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Top Picks in Today’s Light Sport Aircraft Market

Here are some LSA options for various budgets and missions

The M-8 Eagle’s handling is sprightly without touchiness. [image courtesy Orlican]

Light sport aircraft (LSA) have been part of the aviation firmament for almost 20 years and over that time some models established themselves even as newcomers regularly arrived. The way the FAA accepts—not “certifies”–-these airplanes allows for rapid improvement, which has stimulated surprisingly fast progress. Here are three favorites—two tried and true, and one relatively new.

Top Picks

The Evektor Harmony is a next-generation model following its SportStar, which will forever hold the title of the first special LSA accepted by the FAA in April 2005. Flight Design’s CT was accepted on the same day.

Being first often conveys some advantages, but in an industry where new ideas often emerge, a successful producer cannot long rest on its past achievements. Based in an aviation-rich area of the Czech Republic, Evektor steadily upgraded SportStar through a series of alterations. Later, the company introduced Harmony with added sophistication.

The Harmony uses a more advanced compound wing to bring performance to the top of the categoy. [image courtesy Evektor]
The Harmony uses a more advanced compound wing—the leading edge does not form a straight line—to bring performance to the top of the category (restricted by present regulation, which may change with a new rule known as MOSAIC, or Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certificates). Pilots who fly a Harmony say it feels like a legacy GA airplane.

Evektor Harmony: 

  • 120 knot cruise
  • 615-pound useful load
  • 46-inch-wide cabin
  • 700 nm range

The Jabiru J-230D, hailing from Australia, is the result of years of development, beginning long before LSA came along. When FAA’s rule hit in 2004, the Down Under designer and manufacturer was quick to adapt its kit products to the new market.


J-230D resembles the company’s J-400, a four-seater. That many seats aren’t permitted on an LSA, so out they came, leaving an aft interior bigger than a Cessna 150. A third door sized for people brings the easiest luggage area loading among LSA, so taking along your pet is easily accomplished.

Jabiru is a rare airframe builder that also makes its own engine. When you hear the word “Jabiru” (a large bird), you need to think airplane and powerplant, though the engines are also used on other airframes. A J-230D with the 6-cylinder Jabiru 3300 can readily hit the top speed among LSA.

Jabiru J-230D: 

  • 120 knot cruise
  • 507-pound useful load
  • 45-inch-wide cabin
  • 675 nm range

The Texas Aircraft Colt relies on the great success of a predecessor Brazilian design, but the Colt is all-American. One of the newer aircraft to the LSA fleet in the U.S., developers had the advantage of seeing what pilots were buying…and what they were requesting.

With its conventional yoke control, the Colt breaks a familiar mold in LSA, an overwhelming majority of which use joysticks in various forms. A refined aircraft, Colt is beautifully appointed inside and out, attracting pilots seeking a legacy GA airplane look in a ground-up-new design that can be operated by a sport pilot or higher-certificated pilot exercising the no-medical privilege of LSA.


Built entirely in Hondo, Texas, with solid local support, the Colt joins the best of an experienced Brazilian aircraft designer with American know-how and airplane building capability right here in the U.S.

Texas Aircraft Colt: 

  • 118 knot max cruise
  • 469-pound useful load
  • 44-inch-wide cabin
  • 800 nm range

Seaplane LSAs

Seaplanes quickly earn a special place in some aviators’ hearts because of the unique ability to land on water and for the versatility that amphibious gear affords. FAA recognized this interest and allowed 110 pounds more gross weight for qualifying seaplanes, and it also permitted amphibious gear. With a water bird, you have vastly more places to make a landing, whether for a pleasant visit or an emergency.

Vickers Aircraft closely observed American brand Icon after the California designer made a big splash with its A5 LSA seaplane. New Zealand-based Vickers saw an opportunity to achieve even more with its Wave.

Engineers took a different approach to creating the Wave. Using modern CAD methods and software similar to what Boeing or Lockheed practice, Vickers worked for years before unveiling a product, but when they did, it flew “right out of the box.” The company remains in testing as it works toward FAA acceptance but believes it can swiftly move to manufacturing because of the detailed preparation work. Indeed, elements are already being produced.

