Light Sport Aircraft Flight Environment (Part One)

The stick and rudder skills required for LSAs are the same stick and rudder skills required for any airplane. This section outlines areas that are unique to LSA airplanes – most skills learned in a standard airworthiness type certificated airplane are transferrable to LSAs; however, since LSAs can vary significantly in performance, equipment and systems, and construction, pilots must seek competent flight instruction and refer to the airplane’s POH for detailed and specific information prior to flight.

 

Preflight

The preflight inspection of any airplane is critical to mitigating flight risks. A pilot transitioning into an LSA should allow adequate time to become familiar with the airplane prior to a first flight. First, the pilot and flight instructor should review the POH and cover the airplane’s limitations, systems, performance, weight and balance, normal procedures, emergency procedures, and handling requirements. [Figure 16-9]

Figure 16-9. Pilot’s Operating Handbook for a LSA.

Figure 16-9. Pilot’s Operating Handbook for a LSA.

Inside of the Airplane

Transitioning pilots find an LSA very familiar when conducting a preflight inspection; however, some preflight differences are worth pointing out. For example, many LSAs do not have adjustable seats but rather adjustable rudder pedals. [Figure 16-10] Often, LSA seats are in a fixed position. There are varied methods that LSA manufacturers have implemented for rudder pedal position adjustment. Some manufacturers use a simple removable pin while others use a knob near the rudder pedals for position adjustment. Shorter pilots may find that the adjustment range may not be sufficient for certain heights and an appropriate seat cushion may be required to have the proper range of rudder pedal movement. In addition, seats in some LSAs are in a semi-reclined position. The first time a pilot sits in a semireclining seat, it may seem somewhat unusual. A pilot should take time to get comfortable.

Figure 16-10. Adjustment lever for the rudder pedal position.

Figure 16-10. Adjustment lever for the rudder pedal position.

Another area that transitioning pilots require familiarity is with the flight and engine controls. These may vary significantly from airplane model to airplane model. Some LSA airplanes use conventional control stick while others use a yoke. One manufacturer has combined the two types of controls in what has been termed a “stoke.” While this control may seem unique, it provides a completely natural feel for flight control. [Figure 16-11] Regardless of the flight controls, a full range of motion check of the flight controls is required. This means full forward to full forward left to full aft left to full aft right and then full forward right. Verify that each control surface moves freely and smoothly. On some LSAs, aileron control geometry, in an attempt to minimize adverse yaw, moves ailerons in a highly differential manner; a pilot may see very little “down” aileron when compared to the “up” aileron. Pilots should always verify the direction of control surface movement.

Figure 16-11. Stoke flight control with conventional engine controls.

Figure 16-11. Stoke flight control with conventional engine controls.

 

Elevator trim on many LSAs is electrically actuated with no mechanical trim adjustment available. [Figure 16-12] Depending on the airplane, trim position indication may be displayed on the EFIS or an LED or mechanical indicator. On electric trim systems, as it is with any airplane, it is important to ensure that the trim position is correctly set prior to takeoff. Because trim positioning/indicting systems vary widely in LSA airplanes, pilots should fully understand not only how to position the trim, but also how to respond to a trim-run-away condition. Part of the preflight inspection should include actuating the trim switch in both nose-up and nose-down directions, verifying that the trim disconnect (if equipped) is properly functioning, ensure that the trim system circuit breaker can disconnect the trim motor from operating, and then properly setting the takeoff trim position.

Figure 16-12. Trim control.

Figure 16-12. Trim control.

Depending on the engine manufacturer, the engine controls may be completely familiar to a transitioning pilot (throttle, mixture, and carburetor heat); however, some engines have no mixture control or carburetor heat. Instead, there could be a throttle, a choke control, and carburetor preheater.

Regardless, a pilot must become familiar with the specific engine installed and its operation. A transitioning pilot also needs to become comfortable with difference between conventional engine control knobs and LSAs. In standard airworthiness airplanes, control knobs are reasonably standardized; however, LSAs may use controls that are much larger or smaller in size.

