Winners don't remain winners by accident. German manufacturer Flight Design, celebrating its 25th anniversary (congrats, FD!), has topped the U.S. special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA) leaderboard from the day it entered the U.S. market in 2005 with a design first introduced in 1997.
Reason # 1: a state-of-the-art, all-composite airframe/engine package that has been continually refined.
Reason #2: Flight Design's U.S. dealer/service center network, which numbers 22 locations nationwide.
Now we can add Reason #3: the breakthrough CTLSi, a significant update to the proven, 1,800-strong (worldwide) CT line. Married to the new Rotax 912iS fuel-injected engine, the CTLSi incorporates many new features, including a larger-amp alternator, lighter Li-Ion main battery, documented 21% lower fuel consumption, smoother cold starts and operation, faster throttle response, standard electric trim, header tank with selectable fuel valve...well, there's more, but that's the short tell.
The latest CT is indeed, as U.S. distributor Flight Design USA President Tom Peghiny says, "...not your father's LSA." His tongue-in-cheek riff on the short, colorful life of the light-sport category also speaks the truth: The CTLSi represents a fully realized, fully satisfying example of the best the LSA category has to offer.
Whether you're most impressed by top-quality fit and finish, cockpit roominess and long-flight comfort, excellent visibility, long range (1,055 nm on a single tank!), strong climb performance and service ceiling, improved fuel economy or just plain old fun flying, the CTLSi satisfies. It's a fully mature, sophisticated airplane.
The "i" model also resolves some minor grumbles from when I trained on the CTLS for my sport-pilot ticket in 2008. That earlier CT had a control feel that felt somewhat stiff. I complained, the joystick tension springs were adjusted, and my training success and confidence ramped up dramatically. The control system was since reworked by the factory, but I hadn't flown a CT in two years.
Bells And Whistles
Flash-forward from my CT training days to early last December. I'm sharing the 49-inch-wide cabin of the new CTLSi with Flight Design USA's Jonathan Carter, for a demo out of the company's Woodstock, Conn., headquarters. It's an unseasonably warm and beautiful afternoon that makes you glad to be a New Englander—even a transplanted California one like yours truly. The air is butter-smooth, and long-range visibility is as sharp as it gets.
Flight Design's cockpit panel features two 10-inch Dynon SkyView EFIS displays and a Garmin 796 touch-screen GPS. The SkyView integrates with the Engine Management System to display systems data from Engine Control Unit computers.
Carter spends some time reveling in the technical aspects of the new engine and shows how well Flight Design has interfaced the mill with the two lovely 10-inch Dynon SkyView EFIS gracing our instrument panel. Several standard instrument packages are offered: all feature synthetic vision, XM weather and terrain information. A gorgeous Garmin 796 touch-screen GPS holds center court between the two SkyViews. Star Trek, here we come.
As the engine warms up, my host demonstrates how beautifully the SkyViews integrate the 912iS EMS (Engine Management System) readouts to provide more tech eye candy than you ever thought you'd need. The wonderful display and efficient organization of the SkyView, whether the seven- or 10-inch size, have become the EFIS standard for the industry: Scores of the 130 certificated S-LSA offer the SkyView. It's not the only quality EFIS out there, but Dynon's tireless devotion to refining—there's that word again—speak to its continued success.
Before we fly, some highlights of the new SkyView set up on the CTLSi:
• Tons of screen readouts from the SV-EMS-221 module that supports the 912iS. The EMS talks with the Rotax's Engine Control Unit (ECU) computers, monitors aircraft systems such as autopilot and flap settings, and displays up to 16 different gauges, including tach, oil pressure and temp, fuel flow and pressure, cylinder head temperature (CHT), exhaust gas temperature (EGT), trim and flap positions.
• The manual fuel selector and new electric trim switch both have display on the SkyView.
• SkyView offers SV-ADSB and Whelen lights option for 2013.
• Increased audio alarms on SkyView (the voice is pleasant, too).
• Redundant ADAHRS system with battery backup. Mode S transponder with traffic information service (TIS) Traffic.
• The touch-screen Garmin 796 GPS serves up XM Weather and music, temporary flight restrictions (TFR) and more, and integrates navigation seamlessly with the Dynon autopilot.
There's a lot more but, hey, we're still on the ground. Let's get airborne!
Silver Jubilee Edition
|Flight Design is running a 25th Anniversary promotion on its 912iS-powered models. A limited series of 25 airplanes has special pricing, a unique equipment list and "personal touches." Each Jubilee model comes with a special inscription plate with signatures of the company's top managers and includes:
• Dual seven-inch or 10-inch Dynon SkyView avionics
An Excellent Marriage
The CTLS airframe seems blissfully wedded to the 912iS engine. Start-up is quick (40 degrees ambient air) and feels smoother to me than a conventionally carbureted Rotax. Warm-up at the recommended 2000 rpm takes just a couple of minutes.
But this new CT model offers much more than the engine upgrade. My host invites me to do the takeoff from the wide asphalt of Woodstock's single, ancient 2,200-foot runway (64CT).
I pour the coal to the engine, we rotate at around 50 knots and level for the best angle of climbing speed, (Vx). Both Vx and best rate-of-climb speed are clearly marked on the vertical speed ribbon on the SkyView—that's very cool!) In seconds, the CT leaps for the blue with that customary 1,000 fpm-plus macho, and I'm smiling.
