For years, I have been interviewing suppliers of Light-Sport Aircraft about how functional and durable their SLSA are for flight training. Contrary to what many think many SLSA actually make good trainers (see this recent article). Old timers might think you have to stick with Cessna or Piper to have an airframe built robustly enough to handle student flight training. Those who feel that way are behind the times. LSA are here and now in flight schools. This is a tale, not of two cities, but of two coasts, the Pacific and Atlantic yet the story is unfolding in several other locations, too. Based on multiple flight schools deep into using LSA (as portrayed in the linked article above), current LSA appear more than up to the job. That has been ongoing for some time. The new development that is popping up on the coasts and elsewhere in between are entirely new flight schools, ones organized completely around Light-Sport Aircraft as primary trainers.
Bristell Aircraft (USA)
Builder Assist CentersNearly everyone in recreational aviation is by now well aware that the country is dotted with enterprises calling themselves a Builder Assist Center. This was not always the case. In short, a Build Center means a buyer of a kit aircraft can find assistance, tools, a facility, jigs, and more at a physical location where they can assemble their chosen kit. Build Centers have proliferated in recent years and a brief background explains why. Back in the 1950s Paul Poberezny and his entourage of airplane enthusiasts willing to build their own flying machine had a tougher path. Homebuilding was a new idea then. In the earliest days you bought plans from a designer and you "scratch built" your airplane by collecting elements and fabricated those you could not buy. Scratch building was difficult and took a long time but it was highly educational. Indeed, that's how Paul and EAA sold the idea to FAA. (Great job, Paul and fellow builders!) Companies like Van's, Rans, and many others slowly evolved the plans-built concept into kits that attempted to speed construction by offering parts, then whole subassemblies, and later, quick-build kits. It took years as FAA and industry worked out the details. Those kits continually got better, more recently including precision match-hole construction that provides parts a builder can more accurately join together without costly jigs. Homebuilding was still time consuming but the process got far easier. Finished aircraft also got better with factory-made parts fitting more perfectly than ones a homebuilder cut or welded him or herself. Over decades this lead to locations where now-qualified builders helped other builders. Finally, people got into the business of helping people. This may not have been exactly what FAA (or Paul) envisioned back in the '50s and '60s but they allowed a great expansion of the idea as part of the experimentation and education of pilot builders. Today, Experimental aircraft are a substantial part of the overall U.S. aircraft fleet (approaching 20% of all aircraft!). Some are marvelous, fast, sophisticated flying machines that Joe Homebuilder probably should not build on his or her own. FAA recognized the value of professional help and did not discourage the effort. As aircraft got more capable (faster, larger, better equipped, more complex) build centers become even more valuable. Some kits were so challenging for the average builder that professionals began to assist them. It took time but these build centers stayed within the limits of what FAA permitted under the so-called 51% rule. Now, with a new regulation in development, the agency may expand on the Professional Builder Center concept greatly.* A pilot seeking any number of fast, bush, or amphibious aircraft — commonly in kit form to deliver a vast array of configurations — will have a far easier time assembling it and the resulting aircraft will almost surely be better.
Then What?Once you've got one of these speedy aircraft built, how can you learn to fly it or transition from a different aircraft you presently fly? Can you hire someone? Yes, you can. This article details another positive change FAA has made to better serve the LSA and Sport Pilot kit community. As this series — "The Future of LSA+SP Kits" — progresses we'll cover other aspects of the regulation to come and how it may affect both producers and buyers. However, implementation of a new rule is still years in the future. Until then, you have many marvelous choices in fine fully-built LSA, kit aircraft, and ultralights …so go enjoy the skies!
* DISCLAIMER — As with following articles in this series, what is described here is the best available information at the time of publication. In spring of 2019, FAA's regulation is still in early stages of development and it is a huge, sweeping rule set that touches on many parts of the FARs. What finally emerges may or may not be as described here.
