Ultralight schools, ultralight flight training. What makes a good ultralight flight training facility?

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What are some of the things your ultralight school should have?

Many years ago I did three articles for ultralight pilots on how to select a school, how to select an ultralight, and the third how to choose a ultralight manufacturer.

Over 25 years have passed since I wrote them I think it is time that they be revisited.

Learning how to fly is a lot like eating a meal, if you eat the meal at a comfortable pace, take time to digest it, with regular exercise, in a stress free environment, you will develop a healthy life style.

Your ultralight flight training should follow this plan, a series of planned lessons, on a regular schedule, in good flying conditions, with good instruction, in regularly maintained relatively new aircraft, being taught from adequate facilities using a good communication system.

An ultralight school.

The first thing you need is a training facility. The runway(s) should be at least 1500 feet long, 2,000 feet would be ideal. It should be wide enough that you can easily turn the training craft around anywhere on the field, or at least at either end. This will allow your instructor to give "ground handling" instruction. Something that can not be done on a runway where all you can do is land and take off.

It would be ideal to have two runways, but my preference for training is a runway that you just about always have to take off cross wind on! This provides the student and instructor a more "challenging" training environment.

Cross wind landings with their associated drift, sink, and turbulence will hone a students skills, and keep instructors from becoming complacent, as each landing will present a new challenge.

The ideal school should have a number of instructors. This allows students, instructors with different personalities to "gel" together and also allows for interaction between instructors when they encounter a "problem" student.

Many ultralight students are retired or semi-retired which means they are older and are usually not as quick to react and understand as younger students. Thus it is an advantage for instructors to be able to converse and work together to come up with different ideas and ways of teaching.

The school should offer flight training 7 days a week and preferably from dusk till dawn - NOT Monday to Friday 9-5. 

In a conventional pilot training environment, for a private license  the school has the student for 50 to 80 hours. In an ultralight environment we normally have the student for only 15 to 17 hours. In order to get the feel of the plane faster it is advisable that the first few hours be flown in "calmer" conditions.

In the summer the hours from 5:30 a.m. till 9 a.m. provide the smoothest and calmest flying. While training from 11 a.m to 5 p.m, which can be done when the student has a little more experience will introduce the cross winds and turbulence.

The first step in your ultralight training after an "introductory flight" will generally be a ground school course. In that ground school something that must be stressed is engine, airframe, propeller, and aircraft maintenance.

While rules and regulations will also be taught they are usually something that the student uses to pass an exam with. The answers can be found in a book, and don't generally change from "day to day," or require regular maintenance.

An engine, airframe, propeller, and ultralight are things that can and do change daily, and like women the answers to the problems can not be found "in a book!"

Ultralight pilots today have been pampered in everything they do in daily life. They don't change the oil or antifreeze in their cars, change tires, adjust fan belts, replace and or gap spark plugs, check air pressure in their tires, or preflight their cars!

All things that if not done to their ultralight can cause serious injury or death. So when checking out a school look in their ground school curriculum to see how much time is going to be spent on the maintenance aspect of flying.

The next thing you need to look at is the type of craft the school is using for flight training. Is it similar to what you are looking to fly in the future, either as a rental or owning?

Does the plane fit you, or can it be adjusted to fit you. Many ultralights do not have adjustable seats, visibility can sometimes be at a premium. Can you reach and activate all of the control systems. If you already own a craft, or are building one are the control systems the same as what you own?

Training on a plane in which you have to fly with a left hand throttle and a right hand stick - while yours is right hand throttle and left hand stick can only lead to disaster.

Does the school have more than one craft for training - so that if one trainer is down for service the other is still available.

How old are the planes, how many hours are on them. While the new Rotax 4 stroke engines have a life expectancy of some 1500 hours not many ultralights in a training environment are designed to handle 1500 hours of flight training.

The average pilot flies 50 hours a year. If he does one landing and take off an hour he will make 50 landings and 50 take offs. a year! An ultralight trainer will usually be flown 30 to 40 hours a week doing 5 to 10 landings and take-offs an HOUR!

The trainer is getting more landings and take offs in a couple of days than most pilots will subject them to in a year! These take-off's are also NOT the smoothest - as they are being done in "training."

Few ultralight trainers were ever designed to take this number of cycles on control systems, landing gear, tires, and suspension systems. Thus a school that is rotating it's training fleet regularly, and bringing in new craft is better than one using craft that are 4 or 5 years old and that have been recovered and or repaired a number of times.

This is especially true of lighter aircraft. Planes with an empty weight of only 300 or 350 lbs. with over 125 lbs of this weight being the engine generally tend to break more often and wear out faster.

Does the school have someone on staff to perform maintenance? The average 2 stroke Rotax engine requires some kind of maintenance every 50 hours, while the Rotax 4 stroke has a 100 hour schedule. Add to this the maintenance requirement of the manufacturer for lubrication, replacement etc.

Does the school stock parts? Landing gear, axles, tires, rims, brakes are all items that wear out. If your school does not have these it can mean the difference between a short wait and not flying for several days.

Communications is an important part of training, make sure the school uses good quality helmets and intercoms. Radio communication between student and instructor during all solo flights is very important.

Like a bakery a school puts out a product, students. Talk to former students to find out what kind of "product" the school is putting out.

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