Seaplanes quickly earn a special place in some aviators’ hearts because of the versatility of amphibious gear. [image courtesy Vickers]
The Wave first tempted buyers with prices substantially below Icon’s eye-watering $375,000, although continued improvements and the latest engine from Rotax have pushed up its costs. Wave is an intriguing new amphibian loaded with special features and boasting a large interior complete with sliding doors.

Vickers Wave: 

  • 120 knot max cruise
  • 650-pound useful load
  • 53-inch-wide cabin
  • 1,850-pound max gross weight (via granted FAA exemption)

Scoda Aeronautica’s Super Petrel started its life in France. It was much different before the team at Edra, now Scoda Aeronautica, took over in Brazil. Here’s another seaplane entry from the South American nation that is big in aviation. The Super Petrel sets itself apart from all others with its biwing construction. You may not think that’s logical in the modern world, but Super Petrel is a highly efficient aircraft. Plenty of wing area helps it leave the water faster.


The shorter the water run, the less strain on an airframe. LSA seaplanes are masterful at this task, jumping off the water in a few seconds. Higher power to weight helps, but Scoda wanted to go even further.

Scoda’s XP designation for the Super Petrel means extra performance, but you also get more airplane. The airframe was extended by 10 inches, bringing with it a bounty of benefits, including more luggage area. With Rotax’s potent 141 hp 915iS engine atop the center of gravity, the Super Petrel will leap out of the water with great energy.

Scoda Petrel XP: 

  • 110 knot cruise
  • 570-pound useful load
  • 46-inch-wide cabin
  • 330-foot water takeoff

Special Appeal

We like different cars, houses, and movies. We like specialized aircraft as well. These three serve different purposes. One is a highly refined “Cub-like” design from Europe. Another is one of the new batch of high-wing LSA aimed at the coming MOSAIC regulations. The third is another brand-new design that takes performance to the edge of what the FAA may allow under the new rule.


Zlin’s Norden is what some call a “Cub-like,” in that it somewhat resembles the iconic Piper Cub. It could hardly be more different despite its familiar fuselage shape and planform. Norden fairly bristles with features and refinements.

The Norden is a STOL performer with aluminum-structure wings equipped with electrically controlled leading-edge slats. It has been designed and tested for short-field and off-runway capabilities. While this new model gained FAA acceptance in early 2022, the Norden follows several other models, each building on the previous.

The Norden flew excellently with 100 hp, because of its relatively low weight. Now fitted with the 141 hp Rotax 915iS, the airplane wants to jump into the air at the slightest encouragement from its pilot. 

A wide door allows easier access to both tandem seats. Norden is well equipped with modern avionics, so while you might fly it in unprepared areas, you’ll be fully prepared with information on big bright screens.


Zlin Norden: 

  • 118 knot max cruise
  • 518-pound useful load
  • 45-degree Fowler flaps
  • 800 nm range

The Airplane Factory’s Sling HW, or High Wing, is an all-new design clearly aimed at FAA’s coming MOSAIC regulation. A quick glance at the specifications below illustrates that Sling HW is well outside the current regulation for LSA. That’s OK for now. It can start with a kit or import a few aircraft in the experimental exhibition category.

Numbers are bigger than for a present-day LSA, and that’s great if you seek extra capability. Be prepared to pay for it. Most MOSAIC LSA unveiled to date are often priced well into the $200,000s, and several exceed $300,000. Still, that’s much less than a comparable legacy GA aircraft, and the Sling HW is big, comfortable, and well-equipped. A sleek composite exterior helps it outperform comparable models. 

These MOSAIC LSA or mLSA are going to greatly expand the LSA range, and Sling producer TAF has long been an innovator. It is also supremely confident in its designs and loves to demonstrate that by literally flying a new design all the way around the world. The Sling has done so several times.

The Aircraft Factory Sling HW: 

  • 142 knot max cruise
  • 1,000-pound useful load
  • four-seater
  • 830 nm range

TL Ultralight’s Sparker is the newest from the well-established Czech producer. The company’s name refers to a European term for an aircraft type smaller and lighter than light sport aircraft. Yet the Sparker is ready for the newest FAA regulation basis even before it’s released.


