Among the couple hundred readers who commented on my recent Mosaic article, several referenced Private Pilots who consider a Sport Pilot to be “unqualified.” I’ve heard that, too. In fact, I’ve heard similar comments my entire long career. It’s a pecking order thing, I suppose, a natural human response, but I dislike when one aviator puts down another. Is a hang glider pilot somehow less than a power pilot? Is a LSA pilot doing a lesser job flying than a GA pilot? Indeed, is the humble prop pilot somehow less than a jet pilot? Are pilots who like rotary or seaplanes oddballs? I think not but such opinions are too-commonly heard. Similarly, why are pilots so ill-informed about Part 103? Most pilots have heard of the category yet most of them know next-to nothing about the aircraft type. Contrarily, I can say this: the ones who learn about Aerolite 103 know this is a right-proper light aircraft and they want more… for less.
Dynamic DuoIn the video below, nearly a half million viewers have heard inventor Terry Raber describe his Aerolite 103. Terry built and delivered several hundred of these, it is reported. But many years ago he chose to exit aircraft manufacturing to pursue other interests. He connected with former Challenger build shop operator, Dennis Carley, who has breathed new life into the enterprise. Dennis moved Aerolite to Deland, Florida and began to set up manufacturing. Prior to Aerolite, he won Grand Champion and other awards for his craftsmanship. He built more than 100 ultralight and experimental aircraft over a 20 year period, experience that proved valuable when he began manufacturing Aerolite 103. After moving all Terry's inventory and tooling to Florida in January 2013 he reported 20 sales in his first full year of business …a worthy achievement for a re-startup. Dennis' pace has never stopped. Over the decade he has operated U-Fly-It, the company increased to present capacity of "50 or 60" Aerolite 103 aircraft per year. I've seen him maintain this pace for several years. Over a decade he has likely doubled the Aerolite fleet that is approaching 1,000 aircraft (based on Terry Raber's reported "400 or so" during his 15 years of operation plus steady production by U-Fly-It. Terry Raber may have departed from the aviation scene but he did a wonderful job of invention. A former CGS Hawk kit builder and Quicksilver MX assembler, he fused a vision for a very simply-constructed aircraft that could stay within Part 103 while offering features other ultralights of the day were not providing. From the start, Aerolite boasted features others lacked including:
- a control yoke — nearly everyone used joysticks
- full, conventional three-axis control — that is common now but not then
- electric flaps — few Part 103 ultralight offered flaps and rarely electric
- discreet (separate surface) ailerons; not full-span flaperons
- partial enclosure with a nose cowl and windscreen — open cockpit designs were common
- tricycle gear — many used standard or taildragger types to save weight
- hydraulic brakes — brakes were not common on Part 103 ultralights due to the weight constraints of Part 103 plus slow landing speeds
- an aluminum fuel tank, not a plastic one that discolors in time
- sewn Dacron wing, tail, and surface coverings were common but they save the weight of paint
For a flight at the end of the day or on a pleasant weekend, Aerolite 103 is just about perfect, no doubt why it continues to sell well after 26 years.Aerolite 103 is a full-featured Part 103 ultralight that requires no pilot license of any kind, no N-numbers, and no medical … for much less the average selling price of a new car in America in 2023. I can attest to Aerolite’s fine flying qualities and long proven design.
Aerolite 103 Price & ValueA complete airframe kit sells for $16,950 including a fully-anodized tube-and-gusset aluminum structure with your choice of sail colors; nose fairing and windscreen; electric flaps; shock-absorbing main gear; steerable nose wheel with suspension; four-point restraint system; 5-gallon aluminum fuel tank; visual fuel quantity gauge; Dacron wing, tail and surface covering that needs no painting; aluminum wheels; tubeless 13 x 5 x 6 Carlisle 4-ply tires; and hydraulic brakes. Add a fuel engine from Hirth or MZ for 28 to 50 horsepower for a cost of $6,500 to $13,500. You can also choose an electric option that runs from $10-14,000. A fully-assembled Aerolite 103 runs from $27-35,000 depending primarily on engine selection. A kit is available with approximately a one-year delay and a fully-built Aerolite 103 will take a bit longer. Like a few other producers I know, Dennis has operated U-Fly-It wisely, growing to a workable size but without gambling money on bigger facilities and a larger payroll to build aircraft faster when the market can be unpredictable. U-Fly-It has stable employees that know their tasks well and the business appears to operate with a minimum of friction. I've questioned Dennis if he can genuinely run a profitable business at these modest prices. He says yes, and his endurance in the business gives proof to his response. Catch several videos below to learn more on this fun, inexpensive aircraft.
Here is the video viewed more than 400,000 times, with original developer Terry Raber. https://youtu.be/_Lhz0JwxkQA Here is a video with then-new owner Dennis Carley going over details of Aerolite 103. https://youtu.be/I05lH6Lja2k Finally, here's a look at a battery-electric Aerolite 103 from a couple years back. https://youtu.be/B88JZs-ZL94