Could 2020 bring a new description of aircraft under the LSA banner? Could this include greater capabilities and opportunities? Could you get the airplane you want for less? When?! Yes, yes, and yes …but probably not as soon as you want. The regulation may not emerge in 2020 but whatever the announcement date, what could be coming and how will it affect you? We still have more to report from Sun ‘n Fun and Aero 2019 — and we will! — but numerous conversations at each event have pointed to another topic of keen interest to many: “What’s coming and when?” Manufacturers of aircraft are among the most interested to hear more, but so are individual pilots and all the organizations and other enterprises that serve the recreational aircraft market. In this article, let’s take a closer look. (More articles will follow.) EAA has adeptly branded their good work to some of these ends as MOSAIC, or Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certificates.
More from Aero as Day 3 closes. Because of the number on display — and because several readers asked — this post will focus on electric propulsion in two distinct forms. Whatever you think about electric as a means of lifting aircraft aloft, escaping its approach appears impossible. Experimentation is happening in all quarters. The following review is far from exhaustive; many other examples could be found at Aero Friedrichshafen 2019. Most agree that batteries are the weak link in the chain and despite repeated promises of annual increases in energy density of 5-8%, it hasn’t happened over ten years I’ve followed this fairly closely. That does not preclude certain effective uses, for example, local area primary flight training or aerobatic flying. Yet flying cross country on batteries remains somewhere in the future. Nonetheless, projects abound and solutions may be upon us. Here’s what I saw today. Hybrid Power from Tecnam, Rotax, and Siemens — I had no choice but to drop big names because these three powerhouses are joining forces on a hybrid system.
LSA and Sport Pilot Kits
- US Sport Planes — will feature not one, but two of their speedy high wing composite models powered by Jabiru
- Aeromarine LSA — entries including Merlin and Zigolo; both will be available with electrical propulsion
- Bristell USA — the sleek, luxurious low wing from BRM Aero enjoyed a strong year of sales in 2018
- Fly High — this newer company will display a surprise entry from TL Ultralights, maker of smooth carbon fiber LSA
- SWT Aviation — presenting the super-popular CarbonCub that has risen toward the top of the sales charts
- Dreams Come True — offering a closer look at the deluxe Evektor Harmony with a special price on the one displayed
- Pipistrel — see a long-winged, long-gliding Sinus and learn about the entire line available such as Virus SW
- Viking Aircraft Engines — see a Rans S-12 with the Viking 90 installed; their planes are always eye-catching
- Florida LSA — examine a CTsw (the "hot-rod" version of this popular model) and check out a good price point
- Sport Aero Services — representing a very clean Breezer, another attractively priced LSA available for immediate delivery
Light Aircraft EnginesRotax — maker of the new 915iS plus many other 9-series models widely used in LSA and Sport Pilot kits Continental Motors — the builder of the 180-horsepower Titan engines that have taken LSA and SP kit by storm Jabiru — maker of thousands of engines used around the world; see one of their several popular models. Viking Aircraft Engines — based on Honda's advanced components, Viking has a range of engines available at excellent prices AeroMomentum — based on Suzuki latest automobile engines, AeroMomentum offers wonderful value
Need a Free Ride?If you visit the core area of Sun 'n Fun, you know it is a fair walk to Paradise City. Yet it is a great draw as many see that Sun 'n Fun's "alternate airport" in Paradise City represents something of an airshow-within-an airshow. As with AirVenture, Sun 'n Fun is a sprawling affair and it takes a while to hoof it from one location to another. Thanks to Rotax Aircraft Engines, LAMA is again pleased to offer a free ride on one of two 6-seater golf carts. Operated by volunteers from Paradise City, you can catch a ride from the foot court area of Sun 'n Fun's main area to the Rotax exhibit at the main entry gate for the show and from that point to the LSA Mall. These golf cart shuttles run back and forth all day at no cost to rider. Look for the golf carts with the Rotax logo prominently displayed and stick your thumb out for a ride. I hope you are coming to Sun 'n Fun 2019. If you cannot, check back here for news as I find it.
