Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Light-Sport Chronicles: Learn To Fly The LSA Way

A quick look at the light-sport aircraft category and the sport-pilot rule

Flight requirements: a minimum of 20 hours

Flight-hours include: 15 hours dual instruction with a qualified flight instructor; two hours dual cross-country; five hours solo for 75 or more nm to two different destinations with a full-stop landing (one leg must exceed 25 nm).

Pass the FAA written Knowledge test

Pass the oral and flight Practical ("checkride") test

Flight restrictions: Sport pilots can't fly at night (beyond 30 minutes after legal twilight); higher than 10,000 MSL or 2,000 AGL (i.e. over mountainous terrain), carry more than one passenger; for commercial purposes (i.e. banner tow); or in any airspace requiring radio communication (Class B, C, or D) unless they've received additional instruction and an instructor endorsement.

Hours logged training with a CFI or CFI-SP towards the SPL can be applied toward higher ratings.

As humans—and especially pilots—are wont to do, there has been no end of quibbling over minutiae regarding interpretation of the regs. Some confusions or complaints led to rule modifications, such as allowing a 2,000 AGL maximum altitude (which can legally occur above 10,000 MSL) over high terrain to provide safe altitude for gliding to land after an engine-out emergency.

Why Fly LSA?
First, let's consider the aircraft themselves. More than 80% of LSA are powered by the fuel-sipping Rotax family of four-stroke liquid-cooled engines. Some highly refined airframes, such as Pipistrel's Sinus motorglider, squeeze incredible performance out of the 80 hp Rotax 912 UL2: 110-knot cruise @75% power and 3.1 gph fuel burn; 650 nm range (under 16 gallons total fuel!); 1,280 fpm climb rate; service ceiling of 29,000; landing speed 36 knots without flaps. And with the engine switched off, the Sinus gets a 30:1 glide ratio and 202 fpm sink rate...and that's with fixed gear hanging down in the breeze!

The takeaway: LSA can be highly sophisticated and are generally easy, fun and economical to fly. They burn premium gas, further reducing hourly costs. Engine and airframe maintenance are less costly. And Rotax and many other engines come with 2,000-hour TBO.


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