Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Paths To The Sky

So what’s it really like to go for your sport pilot ticket?

By The Numbers

Finding the right instructor en route to a successful checkride is vital. Todd Westhuis, office director for New York State’s DOT, is an engineer but also a former Army cavalry officer.

“Learning to fly was a lifelong dream of mine. My instructor was also former military, which helped me get over the trickier parts.”

Both went at the task with rigorous discipline. “We pressed hard. I put in many hours studying and scheduled two blocks of flight a week.”

An early hurdle was realizing the need to “fly” the 2007 Evektor SportStar on the ground after landing. “The touchiness of the controls in transition from flare to landing to rollout was a hump for me. LSA are so light.”

“But my instructor coaxed me, talking me through it until I was ready.” In just 30 hours, he had passed the written, soloed and taken his checkride.

“Making the performance characteristics of LSA second nature was helped a lot by my instructor’s structured program. I always knew ahead of time what we’d be practicing. I’d study up and be ready to go.”

One early goal during their training was to have fun. Todd rented a SportStar from South Albany Airport (4B0) to fly to an EAA pancake breakfast at idyllic Kline Kill Field (NY1). “Making the short jaunt to that 4,000-foot grass strip was my finish line during training: I love doing soft-field landings on the grass there. I’ve even gone back a couple times to practice.”

Westhuis’ next goal is the private pilot license. His advice to student pilots? “LSA is a great way to get into aviation. To be successful, you just have to study. Lots of practice—that’s the key.”

The Rules

• Sport pilots may fly single-engine LSA, gliders, airships/balloons, gyroplanes, powered parachutes or weight-shift control aircraft (i.e. “trikes”), with appropriate training and sign-offs.
• Pilots must meet medical requirements with either:
  —a third-class or higher medical.
  —a valid U.S. state driver’s license. (Pilots using the driver’s-license qualification “self-certify” medical fitness to fly. This means they must not know of or suspect medical conditions making it unsafe to operate an LSA. The well-discussed catch: The driver’s license is valid only if the pilot has never failed an FAA medical exam, or if a medical problem was cleared and the medical reinstated.)
• Sport pilots may fly in Class E and Class G airspace.
• Class B, C and D airspace are legal with additional training and CFI endorsement.
• Key restrictions:
  —No night flying, roughly 20 to 25 minutes after sunset. Flight during civil twilight requires lights on the aircraft.
  —No IFR flight; day VFR only.
  —No flight above 10,000 feet MSL. Exception: Pilots may fly above 10K to maintain a safe buffer of no more than 2,000 AGL over high terrain.
• Basic requirements:
  —18 years old.
  —Flight time counts toward higher ratings (unless the instructor is a CFI-S—sport pilot-only instructor).
  —Can only act as pilot in command with one other person aboard.
  —Some vintage production aircraft qualify as LSA, e.g., Piper Cubs and Aeronca.

Basic LSA Definition:

• Single or two-seat aircraft only.
• Maximum takeoff weight: 1,320 pounds (1,430 pounds for seaplanes).
• Max stall (clean): 45 kts.
• Max continuous power speed: 120 kts.
• Airframe limitations:
  —single reciprocating engine.
  —nonpressurized cabin.
  —mdash;fixed, ground-adjustable pitch or feathering prop.
  —fixed landing gear (or retractable for glider, or “repositionable” for water ops)
• Can be S-LSA (manufactured ready to fly) or E-LSA (kit or plans-built airplane). All LSA must meet ASTM consensus standards
• Owners can do light maintenance.


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