New movements can take awhile to root in the public consciousness. A sure sign that new technology and concepts have arrived is in how creatively and broadly they're used. Since 2004, light sports have shown they can safely and comfortably fly great distances with complete reliability, and have a lot of fun along the way. Flight schools are catching on, and LSA are proving to be effective tools for law enforcement, firefighting and Homeland Security duties.
Mike Zidziunas of Mike Z Sport Aviation has done a lot of work getting the sport-pilot license adopted in the Bahamas—the first country to do so. He's also that island nation's "LSA Flying Ambassador" for his pioneering efforts in leading gaggles of LSA pilots across the water to paradise. How cool is that?
American-made LSA are going global, too. The spec is legal in Brazil and Australia, with accommodations for features such as in-flight adjustable props. Europe should be onboard soon, which will open a market for producers such as Rans, Legend, Arion and CubCrafters. Let's check out four ways LSA are making waves.
Smokey's Eye In The Sky
Roger Crow of Tulsa, Okla., flew jets for the Air National Guard for 35 years, then, "I was looking for something after I retired and had a passion for airborne law enforcement." He had flown with the Tulsa law enforcement for two years as an "attachable flight officer." One day, he had an epiphany: What about an LSA for police work?
— Roger Crow, LSA-Flying Law-Enforcement Officer
He researched every LSA out there—no small task. At Sebring last year, he decided the Flight Design CTLS was the right horse for his particular race. "I'd already worked with an aeronautical engineer on how to install an aerial surveillance camera on an LSA," Crow mentions. At Sebring, he met Matthias Betsch, head of Flight Design, who liked the project and offered design and development help. "I shared my data with his engineers to make the CTLS operational for airborne law enforcement, border protection and similar duties," Crow says. The design work started in January of 2011. "We had an airplane by June 30th!"
The newly dubbed CTLE (LE for Law Enforcement) has since flown on law-enforcement missions with the Tulsa Sheriff's Office. So what makes it so ideal for police work? Crow replies, "A helicopter pilot told me he'd never piloted any aircraft like this. It orbits at 50 knots within a four-block area, and burns 3.7 to 4 gph on a 90-minute mission.
The Sheriff's Office in Tulsa, Okla., operates a Flight Design CTLE, equipped with a surveillance camera for law-enforcement missions.
"I flew the Sheriff to demonstrate how it could do Homeland Security work," Crow explains. "We saw two individuals doing something suspicious on a riverbank. We orbited at 700 feet. The engine is so quiet, they never knew we were there. We burned 2.5 gallons of auto gas...about $10 worth. Helicopters cost $500 to $600 an hour to operate. That's what law-enforcement agencies are seeing: an aircraft that can easily be used as a 'force multiplier' when they don't need a chopper or Cessna to chase speeders up the highway, and at a fraction of the cost."
Roger Crow will be busy in the months to come, demonstrating the CTLE all over the country and training deputies to work the hardware from the right seat. Dubbed a Tactical Flight and Mission Control Officer, the right-seater operates the wing-mounted camera, directs the pilot to a hot scene of criminal or rescue activity, and communicates and coordinates with personnel on the ground. Visit www.echoflightusa.com.
The Happiness Of The Long-Distance Flyer
"Brazil reminds me of the midwestern United States." That's from Paul Kramer, a 77-year-young pilot who runs his own flight school, Learn To Fly Center, Inc., in Pompano Beach, Fla. And although he has racked up 60 years of cockpit time, he couldn't turn down a chance to deliver a SportCruiser to a Brazilian customer for US Sport Aircraft.
"I thought this would be an opportunity to have a bit of a flying adventure while demonstrating the capabilities of light-sport aircraft," says Kramer.
Paul Kramer, 77 years old, delivered a SportCruiser from Florida to Brazil.
The SportCruiser, a Czech-built early LSA success, was briefly marketed as the Piper- Sport. So how would it fare on a 4,133-mile flight through several flavors of international airspace? The short tell: like a champ. Kramer felt the long flight would demonstrate the capabilities of LSA in the hands of an experienced pilot. "But I was determined to fly it like a sport pilot," he says, "by daylight VFR, below 10,000 feet and at no more than 120 knots."
His rig included Dual Dynon EFIS displays, Dynon Autopilot and Garmin 696. Useful load was 482 pounds with 28 useable gallons, a life vest, four-man life raft, jungle survival kit, one small suitcase, portable Com radio, back-up Garmin 396, SPOT Emergency Locator Beacon, "...and me—I weigh 160 pounds," Kramer adds. "Even with all that, I was still a respectable 60 pounds under gross."
Two prime questions attend such ambitious undertakings: What's the availability of clean gas, and how challenging is the foreign-language requirement? Paul Kramer's answer: No problemo, amigo. "I flew from English to Spanish to Dutch to French to Portuguese in a two-day period! As soon as they hear you speaking English, they speak English."
