Vintage Aircraft and Sport Pilots
One interesting provision of the Sport Pilot rule is that is allows Sport Pilots to fly "standard" category aircraft as long as those aircraft have continually met the requirements of an LSA since their original certification. In other words, the aircraft can't have been modified to fall within the LSA standards by removing a couple of seats or filing a paperwork STC that reduces the MTOW. Its original configuration, when it was built and certificated, had to meet the current LSA requirements.
Some people find this rule confusing, but it really isn't. All the rule says is that an aircraft that was designed before the LSA rules came into effect, but whose characteristics at the time of its certification happen to meet the present LSA definitions, can be flown by Sport Pilots -- provided the aircraft hasn't been modified in any way that would affect its certification.
Allowing Sport Pilots to fly certain conventionally-certificated aircraft has given a new lease on life to many vintage airplanes that had spent lonely decades collecting dust in dark corners of hangars. That's a nice thing. It's good to see these old airplanes flying again.
But it's also important to understand that a certificated aircraft that happens to fall within the LSA definitions does not become an LSA. The aircraft itself retains its original certification. This makes a huge difference in terms of the cost of owning, maintaining, and flying the aircraft.
If you're a Sport Pilot considering the purchase of an SP-eligible, vintage aircraft, here are some things you really need to consider before making that purchase.
Aircraft that are certificated as LSA come under a more lenient set if maintenance standards than conventionally certificated aircraft. This makes several important differences that can affect their practical use by Sport Pilots and their cost of ownership.
Repair and Inspection Requirements
Most repairs and the the annual inspection of a Light Sport Aircraft can be performed by anyone holding the "Repairman - Light Sport Aircraft" certification for the appropriate class and with the appropriate rating. Maintenance on conventionally-certificated aircraft, on the other hand, must be performed by A&P mechanics; and their annual inspections must be performed by A&P mechanics who hold an additional FAA Inspection Authorization.
The "Repairman - Light Sport Aircraft" is a much easier certification to earn than the A&P mechanic certification because its scope is limited to a particular class of LSA. Therefore, the services of Repairmen tend to be a lot less expensive than the services of A&P mechanics and Authorized Inspectors. This difference can mean that the annual labor costs for maintenance and inspection of a conventionally-certificated aircraft are likely to be thousands of dollars more than for a similar LSA.
Pilots in general are allowed to perform certain preventative maintenance procedures on aircraft they own or operate. However, a specific exception in the law prevents Sport Pilots from legally performing preventative maintenance on any aircraft except a Light Sport Aircraft.
What this means in practical terms is that if you are a Sport Pilot with airplane privileges, and you purchase a vintage Piper Cub, you can legally fly it -- but you can't legally add air to the tires or oil to the engine.
Other Maintenance Considerations
Conventionally-certificated aircraft operated under the SP rule must comply with any ADs (Airworthiness Directives) that have ever been issued for their models, as well as any that may be issued for their models in the future. Some ADs can be costly to comply with. In addition, it may be difficult to find parts for older aircraft.
Safety Considerations of Flying Vintage Aircraft
Aircraft that are properly maintained can fly indefinitely. But when purchasing a vintage aircraft, it sometimes is impossible to know how well it was maintained. In addition, time can take its toll on aircraft (and especially aircraft engines) that sit idle for extended periods of time. It's vital that an old aircraft be thoroughly inspected, and any outstanding ADs be complied with, before being returned to service.
Another factor that should be considered is that many older airplanes use a tailwheel configuration, which makes them a little more difficult to operate. Tailwheel airplanes require a lot of finesse during critical stages of a flight.
Tailwheels were used for many years because the configuration is more aerodynamic and efficient. But tailwheel airplanes are more difficult to operate on the ground, during takeoff, and especially during landing. A momentary lapse in concentration can cause you to go into something called a "ground loop," which is embarrassing at best, can be fatal at worst, and can cause serious damage to your airplane in between the two.
Insurance Considerations for Sport Pilots flying Vintage Aircraft
If you are a Sport Pilot wishing to fly an older aircraft, you may have difficulty getting insurance. There are several reasons for this.
- Firstly, aircraft insurers hate tailwheels, and many older airplanes have tailwheels. If your airplane is a tail-dragger, don't expect an aircraft insurance company to be overjoyed.
- Secondly, the insurance company may have no experience with some older airplanes, and therefore no actuarial data. Actuarial data is what insurance companies use to assess risk and determine premiums.
- Thirdly, insurers are less-than-thrilled about the SP rule in general, especially with regard to Sport Pilots who don't have an FAA Airman Medical Certificate -- which would probably be nearly all SP's.
So here you come, a freshly-minted Sport Pilot, with very few hours of flying time, no FAA medical; and you want to insure an old airplane (most likely with a tailwheel), which the insurance company knows nothing about, and for which it lacks any data to assess risk. Can you understand why they might be less-than-enthusiastic about insuring you?
List of Vintage Aircraft that can be Flown by Sport Pilots
Bearing all of the above in mind, if you're still interested in buying and flying a vintage aircraft, here's a current list, by manufacturers, of most of the vintage and conventionally-certificated aircraft I know of that can be operated by Sport Pilots with appropriate privileges.
Interstate S-1 Cadet
Piper PA 11
Piper PA 15
Piper PA 17
Taylorcraft BCS12-65 Seaplane
Taylorcraft BCS12-D Seaplane
Taylorcraft BCS12-D1 Seaplane
Taylorcraft BCS65 Seaplane
Taylorcraft BFS12-65 Seaplane
Taylorcraft BFS-60 Seaplane
Taylorcraft BFS-65 Seaplane
Taylorcraft BLS12-65 Seaplane
Taylorcraft BLS-65 Seaplane
Taylorcraft DC-65 (L-2, L-2C)
Taylorcraft DCO-65 (L-2A, L-2B) but not L-2M
Taylorcraft DF-65 (L-2E)