Taking Off in Public: Getting to Know My New LSA Tecnam Astore

My Icon A5 is great for fun, but I needed something for cross-country trips.

Editor’s Note: “Taking Off in Public” is a new digital series written by Craig Fuller, the new owner of Flying magazine. In this series, Fuller will provide insight into his plans for Flying and a first-hand look at how Flying is being built for the next generation.

I started flying airplanes when I was 13 years old. I stopped during college. I don’t have a great excuse for why, except I was busy being a college student and then chasing a career.

Earlier this year, at age 42 and after a 20-plus year hiatus from flying, I decided to get back into the cockpit. I had always wanted to take flying back up, but I never made it a priority. Like working out, getting back into flying requires a lot of initial effort and stress before your body and mind have regained muscle memory.

I also had reached a point in my life where I could buy my own small plane, so I could have complete control over the airplane schedule.

I live in the mountains of East Tennessee with a view of the Tennessee River and I thought having a floatplane would enable me to enjoy Gorge flying. I chose the Icon because I thought it would be a lot of fun.

I was right. Flying the Icon A5 is the most fun I have had doing anything. I take family and friends up almost daily and fly the Tennessee River Gorge, 20 to 200 feet off the water, snaking around the mountains at 80 kts.

My wife’s family lives in New Jersey and I thought about taking the Icon up there when we go on extended vacations, but it’s not great for cross-country flying. I describe the Icon as the “personal watercraft (PWC) of airplanes.” It’s incredible for flying between the mountains and right over the water, but not the best plane for longer trips.

Deciding to Add to the Fleet

A lot has changed since I stopped flying. Glass cockpits are new to me and the technology has come so far, so I wanted to take advantage of the latest and greatest bells and whistles. I also wanted something that wouldn’t break the bank, either up front, or in upkeep.

I have five kids, so buying a plane for the whole family would mean getting something large. I’m not yet comfortable flying something bigger and my wife isn’t yet confident about having our entire family in a plane that I fly. So, at least for now, any plane I own is for personal fun or bonding time with one of my kids.

I like the LSA category because you can get a very modern and efficient airplane far cheaper than a certified airplane. If I need to get somewhere under a strict schedule, I would probably fly commercial or charter. For me, right now, flying is a diversion and hobby.

After some research and talking to folks in the aviation community, I chose the Tecnam Astore. My particular model has a:

  • 914 Rotax turbo
  • Garmin G3X
  • Autopilot
  • Sensenich ground adjustable propeller

For me, looks are as important as performance. I want something that turns heads when taxiing or taking off. In fact, on my first flight, as I flew over the tower the controller said “nice.” This also happened when I first introduced the Icon A5 to my homefield of KCHA.

ATC at a class C airport sees a lot of airplanes, so it is always fun when they compliment the new ride.

In looking for a cross-country airplane, autopilot was a major consideration. I also wanted something that’s fuel efficient, relatively fast, easy to maintain, with the latest avionics.

While I have a private pilot certificate, if I were to get an airplane for the family it would have to be something large and powerful enough to accommodate seven. I’m not ready to make that leap, so for now, I’ll stay with the LSAs and save the up-front money and lower my total cost of ownership.

Taking the New Plane For a Spin

The Tecnam Astore is the top of the line LSA by Tecnam and is built to fly. It was described as “frisky” by the folks that sold it to me and boy is it.

Rotation happens at 39 kts and even though it was a really hot Tennessee day in August and the plane was at max weight, it took almost no effort (or distance) to get to that speed. The turbo on the Rotax surely helped this, but I didn’t run the engine at full power on takeoff.

Once we were aloft, the airplane climbed with almost no effort. Having flown the Icon on an identical pattern hundreds of times, I was shocked at how fast we were at ATC’s VFR departure ceiling for the class C. From there, we went west and turned on the Garmin G3X. This was the first plane I’ve flown with the G3X. I found the interface intuitive and similar to all of Garmin’s avionics. In fact, the ferry pilot that delivered the plane is a captain with Delta and commented that the Garmin G3X is more advanced and intuitive than many of the commercial jets that he flies.

