Announced in July ’04, the Light-Sport
Aircraft (LSA) category is still relatively new, and has
yet to celebrate its fourth birthday. But many of the airplanes
getting all the attention today were not born in
the last 3 1/2 years. Many have rather long histories,
some in Europe’s microlight category and others in countries
that have applicable standards.
Among the longest in production is the Tecnam family
of airplanes. The central Italian company reports more
than 2,000 of their light planes flying in what may be the
largest fleet in this market segment. Given this company’s
track record, these airplanes have gone through
rounds of improvement. Our subject this month, the
P2002 Sierra, came from the P-96. The numbers relate to
the year of development and show the low-wing Special
Light-Sport Aircraft (SLSA) from Tecnam has a dozen
years of history.
Costruzioni Aeronautiche Tecnam (the company’s complete
name) is 57 years old and traces its roots back to
the 1950 P48B Astore. Their twin-engine Partenavia
series of aircraft emerged in the 1970s, and as yet further
proof of their continued refinement Tecnam flew
their twin-Rotax P2006T for the first time recently. It
bears a striking resemblance to their Partenavia general
aviation twin, which, of course, can’t be a LSA.
Tecnam enjoys a full aviation history and in Sport
Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft’s (SP/LSA) 3 1/2-year history
has had three models certified as SLSA: the Sierra,
Bravo, and Echo Super.
Twenty-First Century Tecnam
Italy’s Pascale brothers first began building airplanes
just after WWII and founded the modern company we
know as Tecnam in ’86. Based today in Casoria Napoli,
Tecnam operates with 36,000 square feet of facilities
adjacent to the Naples Capodichino airport. A second
establishment is located in Castelvolturno and features
the final assembly line at a field where flight tests can
How can a LSA company afford the development costs
of three different SLSA plus a twin and other designs?
Part of the answer is that Tecnam has other businesses,
building fuselage sections for Boeing, horizontal
tailplane assemblies for ATR airliners, and parts for various
other large aircraft. The company has state-of-the-art
facilities equipped with many engineering computer
workstations, extensive machining capability,
a full aircraft assembly line, ISO 9002 quality certification,
and nearly 100 workers on the production
As SP/LSA appeared in the aviation landscape,
Tecnam altered their earlier approach to distribution.
They dispensed with the idea of an
importer, distributors, and dealers and
instead directly hired Lynne and Mike
Birmingham as their U.S. agents. The
role, which they emphasize is not that of
an importer, asks the Georgia-based
husband-and-wife team to enlist dealers
and to start importing and distributing
the company’s airplanes. They’ve done
respectfully well at this as proven by the
Tecnam brand and their three models
holding the #4 rank among all producers
and slightly over 6% of the market.
My experience with Tecnam includes
the older high-wing P92 Echo and lowwing
P96 Golf plus the newer low-wing
Sierra and high-wing Bravo. The P92 led
to the Echo Super SLSA and the P96
gave way to the P2002 Sierra SLSA.
Tecnam’s agent Lynne Birmingham,
who with her husband Mike are accomplished
pilots, reports that the Sierra is
substantially changed from the earlier
P96 Golf. But it shares an identical wing
with the company’s high-wing, cantilevered
Bravo, she adds.
The main change from the older P92
and P96 models to the P2002 Sierra and
P2004 Bravo is the wing. The former
squared-off “Hershey Bar” wing gave
way to a tapered wing with laminar flow
shape. After refinements, a gentler stall
resulted and the new wing enjoys a
slightly better speed range cruising 6 to
8 knots faster. While the P96 hit 109
knots (125 mph), the Sierra can slip along at 116
knots (133 mph) at 75% power, the company claims.
Some have questioned how 75% power can result in
116 knots with the speed capped at 120 knots (138
mph) for LSA; my own experience in the Bravo using
onboard instruments brought an upwind and downwind
average of 113 knots (130 mph).
Mike Birmingham, a deeply experienced
pilot before he and Lynne started
pursuing light sport aircraft, says
the Sierra also takes turbulence better.
“It feels less like a light plane and
more like a heavier airplane,” he clarifies,
but he also says it’s more not
less responsive in roll. My experience
with the Sierra and Bravo corroborates
the conventional and enjoyable
handling of these two machines.
The wing changes also appear to
have enhanced longitudinal stability.
“It’s magnificent,” exclaimed Mike,
“The Sierra comes back to level in
three oscillations!” Such a quality
improves cross-country flying even
for those who choose an autopilot
option. This characteristic also
helped landings by allowing you to
flare more precisely, thanks to better
stabilator control feel. “You can hold
it off forever,” said Mike.
