Aircraft: Lighting It Up
Light sport aircraft are arriving on the market en masse, as one model after another earns certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, which created the category last year. By midsummer, a dozen new LSAs were available for purchase, and another half dozen should debut by year’s end.
The LSA class includes two subcategories: E-LSAs (experimental), which are sold as kits that buyers assemble, and S-LSAs (special), which are the ready-to-fly aircraft addressed here. These small airplanes are intended primarily for sport flying, but many have sufficient range and performance for long-distance travel. They can appeal to aviation novices because they are relatively easy to fly and maintain, and they are inexpensive to operate and to purchase compared to the planes in other aircraft classes; prices start at less than $75,000. For these same reasons, the LSAs can be attractive to experienced pilots who want to downsize.
By FAA decree, all LSAs have certain common characteristics. They have one engine, a non-adjustable propeller, and fixed landing gear. They seat no more than two people. And they are limited to a maximum speed of 138 mph and a maximum gross weight of 1,320 pounds. However, within these parameters, designers have created a wide variety of aircraft.
One of the first LSAs to be certified was the egg-shaped Flight Design CT, which at first glance appears as though it flew out of a child’s toy box. But this is indeed a high-tech machine, with an airframe built of a carbon-fiber and Kevlar composite that allows for a strong, light, and aerodynamic design. Powered by a modern and reliable Rotax engine, the CT can cruise at 10,000 feet (the maximum altitude for sport pilots, although the aircraft is certified to fly as high as 14,000) at 128 mph for as far as 1,000 miles, sipping only 4.5 gallons of fuel per hour. The cabin’s egg shape creates a comfortable space (49 inches wide) for two sets of shoulders and elbows, and the expansive windows afford a spectacular view. The CT has a base price of $85,000, and options include tundra tires for rough fields, floats for water landings, and a built-in parachute that can lower the entire airplane gently to the ground in an emergency. Delivery of the CT and most other LSAs usually takes about three or four months—a short wait by aircraft industry standards.
Also among the new models now available are the Legend Cub, a remake of the fabric-covered yellow J-3 Cub that starts at $74,000, and the all-metal IndUS Thorpedo, which has a starting price of $85,000 and a sliding Plexiglas canopy that can be opened in flight.
For those who want to learn to fly in an LSA, the FAA offers sport pilot certificates, which require about half as much training time as does a standard private pilot license: 20 hours as opposed to a minimum of 40 hours. Sport pilots are limited to daylight flying in good weather, but you can acquire additional privileges as you gain more experience.