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Max Trescott Test-Flys the New PiperSport LSA

By Max Trescott, EAA 531980, for EAA.org

EAA 18 charter members

January 28, 2010The big announcement at last week’s U.S. Sport Aviation Expo at Sebring Regional Airport, Florida, was the new PiperSport light-sport aircraft (LSA). Its sleek, sporty look draws a crowd wherever it goes, as I discovered while test-flying it. Happily its beauty isn’t just skin deep; it’s also fun to fly!

With 106 companies making light-sport aircraft, Piper made a great choice - they entered a distribution agreement with Czech Sport Aircraft (which builds the SportCruiser), one of the top 10 selling LSA manufacturers with a U.S.-installed base of about 100 aircraft. Not content to just resell this proven aircraft design introduced in 2006, Piper is making design improvements. These include modifications to make it less sensitive in pitch, reinforcement to the nose gear, and the addition of cabin heat and ventilation systems. These changes will debut when the aircraft ships in volume in April 2010.

The PiperSport’s standout feature is its excellent visibility. The bubble canopy, which lifts forward for entry, allows an unobstructed view in all directions. But if you get too much sun, just pull the overhead pleated sun shield forward to block several square feet of the canopy.

The cockpit is a roomy 46.5 inches wide. The seats are fixed, but the rudder pedals can be adjusted for leg length. I’m over 6 feet tall and was delighted to find that the pedals moved forward enough for plenty of leg room.

As with many LSAs, the PiperSport requires light forces to control the aircraft’s pitch. I was warned not to overrotate at takeoff and didn’t; I had already done that recently in another LSA.

The mostly metal plane - it has a composite cowling and a composite prop with a wood core - incorporates a 100 hp Rotax 912 ULS engine with a 2000-hour time between overhauls that sips a miserly 5 gph at cruise speed. I consistently had climb rates greater than 1000 fpm at the 65 knot best rate of climb speed and often saw the 1200 fpm claimed climb rate.

All control forces including rudder are light. In a steep turn, I added power upon entry and then needed little back pressure to maintain altitude. In slow flight, the controls were so light that only gentle pressures were needed with almost no movement of the stick. Plenty of buffeting warned of impending stalls, followed by a clearly defined break and nose drop, similar to stalls in traditional trainers.

Flaps are electric and can be fully deployed in 5 seconds below the 75 knot maximum flap speed. Landings were easy. I flew the final at 60 knots, slowing to 50 knots over the fence. All three of my landings were good without any of the ballooning during flare I’ve occasionally induced while landing other LSAs. With a 15 knot headwind, I landed in about 300 feet, making the first turnoff, barely past the 27L numbers at the Vero Beach, Florida airport.

The PiperSport will ship in three versions, all of which include a Dynon D100 primary flight display, Garmin GPSMAP 495, a single Garmin SL40 nav/com, GTX 328 transponder, and a BRS parachute similar to the ones in Cirrus aircraft. The base model sells for $119,900. Add $10,000 for the PiperSport LT, which includes a second Dynon display with engine monitoring. For $139,900, the PiperSport LTD includes a Dynon autopilot that worked well in heading, navigation, and altitude hold modes in the aircraft I flew.

The aircraft’s useful load of 560 pounds lets you carry 380 pounds of passengers and baggage with full fuel of 30 gallons. You may read elsewhere that the useful load is 600 pounds, but that doesn’t account for the 40-pound BRS parachute being added to all PiperSport models.  The aircraft isn’t certified for instrument flight rules but could be used as a low-cost trainer for flying VOR and instrument landing system approaches.

Overall, I was impressed with the PiperSport. Given the extensive Piper support network, its low operating cost, and that it will ship in volume soon, I expect it to be popular with flight schools and individual owners alike. Here’s hoping that like the venerable Piper Cub that attracted my grandfather’s generation to flying, the PiperSport inspires a new generation of pilots to discover the joy of flight.

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