WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU? Price, useful load, range and handling all factor into a decision.
With a tough year behind us and the bright hope of a better economic year ahead, I remembered our recent “Buy Your First Plane” issue and thought about first-time LSA owners. I wondered: What factors drive those first-ever purchase decisions? And if it were the first airplane ever bought, why an LSA instead of a cheaper used GA airplane? Most of all, with the heady rush of the purchase behind them, were owners still happy with their choices? I had a long list of LSA owners, loosely divided between high-wing and low-wing LSA. The first five people who picked up the phone tell their stories below.
Mark Finkelstein, from upstate N.Y., got his sport-pilot ticket in 2008 in a top-ranking high-wing S-LSA. “I appreciated that airplane’s many fine qualities, but my goal was to take longer trips, particularly to play golf down south during the long winters. My training airplane had a good useful load...but it couldn’t accommodate golf bags.”
“I was drawn to the Jabiru’s heritage of having been certified in Australia as a four-seater. For the LSA version, the rear two seats are removed, but the cavernous area remains; plenty of room for a couple golf bags and weekend gear.”
Dave Jalanti, who runs his Jabiru (and Arion Lightning) dealership and repair station in my home town of Chatham, N.Y., gave Mark a demo ride in a Jabiru while he was still in training. “It was easy and fun to fly,” says Mark. He also was impressed by its benign stall characteristics. The impression endured: Mark bought a 2008 Jabiru J230 last year—his first purchase of an aircraft of any type.
“Flying it has been an absolute pleasure and has provided great experiences and adventures.” One of those flights was to Jabiru’s U.S. headquarters in Shelbyville, Tenn., to meet up with fellow birds of a Jabiru feather.
After retiring at the tip-top of his profession, why would a 777 captain want an LSA for his first airplane? “I felt empty,” says Florida pilot Charles Carlon. “I realized it wasn’t the airline, TSAs, short layovers and falling asleep everywhere that I missed...it was the pure flying.”
At the annual Sebring LSA Expo, he met a doctor who lived near him. “We liked the SportCruiser, became friends, and when I heard Piper would take over its production and marketing, it legitimized the whole process for me. Used Cessna 172s with glass panels cost twice the PiperSport’s price, the 172 isn’t sexy, and I could get most of the same bells and whistles on the panel.”
He and his new pal bought the airplane. “I’m back in the air and enjoying it very much. My partner’s kids wouldn’t fly in an old Cessna Cardinal with him. But they’re all over the PiperSport! It’s new and exciting to them.”
Florida’s many destinations call Charles and his wife to make frequent flights to B&Bs and little hotels. They make breakfast and lunch hops and enjoy the scenery. He also has made a 26-hour round-tripper to Oshkosh. “My partner and I each pay $750 per month, about the same as leasing a BMW 7 series, and certainly more fun. Using auto gas exclusively, we get 15 to 18 miles per gallon at 110 knots.”
When the woman you’re about to marry orders a blown-glass replica of your LSA as a wedding cake topper, you could say you’re hooked: on the woman and on the airplane. In Tony Mansfield’s case, buying the very first X-Air LS was a natural progression after two years of flying Quicksilvers and other ultralights. The 56-year-old began his training and went LSA shopping right away.
“The low cost ($59,995) was a big factor. Another was reliability; I knew the X-Air had a long, successful history as a kit.” The high wing also was important. “The cockpit has excellent visibility. I really like how the windscreen wraps around the panel so I can look down at the runway on approach.” He so liked the X-Air, he bought it while still training at French Valley Airport in Southern California.
The verdict? “I’m thrilled with the plane; so is the lady I’m marrying. We’ll fly 30 miles for breakfast—fun trips like that.” Tony has taken longer flights, too, cruising at 6,000 feet or higher above the SoCal landscape. “It’s good down low, too, weaving through valleys. I’m working on my light-sport instructor ticket. I plan to teach in the X-Air: It’s an excellent trainer.”
He wanted to fly since he was a kid. When his eyesight ruled out the military, Mark Parsons hooked rides with stunt pilots. Funny thing was, he was shy about handling the controls himself...until his 91-year-old father, a World War II C-47 navigator, took him to Oshkosh AirVenture three years ago. “I saw all the planes and decided,” says Mark, 46, “that I was ready for my midlife crisis!”
His path to ownership was decidedly unconventional. “I thought, ‘Will anyone insure an untrained pilot in a new LSA that’s also a taildragger?’ But when Falcon Insurance came through, I said, ‘Great!’ and bought a Legend Cub. My instructor flew me to the factory, and that’s what I learned to fly in.”
Why the Cub? “I wanted a classic taildragger—a sports car, not a Chevy! The Legend is the perfect aircraft for somebody who wants to enjoy flying. I like to open the windows on both sides and fly 500 feet off the ground.” And here’s something you don’t hear every day: “I love crosswinds. On windy days, I’ll shoot 10 or 15 landings for practice. Tailwheels are easy to land in wind. Once you’re on the ground—that’s when the fun begins!”
Patent attorney and private pilot Mike Wise, 43, flew rental Cessna 172s for years, then dropped flying for 12 years. “I ended my hiatus with some lessons, then went for an airplane. I wanted a new two seater, and LSA fit the bill.” He liked the SportCruiser, but legal and financial problems with the Czech company (before Piper took over) turned him off. “Then I saw the Sting S3. The fit and finish were particularly good. The cockpit is the best-looking I’ve seen. I liked the parachute and composite construction—no rivets— and lighter weight for a little more speed.”
Half his Sting hours have been with his wife. “She really enjoys it. I take her to her work in Long Island once in a while. It’s a great savings: a 35-minute flight versus two-plus hours of a grueling drive. So I’m really using the airplane to do something, too.”
Mike also raves about the support from SportairUSA’s Little Rock, Ark., headquarters. “And I love the airplane. I would buy it again with absolutely no hesitation. More people should know what a great airplane the S3 is.” Considering his first flight was an 8.5-hour leg, that’s high praise indeed.