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Light and ultra-light sailplanes combine the best flying characteristics of hang gliders (small turn radius) with the best characteristics of traditional, large-span sailplanes (very low sink rate). Low sink rate is typical for high performance sailplanes, but their large turn radius makes it difficult to stay in small thermals. A small turn radius is typical for hang gliders, but their sink rate is relatively high.

Light and ultra-light sailplanes provide excellent performance at a reasonable price and make this form of gliding possible and attractive for many people.

Light sailplanes are smaller and lighter than traditional sailplanes, but do not comply with FAR Part 103 (empty weigh less than 155 pounds or 70 kg). Examples of light sailplanes include the SuperFloater, Silent, Russia AC, Apis WR and the fliberglass version of the Monarch.

Ultra-light sailplanes comply with FAR Part 103 so they weigh 155 pounds (70 kg) or less and no FAA certification is required. Some ultra-light sailplanes are foot launchable given the right wind conditions, yet still resemble traditional sailplanes in shape and structure. Ultra-light sailplanes are at the borderline between hang gliders and sailplanes, and include such models as the Swift, LightHawk, SparrowHawk, WinDancer, and the carbon version of the Monarch.

Unlike hang gliders, sailplanes are able to travel substantial distances without losing much height. Sailplanes can travel 30-60 km from a starting altitude of only 3,000-ft. A hang-glider could probably travel 12 km under such conditions.

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