The Sparker follows a tandem design called “Stream” that introduces ideas carried into it. One big leap forward—especially when the airframe is propelled by Rotax 141 hp 915iS engine—is cruise speed. At 170 knots, the Sparker becomes competitive with legacy aircraft like Cirrus’ SR20 at a fraction of the price.

Fast for cross-country flying, the Sparker boasts a generous cabin and spacious luggage area, easily accessed through a door on the pilot’s side. The panel also supports the pilot with three Garmin G3X touch screens. Deluxe throughout and handsomely built, the Sparker is ready for Mosaic. The first models in the U.S. will be certificated as experimental exhibition.

TL Ultralight Sparker: 

  • 170 knot max cruise
  • 548-pound useful load
  • 49-inch-wide cabin
  • 750 nm range


Affordability is critical for many. Those with larger budgets can choose from many grand choices, but that leaves out too many pilots—or, more important, perhaps, would-be pilots. The fantastic news is that despite high inflation and other challenges, low-cost aircraft are available with diverse choices.

Aerotrek’s A240 has been so consistently popular that deliveries stretch out several months. Although worth the wait, impatient buyers enjoy a growing supply of used Aerotrek models, represented since the beginning of LSA by Rob Rollison.


The Kitfox is a well-known design that evolved from the earlier Avid Flyer, as did the Aerotrek. A resemblance is easily seen, but the designs have differentiated over many years of manufacturing (the pioneering Avid Flyer predates LSA by many years). 

Aerotrek’s A240 has been so consistently popular that deliveries stretch out several months. [image courtesy Aerotrek]
In the Czech Republic, Aeropro has been steadily producing aircraft since 1990 and can now boast more than 650 aircraft flying around the world with the U.S. as a significant market. Aeropro chose not to grow sharply at early demand, instead keeping a calm hand on the throttle. As a result, the company built an experienced workforce with low turnover fabricating aircraft in a simple yet highly professional manner. Loaded with qualities, such as folding wings, and with sprightly performance, Aerotrek boasts a reasonably modest price tag.

Aeropro A240: 

  • 112 knot max cruise
  • 570-pound useful load
  • 44-inch-wide cabin
  • 525 nm range

The Orlican M-8 Eagle is an airplane that looks familiar yet isn’t quite what you expect. As soon as I explain that it’s an 80 percent-scale Cessna Skylane, some will recognize it immediately. Overall, it’s about half the plane: half the seats, half the useful load, and half the weight. However, it’s also one-third the price, comparing a M-8 Eagle to a new 182.

Orlican is unknown to most Americans, but the company has been in business for 60 years and does high-caliber work for major aircraft manufacturers. The principal designer created a similar aircraft for another company but left to join the much larger Orlican to see his Eagle to market.

The Orlican M8 Eagle is an airplane that looks familiar yet isn’t quite what you expect. [image courtesy Orlican]
Flying the machine shows further differences. A Skylane flies as a large luxury car drives, a bit ponderously compared to the far more responsive Eagle. Handling is sprightly without touchiness, a welcome combination. A composite exterior helps Eagle reach nearly the LSA speed limit.

Orlican M-8 Eagle: 

  • 118 knot max cruise
  • 592-pound useful load
  • 46-inch-wide cabin
  • 650 nm range

The Merlin Lite is a single-seater, one of only two in this article. The Merlin Lite can qualify as a Part 103 ultralight vehicle and take advantage of the least regulated sector in all of aviation. The entire rule can be printed on both sides of a single standard piece of paper. No pilot certificate is required, nor is a medical, or even N-numbers. Some say this is freedom in aviation.


However, pilots who believe they know Part 103 ultralights conjure an image of a super simple “tube-and-rag” aircraft, where the pilot sits out in the open flying 35 mph…not that we should find anything the least bit wrong with that. Whatever your Part 103 impression, the Merlin Lite will make you think differently.

The Merlin Lite is a single-seater and can qualify as a Part 103 ultralight vehicle. [image courtesy Aeromarine]
Here’s an all-metal, fully enclosed, well-equipped aircraft that you can acquire for less than the average price of a new car in 2023. While a single-seater may not fit everyone’s needs, airplanes are commonly flown solo, so why pay for what you rarely use?