Besides the wing changes, the basic
airframe construction was also
upgraded. Where the P96 had a fabric
stabilator and ailerons – a common
choice among light aircraft designers
– the Sierra is an all-metal airplane.
Under European microlight rules,
weight had to be held down by all
available means as aircraft grew
beyond their ultralight roots. The airframe
changes also addressed ASTM
industry consensus rules.
The more-microlight P96 never
underwent JAR/VLA certification,
but the P2002 Sierra has done so.
The Joint Airworthiness Regulations
for Very Light Aircraft, a European
system, is a thorough certification
program that made it very reasonable for Tecnam to
make their Statement of Compliance as a Special
Tecnam’s Sierra also advances the capability of
the planes, increasing the P96’s 1,160- pound gross
weight to LSA’s 1,320 pounds. In other ways, the
Sierra was designed to be more capable with fuel
growing to 26.4 gallons from 18.5 gallons in the P96.
That translates to another 200 miles of range.
Despite the higher gross weight, takeoff roll distances
are similar, said Tecnam. However, the
Sierra’s laminar flow wing has to be flown off the
runway. You must rotate the plane where the P96
would practically fly itself off the ground.
For both high-wing and low-wing, Tecnam changed
the fuselage as well as the wing. The older models
were oriented to kit building and so had boxier lines
that are easier for amateurs to assemble. The factory-
built Sierra, Echo Super, and Bravo have
smoother, cleaner lines and a more finished appearance.
Other less visible changes of importance are an
integrated carbon fiber rollover bar and more rugged
landing gear. No change was made to the nose gear.
The P2002 Sierra does not have a Fowler flap system
but a 2-inch gap between wing and flap greatly
aids airflow permitting a full 40° flap deployment.
Choice Is Good
Tecnam has an enviable position in the marketplace
because they can offer two high-wing choices
and a low-wing model. While Italian engineers
dropped the P96 with the upgraded Sierra in ’02,
they did likewise with the Bravo in ’04, but they did
not replace the older P92 Echo, which was upgraded
to the Echo Super. The Bravo and Sierra share the
new laminar flow wing so their takeoff characteristics
are similar yet differ from the older Echo.
Mike says the Tecnam Sierra and
Bravo perform very similarly and that
has been my experience as well. He
and Lynne have compared them in
flight and find the Bravo slightly
faster, perhaps due to the lower
amount of dihedral, they speculate.
However, on refueling after their comparison
flights the Birminghams found
the two models took nearly identical
Climb rates are also similar with the
Sierra being slightly stronger in climb.
The low-wing model averages 600 fpm
at 75 knots (86 mph). The older P96,
with its straight and fatter wing, gets
off the ground quicker; its lighter
weight also helps it accelerate quicker.
But Sierra climbs faster and can fly
faster. “It’s the [Piper] Cherokee versus
the Warrior with the wing differences,”
explains Mike. If you have to get out of
a short field quicker the older models
The Bravo cabin seems larger due to
the armrests that are lacking in the
Sierra. “Though the cockpit dimension
is actually the same, the Sierra doesn’t
seem as wide,” Mike says. Balancing
the space sensation, Mike thinks the
Sierra has a more “fighter aircraft”
feel, where the Bravo will appeal to
those many Cessna lovers. Of course,
the difference relates to sitting on the
wing spar versus hanging from it.
The Bravo offers slightly more headroom
than the Sierra. “Someone taller
than 6 feet, 6 inches, will be more comfortable
in a Bravo,” indicates Mike. Taller occupants
with longer legs will sit aft more, which provides
more headroom under the spar. Like most cantilevered
designs, the spar does invade the cockpit to
a small degree. Ironically, as a shorter person will sit
further forward, they may notice the spar presence
more than a taller person.
The Sierra’s canopy can’t go quite as far aft as on
the P96 because of the canopy’s different slope line.
Therefore, taxiing with the canopy partially open
positions the canopy closer to the heads of taller
The Sierra/Bravo wing has stall strips that never
appeared on the P92 or P96 models. When Tecnam
went to the laminar flow wing, these wing devices
were added to start the stall inboard. “A laminar flow
wing stalls more at once and stall strips prevent
that,” explains Mike.
Personally, Mike prefers the high-wing Bravo to
the Sierra for a few reasons. He says entry and exit
passengers like to see the ground more than look up
at sky scenery, and the high-wing helps the cockpit
stay cooler, a significant factor to many buyers living
in warmer climates.
