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Plane & Pilot 2017 Buyer’s Guide: Light Sport Aircraft

From amphibians to trainers, there's an LSA for everyone.

Since the debut of the Light Sport category more than a decade ago, the segment has grown into one that has proven its promise of opening up manufacturing to many, many more companies by the common-sense easing of certification standards for light and modest-performing models. The real surprise to many has been the incredible variety of models that emerged from the rules. Truly, would-be LSA owners can find an airplane type to suit their needs, from amphibians to folding-wing trainers to hot-performing backcountry dream machines. The name that dominated press coverage of the LSA market for the last few years, ICON Aircraft, is not in our guide after it announced a year’s production delay, though it has delivered a few airplanes. We look forward to its return in next year’s guide. Below we feature a couple of emerging designs that have stoked the interest of light sport flyers, and there’s more on the horizon.


CubCrafters Carbon Cub

CubCrafters Carbon Cub

If ever you needed proof that there’s no one formula for a successful LSA, the Carbon Cub might be it. The airplane looks for all the world like an old J-3, but despite the LSA category’s restrictions on performance, CubCrafters has managed to make a 21st-century backcountry rocketship in the guise of a Cubbie with tandem seating and the company’s cool 3x3 landing gear option. The Carbon Cub isn’t really made of carbon, though it does have some carbon-fiber components. The airplane is welded chromoly tubing with aircraft fabric for light weight and high strength. CubCrafters hangs nothing less than a 180 hp Titan engine on front for some obscene climb performance, up to 2,100 fpm, claims CubCrafters. Because of its LSA certification, full power is limited to the first five minutes of operation and top speed to 120 knots, and we’re certain every pilot adheres to those restrictions faithfully.

Niche: High-wing taildragger

Base Price: $189,990

Competitors: Legend Cub, Rans S7-LS Courier

CubCrafters Carbon Cub Specifications

Learn more at CubCrafters.


Super Petrel LS

Super Petrel

First released by Brazil-based EDRA Aeronautica in 2001, the Super Petrel design was subsequently updated and modified to conform to the light sport requirements in the U.S. and Europe. It appeared as the Super Petrel LS in 2009, though was only LSA-certified in the U.S. two years ago. The LS model is an amphibious biplane equipped to carry two passengers at a top cruise speed of around 100 knots. Dual-axis autopilot and Dynon glass come standard, creating a modern, user-friendly cockpit. The Super Petrel LS’s primarily composite design, complete with carbon Kevlar hull, makes it sturdy and impact-resistant while still capable of maintaining respectable performance numbers for the category. In our flight report on the plane, we lauded its handling, both in the air and on the water.

Niche: Seaplane/Amphibian

Base Price: $155,000

Competitors: Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey, ICON A5

Super Petrel Specifications

Learn more at Super Petrel.


Tecnam P2002 Sierra Mk2

Tecnam P2002 Sierra Mk2

The P2002 Sierra Mk2 is the third Tecnam aircraft to be featured in this buyer’s guide, and it’s the third different category of airplane, testimony to the versatility of the design team in Capua, Italy, where the company is headquartered. And the Sierra Mk2 is a clear demonstration of the company’s commitment to design. The low-wing, all-metal, two-seat side-by-side beauty has a relatively short and thin-chord wing that nevertheless allows it to stall at sub-40-knot speeds, thanks to the long-span slotted flaps. The plane is made for going to places, too. With a cruise speed of 120 knots (again, the max allowed in the LSA category), the Sierra Mk2 can get down the road, and with a range of 600 nm, it has legs, too. Available with either Garmin or Dynon avionics, buyers can get a capable panel and a BRS chute as an option, as well.

Niche: Low-wing sport

Base Price: $150,000

Competitors: Sport Cruiser, Bristell NG5 LSA

Tecnam P2002 Sierra Mk2 Specifications

Learn more at Tecnam.


Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey

Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey

One of the oldest airplanes in the LSA marketplace is also one of the most refreshing. The Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey has been around for nearly three decades for reasons that are immediately clear to anyone who’s had the pleasure of flying one. In an era where more is seen as better, and bells and whistles are the design order of the day, the SeaRey is the opposite—simple construction, reliable systems and pilot-centered design. It’s a conventional ultralight construction model, aircraft fabric over aluminum tubing with a hull composed of various materials, including a carbon-fiber option. A pair of sponsons on the wing are made of roto-molded plastic, and the top-mounted engine can be anything from a 64 hp two-stroke Rotax 582 to a turbocharged 115 hp Rotax 914. Depending on options, the SeaReys any two customers wind up with could be very different. The common denominator? Both will be huge fun to fly. 

Niche: Seaplane/Amphibian

Base Price: $80,000 (depends on builder choices)

Competitors: ICON A5, Super Petrel

Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey Specifications

Learn more at Progressive Aerodyne.


FlightDesign CTLSi

FlightDesign CTLSi

The latest and greatest of the Flight Design high-wing, side-by-side, two-seat composite runabouts is the CTLSi, powered by the remarkable new-ish Rotax 912iS. A fuel-injected engine that puts out 100 hp, the 912iS takes the promise of the advanced Rotax 912 and adds fuel injection and electronic ignition management. All of the CTs in the lineup have great visibility (with a clear view downward), good flyability, a modern panel and high build quality. The CTs have sticks instead of yokes, and while the plane lands very slowly, it’s a bit of a speedster whose adjustable-pitch prop needs to be set properly to prevent it from overshooting the 120-knot LSA speed restriction. Like many LSA in this lineup, the CTLSi requires practice and good judgment to land consistently, due to its light wing loading and large wing area. As with other types, training for pilots coming from conventional Part 23 airplanes is a must. 