This year celebrates 15 years of Light-Sport Aircraft and its companion pilot certificate, Sport Pilot. This year also celebrates the 12th year of LAMA providing the LSA Mall. What a fascinating ride it has been! For 2019, LAMA will again host its special location at the big spring celebration of flight that is Sun ‘n Fun. LAMA is able to mount this attraction thanks to longstanding support from Sun ‘n Fun management and many industry players. The purpose of the LSA Mall is twofold: (1) present aircraft to visitors in a convenient, enjoyable setting, and (2) showcase the light aircraft industry in one location. The LSA Mall is not limited to Special Light-Sport Aircraft but features Sport Pilot-eligible kit aircraft and ultralights plus specialty light aircraft that may be of interest to pilots. For 2019, the LSA Mall will add a few previously-owned LSA, as this part of the light aircraft market is developing.
Who Is Succeeding?In one day, we did not speak to every vendor and we did not get to the inside booths yet. However, those we did approach for news and updates provided feedback that was significantly on the positive side. Here is a partial recap (again cautioning that this is not inclusive): Icon Aircraft's production engine appears to be firing on all cylinders, according to Tampa Regional Sales Director Scott Rodenbeck. We heard about delivery numbers growing from five aircraft a month to 10 a month and a forecast for 15 shipments in December. These numbers will show up on our market share report based on N-number registrations. Increased production has reduced the delivery wait to only seven or eight months, down from literally years back when the California company was taking deposits left and right but not yet manufacturing. Bristell USA is having a banner year that should end close to 20 units sold for the deluxe and superbly equipped Bristell LSA, reported company leader Lou Mancuso and right hand man, John Rathmell. Beside delivering strong sales for Czech producer, Milan Bristela, Lou's growing enterprise is also establishing a flight academy at the Sebring airport to offer younger pilots a lower cost path to careers as pilots. We will have video on this development. Duc Hélices is another company choosing Sebring for their operation, reported Michael Dederian, the company's main face at airshows — after a few seasons nearly all producers know him. The popular French prop maker is opening a subsidiary in early 2019 to better serve U.S. customers. They plan to celebrate the American enterprise at the Sebring Sport Aviation Expo on January 25th. Van's Aircraft made a big change this year. After bringing in ready-to-fly manufacturing to the world's largest manufacturer of aircraft kits — the immensely popular RV line — Van's is backed up for nearly a year, reported Atlanta-based, Vic Syracuse. That wait may come down as the company ramps up its new in-house production, but it's clear RV-12 is a success story. We recorded an interview with Vic about the new model, now known as RV-12iS. Yes, it uses the Rotax engine but that's not all the changes in the renewed model. Paul Mather of M-Squared Aircraft is opening new doors. He continues to build his M-Squared models as he has for many years but now the longtime veteran of light aircraft manufacturing has diversified to provide builder assistance to owners wanting a Zenith CH-750 Cruzer powered by the Continental Motors O-200D engine. After a slow start activity has picked up and Paul is pleased with the aircraft he's added to his stable. We plan a Video Pilot Report using the model seen at DeLand Chip Erwin of Aeromarine-LSA also reported growing sales for his well-priced, fast-assembling Merlin PSA (Personal Sport Aircraft). Besides sales to customers, he is using the single place aircraft for some government duties and these activities are keeping the Florida businessman on the move, literally, and from a business evaluation. We shot a video with Jay Kurtz of South Lakeland Airport (which many Sun 'n Fun attendees know very well). After building 40 (yes, 40!) aircraft, his most recent project has been the Quick-Build Merlin. After just a single day, I'm excited to see what happens in two more days of the DeLand Showcase 2018. Look for another report tomorrow.
Day One of the third running of DeLand Showcase is complete. As Videoman Dave and I scoured the show grounds looking for good stories, we spoke to a few vendors reporting that 2018 has been a good year. Our video news gathering exercise brought a pleasant discovery. Many companies are reporting a solid year of sales. The light aviation industry is composed of many small companies. None are corporations the size of Cessna or Cirrus so they don’t require hundreds of unit sales to break even. A U.S. importer delivering 20 aircraft can experience a good year from sales and other services they offer. When several companies report noteworthy sales success it suggests the market is healthy and customers are buying airplanes they want to enjoy. In parallel, the used LSA market also appears active and a virtuous circle begins to take form. The show itself enjoyed the great organization we have come to expect from director Jana Filip.
