As I wrote in the April issue, LSAs are approved under a self-certification system whereby the manufacturer affirms that it has met best industry standards. Those ASTM standards have been adopted by the industry, and they're rigorous and they cover the same ground as the FAA's Part 23 standards. The goal of the whole scheme is to make it easier, faster and a lot cheaper to "certify" LSAs than it is to get Part 23 airplanes approved all while maintaining "an equivalent level of safety." While it's still too early to tell how it's all going to work out, the early signs-a handful of good quality LSAs that apparently fly well-are promising.
Now, Sulphur Springs might seem an unlikely place to build airplanes, but it seems just perfect for this project. The sleepy East Texas town is home to a surprisingly nice airport, with a carefully manicured grass strip just south of the lake shore and a cozy seaplane harbor going in just around the corner. But it's in places like this around the country that the new light sport category is coming to life.
Though the company recently hired a production expert to create a lean manufacturing approach, the Legend factory is filled with good old-fashioned multi-taskers, workers, many of them highly skilled, who jump from one job to the next depending on what needs to be done.
The company makes the vast majority of the parts that go into the airplane, or subcontracts them out. The Cub-shaped wing itself is made from square tubing, milled spars and built-up sheet metal ribs. It's not cutting edge stuff by any stretch, though it seems it when compared with how J-3s are put together. Buyers get their choice of fabric finishes, a doped Stits Poly-Fiber finish that looks semi-dull Cub yellowy, or a super-shiny urethane Super Flite finish. Another traditional-versus-modern choice is between a vintage-looking cowling that leaves the cylinder heads exposed and a fully enclosed version. Also, a beautiful wood Sensenich prop is standard, though a metal Sensenich prop is an option, too.
The first Legend Cubs will ship with certified Continental O-200 engines. Continental is developing the data to support the LSA certification effort, so an ASTM LSA version of the engine will be available at some point, though there will be few if any differences. The O-200 is a great choice of engines, in part because of its great vintage sound. While offering a good deal more get-up-and-go than the original engines of the Cub clan, the new O-200 supports an electrical system. So you hand prop this Cub simply by using your hand to turn the key. American Legend is looking at offering a second engine, the 120-hp Jabiru six-cylinder opposed air-cooled engine, though it's still in the testing phase. So back to the question: "Why would anyone in their right mind spend $70,000, $80,000 or even $90,000 for a two-seat airplane that doesn't go very fast when they could buy a used airplane with four seats, or a vintage LSA-compliant airplane for much less?" It's a surprisingly complicated question. There are financial advantages to LSAs, sure. With training, you can maintain the airplane yourself, which could save you some money over time. Most LSAs are sold with a warranty, so if something goes wrong you're theoretically covered.
But the biggest reason is that some people just like flying new airplanes. In addition to that factory-new smell, even though it's a simple airplane, the American Legend Cub has a number of safety or quality-of-life improvements over the vintage hardware to which it pays homage. There are high quality seat belts, an electrical system and improved ignition, a wider, comfier cabin and better glass and fabric. But it all costs more, too. The whole conversation reminds me of the answer an Australian camel driver made when asked if camels were affordable. "Yes," he said, "if you've got the money, they are." Same for LSAs.