Herewith, the Essential Question: What's great about owning and flying an LSA? Dan Johnson, High Lama of LAMA, doyen of sport-flight discourse, taxis us out by talking about LSA as the aircraft of the 21st century.
"We have two basic kinds of pilots," he says, "the Go Long, and the Get Up. Sure, we go back and forth between the two. But you are by nature one or the other."
Go Longs use airplanes to get someplace. Get Ups get their flight jollies looking down on the beautiful earth, or flinging eager craft through those footless halls of air.
Johnson believes dedicated Go Long pilots are fewer in number. "But Get Ups? They'll fly anything around the local patch for sheer enjoyment."
"And in that," Johnson concludes, "lies the greater potential for people to enjoy flying a light-sport."
Studies show aircraft, including four- and six-seaters, average 1.6 occupants per flight hour. That means that roughly half the time, we fly solo. Except for those fast, heavy-hauling GA flights beyond 120 knots, LSA provide more efficient, more affordable recreational
Many LSA handle Go Long flights just fine, too. I've done 1,200 miles in a Dakota Cub, and made a 16-hour, 1,700-mile round tripper in an Evektor Max (most comfortably too, thank you).
Features, Benefits...And One Challenge
The light-sport aircraft as mandated by the FAA in 2004 isn't quite like anything we've seen before.
• LSA purchase price, brand-new, remains more affordable than many used GA airplanes.
• LSA are manufacturer certified under ASTM compliance standards.
• LSA have lower operating and maintenance costs, make less noise, have tremen-dous diversity (115 models) and use cutting-edge technologies.
• LSA require the conveniently less-costly sport pilot license.
• LSA owners can do their own light maintenance, and take courses to legally perform annuals and other inspections.
• LSA have docile handling, and they're comfortable and safe. In fact, many carry airframe parachutes.
Challenge: LSA haven't delivered us unto the GA-saving Promised Land with a $40,000 aircraft, although they remain much less expensive than new GA aircraft. Consider: In 1970, a new Champ two-seater cost 1.5 times the average national wage. Today, its descendant, the Super Decathlon, costs $164,000, or 3.65 times annual income, about the same as the priciest composite LSA...while a new Cessna 172 costs more than $300,000—seven times annual income!
LSA are cheaper to buy—but still out of reach for many. One solution is a much-needed paradigm shift in cultural thinking—shared ownership. Organizations like Let's Fly, the Aircraft Partnership Association, (recently acquired by AOPA and already 10,000-members strong) and resurgent flying clubs will once again help buyers enjoy airplane ownership benefits—at costs equivalent to a new car.
We're talking new, not used, LSA. And as the economy-hammered fleet of 2,000 U.S.-registered LSA grows more rapidly, expect cheaper "pre-owned" LSA to start appearing.
License To Thrill
Of course, lighter-weight LSA are more affected by atmospherics than most GA planes. Like the Cubs and trainers of old, they require the better airmanship skills that students learned back in the day. That's a good thing. Sport pilots also need to pay more attention to weather. Another good thing.
Stats show most pilots average four to eight flight hours a month. That's classic Get Up flying. And the driver's license "medical," arguably the most liberating benefit of the sport-pilot concept, was never meant solely as a way for pilots to make end-runs around health issues that might compromise safe flight.
"It does help pilots stay pilots longer," Dan Johnson observes. "I'd like to see FAA relinquish its mandate for medical screening for all categories of light-aircraft flying. No statistics support medical causes as a significant danger: They impact less than one percent of all flying accidents."
Ambassadors Of LSA
Who better to sing the praises of LSA than the happy souls working with and enjoying them every day?
Mike Zidziunas' thriving LSA operation, Breezer Aircraft USA in central Florida, keeps three all-metal, German-made Breezer II low-wingers busy with training and rentals.
"Most of my students get their first flying license after age 60—and take less than 20 hours of dual instruction to do it," Mike Z says. That's impressive: The sport pilot rule mandates 20 hours (dual and solo) minimum, but 35-40 hours is typical.
