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It Was 30 Years Ago

By Dan Grunloh, Editor - Light Plane World, EAA 173888

Dan Grunloh

In June of this year, it will be 30 years since the FAA issued the regulation that defined ultralights in the United States and eliminated the requirement for foot-launch capability. This simple cost-effective approach stimulated three decades of innovation and advancement in light planes that we enjoy today. Plans are underway to celebrate the 30th anniversary of FAR 103 at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012 with special events and programs down on "the Farm."

All of us today are lucky to be around during this period of explosive growth in personal aviation. I went to EAA Oshkosh 30 years ago specifically to see the ultralights. I knew about all the other aircraft, and I always wanted to fly. But let's be realistic about the choices prior to 1980. I could fly a Cessna with a private pilot certificate, take up gliding in sailplanes, go hang gliding off some hills, or build a Pete Bowers Fly Baby. That was it until powered ultralights became available. We had accumulated nearly two generations of pent-up demand for personal flight when John Moody, John Chotia, Jack McCornack, and all the others began offering kits for ultralights. The demand was there and so was the supply. The FAA was almost trapped by the circumstances. Ultralights were coming and a lot of them, in the thousands. Not wanting to regulate that activity directly, the FAA came up with the simple and effective rules we still have today.

Now, in 2012, looking around for opportunities for personal flight you see an amazing variety of excellent fixed-wing airplanes, trikes, and powered parachutes, in ultralight or light-sport versions. You can get them in kits or as ready-to-fly aircraft. None of that was available a little over three decades ago. I ask those who lament the low number of active FAR 103 ultralights flying today to reflect on this exponential expansion of our options.

It's even more important now to recognize past and present achievements in the world of ultralights. People must be reminded how well they flew back then and that the new ultralights of today can do it even better. Nothing has changed with the atmosphere or with gravity. They are just as much fun now as back then, and the engines are better. This year at AirVenture 2012 we hope to have special recognition for everyone who displays a FAR 103 ultralight either flying or static, as part of our anniversary celebration. If you have an ultralight, even an old bird in storage, consider bringing it this year. The history of ultralight movement is still within living memory, so it would be great to get some of the original pioneers to tell their stories at the AirVenture 2012 ultralight forum tent, or here in Light Plane World.

The forum tent next to the ultralight barn has been host to 20 to 30 expert presentations every year at AirVenture, but unfortunately none of it has been recorded. Quite often the information provided is valuable and would be of benefit to others who could not attend. I made my own recording of Dale Kramer's hour-long explanation last year on how he developed the electric Lazair. It contained ideas and information that would be very helpful to inventors and builders. Wouldn't it be great if we could record all those talks and make them available in an online archive? The hardware and technology requirements are very minimal. All it really takes are volunteers willing to do it. We have a large cadre of weeklong volunteers down on the Farm, but everyone is plenty busy already. If anyone is interested in this project, write to me at lightplaneworld@eaa.org.

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