Every airplane in our 2022 FLYING Buyers Guide has been designed to serve a specific mission, and the light sport airplanes (LSAs) available today are no exception. They are built to provide a pilot and one passenger with a fuel-efficient platform that delivers nimble handling and—in many cases—advanced glass avionics when you feel the need to go chase that $100 hamburger while spending less than $50 on fuel.
One advantage to flying an LSA is that they can be flown with a sport pilot certificate, with only a valid driver’s license needed as proof of medical competency. While flight training prices vary throughout the country, it is generally accepted that a sport pilot ticket can be earned for about half the cost of a private pilot certificate.
Let’s take a look at some of the LSAs that are available in the U.S. market today.
The Major Players
For efficient flying that comes with spectacular ramp appeal, Bristell’s Classic LSA is one of the best looking in this category. Owners can see great performance numbers and fuel mileage behind a variety of available Rotax engines, and with a heavy-duty wing spar suitable for flight training and comfortable seating for two, this model makes a great cross-country flyer.
Tecnam’s Astore looks impressive on the ramp or in the air and is offered with an analog panel at the base price with optional avionics packages, including either a Dynon SV1000 or Garmin G3X panel. A Rotax 912 ULS engine allows the Astore to easily cruise at the 120 knots calibrated airspeed (kcas) LSA limit on about 4.5 gph fuel burn.
Sling’s LSA is a proven design with numerous world circumnavigation flights completed by a range of pilots, and the model delivers “highly responsive” flight controls that “give it the distinct qualities of a fighter jet,” according to Sling. A range of 750 nm comes from the Rotax 912 ULS or 912 iS powerplant, and a refined interior and avionics from Garmin round out the Sling’s standard equipment list.
Other best sellers are Flight Design’s F2 and CubCrafter’s Carbon Cub SS. A single 10-inch Dynon SkyView display anchors the glass panel of the F2 and “sport seats” assure a pleasant ride for short hops or long flights. An electric pitch trim system and a full array of Whelen LED exterior lighting has helped fill Flight Design’s order book.
For serious backcountry fun, the Carbon Cub SS is hard to beat. With a takeoff distance of 60 feet in perfect conditions claimed by the factory and a leisurely 32-knot stall speed, this model will get its lucky owners into the smallest of off-airport strips when STOL performance is required. A Titan CC340 180 hp engine up front delivers where it counts.
Dominating the light sport amphibian market are two very popular models, the Icon A5 and SeaRey Elite SLSA. Both provide those seeking fun in the air and on the water with well-finished, capable airframes, and the latest in glass avionics.
Icon’s A5 is perhaps the most dramatic design on the LSA market—with an interior that looks like it was lifted from an exotic automobile built by hand in an Italian hill town. The line between aircraft and automobile is blurred, and with folding wings making the A5 trailerable, this fun ride has become popular in recent years.
While styled in a more traditional way, SeaRey’s Elite SLSA has been a consistent seller for years and offers lucky owners a well-built airframe and plenty of power to operate in high and hot environments. With a spirited 350-foot water takeoff run and 1,100 fpm rate of climb behind a turbocharged 115 hp Rotax 914 ULS engine, the Elite gets in and out of most any lake or waterway.
A Few Global Surprises
One of the most important attributes of LSA manufacturers worldwide has always been their ability to innovate. And because this niche of aviation is extremely popular in the European Union where the types are flown as “ultralights,” there are dozens of makers producing beautiful LSAs that are made “across the pond” and imported into the U.S. market.
Take the Viper SD4 from Czech-Republic maker Tomark Aero. From the slick lines of the all-metal airframe to a seriously well-developed interior, the SD4 could be the best-looking LSA you’ve probably never heard about until now. Another contender for that title is the JMB Aircraft VL3 series, currently certificated under the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regs for ultralights. Certain versions can be operated in the U.S. under the S-LSA rules, or in the experimental/exhibition category.