Big Beautiful Bristell in the BushBristell in all models features a handsome interior that is one of the widest among LSA. The model boasts a 50-inch (128 cm) wide cabin that should accommodate even large occupants without pressing them up against their cockpit companion. All that space might be useful for another kind of enjoyment: bush flying, landing on river beds, camping …that sort of adventure. For the new "bush" version of TDO, BRM again did a great job of finishing the interior, both in creature comforts (as seen in the nearby photo) or equipment. To mount big Alaska tundra tires on their TDO, BRM teamed up with Beringer wheels and brakes — and shock absorber systems, and taildragger innovation, and more. Milan's son Martin flew the big-boy-tire model from their home base in the south of Czech Republic to Friedrichshafen German in about four hours, averaging about 95 knots. This is certainly not as speedy as the more streamlined, wheel-pant-equipped versions but that's not a bad cruise. What's great about the Beringer/Alaska adaptation is that it follows Milan's mantra to keep as many new innovations as possible retrofittable to older models. That works here, too, but owners get a bonus. Through the design of this Bush TDO model, Milan made sure a mechanically-savvy owner can switch back and forth. Use your fiberglass gear and wheel pants to go fast for travel but swap to bush mode when you want to fly for fun on the weekend, maybe at your cottage. Cool, huh? What wonderful versatility.
Bristell Never Slows DownBRM celebrated reaching 300 aircraft barely a year ago, and Milan said they are already at serial number 365 by mid-April 2018. This company is obviously doing very well and their continued inventiveness paired with good looks and high quality is clearly drawing new customers at a steady pace. U.S. representation is very strong with Bristell USA run by industry veteran — and inventor of the famous "Landing Doctor" technique for always making good touchdowns — Lou Mancuso. He has assembled a qualified team to work with him including John Rathmell and John Calla. With such a speedy aircraft, some buyers have asked about flying with reference to instrument. Lots of LSA sellers shy away from such sales (and if they do, that's probably appropriate for them). However, Bristell USA has researched this and is willing to offer a suitably and properly equipped aircraft. Learn more from a flight I took with Bristell USA team member, John Rathmell or, if you prefer, hear it on video. Despite being one of the newer companies in Light-Sport Aircraft (formed in 2009), BRM and its Bristell appear on course to remain a major contributor to this newest sector of aviation. Now, get the words directly from the boss, Milan Bristela at Aero Friedrichshafen 2018… https://youtu.be/R4wg_8jEvRc
BRM Aero boss and chief design, Milan Bristela, has convincingly proven his visionary credentials. Here’s an article about his company expansion over the last few years. BRM has several models of their Bristell Light-Sport Aircraft. Most models are tricycle gear as that is how most pilot are trained these days. However, for those who love “standard” gear, that is, taildraggers, BRM Aero offers a choice that remains as sleek and beautiful as all their models. The Taildragger option — or TDO, as BRM Aero named it — was introduced in 2013 and a year or so later it made its way to the USA thanks to the involvement of then-new distributor, Bristell Aircraft USA. While tricycle gear models still outsell TDO, it addresses a sweet spot for many pilots. Milan has also built a retractable version (of the tricycle gear model) for those flying in countries where such configurations are permitted and where higher allowed speeds make adding the complexity and cost of retractable gear worthwhile.
