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2005 -- Year-In-Review: Sport Pilot - Daedalus or Icarus?

There Are Two Ways This One Can Go...

Remember Daedalus and Icarus? You should... they were the first pilots, even if they were mythological. Daedalus was also the first aeronautical engineer... a captive of Crete's powerful, cruel King Minos, he built a couple of feather-covered frameworks for himself and his son Icarus to escape with.

He made it OK; but Icarus disregarded his warnings not to fly low, lest water weaken his wings; nor high, lest the sun weaken them. But in his joy of free flight he went blasting off after Apollo's chariot, regardless. We know how it turned out.

If ancient Greek mythology had an NTSB they'd have said PILOT ERROR - EXCEEDED OPERATING LIMITATIONS - STRUCTURAL FAILURE - ULTIMATE LOADS EXCEEDED.

But the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft world presents us with the dichotomy of Daedalus and Icarus. Some pundits say it's flying straight, and some say it's destined for a plunge -- maybe not into the Aegean, but into the regulatory equivalent of Davy Jones's locker, where it will sleep with such regulatory blunders as Recreational Pilot and Primary Category certification. We thought we'd bring the Hellenic founders of flight itself here to argue the case, so here goes.

Daedalus Speaks First

Well, I've been looking over the first year's light-sport aircraft and I have to say I'm impressed. Not only do we have rebirths of old classics like the Taylorcraft and the Cub, but there are all-new planes like the Flight Designs CT, the Sting Sport (right), and the Mermaid from Sport Aircraft Works.

I liked IndUS Aviation's Thorp T211, and it's neat to slide the canopy back and get the wind in my hair, and the sun on my forehead -- just not too close.

I also like that the license is easier to earn that today's Private Pilot's License. My cousin Pappadopolous owns Parthenon House of Flight Training and he's always telling me about some kid who comes in and leaves in shock on learning how long it would take to get his license. A Sport Pilot can solo pretty quickly -- as long as he listens to his instructor, unlike some impulsive kids I could name.

It's a real license to fly real aircraft, and the restrictions on it mostly make sense -- a prudent guy like me understands the need for type-specific training, to name just one. We want people to get excited about flying, but not so excited they splash. That makes it harder to get the next guy excited.

But with the simpler aircraft and more restricted airspace limits and all, you spend less time training before you have a license to go out on your own. It's always a "license to learn," after all.

Icarus Rebuts

My Dad's enthusiasm is interesting -- after all, I'm supposed to be the impulsive one. But I see some serious problems with both the Light Sport Aircraft and the Sport Pilot license.

To start with, these things are EX-pensive. What happened to the idea of "affordable flying?" I've looked at the planes Dad digs, from the Sting to the Mermaid to the Flight Designs CT (above). The price of entry is EIGHTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. That's affordable compared to what -- a Cirrus? For eighty grand you can buy two Cessna 172s or about 1 2/3 Piper Warriors used... of course, you can't fly them with the Sport license, but we're talking a larger plane with a proven safety record. I mean, if these things are built like a set of wax wings they ought to be priced that way, too.

Have you priced a Cub lately? CubCrafters and Legend make nice versions of this timeless classic, but the price! It's up there in King Midas territory, not down where a family of hard-working maze builders like us can buy in.

And what about the size of them? I mean, I'm shaped like a young Greek god myself, but portlier Americans aren't going to fit in tiny birds like these.

I like those planes too, but I'd like them a lot better if they were priced like a medium-sized boat at $45 thou, or better yet a pair of Harleys at $35k. They're not any higher tech than that, and there's not a lot of material in 'em, so where's the money going?

As for the license, the FAA suspended my medical when I hit the ocean all those years ago, and now I have to get it back. The FAA promised this was medical-free and at the last minute, AFTER all the comments periods closed, FAA lawyers snuck the thing in behind everybody's back.

Aero-News: Didn't you have lawyers in ancient Greece?

Icarus: The closest thing was probably the guy that betrayed the Three Hundred at Thermopylae.

Daedalus Counters

I hear you, Icarus, on the cost, and I feel your pain. You can cut the cost some by building your own Experimental-LSA but it's still more expensive than some other activities. That's probably because the volumes are so low right now. If these things catch on, there are so many makers that prices might come down.

And you can't really compare these things to a clapped-out Warrior with 10,000 hours and yellow windows. These are new planes, with zero-time components and a new-plane smell. Really, try out the Thorpedo -- it's a faster version of the T211. You'll like it if you give it a chance.

Let me address the medical thing next. Look, the FAA are bureaucrats. All they can think is what happens when some guy prangs in the schoolyard during kindergarten recess, and Eyepokewitness News finds out he had his medical yanked in 1976? So you gotta get some kind of special issuance, if you can, and then let it run out. Or it's Part 103 ultralights for you, full stop.

You could say, "it's for the children." You know, in that schoolyard.

As far as the size thing goes, some of these planes are a bit small. (Some, like the CT, are not as small inside as they look, but overall, they're small). How come? Well, the FAA took so long making this rule that American light plane designers gave up waiting. So the initial planes available are not designed to this rule... they're designed to the European rule. The difference? One hundred fifty kilograms, baby. The 450KG European limit makes for a more compact and lighter plane than the 600 KG American limit.

So we aren't seeing the REAL LSA's yet, with a couple of exceptions. One set of exceptions is previously fully type-certificated birds that can be flown within LSA limits -- Cubs, T-Craft, the Thorp. The other are two planes by Sport Aircraft Works. One is the Mermaid amphibian (above), which was designed by Chip Erwin to the draft American rule when nobody knew if it would pass or not. So he paid no attention to the European limit. (He did get surprised by the FAA, because the final weight in the rule was higher than the proposal... which goes to show not all changes are bad changes).

The other is the Parrot (below), a really attractive all-metal high-wing bubble canopy plane that Chip was showing at AOPA Expo. I wanted to take it home with me, but he didn't have its FAA registration yet, he trucked it in. It's designed to the final, not draft rule, and call me an optimist but I think it's the first of many.

Aero-News: Well, thanks for the help, legendary flying guys. Say, before you go -- any tips on flying the Aegean?

FMI: www.lightsportaircraft.com, www.bulfinch.org (For More On Mythology), 2005 Year-in-Review Comments?

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