This is the second article of a two-part series detailing the requirements for a Light Sport Aircraft Certificate. You can read LSA Part 1 here.
How do I get one of those Shiny new Sport pilot certificates, you might be asking. Well there is good news! if you are already the holder of a recreational, private, or higher level pilot certificate you are already a Sport Pilot! You may simply let your medical certificate expire (or not if you have reason to keep it). You may operate sport airplanes within the limitations of 61.315 as listed above and you may exercise the privileges of a sport pilot. If you are not “current” you can take your Flight review in a Light Sport Aircraft thus killing two birds with one stone so to speak. You’ll be getting checked out in the light sport airplane and renewing your flight review. That being noted I’d like go on a bit with cautionary notes as follows:
It is certainly a good idea to get a refresher check-out in any airplane that has substantially different handling characteristics. My experience has been that this is an emotional (read ego driven) issue with many pilots. A typical attitude might be “hey I’ve got six thousand hours of experience and I fly jets for a living and owned a Bonanza for fifteen years, I don’t need a check out in that stinkin ultralight!”
Now there are several problems that can come up but here are a couple scenarios.
Scenario One: Many of these light sport aircraft have the combination of very low mass (maximum 1320 lbs) and a high lift / high drag wing. With this combination, the airplane doesn’t have reserve inertial energy stored in the airframe to maintain flying airspeed. The high time , experienced pilot perceives a normal sight picture on final approach he retards the power as he normally would. In a heavier aircraft with less drag this works out fine. However in this airplane, the poor guy runs out of airspeed during the round out or flair and he stalls at about 10-20 feet above the runway.
Scenario Two: Most light sport aircraft don’t exactly have an abundance of thrust. To be honest, they often have very little power to speak of. What you lack in horsepower you must make up for in technique. Since flying slow and low is a huge part of the attraction to these types of aircraft you must be mindful of the horsepower / technique ratio. An example would be in crossing a ridge or gorge. It’s very wise to approach these terrain features with your senses wide open and alert. Wind moving over these features will be rising on one side and sinking on the other. The sink rate could and usually is greater than your machine’s maximum rate of climb. Always approach at an angle rather than straight on so that in the event that you need to turn away from the terrain feature at turn of less than 90 degrees will get you moving in the right direction.
Scenario Three: These airplanes often sit much lower to the ground and the view in the landing attitude is quite different than most other machines. Think Go-cart low here. The Big airplane driver may not comprehend that he still has quite a ways to go before wheels touch. Rounding out and flaring much too high above the runway is a common thing for these guys.
Scenario Four: These airplanes fly slow! High time pilot dude enters a pattern and jumps in with the Cessnas, Pipers, and Beechcrafts Already flying the pattern. What he may not realize is how slow he really is in relation to the other aircraft behind him. Worse, he may fly a “normal” pattern which in this case would create an unsafe situation where he’s dragging his airplane around on wide crosswind legs and way too extended down wind, resultant overly long final. At best, he pisses off all the other pilots in the pattern. At worst he has an engine failure and hasn’t placed himself in a safe gliding position so he has to land off airport even though he’s at an airport!
I could go on and on about these things but the point is, it’s always a good idea to get refreshed with the characteristics of the aircraft you plan to fly. Also be aware that the controller in the tower may have no clew as to the uniqueness of your airplane. It’s your job to be the pilot in command and let that controller know if you can’t safely do what he or she asks of you.
If you are not yet a rated pilot you will follow the outline set forth in FAR 61 subpart J. The basics are that you’ll need a student pilot certificate (no medical is required so you can get a student only certificate from any DPE). You’ll take a written exam and an oral exam and finally a practical exam in the airplane with your examiner. Required hours are 20 twenty total. At least fifteen of which will be dual instruction with your CFI and a minimum of five solo hours. A note on hours…. in my opinion entirely too much value is given to an arbitrary thing such as an hour. I don’t believe in hours and honestly I hate to keep track of them. What I mean is that I might spend an eight-hour workday with my student and only put .9 hours on the Hobbs meter. Was I teaching or wasting time? Should my time be compensated for the .9 hours of flight time or the eight hours of imparting my knowledge and experience onto my student?
I train at a non-tower controlled airport with a 5,000-foot runway and zero traffic. Does my student get more “training” in an hour of takeoffs and landings here with me or at an airport say like John Wayne in Orange county California? I’d say those “hours” are not equal. If I’m flying with a student and that student is about to solo but I feel like he needs several more trips around the pattern and a few more takeoffs and landings then you can bet I want that student practicing the skills I’m teaching rather than calculating in his head how much these extra landings are costing him in terms of hours. I’m building safe, proficient, airmen don’t bother me with arbitrary bullshit like minutes on an imaginary clock. Therefore, I charge my students to teach them to fly and I don’t charge for each particular hour that said mission may entail.
Any Subpart H CFI may serve as your instructor for the sport pilot program or you may use the services of specialized Subpart K flight instructors like myself.
Mr. Wolf you sound so negative about the Sport Pilot Rule, isn’t there anything good about it?
I sure hope I do not sound overly negative, please do not take it that way. I love flying and I particularly love flying these lightweight responsive airplanes. I furthermore love experimentals and home built airplanes. I love the idea that in this wonderful country we can design, build, and fly an aircraft all by ourselves as individuals with zero training and zero required anything…almost. I’m very passionate about teaching and creating pilots. The negativity you may detect has more to do with government regulation and the intentional handicapping of our nation. Think about this… We as a country and a people can design and create flying machines such as F-15’s, SR-71’s, F-22’s certainly we can build ultralights and light sport airplanes that can be the best in the world. We could use American workers to design and create those machines and we could use American flight instructors to train American pilots. Intentionally creating rules that place us at a disadvantage in the world marketplace bothers me greatly. Innovation comes from the guys that are hands on and actually doing this stuff every day.
Within the scope of the light sport rule there exists three hugely incredible privileges. They are:
1) Being able to exercise the privileges of a pilot without undergoing an FAA medical Exam. (ASA FAR/AIM 61.303 (b) page 117)
2) Being able to pilot “Gliders” and powered gliders (motor gliders) even in the event of a revoked or denied medical certificate. (See chart on page 117 of 2013 ASA FAR/AIM)
3) Being able to “Proficiency Check” into additional categories of aircraft with no minimum time and without having to take additional written exams or using the services of a designated pilot examiner. Instead you may utilize two CFIs. This is a huge benefit and a powerful tool that exists nowhere else in all of aviation. This sounds too good to be true but you can satisfy your curiosity about this by reading part 61.321 page 121 of the ASA 2013 FAR AIM.
That being said, the sport pilot rule is fantastic! Buy yourself an American made Part 23 certified airplane, E-lsa kit or S-lsa aircraft that meets the light sport “box” and head down to your local CFI. Complete your training in your own airplane. GO live your aviation dream. Take amazing flying adventures exploring this beautiful country of ours. Land in small out of the way airstrips. Meet extremely interesting people. Ask an old retired fighter pilot if he wants a ride in your airplane and if he’d mind teaching you something about flying while you’re at it. Take a child up for a view over the horizon and inspire them to dream big and live with passion. Take your wife on a date, sleep under the wing in a grass field.
Editor’s Note: Wolf is a CFI (airplane and glider) and Tally One’s resident LSA expert. LSA is a relatively new and often misunderstood niche of general aviation. Please send your LSA-related questions to Wolf at: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can’t find Wolf it’s probably because he is busy running his flying retreat at Captain Drake’s Aerial Family Adventures in Southern Oregon. Check them out!