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.
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sport pilot daze
SportStar
One Giant Leap, Etc.
The sport pilot rule came about from years of work between the FAA and pilot organizations EAA (www.eaa.org) and AOPA (www.aopa.org).

And was it a coincidence that the FAA chose July 20, 2004, to finalize the sport pilot/LSA rule? Did some misty-eyed pucks in bureaucrats’ clothing signify their personal faith in the future impact of the new rule by picking that date?

Whatever the case, the 35th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” on the moon might—we can hope—augur a giant leap for grassroots aviation. And the FAA has signaled its intention to strengthen the rule with ongoing changes to clarify confusion and minimize inequities.

sport pilot daze
SportCub S2
The LSA category currently numbers no less than 87 new aircraft. Rather than requiring rigorous airframe certification testing, the FAA empowered a set of LSA-industry self-certification ASTM regulations (ASTM International is a commercial organization with a century of creating industry “standards”). When a dealer says that the shiny new LSA you want to buy is certified, it means it “conforms” to ASTM standards.

LSA also enfold certain previously FAA-certified, two-seat immortals (such as Piper Cubs, Ercoupes and Luscombes) to be flown by sport pilots.

Keeping It Friendly
One clear purpose of the sport pilot rule is to reverse the long trend toward ever-more-expensive flight training and aircraft ownership. Too many pilots saw their annual flying hours go down as the complexity and costs of flying went up, up, up.

Yet, after some initially attractive prices in the mid-$50,000 range, the median price for LSA aircraft is now closer to $100,000, brought on in large part by the imbalance between the euro and the dollar (because a majority of LSA are built overseas).

sport pilot daze
Icon A5
While that’s dampened some of the initial rush to sport pilot flight, it’s still vastly more affordable than a typical new general aviation plane of more than three times that price. LSA is the way to go for affordable and fun flight.

Also, typical LSA rental rates are lower than for a Cessna 172, as are hourly operating costs for owners. LSA powered by 100 and 120 hp engines from Rotax, Jabiru, Lycoming and Continental sip fuel at around 5 gph instead of the typical 8 to 10+ gph of conventional aircraft.

That has led to flying clubs popping up again, as well as fractional, or group-owned, financing plans. Pilots who wish to co-own a sleek, fast composite LSA with all the bells and whistles can join with half a dozen like-minded types and finance one for around $20,000 each.

And don’t forget those older and cheaper classic aircraft, such as the Piper Cub and Aeronca Champ.

Final word: LSA do require aviating skills to pilot safely. That only makes sense. But most are easy to fly, and once you strap in to that roomy cockpit—many are more than 42 inches wide—you gain other “bennies”: comfort and great visibility. Also, noise and vibration levels are usually lower and less fatiguing. Yet, in many new ships, you’ve got the control sensitivity of a fighter plane coupled with the stability you want in turbulent conditions. Not too shabby.

All in all, it’s a great time to be a pilot. Go find a rep and take a demo. You’ll be amazed at the sophistication and pure fun that light-sport aircraft bring to the world of flying.



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