Understanding the World of PPCs is important to really appreciating what a PPC is, and is not. Except for the UAV (e.g., drone), a PPC is presently the youngest variant of aircraft types, not developed until the 1970s when parachute materials, lightweight engines/airframes, and novel designs made them possible. As a result, the PPC is not nearly as entrenched in the historical and cultural identities of aviation, and so it is often misunderstood.
Let’s start with some basic functional considerations.
What is a Powered Parachute (PPC) aircraft?
Since this is the “Internet”, we don’t find a lot of value in rewriting what has already been said elsewhere. So our first recommendation is to look at two basic resources:
Once you’ve read and reviewed these, we can clarify some things that are said (and unsaid) in these resources.
Firstly, a PPC can REALLY be defined as an aircraft with the three following elements:
- A flexible wing – technically called a parafoil, but more often just referred to as the canopy
- A rolling airframe with engine that is suspended below the canopy
- Steering controls that are manipulated by foot pressure
That’s about it. The other resources define some additional engineering characteristics, but the 3 items above are the distinguishing characteristics. Now, there are probably a lot of things that you might commonly see across the spectrum of flying PPCs, but many of the attributes are not obligatory. For example, some have argued that the PPC will have 3 wheels, but there are some 4-wheel designs that have been built and are just as equally valid. While no one (to our knowledge) has ever built a puller prop version of a PPC – and which we imagine might be extremely uncomfortable to fly – it is nonetheless not strictly prohibited by design.
PPCs vs. PPGs, and LSA vs. Ultralights
[Disclaimer: this discussion focuses on United States variations; these distinctions may be different or not exist in other countries]
We’ll start with PPCs versus Powered Paragliders (PPG), and this is where things start to get tricky. From a distance, the PPG might seem almost identical to the PPC,but the easiest way to distinguish PPGs is that there are ‘hands in the air’: that is to say, the canopy controls are managed using hand controls, which means the pilot typically will always have their hands up.
Distinguishing the ultralight PPC from an LSA-registered PPC is virtually impossible to do from a distance. Up close, you need to look for the FAA registration number (e.g., N-number, tail number), which must be at least 3″ high on both sides of the aircraft.
For the sake of discussion, we’re going to highlight the most critical differences between the three categories. Unless there’s something REALLY important, please don’t harangue us on the details, we’re just trying to allow the ‘everyman’ to see the side-by-side…