Aircraft of InterestWe saw a rare sighting of an Icon A5 on display with another on a lake doing demo flights. The California company has in several recent years limited its airshow appearance to a splashy big tent at Oshkosh. It was good to see the team from the factory's flight school and operation in Tampa, Florida make a showing. Scott Severen as US Sport Planes made his first appearance as the new man handling sales nationally for Jabiru, focused on their J230-D and J170-D models. Scott has played many important roles in light aviation and he's a veteran choice to take over from Pete Krotje and his Shelbyville, Tennessee team as Pete slides gracefully into a well-deserved retirement, as he has planned for a couple years. Aeropilot USA boss, Deon Lombard, reported a solid first year with six sales of the L600. He also added a dealer in the east while he handles the west from his California base. From what I could see, interest is growing for this handsome 80%-scale 182 lookalike done in composite. We looked over the HKS-powered Merlin Chip Erwin brought on behalf of his Aeromarine-LSA company based in the Tampa area. Videoman Dave and I are charging around scooping up videos and knocked out seven or eight on Day One. Look for plenty of fresh video in the weeks ahead to follow Dave's deluge of videos in advance of Sebring. Tomorrow's forecast: another fine day (or two or three) ahead, weatherwise with airplane noise first thing and all day! C'mon down if you can…
For all who could not attend, our title forms a common question. On day one of the fourteenth running of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, even many onsite asked how the first day went; I’ll bet I heard the question a dozen times. Short answer: A great start! The airport that hosts the annual event lucked out with a day of gorgeous weather, in the high 70s (25° C). Clear blue skies and modest breezes made for a beautiful beginning. They booked a full display of more than 100 vendors and plenty of shiny aircraft to examine. Morning hours looked to have reasonably good attendance; the parking lot was on its way to a good fill at 8:30 AM. These shows rarely seem crowded — and that’s not a bad thing if you want to talk to an aircraft designer or take a demo flight — but at times various aircraft were surrounded by visitors.
I believe you should applaud Milan Bristela. Now a veteran of the Light-Sport Aircraft sector, he has steadily built a successful aircraft manufacturing enterprise — BRM Aero — that recently rolled out Bristell #300. With its first delivery to a customer in 2011, this represents an average pace of 50 aircraft per year, a wonderful business size for a LSA manufacturer. Every company starts smaller and grows, so assuming a spooling up of their production engine, BRM is now completing between one and two aircraft per week. Good job, Milan and team! BRM Aero started in 2009 with two employees. Over the course of several years the team has grown to 50 employees, they report. When growth demanded, they moved into larger quarters but they’ve also maintained a family feel with father Milan and son Martin running the enterprise as partners. The full name of their very handsome aircraft is Bristell NG 5 LSA.
- Maximum Cruise: 280 km/h — 175 mph — 152 knots
- Eco (lower fuel consuming) Cruise: 260 km/h — 163 mph — 141 knots
- Fuel Burn in Eco mode: 23 liters/hour — 6 gallons per hour
- Fuel Translation: 27.16 statute miles per gallon at 163 mph
Surely all readers know that Rotax-brand engines dominate the light aircraft landscape. The company owns something like 75% or more of the global market and close to that in the USA. Some worthy competitors are keeping the pressure on, but Rotax continues forward. The engine-to-follow is their new turbo-intercooler-fuel injected 135-horsepower 915 iS variant. Rotax Aircraft Engines first announced this new model at AirVenture 2015; see our video interview for details and go to the official 915 iS page for even more. In the press conference where the engine was unveiled, many in the standing-room-only audience were airframe manufacturers. As soon as the management and engineering team was done presenting, they quickly swarmed over the powerplant. You could almost see the wheels turning in their minds as they contemplated how they could fit and use this machine in their aircraft. That was almost two years ago — AirVenture Oshkosh is only about 75 days away!
"You cannot fly IFR in a Light-Sport Aircraft!" Is that what you think? You might be wrong. In this video Bristell USA's John Rathmell and I discuss this situation. Indeed, a path does exist for IFR operation in a Bristell and we will provide some details. (More can be found elsewhere on this website in an article published March 19, 2017.) Beside discussing IFR capabilities, join us for a flight in the wonderful Bristell, an aircraft I loved from my first flight in it.