Merlin Lite: 

  • 55-knot cruise
  • on floats or motorglider
  • all-metal
  • least regulation/lowest cost


Building your own aircraft is much more than saving a buck. For most, it is a learning experience, use of craftsmanship, or simply an absorbing hobby. When you’re done assembling your own airplane, you will know it in a way few pilots know their airplanes. You can also have precisely what you want, and you can change it anytime you wish.

Lockwood Aircraft’s AirCam is no LSA, but it might qualify as a MOSAIC LSA. Meanwhile, the AirCam has been such a hit that 200 have been built as kits. An AirCam looks somewhat unorthodox with its twin aft-mounted Rotax engines on a half-open-cockpit design, but you need to know why it looks this way.

The AirCam was custom-designed and built for one job: taking National Geographic-grade cover story photos of Namibian jungles and wildlife in Africa. The country’s terrain is utterly unforgiving. Clearings are few and small. The photographer, seated up front for photo missions, needs huge visibility and no obstructions. Plus, they wish to fly at the speed of nature–that is, slowly. An AirCam accomplishes all this like it was designed for it…because it was.

Lockwood Aircraft’s AirCam is no LSA, but it might qualify as a MOSAIC LSA. [image courtesy Lockwood Aircraft]
Yet pilots have discovered the AirCam offers flight qualities and versatility unmatched in any other aircraft, and that has created a growing group of AirCam enthusiasts. Some fly on floats, in some cases with three tandem seats. 

Lockwood AirCam: 

  • climb on one engine
  • 800-pound useful load (Gen 3), 
  • loiter at 30 knots
  • 6-hour endurance

Composite FX’s XET is perhaps the most unusual aircraft in this selection, but for some it may be completely mesmerizing. XET is the high end of a line of single-place helicopters, the smallest of which (XEL model) can qualify as a Part 103 ultralight needing no pilot certificate. Hundreds are flying successfully, a tribute to the original Canadian design by a non-helicopter pilot.

Today, the XET is expertly built by Composite FX in northern Florida. The company has vast experience in composites, and the owner is a helicopter fan. The linkup worked well, and today the company has a steady enterprise with a loyal following.

The “T” in XET stands for turbine. Composite FX’s engine shop modifies T62-T2A Solar Turbine engines, often used as an auxiliary power unit, and they produce a steady 95 hp. In the hands of skilled helicopter pilots, performance on the XET is impressive. Kit-built, the XET can get airborne for less than $100,000. That’s amazing.

Composite FX XET: 

  • 70 knot cruise
  • 400-pound useful load
  • 10.5 mph fuel burn
  • 1.9-hour endurance

CGS Aviation’s Hawk is for fun. Trying to identify a work purpose would completely shoot down its charm. This article started with lines about elevating yourself and perhaps finding joy in the air. Of all the aircraft in this piece, Hawk may be most likely to put a smile on your face.

All aircraft here are top choices. Depending on your interest, these machines are capable of displaying impressive performance. The Hawk is a far simpler proposition. Designed in the early 1980s with more than 2,500 flying, it exhibits easy handling, stable flying, economic purchase and operation, low maintenance, and modest cost. What’s not to like?

The Hawk is versatile, available as a Part 103 ultralight (through a related company), a kit aircraft, or a fully built special LSA, so you don’t have to build. The best proof you can find—ask any owner what he likes about his Hawk and allow plenty of time for that conversation.

Hawk Arrow II:

  • 70 knot max cruise
  • 550-pound useful load 
  • tricycle or tailwheel
  • 300-hour build time (fully built available)

You have many more choices than those portrayed above. This was a broad and varied sampling, but it was only a narrow view of the affordable aviation field. To offer a sampling of the 158 aircraft the FAA has accepted as special (fully built) light sport aircraft, plus more than 100 kit-built models, I’ve divided the 15 subject aircraft into five categories. 

These 15 aircraft are good representatives but between them account for just 6 percent of the models available. Buyers enjoy many diverse choices, one of which might be perfect. I encourage you to explore more fully at (to become over the next few months), now a member of the FLYING Media Group family.

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Plane & Pilot magazine. You can subscribe here.


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