An Inside Look at Modern LSA Ownership

New Bristell LSA owner Don McKenzie takes FLYING deep inside the ownership experience, and details what it is like to own and fly one of general aviation’s best-looking light-sport models.

Don’s Bristell has some of the best lines of any light sport airplane and looks good from any angle. Courtesy: Don McKenzie

Since light sport airplanes became available to purchase in the general aviation marketplace, we’ve all heard pilots of larger, heavier, and faster legacy makes and models sometimes make negative comments under the assumption that LSAs were too slow, too “twitchy,” and, yes, even too ugly.

To dispel those myths, FLYING went inside the ownership experience with Don McKenzie, owner/pilot of a new 2021 BRM Aero Bristell LSA. After speaking to him, it is clear that much of what you might have thought about light sport airplanes is wrong.

McKenzie has a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry and has spent the past 21 years working in R&D for the pharmaceutical industry. He’s been flying since 2012. 

Prior to buying his Bristell LSA, he was an owner/member of Capitol City Flyers in Madison, Wisconsin, with access to a Piper Archer, Diamond DA40, and Cessna 182RG.

“The Bristell is the first plane I’ve owned,” McKenzie said. “I took delivery toward the end of June, and [I] try to get in the air as much as possible. I would say that it’s to build currency, stay sharp, etc., but who am I kidding? It’s just a fun bird to fly. 

“The airplane was factory-built in the Czech Republic and was originally certified S-LSA. I had it re-certified E-LSA before delivery. The advantage of an E-LSA aircraft is the ability to fly IMC. While an S-LSA can fly under IFR, there is a limitation of taking it into the clouds. Switching to E-LSA allowed me to update the limitations imposed by the Aircraft Operating Instructions (AOI).”

Besides handling like a sports car and favorable economics, Don McKenzie’s new BRM Aero Bristell LSA also sports a Michigan State Spartans livery. Courtesy: Don Don McKenzie

Making The Choice

McKenzie weighed all of his mission parameters before choosing to buy his light sport airplane. “Why did I go with an LSA? Easy, it fits my mission needs,” he explained. “I’ve taken the plane cross-country, and anybody that says LSA aircraft are only meant for a $100 hamburger run hasn’t flown what’s on the market today. 

“Is it as fast as a Cirrus or a Mooney? No, but I enjoy my time in the air, so why shorten it? I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve had more than one passenger with me, so more than two seats would be unused space.”

Going on a Food Run

When it comes to “flying for food,” as many pilots do, McKenzie ran the numbers on a trip from Dane County Regional Airport (KMSN) to Illinois Valley Regional Airport (KYVS) for some “outstanding” BBQ at The Stone Jug. “ForeFlight shows that the trip flight plans at 108 nm, which is 1:08 hours flight time and 7.9 gallons [of fuel] in the Bristell. The same trip in the club’s DA40 flight plans to 1:03 hours and requires 11.8 gallons of fuel. So I have to leave seven minutes earlier to beat the DA40 pilots to the crew car, and with the fuel savings of using mogas, I’ve got more to spend on BBQ.”

The ability to burn 91-octane auto fuel or Swift’s 94-octane unleaded translates to savings each time McKenzie fills the Bristell’s tanks. 

As an ELSA, McKenzie’s Bristell has an upgraded glass panel for IFR operations. Courtesy: Don Don McKenzie

“The club planes I was flying would burn anywhere between 9.5 to 15 gallons of 100LL per hour depending on power settings,” McKenzie said. “I’m now burning seven gallons per hour at 4,400 rpm, with the engine running a bit rich, which my A&P wants for the first 100 hours. The local gas station recently had 91 octane with no ethanol at $3.50 a gallon, and being in Wisconsin gives me the advantage of three airports within a 30-minute flight with self-serve Swift 94UL fuel that’s $0.25 to $0.50/gallon lower than the corresponding 100LL pump. 

“And, on a cross-country trip, I can mix the mogas, 94UL, and 100LL depending on what’s available along my route of flight.”

As to that knock on LSAs being “twitchy” in flight, that is not the case with McKenzie’s Bristell. 

“The plane is fun to fly, without a doubt, it feels like a sports car,” he said. “I went with the short-wing option to get a higher wing load, and that really helps with handling. The stick is crisp with little to no play, and it takes no more than a thumb and finger to fly. It’s hard to list one or two things it just does right because I can’t think of anything it does wrong.”

One of the biggest draws to owning a modern LSA is the advanced avionics that are available in the panel. McKenzie’s Bristell has a dual Garmin G3 touch panel with G5 backup and a GMC 507 autopilot, with a GNX 375 WAAS GPS and GNC 245 nav/com to enable IFR operations. 

“In terms of price, I spent less on my new Bristell than what I would have for a 20-year-old Cirrus with lesser avionics and an engine getting close to TBO,” he said.

And if you’ve heard the one about some light sport airplane models being “boxy” and unattractive compared to much more expensive legacy airframes, you have not been around McKenzie’s LSA. When you look at it from any angle, the lines blend together beautifully to form a gorgeous airplane that just looks incredible on any ramp. And with the team’s green-and-white color scheme spinner-to-tail and Michigan State logo on the tail, if you are a Spartans fan, it is hard to imagine an airplane looking any better than this.

Dan Pimentel is an instrument-rated private pilot and former airplane owner who has been flying since 1996. As an aviation journalist and photographer, he has covered all aspects of the general and business aviation communities for a long list of major aviation magazines, newspapers and websites. He has never met a flying machine that he didn’t like, and has written about his love of aviation for years on his Airplanista blog. For 10 years until 2019, he hosted the popular ‘Oshbash’ social media meetup events at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
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