Yes! You Can Train for Sport Pilot in Your Homebuilt
By Matt Plante, EAA 819445 , for Light Plane World
I experienced a life-changing event in 2006 — my neighbor took me for a ride in his Cessna. Until then, I had no encounters with small aircraft and assumed that it was a hobby only accessible to the rich. My neighbor showed me that it really was within my reach. I knew immediately that I wanted to fly. After months of exploring the Internet and serious soul searching, I decided light sport would fit my interests and wallet perfectly.
With two kids keeping our family busy, I didn't have the time or money to pursue a private pilot certificate, rent a general aviation aircraft, or fly long trips. I wanted something affordable that would allow me to fly anytime on short local flights. I proceeded to order a Challenger II Long Wing kit from Quad City Ultralights.
I had no building experience (except for remote-controlled models) prior to this and thoroughly enjoyed the project. After about a year and a half, I had my own certified aircraft. I was also fortunate to have made friends through my EAA chapter memberships that helped to fly off the first 40 hours on my plane. It was then that I realized the industry did not yet have great support for sport pilot training. Some schools offer sport pilot training, but many do not have LSA available for rent. And many ultralight instructors have not transitioned to sport pilot. It was a dilemma. Schools wanted to train me but didn't have a plane. I had a plane but needed to be trained. After several months of searching and begging, I managed to find an excellent instructor who was willing to train in my own experimental aircraft. This was a very frustrating experience, but my persistence paid off and saved me the cost of aircraft rental. Additionally, I struggled to get insurance for my aircraft since I was a zero-time pilot flying an experimental. I eventually landed some insurance, but that story is long enough for another article.
My instructor had many years of general aviation experience, but had spent very little time in light-sport aircraft. Initially, he wondered if his decision to train in my light-sport experimental was wise. Fortunately, my kit provider (Don Zank of Bloomer, Wisconsin) had given me some free orientation instruction in basic Challenger flying while I was completing my kit. I was able to quickly make my instructor comfortable in my light plane. After the first 10 hours of my sport pilot training, my instructor admitted that he would miss our low and slow flights. He was seeing things in the area that he never before noticed at 4,000 feet in the big metal. By the end of the training, we were doing short trips over his favorite golf and hunting spots. I received my sport pilot certificate in April 2009 and have been flying weekly ever since.
Is it easy to find sport pilot training in your experimental aircraft? Not always, but it is possible. Here are some lessons I learned:
- Seek help from local EAA chapters.
- Check all of your local flight schools, and don't be afraid to ask for instruction in your own aircraft.
- Be patient and persistent—it will pay off.
- Obtain basic flight training from someone familiar in your type of aircraft and / or make sure your instructor can be provided with adequate transition training.
Of course, you can also locate flight schools (often long distances from your home) that can provide a light-sport aircraft for rent. You would then simply need some transition training to fly your own aircraft after receiving your certificate. But training in your own plane is a possibility, and you can do it!