“People are ready to buy,” remarked an EAA official at the Light Sport Aircraft Mall during last month’s AirVenture.
And he was right. The “wait and see” approach that many flight schools took when the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft rule was finalized in April 2005 seems to have ebbed. Now many schools are shopping for aircraft. One getting careful consideration is the Evektor SportStar.
The SportStar was the first to be certified in the United States as an LSA. Prior to U.S. certification, the SportStar already had a long track record in Europe as a reliable trainer. The SportStar is manufactured in the Czech Republic and imported to the United States by Evektor America. It is certified as a Special-LSA, which means it can be used for flight instruction.
The SportStar is a low-wing design. Wings are metal with fiberglass wing tips. The tail is metal as well. The fuselage is a semi-monocoque structure.
“They have already been flown and certified in the Czech Republic before they are ocean-shipped to Houston, then land shipped to Kerrville, Texas,” notes Scott Andrews, director of marketing for Evektor America. “Then they are reassembled, issued a Special Light Sport Aircraft Certification by the FAA and test flown again in Kerrville before they are delivered.”
According to Andrews, the SportStar is enjoying a growing popularity with flight schools seeking to take advantage of the new market created by the Sport Pilot certificate or who are simply seeking a two-place, relatively low-cost VFR trainer to replace aging fleets.
“One of the major selling points is the docile flying characteristics,” adds Barry Pruitt, director of customer support for Evektor America. Pruitt, who is a CFI and A&P mechanic, spends a lot of time visiting flight schools to demonstrate the aircraft. “One thing that makes this airplane a great trainer is that even if students are not doing everything exactly right, it will not bite them.”
Wearing both my reporter and instructor pilot hats, I decided to put Pruitt’s words to the test. We made an appointment for a demo flight during the Northwest Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In and Sport Aviation Convention held the first week of July in Arlington, Wash.
TRYING ITON FOR SIZE
One of the most common complaints you hear from people who are learning to fly in a two-place plane is about the lack of room in the cockpit. Cessna 150s, for example, measure about 40 inches across. The SportStar cockpit, on the other hand, measures 46.5 inches across.
“That’s a few inches wider than the four-place Cessna 182,” noted Pruitt.
The bubble canopy enhances the SportStar’s feeling of roominess. I had mixed feelings about the bubble canopy. On one hand I appreciated the greater visibility, but the summer flying that I have done in a Cirrus and Ercoupe, two airplanes with a lot of glass, made an impression on me and I wondered if I’d feel like I was in a greenhouse after a few minutes of flying.
Pruitt put my mind at ease by pointing to the vent holes on the front of the windscreen just above the panel. A flick of the wrist opens or closes them, similar to the way you open and close the vent on domed barbecue lids. “They work very well,” he said, noting he flies in Texas in the summer and still manages to stay reasonably comfortable.
In addition, a popular option is the installation of a Koger Sun Shade that is used by many Van’s RV builders to reduce the temperature in their aircraft.
The aircraft sports a control stick rather than a yoke so there is greater visibility of the panel. In the demo models all the switches and knobs are dark gray or black. This is a departure from the majority of aircraft that I have flown where switches like the master and the mixture knob are bright red or something just this side of international orange, which is an engineer’s way of telling you this is REALLY important.
The instruments and switches are placed so that they can be seen and easily accessed by either occupant.
Pruitt produced a checklist and within a few minutes we were deploying one notch of flaps for a standard take off. Lift off was quick and within a few hundred feet. Best angle of climb with takeoff flaps in the SportStar is at 55 knots, which gave us a climb of a little more than 800 feet per minute.
I did some rudder experimentation during the short trip to the practice area and did a few steep turns to clear the area and determine the responsiveness of the controls. The aircraft was light to the touch but not so light that it was easy to over-control.
A demonstration of slow flight was next. This can be an exciting facet of training, since the first time some people attempt slow flight the airplane wallows around the sky like a drunken pig. It can turn into a big, mean, drunken pig that will bite you if you forget to use the rudders and try to control everything with the ailerons.
This was not a problem with the SportStar. Even when I was light on the rudders and over-controlled with the ailerons the aircraft remained in positive control.
Stalls were next. These were docile. Even in the classic turning departure stall there was no hard break. Instead there was a mushing sensation back to level flight, similar to what happens when you try to stall an Ercoupe.
“Even during an accelerated stall with a turn, and cross controlled, the nose just drops a little,” Pruitt noted, “and in seconds you are flying again.”
One of the most difficult aspects of learning to fly is mastering the landing. Come in too fast and you will bounce or float a good distance. This is another area where the SportStar proves it is student friendly.
“You fly long final at 58 knots and short final across the numbers at 48 knots,” Pruitt explained. “Stall speed is 39 knots and we can land in about 575 feet. We can take off in that distance, as well, doing a standard takeoff. The distance using short field technique would be less.”
Pruitt proved it by making one of the most impressive short approaches-short field landings I have ever seen. There was no need to jam on the brakes, he said, as the slow approach speed simply translates to less real estate used up in the landing roll.
According to Pruitt, another aspect that makes the SportStar attractive to flight schools are the relatively low operating costs.
“The aircraft has low fuel consumption,” he said. “It is in the neighborhood of 4.5 gallons an hour for cruise, but since flight schools tend to do a lot of low power flying, the average monthly fuel burn per hour is about 3.5 gph when averaged over the flight time for the month.
“We’re also seeing numbers like $932 in maintenance costs for about 120 hours flight time in a month on the airplane,” he continued. “This amount included two 100-hour inspections that were performed the same month due to high usage.”
Andrews chimed in, noting that the extent of maintenance and repairs on the flight school aircraft has been due, for the most part, to the replacement of brake pads, brake discs and the occasional case of hangar rash.
The planes also are economical to insure, he says. “We are hearing about quotes as low as $4,000 to $5,000 per year for a club conducting ab initio training,” he said. “Now that we have airplanes out there that are approaching 1,000 hours of flying without any accidents, that says a lot about the flight characteristics of the airplane and it’s ease to fly.”
Suggested base price for the SportStar is $102,500.
For more information: 830-896-8910 or