The LSA Route?

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Since my Dad, an avid pilot, died suddenly two years ago I've had a strong urge to learn to
fly. I now think I have the time, and am trying to figure out the right route. My dad was a
serious pilot (many long trips, twin, IFR, etc.), but I don't see myself getting quite that into
it. In fact, I see some fair weather VFR stuff as being enough to satisfy me, so I'm
wondering if I should pursue the LSA route. The LSA limitations would keep me from
pushing things too hard, and some of those planes (like the CTLS) look like something I
could see owning in the not too distant future (my wife would be pleased if we flew in a
new airframe with a BRS and gentle minimums). Plus I have three kids (16, 14, 12) who all
have interest in learning, and I'm figuring that with the LSA, and a CTLS, and we'd be set.
No, we won't be doing family trips anywhere, but I'd be able to fly alongside my kids, or
my wife, learning and practicing together, etc. In my most extreme "let's get going"
moments, I think that maybe I should buy a CTLS, and start learning in my own plane.

Is the LSA route a bad idea? Is it just a weak strategy to get "half a license" when it comes
to something as serious as aviation? What about starting with the LSA, then moving to PPC
if the bug sticks? What about the idea of buying a plane to then learn in? Bad idea,
particularly if it's an LSA, given the limitations? Or good idea, because my training will be
focused in the plane I'll be flying in, and it will give me (someone who thinks now is the
best time to do something like this) the best shot to get this thing rolling immediately,
kids and all.

Thanks for any thoughts, and sorry for the somewhat confused post.

-- Michael Weiner, May 23, 2009


If used certified airplanes did not exist, a new LSA would probably be a great option. I don't think, however, that a CTLS is competitive with a used four-seat Cessna or Piper (can be purchased right now with a recently overhauled engine for as little as $35,000; that's $100,000 cheaper than a CTLS, holds four people, and has a much longer track record of reliability).

Used certified airplanes with "steam gauges" (as opposed to glass panel instruments) are suffering from a lot of depreciation right now. A guy like you who wants to fly VFR, however, would get just as much utility from an airplane with steam gauges as from one with a fancy glass panel (since you are looking out the window 90 percent of the time).

The BRS parachute was designed for ultralights, which are prone to in-flight breakups. Certified airplanes, especially low performance onces like the Cessna 172, almost never suffer an in-flight breakup. If you really want the parachute, you can install one as an add-on to your Cessna 172 and still have spent far less than on a new LSA.

I think there are some interesting fruits of the LSA revolution, but mostly airplanes such as the amphibious ICON and the Terrafugia flying car. Unless they can make a two-seat LSA that is somehow quieter or cheaper than a mint condition four-seat certified plane, I don't see the appeal of an LSA on wheels.

-- Philip Greenspun, May 23, 2009

The guys below make some excellent points, starting with the fact that it should be all about having fun (since if you want best-value transportation a 1998 Toyota Camry cannot be beat). The traditional Cessnas and Pipers do not offer sporty handling and the extra weight alone makes them a bit more ponderous.

One more certified airplane to check out is the Diamond Star DA40 (reviewed on this site). It is a modern plastic airplane with great visibility. Its handling is very responsive, one of the best handling airplanes ever made. Its performance with two people on board is fantastic. Its safety record is perhaps the best of any certified airplane (though it has no parachute). Especially if you're willing to live without the G1000 glass cockpit, you should be able to find a DA40 for less than the cost of that CTLS.

The Rotax engine is a mixed blessing. If you are based on a field with a lot of mechanics who understand the engine, it might be great. If you travel with your airplane and need some assistance, however, you're much better off with a standard Lycoming or Continental.

The one area where a two-seat airplane will outperform a four-seater is in landing on short fields. If you want to go to very short runways hemmed in by obstacles, there is no substitute for being light.

I didn't answer your training questions. It is a good idea to train in the airplane that you're going to fly. Time in type is extremely valuable for safety. The difference between Private and LSA is not as important as how often you do recurrent training. A guy who gets a Private and does not take any more training until his BFR is due (two years later) is likely less safe than an LSA pilot who practices with an instructor every month or two.

-- Philip Greenspun, May 24, 2009

I don't disagree with Phil on the value argument, but personally, if my choices were a nice 172 or nothing, I would buy a motorcycle. The reason to buy an LSA is not about costs, it's about fun. Start learning so you can learn more about planes and flying. Then look at your options as you go. Buy what you like or keep your money.

As for training, the LSA route is great. You can get your license faster, and then fly a lot. Going back for your private after a hundred hours should be easy. Either route works fine, but anyone who looks down on LSA training isn't someone you want to learn from.

