[UPDATE fall 2009 — Aero-Works left the business several years ago (though in late 2009, originator Terry Raber said he will return to production). Meanwhile, producer Wings of Freedom has begun work on the Phoenix-103, a derivation of the Aero-Lite 103 but with numerous small changes. This article refers to the aircraft built by AeroWorks and will not be identical to the Aero-Lite 103. The companies are different and Terry Raber has no association with Wings of Freedom. In the uncertain “new world of Sport Pilot,” one thing remains exactly as it was – FAR Part 103. While new rules and regulations may shake the ground under the feet of ultralight pilots, Aero-Works continues to produce their popular AeroLite 103. If you build it carefully, you can still enjoy a twin-cylinder ultralight with lots of features that fits Part 103. Even airline pilots who normally fly under smothering regulations appreciate FAA’s simplest, least intrusive rule, Part 103.
|26 feet 10 inches
|124 square feet
|4.8 pounds per square foot
|Fully assembled or assembly kit
|17.1 pounds per hp
|Never exceed speed
|Rate of climb at gross
|Takeoff distance at gross
|Landing distance at gross
|Belt reduction drive, 35-hp 2si 460F-35 engine, 2-blade wood prop, redundant linkages to ailerons and elevator, lever (not twist grip) throttle, nose fairing and windscreen, ASI, nonsensitive altimeter, single EGT, single CHT, tachometer, clock, infinitely adjustable flaps, steerable nosewheel, 4-point seat belts, padded seat, 5-gallon seat tank, presewn Dacron wings and tail.
|40-hp Rotax 447 or 46-hp Rotax 503 single-carb engine (all engines use same mount), 2- or 3-blade composite prop, mechanical brakes, wheel pants, additional instruments, fully-assembled option, ballistic emergency parachute.
|Aluminum 6061-T6 airframe, 4130 steel components, vacuum-formed plastic nose fairing, formed aluminum wing ribs, sewn Dacron wing coverings. Made in the USA.
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros - Now-familiar design with changes and improvements to increase appeal. Impressive standard features in a design still qualifying under Part 103. Design has more than 5 years field service with few complaints. Parts of the Terry Raber design (wisely) borrow from other popular ultralights.
Cons - Not all buyers will want the 2si engine needed to stay within Part 103's tight weight limits. Presently only offered as a single-seater in a world that likes 2-seat ultralights.
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Well equipped Part 103 ultralight: flaps, brakes, 4-point seat belts. Flaps infinitely adjusted with a hand crank; extend to 30° down. Throttle can be twist grip combined with hand brake or conventional push/pull T-handle; if latter chosen then brake is a separate handle in front of throttle. BRS handle well located.
Cons - Hand-cranked flaps don't deploy or retract as quickly as lever-controlled surfaces. The 2si engine needed to make Part 103 with few sacrifices is not universally accepted. Brakes are nondifferential. No other negatives.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros - Seat comfortable even for large pilots (up to 235 pounds) according to owners. Standard 4-point restraint system. Fuel tank on rear of seat keeps spills from making a mess inside. Open cabin gives the ultralight feel yet the pilot is protected from windblast.
Cons - Not well protected for very cold climates; requires cold-weather suit. Entry around a few tubes may be challenging for disadvantaged pilots. Reach to instrument panel is beyond most pilots' arms. Minimal radio space. Some debris can fly into the cockpit from front wheel.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros - Responsive nosewheel steering. Mainwheel brakes help ground handling especially on hard surfaces. Brakes showed good effectiveness. Turn diameter was fairing tight. Several inches of ground clearance help on unimproved fields. Six-inch wheels roll well over rough ground.
Cons - Sitting under the wing restricts upward visibility for prelaunch traffic checks. Sits on tail when not occupied (like many ultralights). No easy seat adjustment. Lightly loaded on the nose; reduces steering traction in some situations. Shock absorption is limited to gear leg flex and air in the tires.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros - Crosswind conditions presented little problems for me. Twin cylinder power makes for short takeoff rolls. Wide main gear stance. Rotate at 40 mph; approach at 40 to 50, both are slow speeds typical of Part 103 ultralights. Brisk climb on any engine choice. Short ground roll on landing.
Cons - Because of limited side area, slips won't be particularly useful (though potent flaps give you adequate landing control). Loses energy quickly (like many ultralights); you should retain extra speed to assure control authority. No other negatives discovered.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros - Quite responsive controls without any hint of touchiness; light and predictable feel. Roll is about 2.5 seconds 45°-to-45° (faster than many ultralights). Precision turns were confidence inspiring. My Dutch roll coordination exercises went well to mild angles thanks to responsive ailerons.
Cons - Older knob input for flaps has been improved with the crank handle but is still slower to deploy than a lever control. Twist-grip throttle offered on some models is unintuitive. No other control negatives discovered.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros - Keeping the Aero-Lite 103 light makes 35 hp more than adequate; also helps keep sink rate low. Performs almost identically with Part 103 rules. Cruise speeds were comfortable around 50 mph. Climb averaged 800 fpm. In my low-over-the-fields flying, the Aero-Lite 103 did beautifully.
Cons - To stay within Part 103's 63-mph speed limit, Aero-Lite 103 can't be and isn't very speedy (but it flies so nicely, who cares?). Fuel endurance isn't great, the same as many other semi-open ultralights. Also took a higher percentage of power to stay level than a more enclosed ultralight.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros - Stalls in all attitudes were quite benign; no evil tendencies noted in any stall. Speeds showed mid-20s mph and felt as slow as that sounds. Adverse yaw was very mild. Push- or pull-and-release checks were positive, showing good longitudinal stability. BRS parachute was appreciated.
Cons - You have to push hard to get a stall to break, but then it will. Power setting had to be raised in steep turns (though this is common). High thrust line pushes the nose down as you'd expect.
Addresses the questions: "Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?"
Pros - The Aero-Lite 103 has proven to be a successful design showing that Part 103 ultralights are available and do sell. Excellent value with several normally optional items included as standard. Company is now 5 years old and seems to be in good shape (they say 2001 was a strong year). No complaints from owners have been voiced to me.
Cons - Some pilots just don't buy single-seaters; may limit resale value. Breakdown is rather laborious with no folding wing option coming. If you want a fast cross-country cruiser, this isn't it. Lack of full enclosure will turn off some cold-climate buyers. Few overall negatives to report.