What a great time to be a pilot! The economy gains traction, Big Tin (Cessna and Piper) flexes its muscles as more Skycatchers and PiperSports find homes across America, and new S-LSA—111 models as we go to press—continue to come on line. Meanwhile, flight schools draw new students with their growing LSA fleets. Longtime market leaders (Flight Design, Legend Cub, CubCrafters, Tecnam, Remos) continue to bedevil the competition as anticipated newcomers slice the pie ever thinner...it’s a buyer’s market!
LSA’s safety record continues to be strong; even though the ASTM consensus-certification process, made legal in 2004 with the Sport Pilot Rule, was a leap of faith for FAA, it seems to be working out. Optimism over light sport’s long-term prospects remains downright heroic. Even with the really tough times of the “Money Meltdown,” most producers, domestic and abroad, have managed to stay in the game. That means your decision process is tougher than ever, as proven designs continue to be refined and exciting new ships enter the market.
LSA, once the hope of low-cost flying, have escalated dramatically in price. Still, shared-ownership organizations like LetsFly and Aircraft Partnership Association will match determined-to-own pilots with like-minded buyers and even handle financing, maintenance and hangaring—for one monthly payment! Rentals are more common, too, as LSA expand fleets nationwide.
THE LEADER BOARD
Enough preflight: Let’s call “Clear!” and crank ’er up to survey the bountiful choices of light-sport flying. We’ll start with the FAA registration list rankings (and thanks to Jan Fridrich, who compiles it for www.bydanjohnson.com). Note that the top 20 models account for more than 85% of the entire sales to date.
Still top dog, this all-carbon-fiber, top-performing, German-made CTLS shows no signs of slacking the pace, with well over 300 U.S. registrations. FD’s all-metal MC, a docile, super-roomy, easy-repair trainer, targets flight schools. New additions: a gorgeous float package for the CT and a solid nationwide network with 40 service centers. Full “glass” EFIS instrument options abound, including Dynon Skyview and Garmin G3X panels. Price: $139,800 (CTLS); $119,980 (CTLS Lite); $118,083 (MC).
Nipping at Flight Design’s heels, top U.S. manufacturer American Legend taps the enduring faith in the original Piper Cub J3 design with its Legend Cub, a top-notch rendition with Super Cub-like upgrades, including Continental O-200 (100 hp) or Jabiru 3300A (120 hp) power options. The fleet also includes the AmphibCub (float equipped), Classic J3 and Texas Star E-LSA kit models. Tons of options: composite prop, Dynon, Garmin and TruTrak glass. Price: $117,895 (Cub, open cowl); $159,000 (AmphibCub); $97,895 (Classic J3).
Leaping into third place by dint of its aggressive production schedule, Piper Aircraft’s PiperSport is an adoption of the original SportCruiser, and a sporty, sexy winner. Built in Czech Republic and outfitted in America, it’s a cream puff in flight with an impressive speed ratio of stall-to-max cruise (26/120 knots). Comfortable and responsive, with excellent performance (1,200 fpm climb, 600 nm range), PiperSport could be the number-one LSA by year’s end. Price: $119,000-$139,900 (three models).
Piper Cub-style LSA dominate all U.S.
sales at nearly 25% of market share. CubCrafters is another major reason, thanks to the Carbon Cub SS and Sport Cub S2. The SS rockets skyward behind an ECi CC340 180 hp engine. Both models marry classic Cub style and construction with carbon-fiber, roomier interiors, wing tanks and electric start. Options include tundra tires, float packages, glass panels and more. Price: $163,280 (Carbon Cub SS); $127,500 (Sport Cub S2).
Italian maker Tecnam has built quality aircraft for 60 years. Its line of LSA offers something for everybody: flivvers and cruisers (low-wing P2002 Sierra, high-wing P92 Echo Classic, P2004 Bravo De Luxe); a friendly, rugged trainer (P92 Eaglet) and the luxurious composite/metal cruiser P2008 with 48-inch-wide cabin and 120-knot cruise. Expanding dealer/training/service network and lots of options make Tecnam a worthy contender. Price: $109,999-$169,999 (depending on model and options).
Remos of Germany puts carbon fiber to good use with the Remos GX, a graceful, fun-flying, all-around enjoyable LSA. Many attractive features include extended luggage space, useful load of 615 pounds, 38-knot stall speed (full flaps), 112-knot cruise and Dynon EFIS packages. Folding wings and quality options such as glider tow, Magnum airframe parachute system, autopilot and leather seats make the GX a class act. Price: $148,900 (Remos GX Aviator II).
