20 Hours to Solo
Will a new pilot category restore the glory days of general aviation?
- By Mark Huber
- Air & Space magazine, September 2007
(Page 4 of 5)
Tom Zastrow, 64, a retired U.S. Department of Labor investigator who lives in Oviedo, Florida, got interested in the new class of flying by taking rides in a friend’s Beechcraft Musketeer. “My friend warned me that flying was like drilling holes in the sky and filling them with money, but sport pilot is still cheaper than the traditional approach,” he says. “I’m not interested in flying at night, using a plane for business trips, or instrument flying.” Zastrow purchased a used Challenger 2 sportplane for $10,000, and has spent another $6,000 upgrading it. “I’m looking forward to sharing flying with my friends and family,” he says. “It’s like riding in a convertible.”
The new category of flying is “definitely an aviation sweet spot right now,” says Tom Peghiny, president of sport airplane distributor Flight Design USA in Woodstock, Connecticut. “The convergence of new technology, new regulations, and the changing pilot demographics. It’s pretty exciting.” Last year, sales of new conventional single-piston-engine airplanes—Beechcrafts, Cessnas, Cirruses, Columbias, Diamonds, Mooneys, Pipers—reached 2,500. Will names like Allegro, Breezer, Skylark, Sting, and Zenith be as recognizable one day? It will be years before the general aviation industry knows if sport flying provides the tonic it seeks.
What’s an LSA?
A light sport aircraft…
• cannot take off in excess of 1,320 pounds (1,430 for seaplanes and 660 pounds for lighter-than-air vehicles)
• can be powered by only one reciprocating engine with a fixed-pitch propeller
• must have fixed landing gear
• has no more than two seats
• has a maximum stall speed of 51 mph
• has a maximum cruise speed of 138 mph
Students can receive sport pilot training from any Federal Aviation Administration-certified instructor, and they can take lessons in any aircraft. For the required solo flight, however, student sport pilots must fly an airplane in the light sport aircraft category.
There is not yet enough data to firmly gauge the cost of obtaining a sport pilot certificate, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association. For rough budgeting, the EAA suggests figuring on one-third to one-half the cost of a private pilot certificate.
A person who has been denied an FAA pilot certificate for medical reasons cannot be issued a sport pilot license until approved by the FAA’s medical branch. The FAA notes at least 15 conditions that can disqualify someone from receiving any pilot certificate, and FAA rules state that if a pilot knows of any medical condition that would affect his or her ability to operate an aircraft, that person should refrain from acting as pilot-in-command. In addition, a pilot who is severely overweight might have difficulty fitting into the smaller cockpits typical of some light sport aircraft.