Subscribe today to Plane & Pilot magazine for industry news, reviews and much more delivered straight to you!
Grass strips are magical, I know. We all know that. But it wasn’t just any grass strip, but a special one, South Lakeland Airpark, just a few miles removed from the din of Sun ‘n Fun, which was at that very moment at full tilt boogie with F-16s putting on a display of sound and fury for tens of thousands of airshow goers. In contrast, at South Lakeland, the only sound was that of a few airplanes flying overhead and an ultralight in the pattern. I was with Tom Peghiny, who handles the U.S. market for Flight Design general aviation and has been for years. Years before Flight Design came to America, Tom and I would hang out at X49, as he’d show me the moves of the ultralights and microlights he designed and sold.
The Flight Design CTLSi is light, agreed, but the level of sophistication of the product is a whole different ballgame. A two-seat carbon fiber, high-wing side-by-side tricycle gear single, the CTLSi still looks very much at home at a grass strip. I remind myself that it is a Light Sport Aircraft, the word “sport” being an integral part of that category.
Pilots are divided on some airplanes, and the Flight Design CTLS is one of them. I’m on the pro side. I find it jaunty, a little quirky, sleek and proud. Maybe I feel this way in part because I’ve gotten to know the plane over the years and to understand what’s behind the exterior. It’s an intriguing mix of engineering and ergonomics that go a long way toward creating an airplane that is one of the best selling LSAs.
For those of us who were there when it happened, it’s hard to believe that it’s been 13 years since the FAA officially adopted a new aircraft category, Light Sport Aircraft, commonly known as LSA. The new category was of interest for two main reasons. The first was economic. Because they used a set of certification rules that the manufacturers came up with instead of the costly and over burdensome FAA regs, LSAs would be more affordable to produce, which would be reflected in their sales price, at least in theory. The second big draw, which is perhaps more important than the economic attraction, was that LSA came along hand in hand with a new pilot certification, Sport Pilot. Unlike the Private Pilot certificate, Sport Pilot allowed (and still does) a pilot to use a state (any state) driver’s license as proof of medical fitness to fly.
As everyone expected, the first light sport models were produced by companies already involved in sport aviation, and one of those was Flight Design, a German firm that made a number of cool light sport (lower case) planes with a level of design quality and sophistication that one might expect from a German company with the word “design” as part of it name.
I first flew the Flight Design CTSW more than a decade ago on a windy, post cold-front day in the late fall in New England. I was impressed by the little side-by-side two-seater’s fit and finish and handling, though I did comment that like any really light plane with low wing loading, the plane not only landed really slowly but it was susceptible to gusts. Though it feels like it, the CTLSi is actually more highly wing loaded than a Cessna 152, about 10 pounds per square foot compared to about 12 pounds for the legacy Cessna two-seater.
But the comparison isn’t particularly apt. The CTLSi is a more sophisticated airplane than the Cessna trainer. It’s also a lot roomier, a lot more technologically advanced and a lot faster. It’s a true 120-knot airplane, compared to just over 100 knots for the Cessna.
Flight Design has done well with its LSA, the Flight Design CT. Over the years it has sold hundreds of the planes to the U.S. market, but it has not been without its challenges. In 2016 it went into receivership, the German equivalent of a bankruptcy, and production shut down. It wasn’t until July of 2017 that Flight Design got new wings, after LiftAir, another German manufacturer, purchased the assets of Flight Design, including its aircraft designs and its factory in Ukraine. Another, unaffiliated company, AeroJones, is producing the aircraft in Taiwan for the non-U.S. Asia Pacific market. Flight Design general aviation GmbH, which is what the newly formed company is called, produces all planes for the United States, where they’re distributed and sold by a small but committed network of pilots who’ve been flying these planes around for years.
When it comes to the naming conventions, the Flight Design models are confusing to some customers (and arguably to some writers, too). The current model since 2012 is the CTLS, the “LS” standing, of course, for “light sport.” The “i” in the name is for the Rotax 912-iS fuel injected engine it sports up front.
When Flight Design upgraded the CT to the CTLS model, it wasn’t just a cosmetic makeover but an entire redesign that is noticeable in several areas, if you know what you’re looking for, that is. The biggest giveaway is the additional side window on the new model. The new model gives a little extra light and the ability to check your . . . well, maybe not your six but at least your 4:30. While the extra glass is the most noticeable difference, improvements are everywhere.
