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Learning To Fly In A Light Sport Aircraft

Oshkosh Updates 2014
Swayne Martin And His Tecnam Eaglet Swayne Martin

Many people are surprised to learn that you can train for your private pilot's certificate in a light sport aircraft (LSA). In fact, that is how I personally completed my training! On the contrary, you cannot train for a sport pilot certificate in anything other than a LSA.

This is how the FAA defines all light sport aircraft:

LSA Definition Swayne Martin

During the majority of my flight training, I flew in either a Tecnam P2002 Sierra or Tecnam P92 Eaglet. While my school has both Cessna 172s and Tecnams, I chose the LSA because it was slightly less expensive for training. Since the only LSA aircraft I've flown have been Tecnams, I'll speak from my personal experience in those aircraft, but can't speak for any other brands. At the same time though, many characteristics of the Tecnam aircraft will apply numerous other light sport aircraft.

The pros and cons of training in a LSA for your private certificate are easily noticeable. In general, I had a great experience flying the LSAs at my school. They're all very new, clean, and operate using the latest engine and electronic technology. On the contrary, the Cessna 172s use the same technology that was prevalent 40+ years ago! There are benefits in training in either aircraft.

To compare the physical and mechanical characteristics of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk vs. the Tecnam P92 Eaglet, check out our infographic comparison:

Primary Cessna Tecnam v2

On the "pros" side, both the Tecnam Sierra and Eaglet are modern and sleek, equipped at my school with a partial glass cockpit. Each aircraft has two seats, with a stick configuration. They're extremely light and nimble. Considering how responsive the aircraft is, it truly feels like you're flying a sports car in the sky. The P92 has a modern Rotax 912 engine, which requires no priming, and in my specific aircraft, has no carburetor heat. In that respect, it is a little less complex than the older Cessna Lycoming engines.

As for the "cons" of training in the LSA, their light weight can be a hindrance in and of itself. Crosswind performance isn't great, and you truly feel every bump on a rough-air day. On days with moderate turbulence, when you'd be fine flying a C172, you might not want to be thrown around the sky in your LSA. In addition, many experienced pilots see the automation and prevalent technology found in newer LSAs to be lowering basic pilot knowledge and skills. But that, in large part, is a matter of opinion and isn't really measurable.

Swayne Flying The Eaglet Swayne Martin

As for the Cessna 172, they're larger and heavier, faster, and can carry 4 people. They can be found at nearly every airport around the country, so you'll have no problem finding one to rent on vacation! Since they're heavier, the crosswind and rough-air performance is better. They have a higher sink rate than the glider-like performance of many LSAs. "Cons" of flying the C172 include flying often older aircraft. You'll commonly find technology that is more 1960's-esque than anything you'd ever see in a LSA. The older technology makes things more complex in starting, running, and monitoring the engine as well. While things are a little more complex, it can be extremely beneficial to really dive into depth in understanding what makes your aircraft "tick."

Once I received my private certificate, I quickly made the transition to flying the Cessna 172 for the majority of my flight time. I wanted to fly something a little larger and faster, that could carry more people, and could handle rough air better. I miss the newer technology found in the Tecnam, but I am happy to be flying an aircraft that I'll be able to easily find all around the country.

CessnaSunset jokerswild1963

As for the transition itself, it wasn't too challenging, but did require some work. There are certain things you have to get used to in a normal or utility category aircraft, including: a higher sink rate, more weight, less-responsiveness, etc., but it's nothing to sweat over. If you decide to train in a LSA for your certificate, you'll turn out just fine, trust me! But I do highly recommend that you become more familiar with larger, more common aircraft once you've received your private certificate.

No single way of getting your private is the "right way." Like everything in aviation, you can climb the mountain via many different paths. Just remember to enjoy the ride!

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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