Niche: High-wing sport

Base Price: $173,910

Competitors: Remos GX-iS, Zenith CH-701, Vans RV-12

FlightDesign CTLSi Specifications

Learn more at FlightDesign.


Zenith CH750

Zenith CH750

An offshoot of the popular CH701, the CH750 adds more room while sacrificing none of the off-airport capability for which the breed is well known. The 750 is taller, has a bigger wingspan, and has more range, payload and useful load than the 701, all while keeping within the FAA’s max weight for the category of 1,320 pounds. With an 86 knots cruise speed, the 750 isn’t fast, but it’s fun to fly, with great visibility thanks to the high wing and big windows and extreme short-field capability that rivals that of taildragger competitors, claims the company. In every way that matters, the 750 is a real Zenair. An all-metal airplane like all of the company’s products, the 750 features a few signature Zenith touches, including leading edge slats and a Y-ended center-mounted yoke for use by either occupant.

Niche: High-wing utility

Base Price: $75,000 (depends on builder choices)

Competitors: CubCrafters Carbon Cub, American Legend Cub

Zenith CH750 Specifications

Learn more at Zenith Aircraft.


Van's RV-12

Van’s RV-12

The RV-12 is a two-seater with side-by-side seating, the standard-issue military-inspired bubble canopy, sticks for aircraft control and a nosewheel, all things Van’s knows how to do and do well. It’s roomy for an LSA and the visibility is terrific. It’s about as fast as an LSA can legally be, just under the 120 knot speed limit, it lands super-slow, with its 40 knot stall speed, and it loves flying low and slow over pretty terrain, though we’d love it if Van’s added a chute as an option. Like many LSA, the RV-12 requires real stick-and-rudder skills to keep the ball centered, and landing and takeoff when windy can be a challenge. That all said, the RV-12 offers a fun flying experience for a reasonable cost, and with the removable wings, you won’t even need to pay hangar rent.

Niche: Low-wing sport

Base Price: $115,000

Competitors: Rans S-19 Venterra

Van's RV-12 Specifications

Learn more at Van's Aircraft.


Sport Cruiser

Sport Cruiser

One of the most popular LSAs is the Sport Cruiser, manufactured in the Czech Republic and distributed by U.S. Sport Aircraft in the U.S. The Sport Cruiser (look for a full pilot report soon) is a two-place, all-metal, side-by-side low-winger with a huge glass canopy. It’s a blending of conventional materials with modern design to come up with a rugged and great-looking little plane. It’s optimized to be a cruiser, with good forward speed (120 knots, the maximum allowed under LSA), a stall speed of just 31 knots (thanks to the slotted flaps), and a range in excess of 500 nm and with a fuel flow of less than 5 gph. There are even a couple of hidden small luggage bays in the wings. The Sport Cruiser SVT comes with leather upholstery, flat-panel avionics and a BRS whole airplane recovery parachute system, so even though it’s an LSA, it’s still a serious traveling machine.

Niche: Low-wing sport

Base Price: $160,000

Competitors: Tecnam Sierra, Bristell NG 5 LSA

Sport Cruiser Specifications

Learn more at Czech Sport Aircraft.


Bristell NG 5 LSA

Bristell NG 5 LSA

Reminiscent of the Tecnam 2002 and Sport Cruiser is the Bristell, an all-metal Czech design that hits a sweet spot in LSA performance, handling and comfort. It’s a side-by-side airplane with a roomy cockpit, sticks for control and a big glass bubble canopy. The interior is well finished, and the panel boasts the Garmin G3X Touch panel, with many options. We flew the Bristell a few years ago and loved it. We raved about its handling, its slow-speed maneuverability and terrific visibility. The airplane is most popularly sold as a trike, and it has an optional BRS recovery parachute system, a feature we wish all LSA carried. One of the qualities Bristell prides itself on is what they call the airplane’s “performance wing,” which they say provides added peace of mind for cross-country flying. The real story is that the wing provides a little less lift, and that’s a good thing in most LSAs. For one, if you’re stalling in the low 30-knot range, how much more wing do you need? For another, the reduced lift makes for more reliable landings, especially if there’s a bit of a crosswind. The NG 5 LSA has a demonstrated crosswind component of 15 knots, not bad even by Part 23 standards.

Niche: Low-wing sport

Base Price: $130,000

Major Competitors: Sport Cruiser, Tecnam Sierra

Bristell NG 5 LSA Specifications

Learn more at Bristell.


Rans S20LS Raven

Rans S20LS Raven

The Rans S20LS looks a lot like a Rans taildragger (the company has been making straight-up sport airplanes for 30 years), just a little more civilized. The Raven has a roomy side-by-side cockpit with sticks and conventional rudder pedals, you know, the kind you actually have to use! With a variety of construction materials and techniques, the Raven is part ultralight, part tube-and-rag bird and part LSA. It has a welded steel fuselage for occupant protection, fabric-covered fuselage and wings that are constructed from tubular aluminum, including the spar. The Raven has a cruise speed of just under 100 knots, but it’s really slow, with a stall speed with full flaps of just 28 knots. It takes next to nothing to land or take off, 300 and 340 feet, respectively, and the handling of Rans airplanes is legendarily harmonious. The Raven is a relatively easy lander for a taildragger, thanks to its wide-set spring-aluminum gear. (Rans will sell you a nose gear version if you insist.) In either configuration, the Raven is a nicely executed sport airplane that offers good value and great flying manners.

Niche: High-wing taildragger

Base Price: $119,000 (factory-built fly-away)

Major Competitors: CubCrafters Carbon Cub, American Legend Cub

Rans S20LS Raven Specifications

Learn more at Rans.


Looking for an affordable LSA or piston single? Check out our 10 Cheapest Planes In The Sky.

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