LSA Part 1

Light Sport Aircraft and the Golden Rule

You have heard of the golden rule…. he with the gold makes the rules. Such that it is with the creation of the Light Sport segment of general aviation. The reader’s digest version of the story is this: The FAA created part 103 for the purpose of letting us ( the people) design, create, and fly our own machines relatively unencumbered by pesky rules and regulations, pilot certificates and training. It’s a wonderful freedom that we have in the united states. The problem was that the rule is pretty restrictive. 254 lbs, single seat, less than five gallons of fuel. Play by those rules and you can see that we are talking about flimsy little contraptions that really can’t go anywhere far. However people love ultralights! They were a big deal back in the 1970’s and 80’s. One little fly in the ointment was that people kept dieing. Single seat amature built machines offer little in the way of  training possibilities. Obviously, your instructor can’t fly with you, so you really are on your own to figure it all out.

Eventually there were enough divots torn into the ground around  our nation from all these Ultralights that were falling out of the sky. Something had to be done. An FAA exemption was made. There were then two seat “ultralight trainers” so that an instructor could fly with his or her student and prevent the deaths. Also a new certificate was created for these nylon nitwit instructors. It was called the BFI or basic flight instructor certificate.  Guess what? It worked! Ultralight pilots slowed down their death rate considerably and things looked pretty good for a while. People where having a great time, new airplanes and innovations were coming out of the woodwork, rocket deployed airframe parachutes were invented and tested. Along with a host other cottage industries. General aviation on a level that normal humans could afford was booming!

Things looked so good in fact that enterprising pilots figured out that a “training flight” could be taken over the Grand Canyon, beaches of Hawaii, and other beautiful tourist destinations. These “training” flights could look a whole lot like a first class aerial adventure! These aerial adventures could be  provided for a whole lot less in a flying kite with a motor, than the competing Helicopter tour companies ever could dream of. Not only that but they offered better views and a more exciting personal experience in many cases.

You know who owns helicopters? Big Money that’s who. People with big money like to keep it that way! They do not want those dollars spread around. They are much more comfortable if the dollars are kept safely in their hands for your protection! People with big money can hire lobbyists and purchase  laws into effect. So they did. Big Money cried “Out with these ridiculous, inexpensive, experimental,  stick and fabric airplanes that burn only five gallons per hour of pump gasoline!  To heck with this training exemption crap.”  From now on if it has two seats it is an airplane , has a registration number and therefore one must have a pilot’s certificate to operate one. Furthermore, if it is not a part 23 “certified” airplane then it must be an “experimental” aircraft which according to part 91.319  (page 197 2013 FAR/Aim) means that it may certainly not be used in any sort of commercial operation including flight instruction.

The Helicopter tour companies and their millionaire owners were now safe and everyone could rest comfortably knowing that no backyard engineer or pilot would ever make any money again . Nor would there be any such silliness as affordable flight instruction.

Problem Solved! Almost….But the issue was that that those darn bodies started piling up again. We had no training aircraft or instructors anymore.  They were now all declared illegal overnight. The entire ultralight industry came to a screeching halt.

The good news is that our government is here to help us and they created the new Light Sport rule. They defined what a light sport aircraft is and they created a new pilot certificate with 19 important limitations on exercising the privileges of said certificate. We will go into detail on what those are in a moment. This new rule was supposed to have “saved” general aviation as we know it. The theory was that these airplanes would be less expensive to build and fly and that the absence of a requirement for an FAA medical certificate would open the doors to many more aspiring student pilots. All this might have worked, but it didn’t.

It didn’t work too well because they made a few huge glaring mistakes. One, they outlawed all the really good and inexpensive experimental training aircraft. Second, when they made the light sport rule , they made the maximum allowable gross weight just shy of a number that would have allowed all the thousands of existing certified airplanes in our nation’s fleets to be used as trainers for this new pilot certificate. Had the maximum allowable gross weight been say 1675 lbs instead of the 1320 lbs as it stands today, then thousands of existing part 23 certified airplanes like the Cessna 120, 140, 150, and 152’s , as well as the  two seat Pipers and all the other Well engineered American Made training aircraft  would have been allowable. But they are not eligible under the FAR as it is written today.  Why is this a big deal? Because that means that if you are a flight instructor or FBO and you want to provide training for the newly created sport pilot certificate you effectively (there are a few exceptions) must buy a new S-sla certified aircraft to provide that training in. That means you will spend upwards of $150,000 for that shiny new airplane! Cheaper? Where is this Less expensive training? It’s a myth. There is no less expensive training because the aircraft that are eligible are suddenly very expensive compared to the old run out C-152’s that every FBO across the nation already owns. God forbid you want to provide training in an experimental E-lsa kolb or flightstar airplane that costs less than $20k and works perfectly well. Forbidden!

Oh in case you are interested in World economics and the financial / brain power health of our nation you might also consider that these rule changes effectively halted new development and experimentation by the american backyard builder/ innovator His market was just stamped out. Instead we shipped all of our research,development, and production to countries like the czech republic! Not the best financial move ever.

