Safety Check | Ultralight and Experimental Aircraft
USPA members occasionally ask, “Can I legally jump out of my friend’s ultralight or experimental aircraft?”
The short answer is no. Aircraft listed in the experimental or ultralight category have a list of operating limitations that includes prohibiting intentional parachute jumps. The Federal Aviation Administration has authorized intentional parachute jumps to be conducted only from certified aircraft.
So, what is the difference between certified and experimental aircraft? Part 23 of the Federal Aviation Regulations outlines the airworthiness standards for certified aircraft in the normal, utility, acrobatic and commuter categories. Aircraft produced in accordance with Part 23 must meet several requirements intended to ensure airworthiness in areas such as performance, stability, controllability and safety mechanisms. This FAA approval process for production of certified aircraft ensures the flight characteristics of each aircraft produced under a particular make and model are consistent. After the FAA approves the data and subsequent flight tests, it issues a standard certificate of airworthiness, and the aircraft is certified for commercial passenger or cargo operation.
Certified aircraft are subject to continued FAA surveillance of the manufacturer’s processes as long as the aircraft remains in production. The FAA issues airworthiness directives (ADs) that require action to correct the problems that arise after a certified aircraft has entered production and service.
An experimental aircraft is intended for testing new aerospace technologies and design concepts. In turn, production of experimental aircraft does not receive the same oversight and scrutiny as certified aircraft. Each experimental aircraft has an airworthiness certificate that lists the operating limitations. Common limitations include but are not limited to the following:
- No person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate for other than the purpose for which the certificate was issued; for carrying persons or property for compensation or hire; or for glider towing, banner towing or intentional parachute jumping.
- Experimental aircraft must operate under visual flight rules, day only, unless otherwise specifically authorized by the administrator.
- The pilot in command of the aircraft must advise each passenger of the experimental nature of the aircraft and explain that it does not meet the certification requirements of a standard certificated aircraft.
- The aircraft must display the word “experimental” in accordance with FAR 45.23(b).
- The aircraft is prohibited from aerobatic flight.
- Except for takeoff and landing, the aircraft cannot be flown over any congested area of a city, town or settlement or over any open-air assembly.
The FAA and manufacturers have outlined the approval process for modifying certified aircraft for jump operations. Jump-plane modifications that are not specifically described in the Aircraft Flight Manual must be accomplished by FAA issuance of either a Supplemental Type Certificate or a Field Approval. However, almost every experimental aircraft certificate specifically prohibits intentional parachute jumping. Experimental aircraft need to get specific FAA authorization to be permitted for intentional parachute operations, which is unlikely to be granted.
To ensure that you’re complying with the FARs, you need to exercise caution before rushing to jump from a new type of aircraft. Ask the owner or pilot, “Is this a certified or experimental aircraft?” Chances are if the aircraft is experimental, then parachute jumping is against the operating limitations and federal regulations. Aircraft in the experimental category must also be marked as experimental near the entrance to the cabin, flight deck or pilot station.
If the aircraft is certified, skydiving may still be prohibited unless the modifications have been approved by the FAA. The FAA holds both the skydiver and pilot responsible for complying with federal regulations regarding parachute operations.
Those with questions regarding jump aircraft regulations and modifications may contact the USPA Government Relations Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Knight | D-22804
Director of Government Relations, AFF and Tandem Instructor, Coach, PRO