Something Old, Something New…Light Sport Aircraft

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  tecnam versus J3 cub
Tecnam P92 and the Piper J-3 Cub – brothers from different mothers
There are plenty of articles that talk about the very specific niche that is the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA), but I thought it would be fun to discuss it from a little different perspective.

One of the interesting things to look at is the extreme differences between the old and the new LSA aircraft. When I say “old” I would like to go back to 1946, the year after WWII ended. Back then dozens of neat little personal airplanes were built to address the predicted post-war boom in light aircraft. I guess they thought all those warriors coming back to the States would need something to do. The boom didn’t really happen, but the airplanes were built and are still proudly serving us today. 
The “new” LSA aircraft is predominately purpose-built for this class or they are repurposed from Europe’s equivalent to Light Sport. Most are modern construction (aluminum or composite) and many have glass cockpits. For this discussion, I’m purposely excluding the experimentals that fall into the LSA category, although there are several really fun airplanes in this group. 
 tecnam and J3 cockpits
It’s really not a fair comparison, but the regulators have created an unlikely marriage with this new class of aircraft. Both airplanes are great at their particular mission, but they are very different animals.  
  • Cost: This is the first major difference. I found a 2008 Tecnam for $108K and generally you can pick up a nice used ’46 Cub for $40K. I know it’s apples to oranges to compare a 4-year-old airplane to a 67-year-old one, but my wallet doesn’t care.
  • Paperwork: The flight manual is 65 pages on the Tecnam and 16 pages with the Cub – ok it was simpler times.
  • Construction: The Tecnam line employs a more modern monocoque tail cone section with the forward fuselage using sheet aluminum over steel tubing. Our Cub is just tube and fabric with wooden floorboards.
Surprisingly similar

The checklists  – Tencam P92 (left) and J-3 Cub (right)

Performance Specifications
Tecnam J-3
Top Speed 118 76
Cruise Speed 114 65
Stall Speed 41 33
Takeoff Distance 388 370
Landing Distance 388 290
Rate of Climb 1200 450
Horsepower 100 65
Fuel Capacity 18.49 9
Gross Weight 1320 1220
Estimated Used Price $108,000 $49,000

I’m all about the cool factor so it’s J-3 Cub all the way for me. But if you are in the market for an LSA, the choice to go with modern or vintage is completely up to you and you can’t go wrong either way. 


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