(December 2011) October's column discussed training in a light-sport aircraft for the private rating. Briefly, if the LSA is equipped for night VFR and if the manufacturer states so in the POH, you can do all of your training for the rating in the airplane. Upon learning this, I naturally wondered if, after receiving said private rating, one could log training time toward an instrument rating in an LSA. Turns out it’s possible in a properly equipped LSA, but the requirements the airplane has to meet are more complicated than those for the private rating. Not only does the LSA have to be night VFR equipped and said to be so by the manufacturer, but it must also have a certified engine in some cases (Rotax requires it to have the certified 912 F or S engine) and the required instrumentation for instrument flight as outlined in the FARs.
Which brings us to another important point of clarification. Though flying an LSA that meets the above requirements within the IFR system is OK, it should not be confused with flying the LSA into actual IMC, for which LSAs are not designed. ASTM standards do not exist for IFR instruments, lightning protection, high-
intensity radiated fields (HIRF) protection or other required design aspects of standard category aircraft to meet IFR certification requirements.
Admittedly, these requirements and limitations narrow the LSA choices for instrument training. Unless the flight school has invested in a fully decked out S-LSA and has qualified instructors, or if you own one that is already properly equipped, it wouldn’t be an option. And some instructors are adamant that their instrument students get hands-on flying time in actual IMC.
At least for now, says EAA’s David Oord, who sits on the ASTM executive committee. “The committee never envisioned LSA to be operated in IMC, but there’s an effort under way to craft a standard for designing LSAs at least for flying in ‘light’ IMC — nonconvective activity such as a light cloud layer.”
Oord, who also sits on the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee’s safety analysis team, points out that analysis of fatal accident data from the last 10 years reveals that the number one and two causes of accidents are loss of control and controlled flight into terrain. Most CFIT fatalities were due to inadvertent flight into IMC.
“When that happens, it’s important to know what to do no matter what type of airplane you’re flying, so designing LSA for at least ‘light’ IMC makes sense.”
Another consideration for a pilot to keep in mind is the mission. Most of the new LSAs are equipped with sophisticated glass panels, so pilots who might do instrument training in an LSA but plan to ultimately transition into a standard category airplane with steam gauges or different glass panels need to be aware that they’ll have to learn a different skill set and be sure to get a thorough checkout.
Alas, the question is not a simple one to answer. Whether logging instrument training in an LSA is practical or not is something only the student and a flight school/instructor can decide. But for someone like me who plans to continue flying LSAs and would likely continue training at the school where he or she earned a Sport Pilot ticket, it can be done — that is, so long as there’s a suitable S-LSA and instructor available.