Safety: The challenge of light sport aircraft

Picture a sunny afternoon, hangar doors open and the airplane ready to go. It’s a welcome sight after a hard day’s work, and you look forward to a relaxed flight letting the landscape slowly unfold below the wings. That’s what flying a light sport aircraft (LSA) is all about. Does your flying club have an LSA in its fleet or future? Whether some of your members are just getting into aviation or have been pilots for many years, everyone will love flying the airplane—it’s an outright fun experience.

But, with the fun also come some limitations and gotchas associate with the lighter side of flying Light Sport Aircraft. For example, because of their light weight certain atmospheric conditions can adversely impact an LSA’s performance, and useful load may not always be that useful—and even cut into your fuel allowance. So, it behooves LSA pilots to carefully calculate density altitude, weight and balance, and fuel reserves during flight planning. On the ramp and in the pattern lurks another gotcha, namely the possibility of being caught in wake turbulence caused by slightly larger, heavier general aviation aircraft—an unpleasant encounter that can catch pilots by surprise, upset the airplane, and potentially lead to loss of control.

Before an LSA checkout, consider a club safety meeting to go over general LSA flight characteristics and specific ones pertaining to your club’s aircraft. The actual airplane checkout will cover things in more detail, but the meeting is a great opportunity to provide a refresher on aerodynamics, fuel management, and maintaining positive control of the aircraft during all phases of flight.

For example, club members can access the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s Aerodynamics Safety Spotlight and select videos, publications, and quizzes to study before the meeting. Also useful are ASI’s Density Altitude quiz to help understand its effect on aircraft performance and the Fuel Management Safety Advisor which offers suggestions to improve fuel awareness and prevent fuel exhaustion in-flight. Your club members can also download ASI’s customizable Aircraft Flash Cards to use for a quick look up of critical POH items.  

One more caveat, the handling characteristics of an LSA will differ from a typical general aviation non-LSA trainer. Pilots who transition down to what seems to be a simple to operate airplane often underestimate the need for training. For example, the avionics may comprise a technically advanced glass panel instead of the traditional analog flight instrument or round gauge “six pack,” or if flying a vintage LSA, the traditional six pack might only consist of three instruments – an altimeter, airspeed indicator and tach.

In addition, flight controls may operate and be located differently from a similar non-LSA aircraft’s, and for pilots who’ve been accustomed to dumping flaps on short final, they could be in for a surprise when trying to land the airplane without that assistance. So, transition training to cover those areas makes sense for many reasons, not the least to avoid loss of control problems that may or may not end accident free. An example is captured in Tempting Fate a video from ASI’s Transitioning to Other Airplanes online course. The video details the unfortunate excursion of a pilot who mistakenly was handed the keys to the FBO’s Cessna 162 Skycatcher when he had planned to fly their Cessna 172.

Now, go train, fly, be safe, and have a blast!

Questions about sport pilot certification and light sport aircraft? Check out AOPA’s resources here.

Related Articles