In addition, the gear is a now all carbon fiber, an improvement as I came to see because it helps damp the landing bounces that the aluminum gear in the previous model seemed to amplify. And it looks great. Another difference is the shape of the wingtips, the earlier ones looking like legacy Boeing winglets and the current ones like Airbus’ two-pronged wingtip fences. The interior on the latest CTLSi is also light years ahead of the older models, with leather wrapped stick grips, leather seats, the aforementioned additional side windows, a one-piece windshield and much more. My favorite additions are the two small shelves just behind the seats where you can easily stow a jacket or a small bag, this in addition to a smallish but easily accessible baggage compartment you can get on the passengers side just behind the door. The tail has been redesigned to be more efficient (as well as more attractive), and the tires are bigger, too, for better ground handling over rough surfaces.
Flight Design makes no bones about the automotive inspiration of the CTLS, and even if they didn’t, it’s impossible to miss. The instrument housing is more like a big pod than a conventional panel. The styling is high-end, and the seats are minimal, as the seats in a light plane need to be, but their sports-car styling and comfy contours make them work.
Today’s CTLS has a pair of 10-inch Dynon HDX displays, one on each side, and in the middle a combination engine monitoring screen and autopilot controller. A flight design pilot I spoke with about the avionics down in Florida at Sun ‘n Fun was excited about the engine data logging feature, that give the pilot more and more detailed information on the health and status of the 912 engine than any other system on a light plane that we know of. With a few touches the pilot can look into what the real reason for an alert light might be and thereby determine whether it requires an immediate landing or just a quick trip to the shop when you get back home.
There are no shortages of things to love about Dynon SkyView HDX, which is the updated, more technologically advanced version of its super popular SkyView suite that the company has been selling for installation in homebuilt and LSA for more than a decade. HDX features brighter displays with improved touchscreen interface and boasts wider viewing angles, tougher glass, and full-screen, bezel-less touch response. You get full flight instrumentation with synthetic vision, full VFR nav capability, ADS-B, nav-comm and Dynon’s SV-2 autopilot with a one-touch level button if things get out of hand—and, yes, it’s an actual single button on the panel. The main autopilot controller, on the other hand, is integrated into the displays. I’d prefer a hardware autopilot controller.
There’s terrific redundancy with HDX, too. If the primary display goes out, you can switch to either of the two other displays. And they all have battery backups in case you lose ship’s power. And the amount of information you get from the system is staggering. Isn’t progress great.
It seems strange that my impulse is to introduce the 912 engine to our readers. After all, I shouldn’t have to. The Austrian company has produced more than 50,000 of the engines, and the 912 is just one of a number of aircraft engines it makes and aero engines are just part of Rotax’s business. But the 912 is different from conventional opposed aero engines in a number of ways—it’s air-and-liquid cooled, it’s got electronic ignition instead of dual mags, and it’s light, on the order of 100 pounds lighter than the O-235 in the 152. Which does good things for useful load. The CTLSi has a good payload for a small plane, so you can fly with full or nearly full tanks and two FAA regulation occupants along whatever bags you can fit in it.
The 912 comes in a variety of flavors now. The one in the CTLSi on the flight report airplane is the Rotax 912iS, which you can get in dual-carb or fuel-injected versions—the one installed in the plane flown for this report is the fuel-injected model, which boasts better fuel economy than the already miserly dual-carb model. It also boasts a 2,000-hour TBO, and with fuel consumption of less than 5 gallons per hour at cruise, it’s an incredibly economical engine. Plus, you can fill it up with 100LL or premium auto gas, the auto fuel being about half the price of avgas these days. If you’ve never flown behind one, these four-stroke engines are smooth and quiet, and even thought they’re running at better than 5,000 rpm at cruise, the prop reduction gearing turns that down to around 2,000 prop rpm. Speaking of which, the prop is the Neuform three-bladed composite prop. As per LSA rules, it’s a fixed pitch prop. Regardless, it’s quiet and smooth.