If the LSA is equipped with an EFIS, the manufacturer’s EFIS Pilot Guide should be available for reference. In addition, the airplane POH likely has specific EFIS preflight procedures that must be completed. These checks are to verify that all internal tests are passed, that no red “Xs” are displayed, and that appropriate annunciators are illuminated. Some systems have a “reversionary” mode where the information from one display can be sent to another display. For example, should the Primary Flight Display (PFD) fail, information can be routed to the Multi-Function Display (MFD). Not all LSA EFIS systems are equipped with a MFD or reversionary capability, so it is important for a transitioning pilot to understand the system and limitations.

Fuel level in any airplane should be checked both visually and via the fuel level instrument or sight gauges. In LSAs, fuel level quantities can be shown on a wide range of technologies. Some models may have conventional float activated indictors while other may have the fuel level display on the EFIS with low-fuel alarm capability. It is not uncommon for an LSA airplane to have advanced EFIS technology for attitude and navigation information but have a simple sight gauge for fuel level indication. Fuel tank selection can also vary from simple on/off valves to a left/right selector. Fuel starvation remains a leading factor in aircraft accidents, which should be a reminder that when transitioning into a new airplane, time spent understanding the fuel system is time well spent.

 

A popular safety feature of some LSAs is a ballistic parachute. [Figure 16-13] These devices have been shown to be well worth their cost in the remote case of a catastrophic failure or some other unsurvivable emergency. This system rockets a parachute into deployment and then the parachute slowly lowers the aircraft. The preflight inspections of these systems require a check of the mounts, safety pin and flag, and the activation handle and cable. Because most standard airworthiness type certificated airplanes do not have these systems installed, LSA training should cover the operation and limitations of the system.

Figure 16-13. A ballistic recovery parachute is a popular safety feature available on some LSA.

Figure 16-13. A ballistic recovery parachute is a popular safety feature available on some LSA.

Outside of the Airplane

Transitioning pilots should feel comfortable and in a familiar setting when preflighting the outside of an LSA. Some unique areas worthy of notation are presented below.

Propellers of LSAs may range from a conventional metal propeller to composite or wood. The preflight inspection is similar regardless of the type of propeller; however, if a transitioning pilot is principally familiar with metal propellers, time should be spent with the LSA flight instructor covering the type of propeller installed. Many LSA propellers are composite and have a ground adjustable pitch adjustment. As a result, there may be more areas to check with these types of propellers. For example, on ground adjustable propellers, ensure that the blades are tight against the hub by snugly twisting the blade at the root to verify that there is no rotation of the blade at the hub.

Many LSAs are equipped with engines that have a water cooling system. LSAs may be tightly cowled, which reduces drag, and with liquid-cooled engines, this minimizes the need for cylinder cooling inlets, which further reduces drag and improves performance. This does present a new system for a transitioning pilot to check. Preflighting this system requires that the radiator, coolant hoses, and expansion tank are checked for condition, freedom from leaks, and coolant level requirements. Most standard type certificated airplanes do not have coolant systems.

Split flaps may be used on some LSA designs. [Figure 16-14] These flaps hinge down from underneath the wing and inspecting these flaps require the pilot to crouch and twist low for inspection. A suitable handheld mirror can facilitate inspection without undue twisting and bending. In an attempt to keep complexity to a minimum, flap control is typically a handle that actuates the flaps. A pilot should verify that the flaps extend and retract smoothly.

Figure 16-14. Split flap.

Figure 16-14. Split flap.

Before Start and Starting Engine

Once a pilot has completed the preflight inspection of the LSA, the pilot should properly seat themselves in the airplane ensuring that the rudder pedals can be exercised with full-range movement without over-reaching. Seat belts should be checked for proper position and security. The pilot must continue to use the POH for all required checklists. Starting newer generation LSA engines can be quite simple only requiring the pull of the choke and a twist of the ignition switch. If the LSA is equipped with a standard certificated engine, starting procedures are normal and routine. The canopy or doors of an LSA may have quite different latching mechanisms than standard airworthiness airplanes. Practice latching and unlatching the doors or canopy to ensure that understanding is complete. Having a gull-wing door or sliding canopy “pop” open in flight can become an emergency in seconds.