Sport Pilot: The Alphabet Soup of LSA

There's more than one type of LSA

FLY0311_SportPilot.jpg
A few LSA companies, such as American
Legend Aircraft Co., CubCrafters (its
Carbon Cub SS shown here) and Kitfox,
offer both S- and E-LSA options.

(March 2011) AS MANY OF YOU MIGHT BE aware, Sport Pilot students and certified sport pilots can solo and fly only light-sport aircraft, commonly referred to as LSA. You also might know that these aircraft must meet requirements and limitations, with the big one being a maximum gross weight of 1,320 pounds for land airplanes. But the more time you spend on the flight line of smaller airports, the more you might have heard the tongue-tying acronyms E-LSA and S-LSA bandied about. Not to mention amateur-built and standard-category LSA. There are currently more than 10,000 LSA in the system, according to a recent FAARegistration Database report, so let's drill down to find out what's what. I started my research with a visit to sportpilot.org. Here there is enough information on the topic to inform (and maybe a lot to confuse), since the forum questions and answers related to the subject matter date from the inception of the Sport Pilot/LSA rule in September 2004. A phone call to Joe Norris, EAA's homebuilders community manager, helped me wade through it all so that those of us who are new to the terminology can start with the basics, such as types of LSA:

Standard Category: These airplanes are ones already in existence and are mostly vintage aircraft, such as a Piper Cub or Aeronca Champ or Ercoupe, that happened to fall within the LSA definition. Simple enough. But for one thing. It's important to know that not all of the models of a particular airplane are LSA-compliant (a J4A-S Cub is, but a J4E isn't) mostly due to max gross weight differences. And some that were originally compliant might have had modifications. That's fine if you're a private pilot, but since you can't convert these airplanes back to the LSA standards, they can't be flown by a sport pilot. The key is to make sure to check the airplane's maintenance records to confirm that the aircraft has not been modified outside the LSA definition.

S-LSA: The S stands for Special. These are the LSA, such as Cessna Skycatcher, American Legend Cub and Remos models, that you might notice on flight lines at flight schools, especially Sport Pilot schools. They are wholly manufactured and follow ASTM standards. The manufacturer dictates what an aircraft can do and how it has to be operated. This goes for alterations too. From changing a clock to updating landing gear, owners must get manufacturer approval beforehand.

E-LSA: The E stands for Experimental. These airplanes are kitplanes based on S-LSA aircraft, like CubCrafters' Carbon Cub, or they might be aircraft that were converted from ultralight trainers. Unlike the first two categories, an owner can modify an E-LSA however he wants as long it remains within the LSA standards. That means modifying radio equipment or placing a grommet in the firewall is OK, but adding a turbine is not. It's important to note, says Norris, that if any modifications to these airplanes place it outside of the limits of the rule, they becomes illegal for any type of pilot to fly.

Amateur-Built: There are many amateur-built (usually referred to as "homebuilt") designs that meet the LSA definition, and many others that can be built to meet the definition. A sport pilot needs to be sure to check the specifications of the individual aircraft he or she wishes to fly in order to make sure that particular aircraft hasn't been built or modified outside the LSA definition.

There is a gold mine of additional information about these airplanes at sportpilot.org, including category listings. It’s as simple as L-S-A.

Each month, Flying brings Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft content to its readers with assistance from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the authority on amateur-built aviation and the Light-Sport category. For more information, visit EAA’s sportpilot.org.