The seven-day flight included touchdown at 18 airports. Only one was non-towered. "That one was in the middle of the jungle, but what a beautiful airport, with knowledgeable mechanics and very nice people," Kramer says. Inflated user fees ($200 per landing and more) in Trinidad and Guyana were a bitter pill, though. "I would only land there again if I had no choice due to short range."
As for fuel quality? "No problems whatsoever. The Rotax is an amazing engine. I only used four ounces of oil the entire trip! And I never added coolant. There wasn't a drip of fluid anywhere," Kramer adds. That's high praise from a pilot with 8,000 hours behind Lycomings and Continentals!
XC For Fun And Profit
Another notable LSA cross-country flight had a very different genesis: the chance to win more than a million bucks! Jim Lee wrangles Phoenix Air USA out of Melbourne, Fla., and brings the word of LSA motorgliding to the masses with his amazing Phoenix. He has sold 15 in the last year or so it has been on the market.
Last year, he was all set to fly the all-electric version of the Phoenix in the NASA Green Flight Challenge. When 11th-hour battery problems from a Chinese supplier sank the dream of winning the $1.35 million prize, he did the next best thing by flying the Rotax-powered Phoenix to California to compete anyway.
He knew there was no way he could fly the contest challenge of 200 miles on two gallons of gas (one gallon per 100 miles per passenger). "But I thought there was no way any electric could either! I thought I might be the only one to finish the race, and could have some fun, see these strange electric aircraft and hang out with old soaring friends," Lee says.
Lee's copilot was Jeff Shingleton. "We visited a few customers on the way. I sold two airplanes!" Lee adds. "So it was worthwhile before I even made California. It took us 18 flight hours—2,100 nm against the wind."
Of course, no soaring pilot worth his speed brakes can pass up soaring opportunities. "Once we soared parallel to an unusual convergence cloud 1,000 feet AGL, I just couldn't resist," says Lee. Another time, he also soared a sea-breeze convergence line 10 miles out over San Francisco Bay.
The contest was comprised of two flights of 200 miles each. The first was an economy run. "Jeff and I made jokes on the flight about how any minute we'd see electric planes landing in fields below, out of juice. But those airplanes vastly exceeded their expectations."
And how did his gas-powered Phoenix do? "We had a 94.3 passenger miles per gallon result," Lee replies. That's not bad at all when you consider total fuel burn for the 186.7 official course distance was just 3.82 gallons. The winning number belonged to Pipistrel, which burned the electric equivalent of 1.94 gallons...and carried four people!
And at the end of the day, Jim Lee was free to power up, find a thermal or cloud street, switch off the engine, and do what none of the other competitors could do: fly on no energy burn at all.
The Magnificent Seven More
Able Flight is a non-profit that donates full scholarships, including flight training and travel and living costs, to people with physical disabilities. And LSA are at the heart of this feel-good story. Executive Director Charles Stites heads the organization founded by pilots who felt that learning to fly is a life-changing experience that's best when shared with others. Members of Able Flight include flight instructors, an Aviation Medical Examiner and pilots who volunteer thousands of hours of free flights and instruction to young people.
In conjunction with Indiana's Purdue University's own aviation program, Able Flight had its best year to date training seven students in its workhorse—specially modified Sky Arrow 600, Flight Design CTLS and SportCruiser LSA. "It's been incredible," says Stites. "Five young people got their sport-pilot licenses. Two others got light-sport repairmen certificates. We had a 100% success rate. In fact, 80% of all our student starts finished, compared to the national average of around 25%.
"There are many reasons for that—financial support, but also a very good support program," Stites says. "Graduates of our programs mentor new students. They're the experts in dealing with physical disability. A student who is paraplegic has 10 or so pilots with similar challenges that they can talk to. It also works that way with flight instructors, who get help from others who've worked with these students."
One scholarship winner, 17-year-old Korel Cudmore, "...has been deaf since birth and reads lips well. She trained in a side-by-side LSA because we knew she'd need to see her instructor for hand signals and writing things down," Stites mentions. When she flew to other airports, emails or text messages prepared ATC for her arrival. Light signals in lieu of radio communications worked just fine.
Wounded veteran Chris Gschwendtner was hired by Chesapeake Aviation immediately after training for a full time-position repairing LSA. "They're very happy to have him," says Stites. "It's our sixth year now; we've built up a wealth of knowledge and adaptations in teaching styles and learning."
The program lives by a singular credo: There's nothing that can't be overcome. "But our instructors are strongly encouraged to never do students favors. It's insulting to the student. They can help with an adaptation but students must pass the same practical test standards as any pilot," Stites says.
"Every single student who's completed training has passed their checkride," Stites concludes. "Examiners tell us they're some of the best-prepared students they see. We're proud of that, and all our pilots. We've licensed 19 to date. We feel we've changed lives, brought people into aviation, and our students are such good role models."