Ultralights At Oshkosh

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Tucked down in the south corner of AirVenture, ultralights are as strong as ever. The little grass runway sees lots of activity, and the pattern is filled with nearly a dozen at a time. Ultralights of all kinds are here -- powered parachutes, powered hang gliders, open-cockpit planes, and fully enclosed planes. There is even a helicopter that gets in under the maximum 254 lbs. to qualify as an ultralight. This area is also where the whirlybirds reside -- everything from gyroplanes to a miniaturized kit-version of the MASH helicopters to Jet Rangers and Robinson R44s. Many ultralight manufacturers are exploring how to grow their designs into the new Sport-Pilot rules. Unlike manufacturers of larger planes -- who have to think smaller (cutting weight is always tricky) -- these ultralight companies can just let loose of their usual weight restrictions, add more strength or drag-reduction materials, and finally allow passengers in their second seat rather than just flight students. Even novice observers noticed one interesting design difference among the airplanes: Those that had a longer empennage (and, therefore, a longer moment arm for the tail surfaces) seemed to be more stable in yaw during takeoff and landing roll. The others were "twitchy" on the bumpy grass and didn't give as much confidence to those pilots used to more conventional, certified planes. It will be interesting to see which new Sport Pilot planes end up attracting the new and old pilots.