Ultralight pilots (like me) love the idea of having
breezes course through the cockpit. Many LSA don’t
allow this pleasure. Maybe Cessna and Piper pilots
don’t care, but readers of Light Sport and Ultralight
Flying magazine probably do.
The beauty of the Sierra is that you can open the
canopy at any speed, though Mike says it is more
comfortable at speeds under 90 knots (103 mph). My
own experience says even 90 is pretty windy, but the
ultralight enthusiast in me still loves being able to
open up the plane. Though my personal preference
also leans toward high wings (it’s about the sightseeing
view), opening the doors isn’t nearly the
same as sliding the Sierra’s canopy aft and letting
Mother Nature join you in the cockpit. However, you
cannot have the canopy open for takeoff, according
to the Pilot’s Operating Handbook. When you latch
the Sierra’s canopy, it will be quieter than the
Bravo. “Doors are harder to seal than a canopy,”
observes Mike. Three latches secure the Sierra’s
canopy. When you open the canopy you’ll suffer a 10-
knot (11-mph) speed penalty, but who cares when
you just want to feel the breeze. When you close the
canopy, you must duck your head a little as the leading
edge is set a bit lower than the overhead position.
I feel very fortunate. I have had the chance to
compare many LSA and among all those I’ve flown, the
Tecnam aircraft fly beautifully. Mike Birmingham says
Tecnam’s philosophy is, “Pilots First, Engineers Second.” The controls
use no springs; all are solely aerodynamic in their actions. To
achieve this, all controls are balanced by well-distributed weights.
Control harmony is very good with pitch stabilized enough to
approximately match aileron control pressures.
Achieving this wonderful situation is the work of Tecnam’s
“Professor” Luigi Pascale, the 82-year-old patriarch of the Italian
airplane builder. “He still does all first flights on Tecnam airplanes,”
remarks Mike. The experienced veteran’s knowledge is
backed up with the latest Catia v.5 software, wind tunnels, and
close association with the Italian aero institutes and universities.
The Sierra’s cockpit is built with dual throttles allowing each
occupant to have their left hand on the throttle and right hand on
the joystick. Electric trim is located on the joystick and you can verify
the setting via a trim position indicator.
While the Rotax 912 warmed up, I kept a hand on the centermounted
brake. General aviation pilots may prefer toe brakes, but
those of us used to ultralights are fine with a hand brake.
Aft of the handbrake lever is a knob that twists to set the pulled
hand lever. The brakes are hydraulic; when you pull the brake
lever back and turn the knob, it merely locks the hydraulic pressure.
Though it may look like a castoring assembly, the Sierra has
a fully steerable nosewheel. A rubber doughnut-type shock
absorber takes up most shock you impose on it.
Time to Go
I set 15° flaps for takeoff and noted the electric control moved the
surfaces quickly and I could set infinite positions. Launching was
ordinary and fairly swift but you must rotate manually. Unlike the
simpler-winged P96, the Sierra won’t simply fly itself off the tarmac.
“I have had the chance to compare many light sport aircraft and among all those I’ve flown, the Tecnam aircraft fly beautifully.”
After launch, climb settled in at 700 to 800 fpm. Later on, the
normal Sierra landing procedure is to use about 20° of flaps –
slightly more than halfway on the indicator. I had set power at
2000 to 2500 rpm and held my speed at just above 60 mph. Trim,
like flaps, is also quite responsive, but another indicator shows
where you have the surface set.
When we got near the surface, I saw the Sierra retained energy
very well. Even at 60 mph, it was easy to hold the nose off.
Naturally, if you use 40° of flaps the energy bleed- off is faster.
As you fly around in cruise, you’ll have to work at not letting the
Sierra’s nose rise. The view angle over the nose is such that I tended
to lift the nose too much. Apparently, this is a common new-pilot
reaction to the Sierra.
Though offering good feedback to pilot input, the Sierra handling
proved quite responsive. The low-wing model offers fluid stick
movements and the rudder pedals need little action to produce
coordinated turns. Some pilots accustomed to using equal measures
of stick and rudder will probably overuse the rudder initially.
Handling of the Sierra was good enough that I was able to perform
Dutch rolls to 30° to 40° very quickly and without swinging
the coordination ball around too wildly. For an initial flight in the
plane, I was satisfied with my performance of the maneuver.
Many pilots believe FAA chose well when they elected to bump
the speed limit for LSAs up to 120 knots or 138 mph. Even more
than the P96, the Sierra makes nearly full use of this range. Cruise
speeds at lower altitudes appeared to be consistent at 125 to 130
mph (108-113 knots). At 5,300 rpm, I saw 130 mph (113 knots) in
level flight at 3,000 feet of altitude on a warm day. I estimate this
power setting translates to a bit more than 75% power.
