Thoughts for the Morning After, Part III
By ANN Senior Contributing Editor Kevin "Hognose" O'Brien
In Part I of this
series, I talked about some of the gotchas and
Catch-22's in the new Sport Pilot final rule. Part II of the series covered
the Sport Pilot license and the Light Sport Aircraft category that
it creates. This final installment covers the state of affairs for
owners of gyros, and the medical certification surprise.
Bad News for Gyros
provisions are deeply disappointing -- part of which is the gyro
committee's own late start and resulting tardiness in bringing
forward ASTM consensus standards. The lack of unanimity behind the
consensus standards -- there are still gyro manufacturers that
design on napkins and deeply distrust testing or engineering --
also undermined the proposal. This is unfortunate for the people
from EAA and PRA such as Greg Gremminger that worked their hearts
out getting the ASTM standard ready.
That the FAA gave only superficial consideration to gyroplanes
is clear when they compare kit and ultralight gyroplanes to the
four historically certified gyros (all long since out of
production) and decide that they fly the same. Hello..?
Experimental and U/L gyros almost all have two-bladed teetering
rotor systems. The factory gyros almost all had three-bladed
fully-articulated rotor systems. Mast bumping and zero G are
concerns primarily in the former; ground resonance only in the
latter. But they fly the same. Yeah... so does the V-22.
The FAA also referred in
its ruling to "a study of accidents." This mishap "study" was
extraordinarily shallow, and did not take into account the effects
of human factors design or thrust vectors on mishaps. It reached
the facile conclusion that training can solve the stability and
control problems that most gyronauts are coming to see need design
fixes. On the plus side, the FAA has agreed to revisit the matter a
few years down the road (a decision that's gonna be hard on the two
or three guys whose stability problem is the last experience they
have in life every year). But in the short term there will be no
ready-built gyros in the Special Light Sport Aircraft category.
More disturbing yet, the rule refers to ultralights and does not
appear to reference the existing PRA instructional exemption.
Without factory gyros to train in and without the exemption, the
gyroplane could go the way of the Zeppelin.
About that medical...
One of the big selling points is that Sport Pilot was
to allow pilots to fly off of a driving licence, and eliminate
the need for a Class 3 Medical to fly a light, slow simple airplane
with a single passenger. Many pilots who had been grounded by FAA
AeroMedical were looking at this rule with hope. Most of them can
stop hoping now.
If you have been denied a medical, you need to get a medical
before you can fly without a medical under the new rule. Where's
Yossarian when we need this kind of thing explained? What's more,
on a case by case basis, the FAA may require you to maintain your
special issuance medical, or do all the stuff you were required to
do for your special issuance ($2000 perfusion stress test every six
months or every year, for instance).
One troubling thing about the rule is that it discourages
medical examinations. If a pilot fears he has a medical condition,
but doesn't know, he can allow his medical certificate to lapse and
fly on his driving licence. If he gets the medical exam, a
downcheck grounds him not only for Class 3 (or 2, or 1) priveleges
but also prevents him from exercising Sport Pilot privileges. So if
you lost your Class III in 1988 when you were diagnosed with
diabetes, or had a heart attack in 1991, you get to go through the
whole Special Issuance wringer -- and you may have to continue
whatever regimen of sending tests to OKC you would need to maintain
a regular medical, indefinitely. Conversely, if you have never held
a medical, or if you let your last one run out, you can have a
heart attack today and fly next week. In fairness, FAA has pledged
to work with EAA and AOPA to streamline this.
This was a last-minute surprise thrown into the rule by the
lawyers. As the Medical FAQ that the FAA gave EAA says. "We
understand that these conditions may not have been expected and may
disappoint some people." But, go soak your head. Sincerely, your
Along with diabetes and heart attacks, another thing that can
cost a pilot his or her licence is an alcohol related incident.
Some of these guys who lost medicals are probably hoping to get
into the sky again. Not certain how the FAA applies the alcohol reg
to Sport Pilot, but this is another one -- you probably have to get
a medical back Special Issuance and swear complete abstinence from
What this Means for Part 103
In a word, curtains. I suspect Part 103 ultralight flight is
going to become as small and as marginal in the USA as hang gliding
is today. The principal reason is that in five years the supply of
instructors dries up, because the FAA does not foresee continuing
training exemptions. This means USUA and ASC (and EAA) need to get
hot lobbying for change.
One thing that the FAA has clamped down on with this rule is
hang-glider towing. In the future, an LSA will be allowed to do it,
but the pilot must have a Private Pilot or higher certificate and a
Class III or higher medical.