Ultralight Aircraft

When British and French gliding enthusiasts tested gliders propelled by small engines in 1922, they created a new type of low-cost "ultralight" airplane. The idea all but disappeared until a few hang glider pilots began experimenting with small engines they called "glide extenders" during the late 1960s.

Their work did not reach a wide audience until John K. Moody installed a 12½-horsepower engine on his Icarus II hang glider in 1975. The following August, as thousands of fellow flying enthusiasts watched, Moody ignited the modern ultralight movement in America by demonstrating running takeoffs and landings from level ground at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.


Cosmos Phase II ultralight

Cosmos Phase II
A conservation group called Operation Migration, dedicated to replenishing the numbers of endangered birds such as Whooping cranes, used this two-seat ultralight to lead flocks along new migration routes up to 4,025 km (2,500 miles) long, from Canada to the southern United States. Pilots averaged about 50.6 km/h (31 mph) when leading the birds, but occasionally they flew as fast as 112.7 km/h (70 mph) and as high as 1,216 m (4,000 ft). Operation Migration staff added the propeller guard, GPS navigation unit, and sound systems to broadcast adult crane calls during flight. The ultralight also appeared in the Hollywood film "Fly Away Home." The term 'trike' refers to the tricycle landing gear fitted to the cart suspended beneath the wing. The cart contains the cockpit and engine.

More information: Cosmos Phase II

Ultralight Lazair SS EC

Ultralight Lazair SS EC
In Canada in 1978, Dale Kramer designed the Lazair and he and Peter Corley built the first prototype. This was one of the first twin-engine ultralights and the configuration marked an important step to increase the reliability of these simple and inexpensive aircraft. He and Corley built the aircraft from aluminum sheets and tubing, and then covered the wings with transparent mylar. The SS EC model is one of several that the Ultraflight factory produced. All Lazairs shared the same basic airframe, but each model was equipped with different engines, a different cockpit enclosure, and structural modifications to support increases in engine power.

The Lazair was among the first ultralights to attract serious attention from police officers interested in using these airplanes to aid law-enforcement. The twin tractor engines promised increased reliability and the factory could install electric starting as an option to ease operations on the ground and in the air. Police surveillance pilots also preferred the airplane-style, stick-and-rudder flight controls. Many other ultralights still used some form of weight-shift controls at this time.

This particular aircraft was the second ultralight tested by officers of the Monterey Park Police Department in California. This group was the first unit in the nation to experiment with an ultralight aircraft used in a surveillance role. Monterey Park city and police department officials also generously donated that first airplane, an American Aerolights Double Eagle, to the Museum's collection.

More information: Ultralight Lazair SS EC

American Aerolights Double Eagle

American Aerolights Double Eagle
This is the first known ultralight aircraft employed by a police force. The Monterey Park, California, Police Department first flew this airplane on September 2, 1982, and it quickly became a valuable asset to police work. However, the powerplant proved fragile and Lt. Joe Santoro, project manager, grounded the Eagle after seven engine failures in six months. Santoro continued to believe in the basic concept and experimented with several other types of ultralight aircraft. "Our hilly terrain and lack of appropriate forced landing sites do not allow a viable program in this community," Santoro said after grounding the Eagle, "but the concept is good." The National Air and Space Museum also displays another ultralight flown by Monterey Park police officers, an improved and more reliable twin-engine Ultraflight Lazair SS EC.

More information: American Aerolights Double Eagle