Perhaps the biggest LSA (light-sport aircraft) story this year invokes the letters FAA (the Federal Aviation Administration). The agency implemented what you might call a crackdown on industry producers. Now, all new models from current LSA suppliers or new companies must pass a rigorous FAA-implemented audit before receiving its official blessing.
The short take: Too many companies weren't meeting all the production specifications of the ASTM compliance certificate they had been awarded. Instead of local DARs (Designated Airworthiness Representatives) signing off new LSA models, an FAA Air Safety Investigator's thumbs-up is mandated.
That means more expense for makers...and higher costs for buyers. At least one major LSA maker I've heard from may be dropping his entire S-LSA (special light-sport aircraft) line of aircraft and focus on kits only! Even so, six new LSA received certificates this year to join a mini-boom in lower-cost, ultralight-style LSA.
FAA also came out with its own 20-year forecast, which projects growth in just two segments of general aviation: business jets...and our very own light-sport aircraft.
Another development is the industry's answer to the often-heard complaint, "Why aren't there any low-cost S-LSA?" In response, 2012 saw the re-introduction of the famed Quicksilver line of ultralights (15,000 sold to date; www.quicksilveraircraft.com). The big news: Quicksilver's plan to certify the GT400 (single-place) and GT500 (two-place) enclosed-cockpit, tube/strut/fabric birds as S-LSA.
Six new models debuted since our last Buyer's Guide. The most anticipated was likely the all-composite Alpha Trainer from the Slovenian design wizards at Pipistrel, the 25-year-old company that certified four S-LSA models in 2011, while also winning the $1.35 million NASA CAFE Green Flight Challenge with its history-making, two-fuselage, all-electric Taurus Electro G4.
Here's our take on the Top 20 list of FAA-registered S-LSA, as compiled quarterly by hardworking Jan Fridrich for www.bydanjohnson.com. Figures are current only through July 2012, but the pattern from previous years continues: These first 20 entries represent the lion's share of U.S. sales with fully 87.8% of all S-LSA since April 2005. Cleared for takeoff!
Flight Design tops the registered LSA list with 347 aircraft, 14.5% of all U.S. sales. With the highly regarded addition of the fuel-injected Rotax 912iS engine to the CT line, Flight Design continues to find ways to keep its products and market image fresh and appealing. The new CTLSi engine/airframe package meets the test with a 21% drop in fuel consumption, "smoother" cold starts and operation, and lower engine emissions. Also new: the CTLS-Club, a "lighter, simpler" version of the former CTLS Lite. Flight Design's network of U.S. service centers is a model for the industry. The carbon-fiber, standard, Rotax-powered CTLS and MC metal trainer continue in the company lineup. The four-seat C4 project continues apace toward a 2014 production date. Prices: $152,500 (CTLSi); $139,800 (CTLS); $133,000 (CTLS-Club); $99,000 (MC base price).
The Cessna C-162 Skycatcher is now a primary aircraft, no longer an LSA. Cessna raised a few eyebrows when it raised Skycatcher's price to $149,900. Primary Aircraft certification will allow it to be sold in Europe, once the certs are earned. Sport-pilot licensees may legally operate Primary aircraft, but can't exceed the limitations of the SP license, such as no night flying and max altitude of 10,000 feet, and the aircraft must meet the definition of a legal LSA (1,320 pounds max takeoff weight, top speed 120 knots, etc.), which Skycatcher still does.
Cub Crafters Carbon Cub
CubCrafters by mid-year took over third place on the strength of its torrid sales and production pace. By mid-year, the company had registered 28 aircraft, a quicker pace than in 2011, and led in total numbers only by Cessna. Its beautiful Carbon Cub SS and Sport Cub S2 continue to rack up sales. Immaculate construction, finishing and appointments explain its success. Price: $172,990 (Carbon Cub SS); $134,950 (Sport Cub S2).
Czech Sport Cruiser
Czech Sport Aircraft
Dropping back a notch from last year into fourth place, Czech Sport remains strong in the market with its stylish, easy-flying Sport Cruiser, briefly offered as the Piper Sport, and nearing 190 in total registrations. CSA offers three models of the sleek, low-wing, side-by-side cruiser with a variety of features: Club, Tourer and Professional. Price: $119,000-$139,900, depending on model.