-- Eric Warren, May 24, 2009

Philip has a ton more experience and knowledge than I do, but here are my LSA thoughts. I'm a former glider pilot and current LSA student. I also have a bit of time in a 152 and 172. My original plans envisioned purchasing a STOL LSA and eventually putting floats on it. I haven't changed my mind entirely, but I now think a bit more about the possibility of doing the same thing with something like a 180/185. I've flown the following LSAs: Aerotrek (formerly Eurofox), Tecnam Super Echo, Rans S6, and Rans S-12. I also have about 30 passenger minutes in a Just Highlander. And the bulk of my training has been in an Evektor Sportstar. These aircraft all outperform the 152 by a mile (excepting the S-12). The beauty of the LSA universe, assuming they're powered by a Rotax 912s, is that your 100hp is dragging along a very light aircraft. As a consequence, they climb like mad and give you a ton of comfort on go-rounds. And most of these aircraft will cruise in the 100-110 mph range, with some a touch faster. There's no question the cost of a new LSA exceeds that of an older certified aircraft. It's also true however, that the cost of maintaining an older certified aircraft can become pretty rich in a big rush. Philip has a ton of experience buying and selling aircraft. Guys like you and I will have to place our fortunes in the hands of somebody else when it comes to assessing the condition of an aircraft that is older than your children (possibly by a wide margin). And we'll then have to pay whatever freight is required to ensure the airframe and powerplant are properly maintained. I'd respectfully suggest that this is likely to be considerably more expensive than messing with a relatively new LSA and a Rotax engine. The rub for LSAs that doesn't seem to get discussed much is the difficulty of finding a place to train. I live in Toronto, Ontario, and have loads of places to train in a 152 or 172, but must drive 75 minutes to train in an LSA. If you're located in the wrong spot, you're probably out of luck. My experience to date is that if you travel at all, you can always find a way to train in, or rent, a 152 or 172; they're ubiquitous. There is no doubt in my mind that the most bang for the buck in aviation comes from piloting a helicopter. If you're not motivated by getting somewhere with a bunch of people or stuff, flying a helicopter is the sexiest option around. It's also the most expensive option. The R22 wouldn't cut it as a personal aircraft (in my view), but the R44 would be fantastic if the capital cost wasn't fairly steep. If I had thought acquiring an R44 was a realistic option for me, I'd never have messed with anything else. Having said that, I find flying the LSAs much more fun than flying a 152 or 172, so I think I'm getting a fairly exhilarating experience at fair value. Whatever you do, I wish you the best of luck.

-- Chip Pitfield, May 24, 2009

Thanks for all the thoughts/sugestions.

After a bit more thought, I'm thinking that I ought to go the PPC route. I'm sure that the LSA approach turns out good, safe pilots, but I'm afraid I'll always have this hang up about not having gone through a "full" program. Since I'm hoping my kids will follow behind me, the notion of demonstrating serious attention to training (both at the start and after getting certified) seems like a good idea. I can also hear my Dad (who trained very hard throughout his life) reacting to my telling him I was going to learn to fly, but was going the LSA route.

As for the actual training, and airplane, I've read a bit about the Diamonds, and I think it's fair to say I'd love to give them a shake (I spent enough time in Cessnas to know what they are, and what they are not), even as a trainer. But the local flight school (which is really convenient; a small field in my town, Charlottesville, VA, with a tower) teaches either on 172's or a SportStar, so it looks like learning on a 172 is the only viable option (there's a Diamond center 75 miles away, but that won't work with the family and job). Do individuals ever instruct outside of flight schools? Is it possible that there's a guy teaching on a DA-20 at the local field? Do guys ever advertise this (where?) or is it "ask the FBO" question?

Barring a guy teaching outside the flight school, it looks like learning will be on a 172 and, perhaps, a transition down the road to a Diamond if I get to buying something. How much training will it take to make that transition. I guess there's the issue of finding a Diamond instructor to do continuing training with...not at the local flight school.

One more thing: thoughts on my 16 year old sitting alongside me for some of my ground training this summer, and perhaps doing a bit of flight work as well ? He won't be able to get all the way through given other commitments right now, and in the fall. But it might be a neat way to whet his appetite, share something really interesting with him, and set him up to get his PPC done next summer, when he'll be 17 (and can plan the summer around getting it done).

Thanks again for the input...this forum is just great.

-- Michael Weiner, May 24, 2009

The great thing about all of this is that regardless of your ultimate choice you'll end up flying. Notwithstanding your decision, it mightn't be the dumbest thing to get a few hours in the Sportstar in any case. When I flew a 172 for the first time I was surprised at it's comparative stability. The Sportstar has much lighter wingloading and, as a consequence, can bounce around a bit in anything but calm air. This forces pilots to stay active and fly the thing, particularly on final. I'm not certain that my time in the 172 made me a better Sportstar pilot, but I suspect that time in a Sportstar may help you become a better 172 pilot. I could be nuts in this regard, of course, and my feelings won't be hurt if any of you point out that I'm grossly in error....

-- Chip Pitfield, May 25, 2009

If your fly in the SportsStar, one thing to be VERY careful of: There is no center divider between the pilot & co-pilot rudder controls. Warn all about the danger of a foot inadvertantly crossing over. There have been crashes because of this. Especially when a student or instructor goes for the rudder as a quick corrective action on landing. There might also be an approved guard kit a available.

Congratulations on your flying plans in progress! It sounds like a magical experience for your family as you describe it. Best of luck to you!

-- Richard S, May 25, 2009

Hello, I agree in general that learning as much as you can contributes to safety in the air (and prevents going senile), no matter what you do. In your particular case, you are lucky that there is a field near you where you can experience both the Cessna and the Sportstar worlds, so, if I were you, I would also (like you) go for the PPL and then in a few LSA hours, for the LSA. This way, you learn the most. I would do the LSA only after the PPL, even though this may not be the most cost efficient solution. The reason is that this would give you the clearest comparison between the two worlds by giving yourself enough time to learn the beauty of each. A good Canadian comaprison (similar to US) can be found on my web site at Best of luck and be safe, no matter what you do. Gabor

-- Gabor Revesz, May 25, 2009