Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Light-Sport Chronicles: Little Airports

Green fields, blue skies, white clouds—LSA heaven, here I come!

“We look forward to offering the proverbial $100 hamburger...what’s a country airport without that?” says Rick Solan, one of four owners of GBR who knows this turf. He got his ticket here in 1972, then all his ratings, and went on to fly for American Airlines. He and his partners (Tom Vigneron, Jim Jacobs and John Gueneri) plan to run the airport full time when he finishes his American gig.

I spent a refreshingly cool summer afternoon with Rick talking about the airport I fell in love with the first time I saw it. I had wanted to write about it, but I also wanted to learn why Rick and his partners picked their very first LSA, an Eagle Aviation EA-100, to accomplish their sport-pilot training goals.

He first told me that GBR’s charter business, which had thrived in earlier years, has largely gone away—they recently sold their Piper Aztec twin. Flight instruction, rentals, an LSA dealership, aircraft maintenance and repair (with four mechanics), air shows and developing aviation programs at local high schools is the full-bore path to the future for GBR.

About the LSA, he says, “I liked that the EA-100 was a general aviation type of plane: all metal, GPS, toe brakes, yokes instead of sticks. We’ve noticed that transitioning students from sticks to yokes or vice versa is challenging. I wanted to make the flow into the Cessnas and Pipers we have in the fleet easier for them.”

Having a night-light package installed on the LSA was deliberate. “We don’t want a student to panic if they’re late getting back to the field, and this way we can take them through their private, too.”

Significant delays with the Eagle’s delivery caused an equivalent drag on the LSA training at GBR, so Rick acquired two more Piper J3 Cubs (85 hp and 90 hp variants) to join his own 65 hp classic.

Rates for the J3s are $65 per hour wet and $35 for instruction. Can’t beat that! In the Eagles, $135 per hour dual gets the job done. That’s about the same as the school, Berkshire Aviation, charges for the Cherokee 140s in its fleet.

Rick’s also looking closely at a dealership for the Paradise P1 LSA. He likes the unusually roomy baggage compartment, metal construction and easy-flying personality of the increasingly popular high winger. The P1 is the U.S. LSA version of a Brazilian-certified four-seat airplane.

Full Disclosure Dept.: I’m a transplanted Californian. When winter sets in up here, I rest my hang glider on its hooks in the barn and forget about flying until spring. Like they say, you can take the boy out of California, but not California out of the boy: I was ruined by a lifetime expectation of sunny weather. Rick Solan’s going to change all that for me.

“We’ve got three sets of skis. We’ll have them alongside our Cub at the local Simsbury show this summer. We want to sign up folks to show them the joys of landing on snowy cornfields in New York and Massachusetts. We put 60 hours on the Cub last winter!”

He took his first flight with his uncle, who performed a Flying Farmer act at the famous aerodrome in Rhinebeck, N.Y., when he was five years old. “After that, flying was all I wanted to do in life.”

His favorite airplane? “The J3. When I get home from an airline flight, I go up in the Cub. That’s the fun part of flying for me.”

That kind of enthusiasm from a longtime professional pilot is infectious: After we talked, I signed up for some J3 time the next week! And I’ve also got another local field with an LSA to rent. Thank goodness for country airports.


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