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Friday, February 1, 2008

10 Things To Look For In An LSA

Use your heart and your brain when considering your LSA purchase

lsaAviation is experiencing an exciting transformation. At one point, a GA aircraft wouldn’t show signs of obsolescence for, let’s say, 30 years or so, give or take a decade. Those days are gone. Today, technological advances find their way into airframes and cockpits at an ever-increasing speed.
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lsa2 Tires, Wheels, Brakes Tires and brakes are a source of routine maintenance. In fact, owners can and may enjoy servicing the braking system themselves. When looking at new light-sport rides, get down on your knees, not to pay homage to Bernoulli or the Wright brothers but to take a close-up look at the tires, wheels and brakes. If the tires and wheels look more like they belong on a wheelbarrow rather than a $100,000 piece of gravity-defying machinery, you may want to consider something more robust. A careful search will reveal that some light-sport importers and probably some domestic manufacturers use wheels, tires and brakes that are actually designed for aircraft applications rather than home and garden applications. Unless you’re flying a floatplane, tires and brakes are important, so carefully investigate, and inquire about the availability of replacement parts since this is an area of routine maintenance.

Interestingly, rather than conventional toe brakes, some sport aircraft have hand/finger brakes which may be particularly beneficial to pilots without the use of their legs but are less desirable for flight-training applications.

3 Ease of Maintenance Just like any precision machine, sport aircraft require routine maintenance. In fact, frugal flight schools that purchase LSAs to lower their monthly overhead will still need to complete 100-hour inspections. Thus, ease of maintenance is every bit as important to the LSA owner/operator as it is to the certified aircraft owner/operator. Determine how easy it is to perform everything from checking the oil and performing the preflight inspections to gaining access to routine and even unscheduled maintenance of flight controls, cables/rods, engine, brakes, avionics, etc. Can you check the oil without removing your watch to fit your hand in the cowling? Can you remove and install the cowling yourself without damaging the finish? Can you service the brakes (or even put air in the tires) without removing wheel pants?

4 Construction Assuming that the light-sport segment is a microcosm of the entire aviation industry, you’ll find aircraft constructed from everything and anything, including composites, aluminum, wood and fabric. Though one type of construction isn’t necessarily better than another, there are some things to consider. Fabric-covered wings and fuselage will maintain their like-new luster longer if airplanes are hangared away from the ravages of UV light and heat when not airborne. Whether composite, tube-and-fabric or metal, construction techniques vary with the level of the manufacturer’s expertise, quality control and cost. For instance, some manufacturers may use common-blind or pop rivets rather than solid aircraft rivets. Unfortunately once the skin is on, you may not be able to discern the quality of the airframe construction.

5 Fit & Finish Attention to detail may be a good indication of craftsmanship, but not necessarily. Generally speaking, if a manufacturer obsesses over little things, such as latches, controls, switches, brakes, tolerances, finish, type of rivets, etc., the company probably didn’t cut corners on the superstructure that you can’t see. In fact, if the airframe has been repeated hundreds or thousands of times, the refinements in the cockpit may be an indication of running changes made to improve the product over time.

The next big thing to hit the GA scene may just be the exciting new category of small aircraft aptly known as light-sport aircraft (LSA).

Is the cockpit interior finished with upholstered panels or is it just painted black or gray with exposed control cables where foreign objects brought into the cockpit could potentially jam controls? Are the seats plush and comfortable (or even leather-covered) or will you be sitting on molded composite wishing you’d never left your favorite recliner? Look closely at the robustness of the latches, running gear, mechanisms and hardware as one possible indication of overall quality and value proposition. Only a few dollars separate the top-of-the-line from the low-end LSA models, so spending a few extra bucks may yield quite a bit more in creature comfort, quality, fit and finish. Treat yourself and go top shelf if you can swing the few extra bucks on the monthly payment. Your passengers may also gain a greater sense of confidence climbing into something that appears to be finished rather than something that looks like it’s still under construction.

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