SportStars are a Dream to Fly!

This airplane is very easy to fly.  Nimble, but responsive.  SportStars are incredibly stable. On stall, a SportStar feels very much like a Piper 140 or Warrior. It just mushes and does not want to break to a side.

With any airplane I fly, I ALWAYS study accident reports to see how pilots got it wrong.   The good news is, in 13 years of operation in the U.S., there have only been 3 fatal accidents in SportStars. (see NTSB Reports, right), and all of which were due to gross pilot error.  

The fact is, this is one of the safest airplanes you can fly.  HOWEVER, there have been a number of non-fatal accidents caused by lack of directional control on take-off or landing (including pitch), often by student pilots. 

Here is what I have learned...

1) Rudders: "Big in the Air. Small on the Ground."

Many of the accidents recorded have been with pilots who thought they were flying a Cessna or a Piper. The difference is LIGHT WEIGHT and RUDDERS. in those airplanes, you can use almost no rudders in the air.  On the ground, pilots get used to pushing the rudders fairly aggressively to steer the airplane.  You basically "drive" a Cessna or Piper on the ground, but on Final Approach, you can get away with very little rudder use at all unless it is very windy.

The SportStar is opposite to this because
1) The rudder is tiny.
2) It's a very light airplane.
3) The nose wheel is tightly coupled and VERY sensitive

THINK: "BIG rudders in the air and SMALL rudders on the ground."

So, as you are coming in on final, and if there is ANY wind, you must be ON the airplane. Many rudder adjustments in the air.  Some pilots fly crabbed to the flare.  I don't like this because you have to get it perfect at the last instant.  Instead, line up on center line at least 50 feet up. Then, after flaring and touching down, keep the nose wheel off the ground as long as possible. Gently brake while holding back pressure, and the nose will fall at about 30 kts. Once the nose wheel is on the ground, use very small rudder inputs to steer it.

The worst thing you can do is land hot, dump the stick forward and then "drive" the airplane on the nosewheel.    It's super sensitive and very easy to drive off the runway.  Also, since the nosewheel is so tightly coupled to the rudders, driving it at high speed puts stress on the ball joints and eventually, it will start to "shimmy".   So please, keep it slow when the nosewheel is on the ground.  Also, get it off as quickly as possible (about 4 seconds with 1 notch).  

2) Watch the Wind!

I've flown 408EV with up to 22 knots of wind, where it was within 10 degrees of the runway (but not gusty).   Easy and no issue.  However, beyond 20 degrees, crosswinds can be a problem.   Remember the rule about crosswinds...

  • 30 degrees - crosswind is half the wind.

  • 45 degrees - crosswind is 3/4 the wind

  • 60 degrees - crosswind is all the wind.

Max crosswind for this airplane is published as 10 knots. So at 30 degrees, max wind is 20 kts. At 45 degrees, it can be about 13. At at 60 degrees - just 10 knots. But the biggest factor is gusts. Down the runway +/- 10 degrees, gusts aren't really an issue. However, at 30 degrees, 12 gusting to 18 is technically within the crosswind component but the airplane can be easily cocked and pushed at low (flare) speed.

The airplane is not hard to fly. But wind can pick up a wing and "weather vane" it and/or drift it off the runway. But it's easy to counter this. Just QUICKLY push stick into the wind with opposite rudder. You can get away with a sloppy landing as long as the nose is pointing down the runway. If it's not, apply full power and go around.

The key is to FLY THE AIRPLANE. Do that and you'll be fine. Think "happy feet." Start working rudders as you approach the runway and stay on them. If the crosswind component is 10 knots, it can be safely landed using proper crosswind technique. You just have to fly the airplane.

3) "Stay on YOUR Rudder Pedals - not mine!"

A few bizarre accidents have been caused by people putting their inboard foot on the other pilot's rudder pedal. Make sure you are aware that your feet are on YOUR pedals. AND, brief your passenger by having them look down so they understand about this. Their shoe can get caught behind your inboard rudder if they allow it to cross over.

4) If You Forget to Latch the Canopy...

If you push full power and hear a loud noise, you didn't latch the canopy. Don't panic. You are probably on a 3,000+ foot runway. The plane needs 500 feet to take off. So RELAX. Pull the power back to idle. Nice and easy. Make sure you are pointing down the center line and then, calmly turn around and engage the latch, look forward again, then do the safety catch if it's not actuated. That might take all of 5-8 seconds. Continue your takeoff roll.

The WORST thing you can do is continue your takeoff roll with the canopy un-latched. I believe 3 or 4 accidents happened where pilots tried to close the canopy once airborne. You can't do it. If the canopy ever opens in flight, just slow down, add 2 notches of flaps and fly at 45 knots back to the airport.

5)  Do NOT Pitch Forward if you bounce!

The airplane's controls are more sensitive than in, say, a Piper or Cessna.  There have been a few accidents caused by pilots bouncing off the runway, then pushing the stick forward, hitting it again, and maybe doing this twice before striking the prop.  If you bounce up, just RELAX the controls.  DO NOT PITCH FORWARD.   Worst case, you might stall a little high.   But letting the airplane recover itself and avoiding pilot-induced oscillations is what you want to do.

6)  Weight and Balance

With full fuel and about 10 pounds in the back, the airplane can carry 400 pounds in the front seats.  There is not a typical Weight and Balance chart in the POH because there are only 2 seats and no way to shift weight forward or back (except in baggage, which has a 30 pound maximum).  However, there IS a weight table in the LIMITATIONS section.  In this table, you can quickly see how much weight the plane can take with varying levels of fuel (1/4 tank, 1/2 tank, etc.)

Thanks for reading!    Follow these guidelines, and you'll have a lot of fun and fly safe.

Ed Downs