Another make/model that will make you say, “Why haven’t I ever heard of this airplane before?” is the Fusion 212 SLSA manufactured by Magnus Aircraft. This Hungarian-built SLSA is as good as it gets in LSA styling, but underneath that sleek skin, a big surprise is waiting. Due to a very strong airframe, the Fusion 212 became the first and only SLSA to be certified by the FAA for upset recovery training, intentional spins, and basic aerobatics (+6/-3 Gs). This adds a valuable layer of training functionality to this fuel-efficient SLSA, making the 212 attractive to flight schools.
Most Affordable LSAs
When the light sport category was created by the FAA in 2004, it was one of the most significant changes to regulations in the agency’s history. One aspect of the then-new “LSA” and “sport pilot” aircraft and pilot certification categories was that there would be a vast number of very affordable new airplanes coming into the marketplace. In reality, most LSAs today are loaded with glass panels and features buyers desire, which has driven base prices up. There are, however, a few models that still carry a base price under $90,000, so let’s take a look at two of them.
One of the most attractive buys for a new SLSA is the Pipistrel Alpha Trainer, a well-equipped machine with a base price of $88,443. The Alpha Trainer is a great buy at that price, owing to its long list of standard features that include a Rotax 912 UL2 80 hp, four-stroke carbureted engine, Garmin GTR 200 radio with built-in intercom, Garmin GTX 335 transponder with ADS-B out, a Garmin Aera 660 GPS, and a standard ballistic parachute rescue system.
Because the Alpha Trainer is meant to handle the daily abuse of hard landings thrown at it by new student pilots, the airframe is tough and durable. With its 13.2-gallon fuel tank, owners will see around 380 miles of range (with reserves) at normal cruise speeds of just under 110 knots.
Also in the sub-$90,000 price range is the BushCat from SkyReach. The BushCat was designed to handle the rugged African bush country with a design made for easy assembly and repair in remote areas. For a very attractive $87,500 base price, the ready-to-fly BushCat SLSA offers a lot of features you might not expect in this price range, including full flight controls, a strong aluminum tubular frame, a 24-gallon “crack safe” fuel tank, and height-adjustable seats. Power for the BushCat comes from either the Rotax 912 UL 80 hp or Rotax 912 ULS 100 hp engine, and with its strong “bush country” pedigree, dropping in next to a pristine stream in Idaho or Montana to catch your dinner suits the BushCat well.
Build It Yourself
For those pilots who are skilled in engineering—or at least eager to learn—and know their way around a shop full of tools, building an experimental/amateur-built (E/AB) kit airplane that can be flown with a sport pilot certificate might be the best way to reduce base price while receiving maximum performance.
Kitfox Aircraft makes several versions of kits for sport pilots such as their Super Sport, Speedster, and STOL STi, which delivers a remarkable 175-foot landing roll. All three can be built for an average build time of about 1,000 hours, according to the factory. Zenith Aircraft also makes some well-proven kits that can be flown by sport pilots, including the CH650, CH701 STOL, and CH750 Cruzer. With a 100-foot takeoff and 125-foot landing, Zenith’s CH750 STOL is popular among builders with eyes on the backcountry.
The RV-12iS E/AB kit from Van’s Aircraft delivers the builder/owner with a solid performer that is also produced from the factory as a fully built SLSA. Like the entire RV line from Vans, it is not uncommon to see an RV-12iS pilot sporting that famous “RV grin” because of the model’s nimble handling.
MOSAIC: A Question Mark
The FAA is now working on its Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certificates (MOSAIC) regulations rewrite, and while details remain to be fully spelled out, it is believed that the final rule will open up what makes/models of airplanes could be flown with a sport pilot certificate. If the current weight and speed limits are expanded, it could mean that larger, faster, and more capable four-seat airplanes—like a Cessna 152 or 172, or a Piper Cherokee—could be flown with a sport pilot certificate. The FAA is working towards a December 2023 deadline on MOSAIC, after which the impact to the LSA market will be seen.