighed your aircraft? Or, do you assume that the manufacturer’s published specifications are “good enough”? If so, you could be living dangerously.

Consider using a bad weather day to check the weight and balance of your aircraft and those of your fellow pilots. Many aircraft will fly without issue until they make an extreme manoeuvre, angle of attack, or bank. Know what your centre of gravity limits are.

Remember: as fuel is used, the location of your plane’s centre of gravity might change. This can affect its performance.

Aircraft communications

It’s always a good idea to be able to communicate via radio, but keep in mind that you need a restricted operator certificate with aeronautical qualification to do so. Connect with your local flight school to take the course!

If you haven’t developed your radio skills yet, you can still listen in and learn. An inexpensive portable radio will allow you to listen to other aircraft in the area and in the circuit.

It’s important to check if the area where you intend to fly requires a radio. In uncontrolled airspace, a radio may not be required. Stay alert! Some pilots may not have radios or could be on a different frequency. If you’re using a radio, don’t assume that other pilots can hear you or that you can hear them. Keep a sharp eye out! Even with a radio, the rule is still SEE AND BE SEEN!

Know where you’re going

It’s important to know what to expect at your destination. Check out traffic flow and circuit entry procedures. Talk to local pilots at your intended destination; they can give you valuable information about unique procedures and things you should watch for. Know your aerodrome information—circuits are always to the left unless indicated otherwise in the CFS or a NOTAM. Things can change en route, so expect the unexpected!

For more info, Smart Pilot has a video about landing at an ATF Aerodrome.

What’s your exit plan?

Have you ever thought about how you’d exit your aircraft after a forced landing or crash? Do you know how things could look if the aircraft were upside down? Where are the door handles? And the fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, and emergency locator transmitter (ELT), if equipped?

Even something as simple as turning radio knobs can be a challenge upside down. Create an exit plan with alternatives and make sure the gear you need is close by in case of an emergency.

Prepare for an emergency

Equipping yourself for an emergency like an engine failure is an important part of being a safe pilot. When flying a two-stroke engine, there are many variables that can affect its reliability.

Because of this, it’s important to keep your options open and be prepared to act quickly. Some key tips include:

  • memorizing your emergency checklist; and
  • knowing your best glide speeds and what the ratio is.

Get advice from other pilots. Then, take time to visualize yourself in an emergency situation and note every action you should take. Committing your checklist to memory is vital, but going through the motions and performing an emergency landing is just as important.

Choose your flight path wisely. Navigate above terrain that will allow you to land within your aircraft’s glide ratio, and away from built-up areas. Flying through mountains requires more vigilance; poor weather can appear quickly, so be prepared to turn back and, if necessary, to descend in order to remain below clouds.

Pre-takeoff briefings & checklists

Pilots should always use a checklist and memorize emergency ones. For things you may have missed, speak with pilots who fly similar aircraft, and always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions, if available.

Practice makes perfect! It’s great to have an emergency checklist for something like an engine failure, but it’s also important to practise emergency procedures. Spend time practising landings with and without engine power. Have an instructor flying with you if possible—one who knows your model of aircraft.

Flying different aircraft

Never assume you can jump into another aircraft and fly it. Do your research and understand how the new aircraft will behave compared to the one you’re used to. No matter which licences and ratings you hold, seek transition training, even if there’s no requirement to do so. Every aircraft should be considered unique, including aircraft of the same model. Seek proper instruction before attempting to fly.

Resist the temptation to assume that you can “handle this one” because you’ve flown higher performance aircraft. Find someone who knows the aircraft and can show you the differences. This could be an instructor, another pilot, the previous owner, or the manufacturer.

Keep records

There are many benefits to keeping detailed records of all oil changes, repairs, and general maintenance performed on your aircraft. Not only will it help you maintain a regular service schedule, it will demonstrate to a future owner that the aircraft has been well maintained, and may improve the resale value. Buyers like to know the history of the aircraft they’re purchasing.

Keeping your engine in top condition

A regular routine of maintenance is important to keep you safe in the air. Following the service schedule recommended by your engine’s manufacturer is a big part of maintenance, but there are additional best practices you should follow each time you fly:

  • Avoid shock cooling your engine
  • Warm up your engine before flying
  • Check your fuel quality, and use fresh fuel
  • Use a good-quality oil
  • Inspect your exhaust before each flight
  • Oil injection systems vs. mixtures—learn about your engine’s weaknesses and plan your engine management accordingly

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