Australian maker Jabiru fills seventh place in overall U.S. registrations with its J230-SP and sibling J-170 (80 hp). The J230 is a stable, comfortable airplane with good range (800 nm), powerful 120 hp Jabiru 3300 engine, gentle stalling manners, steerable nosewheel and a rear cabin door for one very large baggage area. With 120 knots of cruise, composite construction and cabin heat. Price: $111,900.
Evektor’s SportStar was the first certified S-LSA. The latest model is SportStar MAX, a solid, comfortable, refined cross-country machine with many attractive features. Even loaded with optional top-notch avionics (including a full IMC-legal IFR instrument suite), the MAX delivers a useful load of 522 pounds—something many leading S-LSA can’t offer. Features abound: 75% power cruise of 110 knots, 700 nm range, nosewheel steering, dual sticks, adjustable rudder pedals. Price: $160,000 (loaded).
Another U.S. distributor with a broad S-LSA offering, Sportair serves up the latest S4 version of the Sting low-wing line; the TL-3000 Sirius high-wing luxury cruiser; the Savage line of four Cub clones, including iCub (Apple iPad docks in front cockpit) and the SeaRey amphibian—talk about a one-stop shop. Sting S4 sports a carbon-fiber composite airframe and is the latest version of a 10-year design line with 650 aircraft flying. The Bush iCub and its “off-field” features make it a natural for country field ops. SeaRey is an 18-year veteran. Sirius is a spacious cross-country cruiser with 600 pounds useful load, nimble handling, stylish interior and industry-proven Rotax 912 ULS with 2000 hour TBO. Price: $79,900-$145,560.
The highly popular Zodiac LS line battles back from a number of fatal crashes due to structural problems, which were addressed with a thorough airframe redesign. Also offered is the STOL CH-750 LS, a super short-field flivver, also all-aluminum, based like the Zodiac on a design from longtime experimental aircraft designer Chris Heintz. Full-span flaperons, all-flying rudder and a Continental O-200 certified mill are notable features. Price: $99,950 (CH-750).
A long, challenging period seems over for the Allegro. The original Czech-built S-LSA reemerges completely American made (from Littleton, North Carolina). Flowing, molded-composite lines, three avionics configurations (Executive has Dynon SkyView), and worldwide parts/service support should help fuel Allegro’s comeback. The company also will finish certification on the Sadler Vampire, another snazzy twin-boom project once declared DOA. Prices: $89,000 (Classic Trainer); $94,000 (Voyager); $99,000 (Executive).
Tackling the challenge of affordable flight translates to distributor-direct sales of the fun-flying, tube-and-fabric Aerotrek A220 taildragger and A240 tricycle-gear S-LSA. The lightweight (650-/585-pound useful load), jaunty models are built by Aeropro in Czech Republic and assembled in Indiana. Features include folding wings, 22.5-gallon capacity, 104-knot cruise and a design—based on the Avid Flyer and Kitfox homebuilts—that has been proven for over a quarter century. Price: $67,950.
In true Wright Brothers fashion, Rans has built thousands of affordable, fun-flying recreational aircraft—and world-renowned recumbent bicycles—for 27 years. The innovative all-American company offers three S-LSA: the new S-19LS low-wing, aluminum monocoque cruiser with 111-knot cruise and 610-mile range; S-6LS Coyote II flivver (and its S-6ELS version at $63,000!)—nearly 2,000 flying worldwide since 1989!; and S-7LS Courier, a classic Cub-like tandem for fun flying, with enhancements such as five-foot-wide doors, spring steel gear and a light, snappy control feel. Coyote and Courier come as taildragger and tricycle. Dynon EFIS avionics are standard or optional equipment, depending on model. Price: $127,000 base (S-19LS); $99,000 base (S-6LS); $99,000 fully equipped (S-7LS).
Originally designed by John Thorp and the precursor to none other than the legendary Piper Cherokee, the Thorpedo PT211 (Continental O-200) is the much-refined S-LSA version with redesigned interior: reclined seats, repositionable headrests, staggered seat backs and lumbar support for expanded shoulder and elbow room and bucket-seat-like feel. And you can open the canopy in flight! Price: $85,995 (Thorpedo PT); $95,995 (LP); $105,995 (PT211).
Three all-metal, Italian-built S-LSA (and also kit versions) help pilots on tighter budgets get airborne: Savannah VG (vortex generators), Savannah VGW (W for wide-body) and the impressive Rampage, with electric leading-edge slats and double-slotted Fowler flaps for a 34 mph stall and a 147-foot takeoff roll. Floats also available. Price: $73,995 (Savannah VG); $76,995 (Savannah VGW); $84,995 (Rampage).