When I performed stalls in any configuration,
break came slightly below 40 mph indicated.
The factory says 33 knots, which calculates
to about 38 mph, so given probable
instrument error at low speeds, the factory
information appears to be accurate. Just
before stall the stick provided a noticeable
shake to it, beginning at about 45 mph indicated.
Tecnam Proving Popular
After 2 1/2 years of registering SLSA with
FAA, Tecnam has a solid fourth-place rank
among all brands (following Flight Design,
American Legend, and Evektor).
To join the Tecnam team, prices start at
$95,900 for the Echo Super, $99,900 for the
Bravo and $101,900 for the Sierra. These figures
include shipping to Atlanta, Georgia –
the Birminghams live there and bring in
many of the new Tecnam SLSA – plus all
required FAA documentation.
To these base prices, you can add a long list
of options and your Tecnam is more likely to
list for $120,000 to $130,000. It can be much
higher with general aviation-type navigation
units and a Part 33-certified Rotax 912
As with all European-sourced SLSA, prices
are subject to significant change based on
currency fluctuations. Since January ’07, the
euro was up more than 10% against the dollar
so all dollar-denominated prices must rise
by this amount. But no one makes a dime on
the increase; this extra money doesn’t go to
Italy or the Birminghams or their dealers. It
just disappears into that thin air of currency
Ultralight pilots switching to Sport Pilot
may be happy with a VFR model with communications
radio, transponder, and ELT (see
panel photos). You could select the very well
proven Echo Super and might keep it at
$100,000. Experienced Private or better pilots
may want a Garmin 430 or 530, strobe lights,
navigation lights, and gyro instrumentation,
which will increase the price beyond
General aviation pilots leaning to the
Sierra with the fuller panel may have an eye
to IFR operations. Mike explains that Rotax
is okay with night and IFR operations as long
as you use the certified version of the 912. If
you want to save that extra $8,000 though,
the Rotax 912 ULS (non-certified version)
without carburetor heat will still permit
night but not IFR operations. “You could even
file for IFR,” Mike said, “but you won’t be able
to fly actual Instrument Meteorological
However the money part turns out, you’ll
be joining a team that enjoys a leadership
position, long company history,Western manufacturing,
and well-regarded flight qualities.
If six-figure prices seem out of sight, you
may wish to consider financing, which can
bring the outlay down to $639 per month
after a down payment and before options,
says Tecnam USA.
I’ve spoken to numerous pilots who have
flown the Sierra, Bravo, or Echo Super. So far
everyone seems to love the way these Italian
airplanes fly.With all their strong points and
brewing interest in light sport aircraft,
Tecnam seems certain to remain among LSA
With highly conventional flight qualities
and construction that many pilots embrace, it
is no wonder Tecnam has established itself as
one of the leading LSA suppliers to the
American market. One of their models may be
just right for you.
|Empty weight||750 pounds|
|Gross weight||1,320 pounds|
|Wing area||123.8 square feet|
|Wing loading||10.6 pounds per square foot|
|Useful Load||570 pounds|
|Payload (with full fuel)||412 pounds|
|Cabin Interior||43 inches wide|
|Fuel Capacity||26.4 gallons|
|Baggage area||44 pounds|
|Standard engine||Rotax 912S 1|
|Power loading||13.2 lb/hp 1|
|Cruise speed||75% power: 116 kts/133 mph 2|
|Stall Speed (Flaps)||44 pmh|
|Stall Speed||52 mph|
|Never exceed speed||156 kts/180 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,000 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||460 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||394 feet|
|Fuel Consumption||4.5 gph|
|Notes:||1 Cruise duration (economical) approx. 6 hours Cruise range (economical) approx. 700 nautical miles Fuel consumption (economical) about 4.5 gph
2 Observed GPS 2-way run speed of 113 knots (130 mph), done with a minimum of 75% power
|Standard Features||Rotax 912 with electric
starting, basic panel instruments, tapered laminar
wing, slotted flaps, sliding canopy (can be
opened in flight), hydraulic brakes, adjustable
seats, electric flaps and pitch trim, dual controls,
cabin heating, 4-point seat belts, ventilation, two
entry doors, baggage area.
|Options||Numerous additional instrumentation
including glass displays, radio choices, autopilot,
IFR instrumentation, ballistic parachute, lighting
packages, fuselage covers.
|Construction||Aluminum airframe, fiberglass
fairings, all-aluminum wing and tail skins and
fuselage. Made in Italy; distributed to American
dealers by Italian company with U.S. agents.
