Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sport Pilot Daze

What’s up with the light-sport ticket, and what/where/when can I fly with it?

sport pilot dazeBehold the rapidly beating heart of light-sport aviation: A YouTube video chronicles a pilot’s dead-stick takeoff. Not landing...takeoff. He points his engine-off LSA down a 35-degree mountain slope, rolls into a hang glider–style launch and lands—still dead stick—on a sandbar 1,500 feet below and two miles away.
" />
sport pilot daze
Legend Cub
So much for the bird, now for the bird person. The sport pilot certificate requires that you:
• take ground training from an instructor or home-study course. King Schools ( and ASA ( have excellent DVD programs. [Read “Training & Planning Software” in P&P Jan/Feb 2009 for more guidance.]
• pass the FAA sport pilot written test.
• take a minimum of 20 hours of flight training (15 hours dual, five hours solo). This training must include two hours of cross-country dual training, 10 full-stop takeoffs and landings and one solo cross-country flight that must exceed 75 miles, have three legs (one of at least 25 nm) and consist of full-stop landings on two legs. (Note: Most pilots finish at 35 or more hours.)
• have a current, valid driver’s license. Flight medical exams are not required, but—and this confuses some people—if you’ve ever failed a flight medical, you cannot operate an LSA until you clear up the health problem and recertify medically. For pilots who think they might fail a medical, conventional wisdom advises letting the medical certificate expire. Implicit in all FAA pilot certificate regs is the expectation that the pilot in command (PIC), that’s you, will always self-declare your physical fitness for flight. If, for any reason, you’re not physically able to fly safely, it’s your legal, and moral, responsibility to stay on the ground.
• prepare for the FAA practical flight test (aka “checkride”) with three hours of flight training.
• pass the checkride (oral and in-flight) with an FAA examiner. Sure, you’ll be nervous. (News flash: If you study and practice, the checkride is a snap.)

sport pilot daze
Cirrus SRS
Now for the operating limitations of the license. As a sport pilot, you can’t:
• carry a passenger or property for compensation or hire.
• carry more than one passenger.
• fly at night.
• fly in Class A airspace (i.e., above 18,000 feet).
• fly in Class B, C or D airspace without required additional training and a logbook endorsement from your flight instructor.
• fly outside the United States without prior authorization from the foreign country.
• fly higher than 10,000 feet MSL.

The FAA has proposed a rule change, soon to be released. The new wording will be something like “10,000 feet or 2,000 feet AGL, whichever is higher.” Rockies, ho!
• fly when flight or surface visibility is less than three statute miles and without visual reference to the surface.

sport pilot daze
Now for some nuance. The FAA, by allowing a minimum of only 20 hours for the sport pilot ticket, wants to ensure pilot competency by requiring subsequent training in other aircraft subsets before you’re legal to fly those aircraft. One licensing size does not fit all with LSA flight.

In other words, if you become licensed in a weight-shift trike LSA, you’re not legal to fly a Legend Cub or a Flight Design CTLS or any other subset type of LSA without the appropriate extra training.

Bottom line: Although the restrictions placed upon the sport pilot certificate improve the odds for safe flight, adopting the “always learning” philosophy of piloting and navigating makes lots of sense. Meanwhile, you can cruise at 120 knots and really go places. For those of us primarily interested in burger-flight fun and adventure travel, alone or with a friend or spousal unit, the restrictions aren’t a deal breaker.


Add Comment