"My oldest primary student, who's 85 now, has already put 350 hours on his Ercoupe," he adds.
While light-sport aircraft are relatively less expensive than other airplanes, for some pilots, they're still out of reach. Shared ownership offers one solution to this issue.
Mike Z's LSA distributor/dealer/flight school is one of the oldest in the country. "Since 2005, we've not had a single incident, not even a flat tire!" A third of his sport pilot licensees have gone on to get their private pilot ticket.
Lou Mancuso, a 7,000-hour CFI, has offered LSA and GA flight training since the beginning. His Mid Island Air Service on Long Island, N.Y., trains in the SportCruiser, the Remos GX and the Cessna Skycatcher. His fleet also has Cessna and Piper GA aircraft, so he knows their relative merits better than most.
"LSA aircraft and the driver's license medical are the single greatest thing that no other category can provide," Mancuso says. Customers felt sad at the prospect of stopping flying. Now, they're back."
Mancuso's students range in age "from very young to old, and everything in between. I have everyone go for their sport pilot license; we don't talk about the private. And my drop-out ratio is a lot less than it used to be.
"LSA will fix the dwindling pilot population problem," Mancuso adds. "It's a big commitment to go through 70 hours for the private pilot, especially at congested, towered airports. The 30 to 40 hours for the sport pilot course will turn things around."
Mancuso says, "LSA rental, maintenance and repair is much cheaper. Parts are inexpensive: A prop costs $2,000; it's $4,300 for a Cessna. Spark plugs are $4, not $25. We toss out plugs every 100 hours rather than clean them. The electronic-ignition Rotax is so wonderful to start: two throws of the blade. And all that 'old tech,' like alternators, belts and brackets that break, are gone. The stators in the Rotax never have a problem.
"LSA are safer than GA airplanes, too," Mancuso continues. "We had an engine failure in a Beech Musketeer. It barely made the parking lot. My LSA outclimbs it 4:1, or a Cessna 152 by 3:1. They get to altitude faster, with much better engine-off glide ratios.
"And LSA give us advancements in avionics at a 75% discount over certified instruments. Every passing month, I learn something new about LSA that keeps me excited," Mancuso says.
Shelley Wozniak, a Remos GX owner from Stewart, Fla., echoes Mancuso's enthusiasm. She also instructs in LSA. "I began teaching at 58 after having flown a bunch of GA airplanes, helicopters and LSA. I have the Aviator II model, so I teach instrument flying too. It's much less expensive to operate.
"I took two big Baron pilots for a ride. They were nervous...until we flew. Then they were so excited! They want to buy one; they can't believe how much fun it is. This is a great time for people to be flying. Light-sport is amazing. I started in a J3 when I was 15. These are modern versions of that kind of flying. I recommend LSA to anybody," Wozniak adds excitedly.
Dillard "Doc" Williams loves flying his Remos G3 for cross-countries and sky camping. "I've put 1,250 hours on it, and flown it in all but five states. It's my seventh aircraft." He also has owned ultralights and Cessna 182s.
Williams folds the Remos' wings, loads it onto his trailer, and goes looking for adventure. "The trailer becomes my hotel. I find a place with 300 feet of dirt road, unload, go fly, then land and watch the sunset with a good steak and California Cabernet—not camp food!"
Typical fuel burn: 3.5 gallons per hour at 50% cruise. "The 182 was 13 gph," Williams says. That's a savings of around $70 per hour on fuel alone—and the Rotax likes even-cheaper auto gas. (See sidebar: "The Mogas Mojo.")
For Training, For Fun
Scott Trumbull of Suburban Aviation at Toledo Suburban Airport thinks of light-sports as the go-karts of the sky. "We teach in a Cessna 206 and a C-172, and a C-162 Skycatcher."
Suburban's students are "either young grads fresh out of school or wealthy older people." Skycatcher training runs $2,000-$3,000 less than the typical GA-based $10,000 cost of getting a private. No students have completed sport pilot training yet, but Trumbull estimates costs at $5,000. "The C-172 burns nine to 10 gallons per hour—the Skycatcher, around five. Inspections cost less too; there's less to check. And once people fly an LSA, they fall in love with it," Trumbull remarks.