Expect Cessna to be in the top five in registrations before long: The U.S.-designed, China-manufactured, U.S.-assembled and test-flown Skycatcher (Cessna 162) is finding its way to hangars everywhere after a long production delay. Standard instrument package is the Garmin G300 multifunction display (MFD) with Garmin SL40 Com radio, Garmin GTX327 Mode C transponder, VFR GPS and 121.5 MHz ELT. It’s powered by a 100 hp Continental 0-200D. Price: $112,500.
This popular Florida-based company has something for everyone with a number of LSA, general aviation and ultralight models. The A-22 Valor and its CapeTown (float) version, A-20 Vista and A-24 Viking are S-LSA. With their roomy (52-inch) cabins, these all-metal, fabric-covered fun flyers cruise at 90 knots and start at $79,999. The company is tied for 8th in registrations for 2010, and operates several flight schools in Florida.
The Paradise P-1 is the U.S.-assembled, ASTM-certified LSA version of a popular Brazilian certified aircraft that first flew in 1999. Originally a four-seater, the two-seat high-winger has lots of baggage space. All around, it’s a solid, docile, enjoyable airplane to fly, with chrome-moly steel tubing and aluminum skin construction and solid aluminum spring gear, Amsafe seat-belt airbags, dual yokes, steerable nosewheel and several avionics packages. Price: $108,830.
One of the all-time top recreational aircraft success stories, this one-time kitplane (4,500 delivered), lives on as the Kitfox S7 Super Sport. Other models include kits, like the Radial S7 with a Rotec R2800 radial engine (and sexy bump cowl to go with it) and backcountry STOL performance (320-foot takeoff roll, 1150 fpm climb, 105-knot cruise). Price: $83,495 (Super Sport S7).
The all-metal Breezer II has been popular in Europe for a decade. Its clean lines, all-metal construction, solid, general aviation-like handling and excellent cross-country chops make it one of the real sleepers in the U.S. S-LSA market. A beveled panel angles toward the pilot for easier viewing of the center GPS. Price: $116,500.
Birds To Watch
|With 80-odd S-LSA models still on the list, we can’t do justice to them all. Still, the following deserve attention for a variety of reasons: expected production debuts, recent surge in sales, compelling features, affordability and more.
|Excluding airplanes dedicated primarily to fun flying in one form or another and those directed at utility operation, there are only two, two-seat models devoted to flight training. Pilots do buy these efficient models for personal transport, but the airplanes’ main function is most often pilot education.|
|One If By Land...
Look this year or to early 2012 for two significant deliveries: the much-ballyhooed Terrafugia Transition Roadable LSA and the Icon A5 amphib. The production version of the Transition is now a legal 1,430 pounds gross weight. Road trials and production tooling are in progress. Projected Price: $200-$250K. www.terrafugia.com
The amphibious Icon A5 is also wrapping its test program and tooling up for production. It first flew in July 2008. Futuristic design and luxury auto-like interior make this one to watch, with several hundred presales already. Estimated Price: $139,000. www.iconaircraft.com
Meanwhile, the upstart Maverick flying dune buggy, using a huge paraglider wing, was developed for missionary work in countries with remote areas and bad roads. It has already won ASTM certification, costs a third of what the Transition will and should ship this year. Projected Price: $84,000. www.mavericklsa.com
The lovely SeaMax, made in Brazil with composite construction, sports a spacious 47-inch cabin and 25 gallons fuel for extended range. Price: $145,000. www.seamaxusa.com
The composite-built Lightning racked up a flurry of sales in 2010, thanks to sleek, gorgeous styling and impressive avionics packages. Base Price: $98,900. www.flylightning.net
Renegade’s anticipated revitalizing of the dormant Falcon LS revolves around the new Lycoming IO-233 LSA engine and sensuous curves to make a belly dancer envious, not to mention a competitive price point. Projected price: $125,000. www.renegadelightsport.com
Another major sleeper is the German-made Fk-series. The Mk V (and Comet aerobatic biplane) deserves more attention than it has received so far. Anticipated Base Price: $102,000 (Fk9 Mk V); $107,000 (Fk12 Comet). www.hansenairgroup.com
A real low-price leader is the venerable CGS Hawk Arrow II, a pioneering three-axis ultralight in the 1980s, and now a lightweight S-LSA as well as a kitplane. Price: $44,995. www.cgsaviation.com
Cloud Ship Dreamer