Light-Sport Aircraft seaplane maker Seamax Aircraft has delivered the first Seamax M-22 aircraft designed with Instrument Flying Rules (IFR) capability.
“Following a recent certification process with extensive inspection of its new factory, Seamax’s R&D team have worked to raise the bar, bringing state-of-the-art technologies to the M-22,” company officials reported.
Company officials added they heard customers’ requests and “accepted the challenge to add new capabilities to the Seamax M-22.”
One of those requests was from an experienced pilot seeking equipment to file for flight in the IFR system.
The newest buyer is Todd Lang, a captain for a major U.S. airline and a combat veteran fighter pilot with 40 years of aviation experience. With more than 11,000 hours logged and a logbook full of ratings, including a Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII) certificate, Lang is ready to enjoy his Seamax, but he also wants to do instruction with it.
He asked the company to build his plane with autopilot and all instrumentation required for IFR flight. The Seamax factory added two Garmin G3X screens with a Garmin G5 digital backup, a three-axis autopilot, a Garmin 175 GPS, Angle of Attack indicator, and other avionics hardware, including ADS-B In and Out.
“As an LSA with IFR capability, Seamax M-22 makes an excellent and efficient trainer for operators and trainees who want to add instrument hours at a low cost,” Seamax officials expressed.
“I know the LSA concept is to lower the entry requirements for new pilots,” Lang said. “Configuring the airplane for day VFR-only makes this possible.”
“But as these pilots gain experience, don’t we want them to keep learning?” he continued. “In my case, I’m a CFII, and my daughter has her private pilot certificate. She would like to have an instrument rating, but she doesn’t want to go rent an airplane if we are going to purchase an airplane. When I made the decision to purchase the Seamax, I probably would not have spent the money strictly for water fun. With the IFR option, we can go to the lake and have fun, then shoot an approach when we come back.”
“I have been flying for 40 years and I’ve always wanted to own my own airplane,” Lang said. “Over the years I have looked at a lot of airplanes, but I never reached a motivation level to actually write a check. The older airplanes and flying from A to B just never inspired me and with a family of four, I was always looking at four-seaters.”
Then the situation changed.
“I had a paradigm shift when I saw a Light-Sport seaplane with the latest avionics,” Lang noted.
And since his children are now adults, he doesn’t need four seats.
“In fact, some one-on-one time with my family members sounded nice,” he added.
While he acknowledged “several very nice amphibious airplanes are available in the market, the others were not for me,” he said. “Seamax stood out with its clean, polished look and very light weight. We also wanted the folding wing option and that one feature eliminated some other choices.”
“We plan to do most of our operations on freshwater lakes, but occasionally take a trip to the Bahamas or the Keys and Seamax seems like it would stand up to the saltwater a little better with very few metal parts exposed,” he said.
“I’m embracing the whole ‘low and slow’ concept. Going to the lake is a blast,” he added.
That’s not all that motivated Todd.
“As a history fan, I’m also thinking about following Lewis and Clark’s trail, or the Oregon trail,” he related.
He said he sees the Seamax as about perfect for this kind of adventure.
“It may have taken me 40 years, but I think I have found my dream plane!” he concluded.
Really? IFR in a LSA?
Let’s get back to that part of the announcement that speaks about IFR flying.
As soon as Seamax posted notice of this delivery on social media, LSA enthusiasts began to weigh in on the IFR claim.
A friend in Minnesota wrote, “It is my understanding that an LSA cannot get certification to fly in actual Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), which roughly means in the clouds.” A reply said, “That is incorrect.”
The reply to the first comment is correct in that the FAA has not specifically disallowed IFR in Light-Sport Aircraft. But…
An industry aircraft representative wrote, “A Special LSA cannot fly in IMC legally. An Experimental LSA can fly in IMC, with proper equipment. A few SLSA are allowed because the Pilot Operating Handbook allows it and earned ‘certification’ back in the mid-2000s. Technically, an LSA isn’t certified, so no, it won’t ever be ‘IFR certified.’”
He is right in that LSA are not “certified.” They are “accepted” by the FAA as complying to the ASTM standards.
Speaking of which…
A longtime expert with years of experience working on ASTM committees wrote, “Please refer to F37 standards on SLSA. [F37 is the committee designation for ASTM people working on standards for Light-Sport Aircraft.] The aircraft can fly in IFR, but not into IMC. This limitation allows for instrument training. FAA has no opinion on it as this is part of the standards that the OEM states in the 8130-15 document [the FAA form used by manufacturers to declare aircraft comply with all ASTM standards]. If the person wants to build the aircraft, assuming it can be an Experimental Amateur-Built aircraft, they must fly with a private pilot or higher certificate with instrument rating and a correctly-equipped plane. Then it can be flown IFR with no restrictions.”
Another correct response, yet all these accurate comments still don’t reveal the whole story.
A further conundrum about IFR in LSA is that no express prohibition is stated in the regulations. The restriction comes from ASTM in a standard document that the FAA subsequently accepted, giving it the weight of regulation.
However, the ELSA option appears a viable workaround, but will prevent any use of that aircraft for paid flight instruction, although nothing prevents Captain Lang from teaching his daughter or other people in a not-for-hire arrangement.
Also, for the record, any suitably equipped Amateur-Built Experimental can fly IFR and IMC. Plus, as it turns out, even the Cessna 172 often flown in IFR and sometimes in IMC never went through any particular process to prove it in that environment. So why not LSA?