If we ever wanted proof that evolution was a force in our lives, our decision to sell the Cheetah and switch to flying light sport was it. My wife had lost faith in the Grumman because of its constant mechanical problems and the sputtering engine that had caused me to make a precautionary landing and then replace the number three cylinder. We decided to put it up for sale at a loss just to get out from under the loan and the airplane’s need for fixing, something that was going to take more money than we had or wanted to invest. If we were going to own another airplane, my wife said, we were going to get something newer. No more thirty year old airplanes, and that was that!
At the same time, I was seeing some things in my medical condition I needed to deal with even though I was almost symptomless; and I was sure they would make getting a third class medical problematic, at least for a while. With no medical required for light sport, I was free to pursue whatever treatment I needed without having to worry about whether or not I could legally still fly. The doctor and I would decide, and I’m no fool. I won’t fly anytime I feel I am putting myself or someone else at undue or needless additional risk, no matter what class medical I hold. Besides, the way the FAA was using the medical to search for other things to disqualify and even prosecute pilots, bypassing the whole process seemed each day like a better and better idea.
The advent of Light Sport seemed to be an ideal way for us to continue to stay in the air. We were fascinated by the newer airplanes at the category’s high end. No matter whether they were made from metal or composites, they offered a speed and economy that would fit our needs and our budget now and, hopefully, for years to come. So, we began to study the market and look for an airplane that would fit our needs. The Flight Design CTSW popped to the top of our list fairly quickly. The airplane had the payload capability, speed, and range we would need; there were a fair number of them on that market; and they were affordable as long as we steered clear of dealers. Most of the airplanes were equipped with Garmin 496 GPS units, making navigation not only easy but a pleasure, especially when coupled with near real-time XM weather and Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) information. The airplane’s ballistic Recovery Parachute (BRS) Systems provided an additional level of safety we had never had. We loved the way the airplane looked and an airplane made out of new high-tech composite materials…well…that was just too cool! The only downside to the airplane I could find was its reputation for being a handful in yaw and having weak landing gear that a hard landing could destroy. Those were not show stoppers for me but were strong points to consider when looking at the airplane with Connie. She might want to get her pilot’s license in the thing.
Obviously, the best way to find out for sure if the CTSW was right for us was to fly one. But there was only one in Houston and it belonged to a private company, so we weren’t going to get a shot at that. The next closest was up in Cleveland, Texas, some 70 miles north; but rather than pursue a ride with that owner, we decided to just hunt one to buy. In the interim, during a trip out to Florida to see the STS-125 launch, we dropped down to Melbourne, Florida and the headquarters of Evektor USA to see the new SportStar Max. At the insistence of a salesman, he and I flew one; and I really liked it. It flew a lot like the Cheetah we had just sold. Unfortunately, it was way out of our ballpark when it came to price and Connie didn’t like the older models of the airplane we could afford.
Meanwhile, I began my hunt for a light sport by using the Internet. I spent most of my time perusing Barnstormers.com but made occasional trips to Trade-A-Plane and Controller. A 2006 Flight Design CTSW for sale on Barnstormers caught my eye; while it was in California, I became convinced that it was the best value on the market. While it was at the upper end of the price range we felt we could handle ($79,900), it was equipped with a Garmin 496 with XM radio and weather (subscription required), a Garmin SL40 communications radio, a Garmin 327XL mode C transponder, a PM 3000 stereo intercom with iPod port, a pitch and roll display with a digital magnetic heading readout that served as a two-axis autopilot controller, night lighting, and Tundra gear, i.e., beefed up landing gear that better accommodated grass field operations or hard student landings. The airplane also had brown leather seats, a carpet kit, and a Ballistic Recovery System, yet still had a useful load of 584 pounds. The listed cruise speed was 112 knots at 75% power, about the same speed we realistically gotten out of our Cheetah. (Yeah, it was slow for a Cheetah, and I could have squeezed a few more knots out of her by re-pitching the prop, but I needed climb rate more than I needed a few knots of speed.) To top it off, our prospective was flying with a red, white, and blue color scheme we were looking for. My feelings told me over and over again that “this airplane is it”, and I told Connie several times it was the best deal out there, despite the fact that it’s being in California made the logistics of buying and retrieving it difficult.
And difficult and expensive it was. I approached Avemco about insuring the thing; and while they gave us a much better rate than I expected, they also issued some bumpy caveats. Since I had no time in the airplane, they wanted me to get a minimum of five hours of dual flight time in the same make and model including ten landings to a full stop. The instructor also had to have five hours in make and model and I also had to do a “flight review” with him in the airplane being bought. With both the airplane and light port being so new, where the hell was I going to find an instructor with the right qualifications who could do all that?