Choosing the appropriate light sport aircraft (LSA) airplane is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a new sport pilot / LSA owner. The most popular LSA options are:
- single place ultralight verses two place LSA,
- airport verses back country/beach type operations,
- Speed and range
- land verses water verses amphibious operations, and
- commercial training S-LSA verses Experimental (E-LSA) verses kit built AB-LSA kit built.
You should consider your needs and lifestyle when deciding which one is right for you. Additional considerations will include wind limitations, portability, storage, cost, learning time and previous aviation experience.
Here we will look at these options in detail.
Ultralight vs. Light-Sport Aircraft
An Ultralight is a “single-place” vehicle (the FAA does not officially call an Ultralight an aircraft) that requires no pilots license. Ultralight vehicles can only weight up to 254 pounds empty. There is very little regulation on the aircraft and the operator must except that they are restricted from flying in busier airspace. No FAA license is required to fly a single-place Ultralight.
The “Ultralight Trainer” two-place Ultralight evolved from the first ultralights. This is a heavier Ultralight used for dual training (instructor and student) until 2004 when these two place ultralight trainers were transitioned to Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft (E-LSA). If you want to fly an inexpensive, lightweight single-place vehicle, an ultralight may be for you. However, most people choose the two-place LSA because it provides more freedom, you can take your buddies/significant other up, they go further, they are faster and provide more freedom to go where you want to.
Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA)
In 2004, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted new laws that allow us the freedom to fly for fun with new categories of aircraft which are simple to fly plus have lower costs to own and operate. These new Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) can carry two people and be flown by a pilot with a new and easier to obtain FAA sport pilot license. The variety of new LSA categories allows everyone the ability to choose the aircraft that fits the lifestyle of their dreams.
Airport verses backcountry/beach type operations
Typically airport operations use a tricycle gear with a nose wheel. These are easier to fly and generally the standard for most aircraft.
Back Country or Beach Operations
Backcountry, rough field or soft sand use a tailwheel aircraft. These are more difficult to fly but are more suitable for this type of operations. It takes extra piloting abilities to fly these are they are more tricky to takeoff and land. But if your dream to fly in the back country and/or rough fields or land on the beach that the tail wheel is recommended.
Speed and Range
Generally, if you want to travel great distances and use your airplane for traveling you are looking at getting the and aircraft that has a fast speed and big fuel tanks. Having a big baggage compartment and a useful load is also part of this formula. Typically these are the more expensive aircraft with most of the options including autopilot and a transponder.
Land verses Sea
Land only is the typical configuration for most LSA and the overall best choice because of cost, lightweight, performance and the easiest to take off and land.
There are not many just water LSA airplanes, most are the more versatile amphibious. However, if you are going to be operating only of water than a water/sea option might be right for you.
Amphibious – Land and Sea
If you are thinking about operating off of water the amphibious is the more common and versatile choice. The disadvantage of the amphibious is they weigh more and thus do not perform as well as far as takeoff distance, climb rate, range and speed. However, if you wan the option of operating off water and land than the amphibious is for you.
Commercial Training S-LSA versus Experimental (E-LSA) versus kit-built AB-LSA
Commercial Training S-LSA
The S-LSA is factory certified for commercial training operations. No modifications can be made with out factory approval. They must be worked on by an FAA-approved Repairman. Simple tasks such as oil changes and minor maintenance can be done by the owner/operator but annual inspections must be done by FAA-approved maintenance people. This is what you need if you plan on doing commercial flight instruction. Note that with a sport or private pilot license you can get a sport pilot CFI without a commercial or instrument certificate with as little as 150 hours of flight time.
There are a number of E-LSA types but generally, these aircraft can be worked on by anybody. To do the annual condition inspection you as the owner can take a 2-day course and do this your self. If you do not plan on doing flight instruction and want more freedom to work on your airplane yourself than this is for you. They are generally less expensive to buy and operate. You can be trained in your own E-LSA
For those of you who want to build your own aircraft, a kit-built might be for you. It is a lot of work. They are less expensive but you put a lot of sweat equity into it. You can do all the maintenance and the annual inspection since you built it.
Other considerations in choosing your LSA airplane
Fabric and composite airplanes should be stored inside a hanger to make them last longer since most do not take down easy. Some new designs can fold the wings in and be stored in a trailer. Many airplanes do have enclosed cockpits which some people prefer. However, others have open cockpits which others prefer. Airplanes do provide this option.