Since the SP/LSA regulations went into effect, some 100 new aircraft have earned S-LSA
approval. Many of these aircraft were on display in the LSA Mall at AirVenture 2009.
Who Are the Sport Pilots?
Early on September 1, 2004, Jim Eck, a
private pilot in Ponca City, Oklahoma,
took to the sky in his Baby Ace to
exercise his sport pilot privileges. He
figured he was probably the first sport
pilot in Oklahoma, and maybe in the
country. Jim was excited because he
was now flying without the expense
of having to renew his special issuance
medical certificate. Jim is one of thousands of already certificated pilots
who found sport pilot as a way to keep
flying. Jim, and other pilots like him,
were the first to put sport pilot to use,
but there is no way to count the number of pilots who have allowed their
medicals to lapse and are using their
driver’s license as their medical.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2005
that FAA-designated sport pilot flight
examiners were certificated, and I was
number 10 on the list of new examiners. The first checkride I administered
was to Clayton Fisher, an ultralight
pilot becoming a sport pilot in his
Chinook II ultralight, which was converted to an experimental light-sport
aircraft (E-LSA). A key part of the sport
pilot rule was to allow an easy transition for ultralight pilots to become
sport pilots, and Clayton saw the
advantage of becoming certificated.
He is the classic example of what
sport pilot was aimed at.
My most recent sport pilot student, 60-year-old Steve Schmitt, built
a RANS S- 6 kit plane along with his
brother-in-law Bob. Bob is already
a private pilot, but Steve needed to
get certificated. He saw sport pilot as
the perfect way to enjoy his simple
homebuilt plane. Steve took the path
of building the plane first and then
learning to fly in it. It turned out to
be the perfect combination.
Thousands of sport pilot stories can
be told, but that’s too much for one
article. So, I interviewed the owners of
sport pilot schools and aircraft sellers
about student starts over the last year.
I found a common thread connecting their students. Carol Carpenter of
Rainbow Aviation in Corning, California, told me most of her students
are in the 40-and-older crowd. Carol
said, “They are in the ‘now I am free
to enjoy myself’ mind-set.” Her analysis is similar to what I heard from
other training operations.
It was thought the lower cost of
becoming a sport pilot would encourage more new people to become certificated pilots, and with about 3,000
newly certificated sport pilots on the
books, new student starts are a reality. However, my informal survey has
led me to conclude that “new” starts
should not be confused with “
youthful” starts. Sport flying is a recreational activity, and those with both time
and money to spend on recreation are
becoming sport pilots.
Sport Pilot Flight Training
Sport pilot flight training got off to a
rough start for a number of reasons.
Even though existing certificated flight
instructors (CFIs) were authorized to
provide sport pilot training from day
one of the regulation, they didn’t seem
to know it. The FAA set up a separate