Now we’ve covered the origin of the Sport pilot rule and the FAA mistakes that caused it to not be the stellar success that everyone hoped it would be. Let’s now define what a Light sport airplane is and then go into what a Sport pilot Certificate is and how you get one. Then I’ll cover a few quirks in the system and expose a couple of the truly wonderful things about it too.

What is a Light sport aircraft? FAR part 1.1 page 6 of the 2013 ASA far/aim book defines a light sport aircraft as having 13 key features. I teach my students to think of each of these as a fence post ringing in an aircraft tiedown area. If the aircraft meets each of the 13 and still fits inside the “box” then it is a light sport aircraft provided it does and always has met those criteria. That last sentence is important “Does and always has” for example if an aircraft now has it’s gross weight limited to 1320 lbs but it once had a gross weight of 1670 lbs  that airplane is not a light sport aircraft.

I teach my students to memorize the “fence posts” in two groups one group has nine posts and the other has four. the first nine start with numbers descending from the largest to the smallest.

1)  1320 lbs max gross weight

2)   120 kts  max CAS horizontal velocity at sea level on a standard day

3)    120 kts  VNE (gliders)

4)     45 kts Max stall speed clean (without the use of flaps or lift enhancing devices)

5)     2 occupants (Pilot and one possible passenger)

6)     1 engine    (far specifically says one reciprocating engine, leaving us to determine that an electrical motor driven airplane would not be a light sport eligible aircraft?)

7)     fixed landing gear

8)     non-pressurised cabin

9)     fixed pitch propeller (or ground adjustable)

Then the group of four weird ones:

1)  retractable gear for float planes

2)  retractable gear for gliders

3)  repositionable propeller for gliders (feather-able in flight)

4) a description of allowable gyroplane rotor blade systems

Now let us look at the sport pilot certificate and its unique quirks. FAR part 61 subpart J   (61.315) page 121 of the 2013 FAR AIM from ASA.  You’ll find that there are 19 limitations placed on the operating privileges of the sport pilot. Being asked “what are the privileges and limitations of the certificate that you’re applying for?” is a fair question from a pilot examiner. Therefore,  I have come up with a way to teach my students to remember all of these limitations. You will however have to have a bit of a sense of humor and not become overly offended with a touch of colloquial language.

The $AD checklist of the Sport Pilot:

$ the dollar sign S is the list of limitations forbidding any kind of commercial operations for the sport pilot.  The easy way to remember them is with the tool FAST R HP  or the fastR horsepower list of limitations.


F) furtherance of a business

A) air lift operation charity or otherwise

S) Sales demonstrations of aircraft in flight

T) towing of any object

R) be a required crewmember on any aircraft that requires more than one pilot or crew

H) fly for HIRE or compensation

P) carry passengers or property for hire

The “A” part of the $AD checklist stands for “actual” limitations.

These are the ones that most people think of when they imagine a sport pilot certificate.

This memory tool is a short funny story.

One night thirteen assholes brought cocaine down while flying vfr on top from outside the united states.

ONE ) maximum of one passenger

Night)  no night flight operations

1)   10 thousand feet MSL or two thousand feet AGL (in the event that you must cross terrain that exceeds 10,000 MSL )maximum flight altitudes

3)  three statute miles ground or flight visibility  ( this effectively eliminates class G for the sport pilot so he more or less is always operating under part 91 rules for class Echo airspace. )

A)  No Class Alpha operations or instrument flying

B,C,D) No class bravo, charlie, or delta airport operations without special additional training and logbook endorsement.

VFR on top) sport pilots may not fly without visual reference to the ground

Outside the United States)  sport pilots may not assume that their pilot certificate will be accepted outside the united states and may not file an international flight plan without getting permission ahead of time.

Now for the D part of the $ad checklist . The D stands for DUHHHHHH!

the memory tool is DAMN 87/87’s

D)  may not operate contrary to your drivers license and are bound to any limitations placed on that license.  I.E. if you must wear glasses to drive your car you must wear them to operate your airplane. If you are a deadbeat father and do not pay your child support and are now only allowed to drive monday through friday go to work….. you may only fly monday through friday!

A) may not fly contrary to your airworthiness certificate of the aircraft  (DUHHHH! when could you?)

M) may not fly contrary to any limitation on you medical certificate   (if you’ve had your medical revoked or denied you sir are effectively grounded!) (unless you get a glider rating and then put a big ass engine on the glider, which is totally ok to do BTW)

87/87’s )  you may not fly an aircraft that flies faster than 87 kts. Oh and BTW you may not fly an airplane that flies slower than 87 kts either. This one sounds super bogus if you ask me. The intent is to prevent people from operating aircraft with significantly different flight characteristics without getting checked out in them first and getting themselves into trouble. I agree with it in function but I’d have all pilots pay attention to this not just sport pilots. Maybe when they make me king I’ll institute that change.

So that pretty much wraps up the 19 limitations, hope you all had fun with my silly memory game.

Editor’s Note: Wolf is an LSA flight instructor and Tally One’s resident LSA expert. LSA is a relatively new and often misunderstood niche of general aviation.  Wolf continues to demystify LSA later this week in part 2 of the post.