“You cannot fly IFR in a Light-Sport Aircraft!” Is that what you think? You might be wrong. In this video Bristell USA’s John Rathmell and I discuss this situation. Indeed, a path does exist for IFR operation in a Bristell and we will provide some details. (More can be found elsewhere on this website in an article published March 19, 2017.) Beside discussing IFR capabilities, join us for a flight in the wonderful Bristell, an aircraft I loved from my first flight in it.
Think about IFR in an LSA this way: Can you fly IFR in a homebuilt aircraft? Can you do so in a Cessna 172? Does it matter that these two distinct types have not gone through a thorough IFR evaluation by FAA? If you know those answers then why should such flying be prevented in LSA?
It's true, the industry committee called ASTM F.37 issued advice on this subject to LSA producers. F.37 is the group that has labored for a dozen years to provide FAA with industry consensus standards allowing FAA to "accept" (not "certify") SLSA. The group has been working on a IFR standard for some time without arriving at consensus. Partly because the work is not done the committee urged manufacturers not to openly sell IFR capability until the standard was in place and accepted by FAA. (The agency accepts standards and aircraft under different processes.)
F.37's advice is directly related to a present lack of such a standard and possible resistance from legacy aircraft producers. However, neither the committee's advice nor the regulation creating SP/LSA prevents you from filing IFR. Instead yes-or-no relates to a manufacturer's preference plus written FAA-issued operating limitations.So, as some say, it cannot be done, right? Wrong.
An Experimental LSA starts out as a bolt-for-bolt copy of the SLSA version. Once issued its airworthiness certificate the owner can elect changes. He or she may not use an ELSA for compensated flight instruction or rental, but in other ways, they are significantly the same airplane. Am ELSA owner can change panel gear and other components (even including the engine) and need not seek permission for each change from the manufacturer.
Rather than repeat facts already reported here, I refer you to these articles: "A Raging Debate... IFR, IMC, VMC, and LSA" — "IFR and LSA: Much Ado About... What?" — "IFR 'Certification' of Avionics" — and, for those who want to examine FAA's exact words, go to "FAR Part 91.205 (required equipment for IFR)".At Sebring 2017, I flew with Bristell USA's John Rathmell. John is not only a highly experienced pilot, he is knowledgeable about Bristell's IFR option. In our video shown below, I asked John to cover some of this detail for you and he was most accommodating.
Now, I understand plenty of readers of this website or viewers of the many videos produced by Videoman Dave and myself perhaps do not care a whit about flying IFR. If you fly strictly for fun in nice weather, good for you! Have at it and enjoy! Yet, if you like the versatility of IFR, it is possible.
To fly under IFR rules, the pilot must have an IFR rating on his or her Private or better pilot certificate, that person must be current in those skills, and the airplane must be qualified by the means referenced above and maintenance must be up-to-date. You cannot — and more importantly should not — go fly into clouds simply because you have wonderful equipment on board from companies like Dynon, Garmin, or MGL.
In summary, if you are an instrument pilot, and if you are current, and if you have a medical, and if you purchase an aircraft like the Bristell and register it as an ELSA, no regulation prevents you from filing and flying IFR including into IMC. Only you can judge if that is a smart activity for you, and I hope you'll do so wisely.
Hear more about IFR in a Bristell and join John and I for a flight in this gorgeous, well flying Light-Sport Aircraft in the following video:
“It cannot be done,” is the quick dismissal from many in aviation, referring to instrument flying in a LSA. In 2017, I venture to say everyone in aviation (worldwide) knows about Light-Sport Aircraft and the Sport Pilot certificate, but a superficial knowledge can be a bad thing. The details unveil more. Think about IFR in an LSA this way: Can you fly IFR in a homebuilt aircraft? Can you do so in a Cessna 172? Does it matter that these two distinct types have not gone through a thorough IFR evaluation by FAA? If you know those answers then why should such flying be prevented in LSA? It’s true, the industry committee called ASTM F.37 issued advice on this subject to LSA producers. F.37 is the group that has labored for a dozen years to provide FAA with industry consensus standards allowing FAA to “accept” (not “certify”) SLSA. The group has been working on a IFR standard for some time without arriving at consensus.