I recently got checked out in Evektor SportStar. It's a two seat Czech built light sport airplane that becoming increasingly popular with the new sport pilot rules. I've been wanting to try it out for a long time but it's so popular that's always busy flying and booked well ahead. Apparently, many jumped on the sport pilot bandwagon as it's cheaper and faster way to get up in the air. At the same time some folks saving money during regular private pilot training as SportStar's hourly rental rate is lower than Cessna 172 and comparable to Cessna 150/152.

The preflight is simple and includes all typical checkpoints for 2-4 seat trainer airplane. The geared liquid cooled engine adds checking coolant level step. During preflight I noticed good quality construction and excellent fit and finish. The cockpit has adequate shoulder room and bubble canopy has plenty of headroom for over 6' pilot. In Texas heat though this greenhouse will fry you in no time, so keep it open as long as possible. Seats are firm and comfortable all controls are laid out well and within hands reach. Manual flaps extension handle is between seats and flaps position can be verified by the handle position only as the flaps are not visible due to wing design. Headset jacks located on the panel behind the seats and slightly to the right which all makes favorable condition for tangling headset wires with 5-point seatbelt harness.

Starting engine is very simple and once it's on there's only one throttle handle to operate, no mixture here. The vernier throttle control is something to get used to after Cessna's plunger type. I always wondered why all aircraft have such different user interfaces: panel layouts, control levers, switches grouping and locations etc. Why don't they create a few standards for critical controls. It would make pilot transition into new cockpits much easier and reduce workload especially during critical situations when motor reactions kick in. Anyways, the vernier lever must be twisted to smoothly adjust engine RPM (clockwise to increase ) and for abrupt changes can be moved back and forth after releasing the lock button. Exactly as mixture control in Cessnas. The spring that pushes throttle in is pretty strong and engine response is quick, so be on your toes. And we complain about confusing UI in software. 🙂

Take-off roll is pretty easy, it doesn't require as much right rudder input as 172. Also, nose wheel is connected with rudder by rods so it's very sensitive comparing to mushiness of Cessnas. That makes one more transition gotcha from Cessna as you don't expect it react so quickly and can start yawing left and right during take-off roll (I did). The secret is in quick smaller rudder inputs. Once at rotation speed it will lift off itself with just a hint of back pressure on the stick.

Once in the air – it's fun. The visibility is outstanding: high seating position, low cut sides, small engine cowl and all around glass canopy makes you like flying in the soap bubble. Steep turns are easy and stalls are non-event  –  it just mushing around and sinks without noticeable wing drop tendency. No stall warning though, so watch your airspeed. Speaking of which it was about 40 kts when it decided to stall and for cruise I observed 95kts at 4500 rpm. I wish it had better radios, they suck in this airplane, constantly picking interference from TV towers or some other sources. Old Cessna's radios don't do that.

Landing was where I had most difficulties. The light weight makes it even less stable in turbulence than Cessna 150. And after 172 I had a tendency to overcontrol because of it's quick response. The throttle handle didn't help either and I was behind in making small power corrections. Also geared engine RPMs are not the same numbers as for direct drive motors. It was hard to find right power setting first times on the approach. Flaring is easy as long as you get new sight picture. The rollout was tricky as remember it's high sensitive directly connected nose wheel –  it can easily lead into pilot induced oscillation. Crosswind landing is different too as SportStar has a little wing clearance that limits the amount of allowed wing drop in a slip. So it's essentially dictates crab all the way to touchdown and kick-in the rudder in the last moment approach. Once rolling on mains keep the nose wheel off and don't forget to straighten it before it touches runway – it can take you to the boonies.

Once all of this trouble spots have been addressed the fun begins. It's nice vroom-vroom airplane for sightseeing and local trips. Makes a good trainer too I guess. It's new, comfortable, responsive, looks great in the air and on the ramp and easier on wallet build time (5gph fuel flow). It's good to see FBOs coming to understand the value of light sport planes and hope it will keep flying affordable.