Skycatcher and PiperSport’s Avionics
THE FAA FINALIZED THE sport pilot certificate and the light-sport aircraft (LSA) regulations nearly six years ago. Companies often
respond quickly to change, and they did in this case; more than 100
models of LSA are now available.
But changing the opinions of pilots is a slower process. Perhaps
that’s part of our DNA. We often take a conservative approach to
change, and there’s a certain rationality to taking a circumspect view
of major change.
LSA have attracted a lot of interest and are attracting more people to aviation. The latest statistics show we’ve added more than 3,200
new sport pilots since the rule went into effect, which is good. But I
think there’s a “show me” attitude among pilots who are skeptical about
whether LSA are “real” planes. In the course of flying a half-dozen LSA
this past year, I realized that not only have I felt that way sometimes, but
so have others who are now deeply involved in selling LSA.
MFD display on
the right, but
not the Tru Trak
The PiperSport LTD I flew includes a second display for engine instruments and
a Dynon autopilot. The Garmin GPS at the top of the center stack displays a
moving map, terrain, and weight and balance information.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MAX TRESCOT T
In one case, a business partner in a national
distributorship ignored the LSA portion of his
business until challenged by his partner to fly
one of the planes. When he landed he commented, “It’s an airplane,” which he explained
he meant as a compliment since he hadn’t
expected to be impressed. A demo pilot for
another company told me he remembered
thinking “It’s a real airplane” after his first
flight in the company’s LSA. I’ve had essentially
the same experience: healthy skepticism followed by the realization that LSA are real
airplanes that are fun to fly.
So it was with anticipation that I went to the
U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, this
past January, where I knew I’d be flying Cessna’s
Skycatcher. Little did I know that Piper would
announce the PiperSport and that I’d get a demo
flight in that aircraft, too. Surprisingly, the two
aircraft have more similarities than differences.
Both aircraft have excellent flying characteristics, are fun to fly, and will be successful. Since
most reviews focus on flying characteristics, let’s
look at their avionics in more depth.
The Skycatcher is outfitted with the new
Garmin G300 with many of the features of the
G1000 found in larger aircraft. The base model
has a single glass display with a split screen that
shows flight instruments on top and a moving
map on the bottom. An optional second display
is available. In that configuration, a primary
flight display (PFD) on the left displays flight
instruments, and a right-side multifunction display (MFD) shows a moving map, terrain, XM
weather, and the AOPA Directory. Dual display
models support a reversionary mode; if the PFD
fails, a merged PFD/MFD image is displayed on
the second display. A Tru Trak autopilot, not
installed in the aircraft I flew, is an option.
Both displays resemble the hardware for the
Garmin GPSMAP 696, a portable visual flight
rules GPS. The PFD layout is similar, though
more compressed, than the larger G1000 display. Like the G1000, it includes speed bugs
along the airspeed tape that indicate the best
angle of climb speed and best rate of climb
speed, which are 57 and 62 knots, respectively.
There are improvements over the G1000.
The slip/skid indicator is depicted as a ball
rather than a trapezoid. The turn coordinator is
positioned above the attitude indicator instead
of the horizontal situation indicator (HSI),
making the scan easier for flying a standard rate
turn. The magnetic heading is displayed in the
center of a new compass tape.