Maybe it’s a combination of getting older and reading lots of NTSB reports, but lately I find myself advocating more flight instruction. In so many words that’s what I said after making a couple of landings in the new Flight Design F2 LSA for the video that chases the flight trial article in this issue. And man, did I get hammered from some viewers for even implying that real pilots can’t transition to this little airplane after a one-hour checkout.
The good news is that of any LSA I’ve flown, the new F2 hands-down has the most sturdy, predictable and benign flying habits. It’s remarkable, really. Unlike lots of other LSA models, this airplane could be the easiest to land. It feels bigger than it actually is, and it is bigger than any Flight Design and a lot of other LSAs. But it’s no Bonanza or Centurion, and that means not everyone can strap in and be 100 percent competent without quality instruction—in just about every wind and runway condition you can think up—from someone who knows the airplane like the back of the hand. Insurance pros that I talked with wholeheartedly agree. More than one told me the claims pattern suggests that a good number of LSA prangs happen within the first five to ten hours of endorsement, and new LSAs remain expensive to fix. For that reason a company might require up to 10 hours of work with an instructor as part of its training requirement, although there really is no set standard. For older pilots, I was told coverage might not even be in the cards for a flagship spanking-new LSA. Like it or not, welcome to the new insurance market.
“Seven hours is more than it takes to get a multiengine rating,” one guy commented. And it’s the pilots of big twin-engine airplanes insurers are most concerned with when they ask for a big policy on a new $200,000 LSA because as one underwriter put it, a little two-seat 1300-pound composite LSA couldn’t be any more different than what this otherwise competent pilot is used to. “It’s easy to brush off the training requirement until you submit a $30,000 insurance claim and are faced with either higher rates or perhaps even a non-renewal,” one told me with an I-told-you-so chuckle. He also pointed out that pilots may be flying less and falling off the proficiency curve, which makes them more susceptible to runway prangs. That’s an insurance risk, maybe curtailed by more instruction.
There’s a history. When we looked at LSA safety a few years ago we found out what we already knew, and that is LSAs have a remarkably high pattern (65 percent) of what we call RLOC, or runway loss of control. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before even as a casual observer of the light sport segment. Like taildraggers, be on your game, especially in stiff crosswinds and wind gusts. They are exceptionally light in control forces and when you fall out of the bubble and get sloppy in a crosswind or misjudge the landing flare and drop it on hard, maybe the airplane will bounce and next comes a PIO (pilot induced oscillation) where it gets real ugly real fast. Enough about LSAs. Based on some of the NTSB reports, maybe more training is in order in other models, too. We read and write all about it when we do the accident scan for every model in the Aviation Consumer Used Aircraft Guide each month.
A problem area that stands out in the wreck reports among older pilots is avionics automation, especially when the gadgetry fails or workload gets high. I recently read about a fatal involving a 4000-hour 71-year-old commercial TBM 700 pilot who augered in IMC after the retrofit glass in his airplane went dark, even when he had a backup tablet with a top-rated aviation app. Then there was the pilot with a new-to-him Cirrus who after eight hours (and 12 landings) of transition instruction ended up in a fireball on a road that parallels the runway after several landing attempts in VFR. It’s tough to say whether more dual instruction would have changed these two outcomes, but accidents like these are changing the way insurers write policies, while increasing their demands for more training. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. —Larry Anglisano