Charlie Davis owns a Legend Cub for one reason: "It's a lot of fun to fly. That's the biggest point to me," he says. Most of his trips are local to his Fredericksburg, Va., home—classic Get Up flying. "Sometimes, I fly down to the Potomac River or Chesapeake Bay for seafood."
Pilots are often romantic creatures, and Davis is no exception. His Ford Focus is yellow...with a black J3 Cub lightning bolt painted on the side! His license plate? VFR ONLY.
Joe Friend loves Get Up and Go Long flying, and has logged 1,070 hours in his Florida-based SeaRey. He has also made 2,000-mile trips. Friend commutes to work from Spruce Creek's flying community to Progressive Aerodyne (SeaRey's manufacturer), where he was hired on "for fun" after retiring from Bell Labs.
"The airplane is so versatile: I land on water, pavement or grass," Friend explains. "I fly around the patch or low over the beach, and feel totally safe because I can put it down anywhere: I once landed on a river to wait out the clouds when the airports got socked in!"
Are Used GA Planes Really Cheaper?
I hear this a lot: "I can buy an old classic for under $40,000, and fly it just as cheap as an LSA." Mike Z has another take on that. "I flew a Breezer to Oshkosh, then flew a Luscombe home. A Luscombe is arguably the cheapest GA airplane you can buy. People claimed it would get 4.5 gallons per hour; it didn't. And it used more oil in two hours than the Breezer would have used round trip!
"The Luscombe was so slow, I spent an extra night in a hotel room. It's a 65-year-old airplane," Mike Z continues. "It needs more maintenance, and from an IA mechanic at that. Spark plugs for the Rotax are $3 apiece. They're $37 for a Luscombe—costs people forget to factor in. Look, I love my Luscombe, it's like an antique car. But they're old, worn-out planes! Lovely to flutter around in; not cheaper to own."
A Matter Of Choice
"I teach how to fly, not drive, an airplane. Pilots with GA backgrounds ask me, 'Where's the artificial horizon?' I say, 'You've got the real one right out there!' My students learn to keep their heads outside the airplane," says Mike Z.
"LSA flying is a lifestyle thing, like driving versus riding motorcyles. You don't buy a car or a motorcycle. LSA and GA are for different kinds of flying. We want to enjoy ourselves. We use LSA to reset our internal clocks. GA airplanes have gotten too expensive to fly often. LSA is that dream, that fly-like-a-bird thing."
Mike Z, newly appointed LSA Ambassador to the Bahamas, really knows how to get the most from his LSA flying. "I tell people, 'Hey, we don't burn 42 gallons each way going down to Nassau. We don't do the $400 burger thing...we do the $100 dollar conch-salad thing!
The Mogas Mojo
|fMike Zidziunas, the all-around pilot/CFIS/mechanic who has sold, maintained and used LSA in his operation since 2005, knows the Rotax engine's preference for burning E-zero (E0) "mogas." E0 is unleaded, ethanol-free auto gas. Rotax and Jabiru engines prefer E0, although they can run auto gas with some ethanol content. They burn regular avgas, too.
Tecnam's Phil Solomon boasts that all his company's aircraft, GA and LSA alike, use mogas.
Yet the mogas benefit comes with a giant bottleneck: Of 3,500 airport FBOs across the country that sell avgas, only 100 sell mogas! As Dan Johnson says, "Talk about your missed opportunities!"
U-Fuel produces a new line of compact, low-cost Sport Fuel stations. The portable, 24/7 self-service systems have cell-based card readers and patented safety features, and come in smaller capacities starting at 1,500 gallons—a less-pricey alternative to larger fuel tanks and truck fueling for AFC members, airports, FBOs, flight schools, flying clubs and manufacturers.
How to get mogas to your airport? Dan Johnson suggests speaking with your FBO manager and airport commissioners about getting a second fuel pump to support the 70-80% of aircraft that don't require 100 octane avgas. Contact: www.aviationfuelclub.org.