He gave me a quick overview of the autopilot and G3X as we proceeded up to 8,500 feet. We decided to head towards Nashville (KBNA). We programmed in the waypoint as Nashville and set the Garmin and off we were. The Astore came with dual touchscreen monitors, giving me far more screen intelligence than I was used to. It reminded me of my stock day-trading days with all of the information available right in front of me.

The dual screens are powerful, eliminating my need for a separate iPad. I’ll still use ForeFlight in my Icon and for preflight planning, but I have yet to take the iPad out while flying my Astore. I had one screen setup with PFDs, with a corner map and the other screen with the sectional charts, waypoint info, and airport diagrams. The ADS-B is really helpful and made me feel much safer flying outside of controlled airspace.

I was excited that my Astore came with SiriusXM weather and radio, particularly important for longer cross-country trips. As someone that is in the media, I consume a lot of content and often stories develop really fast, so it’s important to stay connected, even when disconnected from the ground. But I also listen to podcasts, like Flying’s own “I Learned About Flying From That,” which I can pick up from the Bluetooth connection between my phone and the G3X.

One of my favorite features of the G3X in my Astore is the addition of the GEA 24 module, which provides the engine gauges, alerts, fuel flaps, and other sensor data. Having access to everything that is going on in the airplane right on screen is pretty powerful. Even the airplane’s Hobbs time is on the screen, which has taken some getting used to for logging. I have to remember to check the time on the screen before shutting off the master switch.

I was able to keep the airplane between right below 120 kts on cruise with power back at 70 percent. Flying over the mountains in the summer means you are going to hit a little bit of turbulence. The airplane handled it just fine and the extra turbo on the engine certainly helped make it smooth.

Landing Took Getting Used To

Coming in for landing in the Astore did take some adjustment. I’m used to the Icon having much greater drag and being very sensitive to power settings. If you cut the power back in the Icon, it will respond. It doesn’t have a long glide, which is actually helpful when trying to do a confined water landing over an obstacle. In fact, on landing on a runway in the Icon, you need to keep about 3,000 rpm on power all the way until touch down.

But in the Astore, it was the opposite. You have to pull the power back to idle on final, more like the Cessna 172s I flew years ago. The Astore has a very long glide. On the first few landings, I struggled to judge the correct power setting and pitch and I came in too high. In my most extreme miscalculated landing of the day, with full flaps extended, I had to do an aggressive slip to bleed off altitude. I still floated 2,000 feet longer than I intended over the runway before I was able to get the wheels to touch. Luckily, the runway was 5,500 feet long, and I didn’t repeat the issue on subsequent attempts.

After my sixth landing attempt of the weekend, I learned how to manage the power settings, pitch, flaps, and trim. I came in slow with flaps fully extended. The airplane touched down so smoothly that I barely felt the gear touch. I was off the runway before the first taxiway exit. I even got my second call out from the tower that weekend. While the landing wouldn’t impress a Cub Crafter pilot, it was one of the shortest landings I’ve experienced.

The two biggest drawbacks I found in the Astore versus the Icon is the lack of cupholders in the Astore and the fact that I can take the windows out of the Icon in the summer, enabling me to enjoy the breeze of 85 kts.

In the Astore, I had to rely on the air vents, which wasn’t enough to keep from breaking a sweat even while aloft at 5000 feet. The August heat in Tennessee, combined with a 360-degree glass canopy, also made it difficult to avoid the sun from creating infrared heat in the plane.

The Bottom Line

I’ve only flown the Astore for a few hours so far, but I am in love with it. I am burning around 5 gallons per hour at 118 kts. I love the advanced avionics and the beauty of the plane.

In many ways, the Astore is a nice complement to the Icon A5 in that if I want to go up for an hour and fly the river, I can do that in the Icon. But when I want to do a cross-country, I can get into the Astore, put it on autopilot and cruise to my destination.

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