End of LSA? Been thinking about the Cessna Skycatcher LSA (162) aircraft ending production and some saying the LSA movement is over. Well, probably not. Especially not simply because Cessna decided to be out of that market. There are scores of active LSA manufacturers that have aircraft flying in many parts of the world including the US and many of those are at FBO’s for training. It did seem as though everyone was expecting the 162 to be the next 152. However, the lower purchase costs and rental rates of the 152 vs 162, has kept the 152 a very popular trainer. The greater useful load for the 152 is also a positive factor. People don’t seem to be getting smaller these days.
Personally I think that light sport aircraft have more limited use than I had previously thought. Not to mention higher prices that were originally hoped for. One does have to admire the early days of civil aviation where the Piper Cubs and Champs along with others were the mainstay of flying. The fact is, like the earlier aircraft, there is not much weight vs wing surface in a typical LSA to ride comfortably in light/mod turbulence or climb power to get above. We are talking gross weights of only 1100lbs to the LSA of 1320lbs and wing loading in the 9-11 lbs/ ft² range. Common wing loadings for a GA single engine aircraft are at 14-17 lbs/ft² and twins-26 lbs/ft². (birds-5 lbs/ ft² – airliners-@120 lbs/ ft²)
So how does wing loading affect aircraft performance? A larger wing area relative to mass (wing loading) creates more lift. It also will have lower stall speeds, shorter takeoff & landing distances, better climb performance (for the power available) and better maneuvering/turning performance. Sounds great except for the bumpy ride as the wing is more sensitive to gusts and turbulence.
When I think back to my early days in flight training, I started in a Piper Tomahawk or “tummy-ache” as some of us called it. The main issue was the light wing loading and the squirrely nature in the more turbulent summer air. And we are talking a gross weight that was several hundred pounds heavier than the cubs/champs or today’s LSA’s. Of course there are other factors that contribute to an aircraft’s’ ride in unsettled air, but weight is part of the equation.I recall coming in for my lesson one day to find that it had to be cancelled because the Tomahawk was down for some repair. Rather than cancel, there was a Piper Cruiser 4 seater sitting on the tarmac and I said, how about we take that instead? We did and I never went back to the Tomahawk. Why? Because this Cruiser had another 300 lbs of GW and another 25hp. All seemed more stable handling in rough air and the extra power was great.
Next, I tried a Cherokee Warrior with even more hp, gross weight and higher wing loading. Now I’m hooked on this even as my training costs continue to rise with each new airplane. Wasn’t done yet. Finally went to the Archer with even more weight and power and this was the one! Loved it and oh yeah, there were all the great avionics because it was the instrument trainer too. Finally got my Private in the Archer and went on to fly many airplanes in the years to follow.
How does all this relate to LSA? Well, with the advent of the new category and license, I began getting involved with light sport and it thrust me back to the Tomahawk days of training and the somewhat under powered planes with the bumpy ride. Now don’t get me wrong, I like these light sport aircraft and even own one. They are great fun to fly down low and slow on those nice summer days. The view is terrific compared to climbing up to 7-8-9k and just heading to the destination as fast as you can. But, if I want to travel somewhere over a couple hours or so, the bumps and lack of horsepower to get above the turbulence, all make the travel less comfortable. I think a lot of the older pilots like me that are moving to the LSA are finding some of the same truths. If you’re not, great!
AOPA and EAA submitted a request in March 2012 to the FAA for those flying recreationally and has completed the recurrent aeromedical course, to use the driver’s license as the baseline of health as an option to obtaining a 3rd class FAA medical. This would be limited to day vfr, two on board in aircraft with max of 4 seats and up to 180hp. This would be a good alternative for those that may want to transition to light-sport / recreational category-class-type aircraft or someone who is only interested in these aircraft. Personally I’m not interested in the super light ac for travel.
Now, we also have the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act (GAPPA) designated S. 2103 in the Senate and H.R. 3708 in the House of Representatives. This legislation would apply medical certification standards similar to the decade-old and successful Sport Pilot rule to most general aviation aircraft when flown for personal flights under visual flight rules at or below 14,000 feet MSL and under 250 knots.
Please support this initiative and sign the petition though this url at EAA: http://govt.eaa.org/14781/support-general-aviation-pilot-protection-act/