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Among the best proven designs in the LSA
industry. Tecnam brand offers two high-wings and a low
wing. Approved under Europe’s JAR/VLA program and
ASTM consensus standards. All-metal designs trusted
by most buyers. All three SLSA designs (Sierra, Bravo,
Echo Super) have been updated.
Cons – While addressing the established pilot population,
designs do not offer a slate of new innovations.
Panels are smaller than some LSA (though glass instruments
are easily fitted). Cabins aren’t quite as wide as
some LSA and panels are conventional looking (though
this fact appeals to many GA pilots).
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – All the Tecnam line offer a full range of systems,
some at additional cost. Electric flaps and trim can
each be infinitely adjusted with panel indicator. Center
mounted hand brake with parking feature. The Rotax
912 engine provides electric starting and power output
for onboard electronics.
Cons – Full engine cowling must be removed for
maintenance. Also, crowded working on instruments via
the cockpit. Hand brake is less well accepted by general
aviation pilots; could affect resale value. Fueling the
Bravo and Echo Super requires a step or ladder (as with
most high wing designs).
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Dual throttles likely appreciated in the training
environment (where Tecnam designs could do well).
Excellent visibility in all models; even high wings have
full side windows. Interior appointments will please any
pilot used to common general aviation interiors. Easy
entry and exit from high wing models. Sliding canopy on
the Sierra can be opened in flight. Seats adjust.
Cons – While wider than a Cessna 172, all Tecnams
have slimmer interiors than several other LSA. Loading
won’t allow much baggage if two large occupants are on
board. Entry and exit to the Sierra means stepping atop
the wing first; not optimal for older or less capable pilots.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Tecnam reveals its microlight heritage with a
hand brake that most ultralight pilots will accept.
Parking feature on brake handle. Plenty of ground clearance
for less optimal surfaces. Good steering precision.
Sturdy gear appears up to flight instruction operations.
Cons – Not a super-fast handling aircraft (though
most pilots don’t prefer too-light or -responsive controls).
No other negatives; excellent control characteristics.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Very well suited to training operations with
conventional takeoff and landing qualities. Flaps are
highly effective. High-wing models slip especially well
(the Sierra also good but less so than high-wing models).
Good climb rate at 1,000 fpm. Good ground clearance
should an off-field landing be necessary.
Cons – Like most low-wings, the Sierra has less
downward landing visibility on approach. Glide is adequate
but less than several other LSA. No other negatives;
great landing aircraft.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Very conventional handling with no control
springs to interfere with natural feel. Very good control
harmony, among the best in light sport aviation. Dutch
rolls went well to sharp angles right from first trials.
Steep turns took little additional power and carved nice
turns. Superb control predictability.
Cons – Not a super-fast handling aircraft (though
most pilots don’t prefer too-light or -responsive controls).
No other negatives; excellent control characteristics.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Strong climb rate (1,000 fpm) using 100-hp
Rotax 912S engine. High cruise (113 knots observed on
installed ASI) yet moderately slow stalls resulting in a
very respectable 3.2:1 min/max speed ratio (only a few
LSA are better). Climb is reasonably strong at 600 to 800
fpm. Clean design helps reduce fuel consumption.
Cons – Glide not as strong as some sleeker, lighter
LSA models. By stated specs, takeoff roll (at 460 feet) is
longer than several competitors. A very few other brands
offer longer range or lower fuel burn (though most pilots
won’t care about this margin as Tecnam models do reasonably
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – All stalls revealed very modest behavior with
no clear stall break even when aggravated. Steep turns
held bank angle well, did not tighten even as 45° bank
angle. Longitudinal and lateral stability checks proved
normal and acceptable. Power adjustments brought
expected change in pitch.
Cons – Adverse yaw was notable on the Bravo
(though seemed less on the Sierra). No parachute fitted
to any Tecnam flown, so no unusual attitude work conducted
(Tecnam does offer a parachute as an option).
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Tecnam offers one of the most reliable LSA
brands; the company is highly likely to remain in business
well into the future. Performance and handling
packages are well optimized for the typical LSA buyer;
package works well in a flight-training environment.
Trustworthy construction of all metal; excellent fit and
finish reported by most buyers.
Cons – Italian-based distribution with only dealers
and no committed importer cause some buyers to wonder
about long-term support (though this could change if
Tecnam follows through with a one-time plan to assemble
in the USA). Priced toward the higher end of all LSA
models, well past $100,000.