Its almost a law in aircraft sales that for each level-light sport, piston singles, biz jets-the majority of buyers want the top of that class. LSAs are no different and every manufacturer we talked to over the years has found the same: deluxe models with all the trimmings outsell the budget offerings. Thats why we see $150,000 LSAs out there with Italian leather seats and cockpit avionics rivaling new airliners. No problem for a pilot who managed to sell his Bonanza and has the cash, but wasnt the whole point behind light sport the creation of options for inexpensive flying?
Its almost a law in aircraft sales that for each level-light sport, piston singles, biz jets-the majority of buyers want the top of that class. LSAs are no different and every manufacturer we talked to over the years has found the same: deluxe models with all the trimmings outsell the budget offerings.
Thats why we see $150,000 LSAs out there with Italian leather seats and cockpit
avionics rivaling new airliners. No problem for a pilot who managed to sell his Bonanza and has the cash, but wasnt the whole point behind light sport the creation of options for inexpensive flying?
Really Light Sport
X-Airs General Manager, Matt Verdieck, feels thats where his companys LS model comes in. “Weve done everything we can to keep the aircraft fun and affordable.” Affordable is still a relative term, but a fly-away price of $59,995 for a new aircraft is about as cheap as one could hope for these days. That price gets you basic VFR instruments, a Dynon D-10 engine monitor, a panel-mount ICOM radio and a two-seat intercom. Optional brakes on the copilot side and an AirGizmos GPS dock in the panel will cost you $495 and $150, respectively. A GTX 327 transponder is another $2695, but wed probably look at an ADS-B compliant option instead. Thats it for the options list.
X-Air kept the price low by using its proven kit design. The fuselage is aluminum tubing covered with Dacron sailcloth. This makes for some unusual systems. The 15-gallon fuselage fuel tank is behind a zippered flap on the fuselage, and the baggage area is behind a similar zippered flap behind the seats. The cloth also has a tendency to wrinkle in places. This doesnt cause any problems, but its not the sweeping lines were used to on most new LSAs. The wings can fold for storage.
The interior surprised us with its comfort and ease of ingress and egress. Its 43 inches wide (thats one inch narrower than a Cessna 182) and the seats are quite comfortable. Four-point harnesses are standard. The panel is attractively molded and laid out, rather than utilitarian and the sticks, throttles, trim and flap controls are all finished in wood.
Systems are simple; both flaps and trim are manually actuated via overhead levers. Unlike some high-end LSAs weve flown, there was enough trim authority for hands-off flight at any cruising airspeed. We found the copilot throttle between the seats awkward to use in flight, however.
We think the LS hits it just right on the mix of digital and analog instruments: Simple instruments for airspeed and altitude, a spot for a portable GPS, and engine
data and readouts are collected in one neat digital display.
The gross weight is only 1234 pounds, which is unusual in the LSA world where most designs use all 1320 pounds the regs allow. But the empty weight is low enough that a typical useful load is about 550 pounds. Fill the fuel tank and you still have 460 pounds of payload.
The X-Air LS flies like most LSAs, which is to say it flies more like an airplane than an ultralight. Its responsive to small inputs and is light in pitch, although the controls are heavier overall and with a slower roll rate than in many new-design LSAs. Rudder use is a must.
Its stable in all axes and is utterly forgiving in slow flight and stalls. Visibility is excellent with the doors on, but you can remove them for the wind-in-your-hair experience.
Power comes from the 80-HP Jabiru 2200. While less popular than the ubiquitous Rotax 912, weve been impressed so far with the performance and maintenance costs of the Jabiru engines, and think its a smart choice for the LS. The result is an aircraft that cruises comfortably at 90 MPH while burning 4 GPH. What it lacks in cruise speed it gives back in takeoff, climb and landing performance. Sea level ground roll for takeoff and landing is under 300 feet. Its about twice that to clear a 50-foot obstacle. Climb rates are around 800 FPM at sea level on a standard day.
The only flight oddities were that takeoff requires a bit of an over rotation followed by some forward stick to get the right climb pitch. Landings are straightforward but the great forward visibility might mean a few tries to get the sight picture right. We also thought at first that the system had quite a bit of backlash. This turned out to be a loose fitting on the removable stick on the copilots side.
Ground handling is good. The nosegear is steerable, if a bit stiff in our view. The craft weighs so little that one person can easily move it around the ramp.
Verdieck says the performance is similar to a Piper Cub. Thats about right, albeit one with side-by-side seating and tricycle gear.
Can a Budget LSA Fly?
One benefit to manufacturers of the customer preference of buying deluxe is that the margins are usually higher on these models. This may be of particular importance in the light sport market where margins are low to begin with. That begs the question as to whether a budget LSA like the X-Air LS is a viable endeavor over the long haul.
While we harbor our doubts that the market for a new, yet budget, LSA is big enough to support a business plan, we think the X-Air LSs simple and tried design makes that a partially moot point. Parts should be readily available or simple enough to get made. The light sport rules can make this simpler than with legacy certified aircraft that meet LSA criteria.
That brings up the issue whether its worth spending $60,000 for a new aircraft that gets you the performance of a 1940s design costing half that much. We think theres a legitimate gain in safety and comfort (particularly for larger individuals) in an X-Air versus something like an Aeronca Chief or Luscombe 8. How much of a gain and what thats worth is not a no-brainer. But for the individual whos looking for fun flying in a new aircraft and doesnt mind a few wrinkles in his Dacron, the X-Air could be the ticket.