In short order, it's clear the CTLSi is several steps forward from my training CT of 2008. The feel is definitely smoother. And the promised 21% economy boost proves out: SkyView shows a 3.8 gph fuel burn during our 115-knot-plus cruise run.
But the first thing I look forward to on a demo is to roll the airplane smartly to 45 degrees, then reverse, then Dutch roll. It tells me a lot about the airplane's overall handling personality.
I have my desire, initiating turns the same way I do with the J3 Cub: using a heavy foot along with brisk roll inputs. The CTLSi, a rudder-liking ship, responds with an authoritative "right-now" smooth and solid wing drop, the nose tracks crisply into the turn, and around we go.
Visibility is excellent. The overhead top-knot window is well placed and big enough to provide a good look ahead for traffic. That's a great comfort bonus in any high-wing airplane.
The CT likes lots of rudder in climbs and power-off descents (right or left foot, respectively). Its wonderful glide and effective flaps (electric: -6º, 0º, 15º, 30º) plus an excellent slip capability make landings a breeze. My first CT landing in a couple years is a squeaker, as if I'd never left the cockpit. That's a credit to the airplane. My second touchdown, returning to little Woodstock at dusk, is respectable, as well.
At speed, the airplane cruises well over 100 knots without any strain. Engine vibrations seem less than I remember with the non-injected Rotax. Meanwhile, the vibrant SkyView displays keep us so well informed, it can be a challenge keeping our heads out of the cockpit.
A much-welcomed addition to the CTLSi: the electric pitch rocker switch. Placed right on the center console where the old-style mechanical trim wheel used to be, it's simply perfect. Light, effortless taps up or down, and you're trimmed up. I love it.
Jonathan Carter, the certified flight instructor (CFI) who transitioned my CFI John Lampson into the CT a few years back, makes an excellent point: "Pilots need to hit the books with these digital displays. It's too distracting to learn how to operate them during a flight lesson; there's just too much to learn."
I couldn't agree more. Over the years, I've noticed how hard it can be to locate a specific readout on an unfamiliar display.
To conclude, let's wrap up with a few more highlights.
Flight Design's engine installation for the 912iS is simply immaculate. It's roomier, easier to work on and requires less maintenance (no carb tuning, for example).
The engine will operate on avgas or auto fuel (MOGAS with up to 10% ethanol content). The wing tanks are rated for ethanol, which can slowly erode improperly formulated composite materials, as happened on earlier CT and other maker's tanks.
The 912iS, although slightly heavier, has a 30% power-to-weight ratio advantage over the new Lycoming IO 233 LSA and 20% over the Continental 0-200D. CO2 emissions using MOGAS are 38% and 44% higher, respectively—even the conventional-carbed Rotax 912 has 21% higher emissions!
A new header tank with 1.7 more gallons of fuel accommodates the fuel injection system. There's also increased alternator output to enable Garmin's GNS 650 and 750 touch-screen displays: no extra alternator required.
The landing light and all other illumination is by LED. There's even a 12-volt plug for iPad, iPod and other mobile devices. My one little squawk for the entire airplane: the new fuel selector lever on the rear bulkhead, between the seats, feels awkward to reach—a potential safety challenge if switching tanks after fuel starvation.
My takeaway: If you're searching for a top-line, thoroughly refined, robust long-distance S-LSA with all the latest bells and whistles and the benefits of fuel injection, do yourself a favor: demo a CTLSi to experience what LSA state-of-the-art is all about.
Hand of The Beholder
|Whether you're a veteran pilot or a newcomer to flight, remember this: It's all in your mind. I'm talking about the first time you step into an airplane that's new to you. No matter what your background, no matter how many hours you have...you're always a student pilot.
Some LSA are ideal for training newcomers, some are better suited to pilots with at least some hours under their harnesses. The Flight Design CTLS is a good example of the latter...but the former, too.
My first flights in the CTLS in 2008 were initially challenging. I had flown some GA aircraft, hang gliders and ultralights over the years, but never completed my private pilot training.
That first CT was sophisticated in performance, much like a GA airplane, and with some superior performance traits such as an excellent engine-idle glide ratio. I kept overshooting my landings.
My instructor had Flight Design relax the tension on the control springs. Suddenly, I had an airplane I could communicate with. My training transformed from chore time to fun time.
Since those CT training days four years ago, I've flown 40 LSA. As Tom Peghiny said after my demo, when I praised its handling: "It's probably you, too."
Which makes my point: Some dedicated trainers such as the Pipistrel Alpha or Tecnam P92 Eaglet are ideal for brand- new students. They're forgiving, docile and intuitive. Others, like the tailwheeled Piper Cub J3 or Allegro, are seat-of-the-pants challengers, but they give you a solid grounding in basic airmanship.
And then come those smooth operators like the CTLSi, Lightning LS-1 and Sting S4, with their sophisticated flight personalities and complex avionics. They can be a bigger handful at first, but reward with nuanced performance.
But the bottom line is, no matter what a new airplane throws at you, with the right attitude and the right instructor to challenge you just enough, you'll grow to love, respect and feel right at home in every single airplane.
Learning to fly a new airplane teaches you humility, and pride: humility from the effort to adapt to the new bird, and pride when you succeed.