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Thu, Jan 28, 2010

On The LSA Front: Good News For Large Pilots

Real LSAs For Real-Sized People

by Dave Juwel

There are several reasons why you might want to fly the exciting new aircraft that the LSA category is spawning. Perhaps you want to learn to fly for half the money in half the time. Or you already have a Private Pilot’s license and you want to fly cheaper. Or perhaps you can no longer pass a Class 3 medical. Whatever the reason, it’s time to check out all those new aircraft.

But you have another problem that is occurring ever more frequently in our society. The problem is that you’re a big man and you have trouble fitting in some of the currently manufactured aircraft. Will the LSA aircraft fit you any better?

I’m a big pilot too. I haven’t weighed 170 lbs since my metabolism went on a permanent vacation in my early thirties. I’m 6’1”, 300 lbs, and my shoulders are 24" wide which means you have to be 18” skinny to sit next to me in the standard 42" wide cockpit. There are a lot of others out there just like me, or nearly so.

So what should we do?  I decided to answer that question by going to the recent Light Sport Aircraft Exposition and trying on all of those aircraft for size. I knew that if I fit in them, just about everyone else could fit too.

I was really excited because there are so many great aircraft being developed for LSA. I couldn’t wait to see how many of them would fit guys like you and me.

The bad news – After spending the entire day trying on airplanes like a pair of trousers, I found that approximately 90% of the aircraft didn’t fit me. I needed a forklift to get into most of them, and a shape charge to blast me back out of them. I provided the comic relief for the day trying to get in and out of some of them.

If you’re a big guy, here’s the problem that you’ll have with most of them (manufacturers are you listening?):

  • The stick had a limited range of motion between the knees.
  • The stick had a limited range of motion against my southern cooking (gut).
  • The cockpit was too narrow for a passenger and me, side-by-side, or you could only fit two people in if you had a shoehorn.
  • There was room between the seats, but no left shoulder room.
  • The console mounted throttle and switches were located down around my butt.
  • Rudder pedals were too close to the seat.
  • The seat was too close to the dash causing my knees to knock or rub against the panel.
  • The cockpit was just too difficult to enter and exit.
  • The seat was limited to 250 lbs.
  • After I stuffed myself in, there was no real useful load left with me onboard.

Even in some of the aircraft boasting wide cockpits, I had trouble. Although the seats were wide enough apart, my knees blocked the stick, and my left shoulder rested on the canopy.

Right about now is when the salesperson without tact will start telling me about WeightWatchers. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt’s for a variety of diet programs. Still a big guy.  Still like to fly. I know some of you have walked that same path. So what do we do? They make big clothes for big people. Why can’t they make LSA planes that fit big people?

Now the good news – I found a few LSA aircraft that fit me (and will probably fit you too).

The FPNA A22 Valor, with or without the Capetown floats, works very well. Easy to get into. Good visibility with good shoulder and legroom.  Still has 300+ lbs of useful load with a 300 lb pilot aboard.

The SeaRey LSX amphibian fits as well. Roomy, good visibility, large luggage area behind the seat, and a seaplane to boot. Depending on the engine size, there is 220 to 250 lbs of useful load with a 300 lb pilot aboard.

The tandem seat Warner Sportster with a variety of different canopy’s fit very well. Easy to get in and out of and plenty of space. It has 204 lbs of useful load with a 300 lb pilot aboard.

The Revo Evolution Flexwing Trike will do it for me too. Still has a 210 lb useful load with a 300 lb pilot in it.

Judging from the huge guy that climbed out of one, even the Titan T-51 mustang would fit us. But you have to limit the engine to something like the Rotax 912 to keep it in the LSA range, and it might be a little tight for the person in the back. The useful load seems adequate even with a 300 lb pilot onboard like me.

The plane I enjoyed trying on the most was the MySky One. Tandem seat, plush interior, overhead canopy, sidestick controller. Lots of room both forward and laterally. I slipped down into it like a proctologist’s greased finger. Climbed out of it with hardly a second breath. Easy chair in the sky. I loved it! This plane is a big guy’s dream. Don’t forget to practice your fighter pilot noises. 310 lbs useful load with a 300 lb pilot aboard.

And then finally, in my opinion, the greatest airplane for a big guy is the AirCam, hands down. I spent an hour flying in one at an earlier date. Absolutely the most fun I’ve ever had in an airplane. Low and slow in an open cockpit with complete safety and comfort. Even my wife, who is reticent about flying, enjoyed it. But, unfortunately, it’s not an LSA aircraft because it’s a twin engine. But that won’t stop you if you have a medical and a private pilot’s license. It has a whopping 340 lbs of useful load with a 300 lb pilot aboard. If you don’t buy one, you owe it to yourself to at least buy a ride in one. Well, there you have it. High wing, low wing, flex wing, enclosed, open cockpit, land plane, seaplane, SBS and tandem. Take your pick. They all fit us big teddy bears.

But please keep in mind that I only tried on the aircraft at this show. There are other aircraft that might qualify as a “big guy” aircraft too, but they just weren’t there for me to try on.

It looks like, with a couple of exceptions, that tandem seat aircraft offer the best options for a large pilot who wants to fly with a passenger. Now you big guys can capture your dream. Go for it!

FMI: www.fpna.com, www.searey.com, www.warnerair.com, www.evolutiontrikes.com, www.titanaircraft.com, www.mysky.aero, www.aircam.com


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