American Legend Cub
American Legend continues strong with several new Legend Cub S-LSA and Texas Star kitplanes registered. The new Super Legend adds a flapped wing, carbon-fiber components and the new 115 hp Lycoming IO-233-LSA multi-fuel engine. Continental O-200 (100 hp) and Jabiru 3300A (120 hp) engine versions are also offered. Price: $124,900 (open-cowl Legend Cub); $128,900 (closed-cowl Cub); $146,900 (Super Legend).
Venerable Italian aircraft producer Tecnam has a new budget offering: the $74,000 (flyaway from Virginia!) P92 Echo Classic Light. Structure is identical to all the P92 airframes, produced since 1992. To save weight, control surfaces (flaps, ailerons, rudder, stabilator) are fabric-covered. The main gear and nose gear are P92-identical; smaller wheels and tires save weight. Tecnam has a deep fleet of quality LSA: the new P92 TD taildragger, P92 SeaSky floatplane, sleek P2008, P2002 Sierra low-winger and P92 Eaglet trainer. Prices: $74,999 to $157,800.
Remos of Germany continues with three models of its superbly crafted, smooth-flying GX line: the GX AVIATOR II, GXNXT and GXeLite. A variety of standards and options include Garmin Aera 510, Dynon seven-inch SkyView EFIS (the go-to EFIS for many LSA models), Dynon D100 and D120 EFIS Garmin's 696 GPS and much more. Prices range from $120,000 to $145,000, many options available.
Australian maker Jabiru holds on to eighth place with two S-LSA models that have logged well in excess of 500,000 hours since 1992. The J230-SP (120 hp) and J-170-SP (80 hp) are powered by the company's own Jabiru power plants. The J-230 has an 800 nm range. The J-170 is in wide use for training roles. Base price: $129,000 (J230-SP); $114,900 (J170-P).
The Czech producer's latest model, Harmony, optimizes a long pedigree of solid touring aircraft. All-metal construction, excellent cruise speed (110 knots), and an unexcelled inside/outside fit and finish make the Harmony worthy of a closer look. Evektor fields several fully certified (EASA standards) ultralights in Europe, and the U.S. version can also be fully IFR equipped. Many U.S. dealers nationwide, too. Price: $168,000 (loaded).
Sportair USA of Little Rock, Ark., has an LSA for just about whatever kind of sport flying you're into. The TL-2000 Sting S4 low winger, TL-3000 Sirius high-wing luxury cruiser, Zlin Piper Cub clones (made in Czech Republic) including the iCub (with docked Apple iPad), the popular SeaRey and the single-seat Dallair FR-100 Snap!, a fully aerobatic single-seater S-LSA or Experimental-Exhibition air show-built kit. Price: $149,500 (Sting S4); $151,000 (Sirius).
Aerotrek continues to deliver fun-flying, affordable tube/fabric high-wingers to the U.S. market. Manufactured in the Czech Republic, the Aerotrek A240 tricycle-gear and A220 taildragger S-LSA are muscular (585/650-pound useful load), folding-wing (standard) flyers. More than 400 flying worldwide since 1990. Many options (Dynon SkyView, tundra tires, etc.). "Well-equipped" price: $84,950.
The Allegro LSA, an all-U.S. made, composite/aluminum LSA, comes in three flavors: Classic Trainer, Voyager and Executive. Designed in the Czech Republic, it's now produced in North Carolina. With a full fuel payload of 580 pounds, the sturdy trainer/flivver outlifts most of the competition. The Executive model includes a SkyView EFIS-based deck. Prices: $89,000 (Classic Trainer); $94,000 (Voyager); $99,000 (Executive).
Rans has built top-quality, exotic bicycles and innovative sport aircraft for nearly 30 years. Three S-LSAs—the S-19LS Venterra low-wing, all-aluminum monocoque cruiser, 2012-updated S-7LS Courier, Cub-style tandem and S-6LS Coyote II (2,000 delivered!)—speak to Rans' unique hegemony in sport aviation. Prices: $107,500 base (S-7LS). S-6LS and S-19LS prices currently in revision.