With leather and carbon fiber throughout, the interior of the CTLSi is slick. It’s remarkably roomy too. I spoke with father and son team Tom Guttman and Tom Guttman, Jr., Flight Design distributors out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Guttmans are closing in on 200 deliveries of Flight Design aircraft, and they are poster pilots for said roominess. Both Toms are big guys, and Tom Sr. told me that the roominess of the CT-series planes was the deciding factor for them.
You get into the CTLS the easiest way imaginable. You open the big gull wing door, turn, sit on the seat and pivot your legs in. (Getting out of it is pretty much the reverse of this operation.) Flight Design brags about the ergonomics of the CTLSi, and after you’ve had a chance to get to know the cockpit, it’s pretty clear why they do. It’s a compact, neatly organized, smartly designed layout that let’s you do your flying thing with ease. There are a couple of things I don’t like. The manual trims for rudder and aileron are in the center section behind you, though the electric elevator trim is what we all use most and pretty much set and forget the rudder and aileron once you get to cruise.
On the quadrant there’s a throttle and a second lever, a black one, that looks like it should be the mixture, but it’s not. If you pull it back far enough, it will, like the mixture, stop your forward progress. It is, of course, the brake lever. On the pedestal that connects the panel to the console, there are the electric flap lever, the ignition key, a guarded backup power switch, and the Master, fuel pump, avionics, lighting and a couple others. The CTLSi’s systems are slightly different than conventional two-seaters, but it’s simple, and simple is good.
When you close the gull wing door—it’s a bit of stretch for smaller pilots—and lock it securely into place, you’ll notice very quickly that everything switch, button, dial or lever you need to concern yourself with is right where it should be. And flying the CTLSi is similarly pilot friendly. The responsiveness is terrific, and while it might get blown around a bit on gusty days, landing in such conditions is a skill you can acquire.
Like his dad, Tom Jr. has thousands of hours in Flight Design aircraft and he admits that wind is a challenge, but like every other skill in aviation, it takes practice. And part of that skill is flying the airplane not until it touches down but for a while afterward too. When it’s windy light airplanes might raise a wing, balloon ten or fifteen feet and seem to want to keep flying after you feel like it should be done, but as long as you stay on top of the plane, reacting to the vagaries of the wind, you’re fine. To anyone with much time in a light taildragger, none of this will sound new or surprising.
And on the safety front, the CTLS is impressive, with high-G seats, an integral carbon fiber roll cage with crush zones fore and aft, and every CT comes with a BRS whole-airplane recovery parachute system.
Flying iS Fun
Because it’s an LSA, the CTLSi’s prop, the composite Neuform three-blader I mentioned previously, is ground adjustable only. That’s an unfortunate part of the LSA regs. LSA by law have to be no faster than 120 knots in cruise, and the CTLSi is right on the money there. I’m guessing that a judicious ground adjustment of the prop pitch to a coarser angle would do wonders for the plane’s cruise speed, though I didn’t ask and would never do so myself or advise anyone else to do it. I’m just saying.
And the plane makes a terrific little runabout. And this suits the needs of a good percentage of pilots out there who are both empty nesters (or as close to it as it comes these days) and who have concerns about their medical certification status.
The FAA’s new BasicMed certification has changed the game for many pilots—about 30,000 are now doing BasicMed instead of getting a conventional FAA medical. BasicMed allows many pilots with medical conditions that formerly would have been difficult, expensive or, in some cases, impossible to get a medical and keep it. When flying as a Sport Pilot in an LSA—you don’t need a Sport Pilot certificate; your regular Private Pilot or other certificate let’s you fly as a Sport Pilot when in an LSA.
While not a flight instructor, Tom Guttman, Jr. has helped many dozens of pilots transition to LSA, a process he says usually takes a handful of hours.
Taking off the CTLSi, as you might imagine, requires little runway, and directional control is solid, for as long as you’re on the runway, which isn’t long. Climbing is a strong suit, as you’d expect with a plane with a 100-hp engine, a good-sized wing and a max weight of just 1320 pounds.
The CTLSi has a decent range, too, so once you get to altitude and set power to cruise you’re looking at around 800 nm of range with VFR reserves. And as a cruiser, it’s a terrific platform, roomy, comfortable… and the visibility is unsurpassed.
And now with Flight Design on solid footing and producing the best airplane it ever has, the future looks bright again for a design and a company that were there at the beginning of LSA and that look to be there for years to come.