I.C.P. took over the reins from former dealer Skykits. The company has registered nearly 30 iterations of its Italian-built, STOL-capable (short takeoff and landing performance) Savannah S. The all-metal, high-wing S-LSA sports a high-lift NACA 650-18 airfoil and Junkers-style flaperons. Large window doors, stall speed around 26 knots, and a "VG" (Vortex Generators) version are highlights. Price: $71,950 ("S" model).
Sharing 16th place, Indus Aviation is transitioning toward Chinese production of its Thorpedo S-LSA. A variant of the FAR 23-certified Thorp T-211, (1946), the Thorpedo became a popular kitplane in the 1970s. Reports in early 2012 called for a new factory in Weinan, China, to be completed, with an expected 100 units per year. Stay tuned: If Indus can produce at a competitive price, Thorpedo could enjoy a renaissance.
Sean Oaken's FPNA (Float Planes and Amphibs) of Sebring, Fla., makes maximum benefit of his year-round, lake-strewn home base with his own air force of surf-and-turf S-LSA. Tied for 16th place, the company sells and instructs on no less than 13 aircraft, from light sports to ultralights to powered parachutes. Some of our favorites: the FPNA Capetown float version of the A-22 Valor and the A-20 Vista tandem high-wing pusher taildragger. Valor and Capetown are unsung, super-sporty, versatile LSA. Prices: $112,000 (Capetown); $67,995 (A-20 Vista).
One of my favorite S-LSA is the (formerly) Gobosh G700, which went out of business in 2010 but is back as the Aero AT-4. The AT-4 is lively, friendly and comfortable. Made in Poland by Aero Ltd., the all-metal bird is still flown as the G700 by Chris Dillis of Skyraider Aviation in Denver. He's also one of the new investors. Skyraider has enjoyed great success with the type at two different training locations. Base price: $105,550.
Arion LS-1 Lighting
A popular carryover from the kit-built market, the all-composite, American-built Arion LS-1 Lightning weds spectacular streamlining to top-of-class performance: max cruise of 120 knots and climb rate of 1,200 fpm comes from the popular Jabiru 3300 engine and excellent aerodynamics. Also available as a kit. Base price: near $99,000.
Several new aircraft bumped the S-LSA list to 129 in 2012. In addition to the Pipistrel Alpha Trainer and Progressive Aerodyne's SeaRey LSA covered elsewhere, check these out:
The success story in E-LSA kits from its introduction is the RV-12 from Van's Aircraft. Van's has delivered thousands of experimentally built GA kits over the years. Hundreds of RV-12 E-LSA kits created demand for an S-LSA version. It's now in production, and still available as an E-LSA kit. Price: $115,000 ("Signature Edition").
SAB Aviation of Americas
SAB's Vulcan is an Italian-built, all-metal low-winger that re-debuted, after a false start, at 2012's Midwest LSA Expo as S-LSA #127. Remember the Falco kit-built aircraft? The Vulcan C-100 Falco descends from that design. Cruise: 111 knots. Fuel: 25.4 gallons in the wings. Payload: 421. Price: $125,000 (estimated).
The Dragonfly 582 is S-LSA #128. Long revered as a workhorse, a purpose-built aerotow platform for hang gliders and lightweight sailplanes, it's offered with both Rotax 582 and Rotax 912 power. The 912 version is still being certified. The "D-Fly" comes as an S-LSA or E-LSA kit. Prices: $49,424 to $81,114.
The Airplane Factory
South Africa's Sling 2 (S-LSA #125) flew around the world in 40 days in 2009. The U.S. rep offers it in ready-to-fly and kit form. One standout: The all-metal bird sports a hefty 38.6 fuel capacity! Base price: $125,000.
Though they have yet to crash the Top 20, these S-LSA are major contenders.
The Alpha Trainer debuted, as promised by company dynamo Ivo Boscarol, in April 2012, with a mid-$80,000 price mark. Ten orders were taken almost immediately. The Slovenian company fields several world-beater, all-composite aircraft, including the electric or gas-powered self-launching Taurus two-seat glider, Sinus motorglider and Virus LSA.
Pipistrel's trademark, super-efficient, bullet-nosed airframes yield spectacular performance, impressive handling and superb economy. The company has produced 1,000 aircraft worldwide in 25 years. It's a major player, with big surprises in the near future. Price: less than $93,000, fully equipped (Alpha Trainer).
The Bristell is a top-quality addition to the U.S. S-LSA market. Built in the Czech Republic by BRM Aero Ltd., its nose-to-tail refinement is obvious at first glance. Designed by Milan Bristela, a design contributor to the Evektor SportStar and PiperSport. A 617-pound useful load and 700 nm range are icing on the cake for this superb-handling S-LSA. Base price: $125,000.
The enduring Kitfox design continues as a major presence in light-sport affordable flying with the Super Sport S-LSA and other kit versions. More than 5,000 variants have been delivered over the years. If backcountry STOL performance are on your list, along with tasty appointments and fast cruise (107 knots), don't overlook the Super Sport: It's a long-established winner. Price: $99,995.
World Aircraft Company
Introduced at Oshkosh in 2011, the Spirit is a high-wing, all-metal S-LSA. Also offered as a kit, the Spirit is roomy in width and overhead space, and comes at an attractive price: $109,995. "Fully built" kit versions cost less than half that, for you bargain hunters who don't want to build but can buy and install your own avionics.
Water-capable LSA continue to proliferate, with new models due in 2013. Our quick listing must include:
The beautiful Brazilian-built, all-composite amphibian has new, aggressive representation in the U.S. Base price: $150,000.
Just won its S-LSA certificate (#129) after a rigorous audit from FAA. This popular (600 kits delivered) amphib is offered as an E-LSA kit and Experimental Amateur Built kit form, too.
Avast, There Be Sleepers, Arrrr!
Many quality, long-established LSA manufacturers, some new to the U.S. market, may not have drawn much of the spotlight just yet, but could breakout in 2013. Here's a few we like.
The King of the Sleepers, in what you might consider a niche category, is Jim Lee's Phoenix S-LSA motorglider (www.phoenixairusa.com). Lee has quietly KO'd the 109 S-LSA competitors below the Top 20 with an impressive 20 sales and, so far, 10 deliveries of the fabulous Phoenix motorglider. The Phoenix goes for north of $150,000, but motor-soaring pilots get more than their money's worth with this long-legged beauty.
Newly named SkyReach (formerly Rainbow Aircraft) offers the BushCat tube/fabric ultralight-style S-LSA. Known previously as the Cheetah, BushCat is a low-cost ($49,995 base), well-built S-LSA that deserves any budget shopper's attention. U.S. dealers: www.aerosportplanes.com.
X-Air LS (www.x-airlsa.com) is another budget bird, still priced at $59,995.
One of the first S-LSA, the all-metal German Breezer II remains a worthy contender. A well-designed beveled avionics panels goes with solid handling and aluminum-skin monocoque construction. Also available as an E-LSA kit. Still one of our favorite sleepers. Price: $125,800.
The Corbi Alto 100 all-metal, low-wing S-LSA is "Yankeed-up" and highly refined from its European origins. Impressive features include air-conditioning, Approach FastStack electrical power bus, and Dynon avionics. Price: $127,787 (Cross Country); $114,976 (Pro Trainer); $104,498 (Flyer).
A consistent attention-grabber at airshows is the gorgeous FK12 Comet aerobatic biplane. Now with the Lycoming IO-233-LSA fuel-injected engine, Comet is a hoot to fly and immaculately built. Hansen Air Group offers many other quality FK-built LSA. Price: $128,000.
Renegade Light Sport
Renegade's Doc Bailey has tons of irons in the fire, including his certification efforts for the Lycoming O-233 engine, outfitting it to the Comet stunt biplane and putting it in his own U.S.-produced Falcon LS all-composite low-winger. Price: $139,000 (Falcon LS).
Works (Still) In Progress
Someday, perhaps this year, we'll finally see Terrafugia's Transition "roadable aircraft" (www.terrafugia.com), currently in testing and projected to cost $279,000. And the same good wishes extend for the beautiful, long-delayed Icon A5 amphibian (www.iconaircraft.com).