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At dawn on September 1, 2004 pilot John Lasko took off from runway 19 at El Monte, California. He was flying a tube-and-fabric, open-cockpit Quicksilver MXL II Sprint.  Lasko thus became the first person in the United States to fly a Light-Sport Aircraft under the new Sport Pilot rules recently promulgated by the FAA.


      The Sport Pilot initiative not only creates a new "sport" pilot certificate, but also two new categories of aircraft in which a person can obtain an FAA pilot certificate. The new categories are "powered parachute" and "weight-shift," (also known as a "trike,") which is a large, engine-powered hang glider. 


      The Sport Pilot rules also modify FAA regulations pertaining to experimental aircraft, flight instructor certificates, pilot examiners, aircraft manufacturing, and aircraft maintenance. The purpose of the Sport Pilot program is to make flying more affordable, and to remove the requirement to learn skills and regulations that are not necessary for simple, easy-to-fly light-sport aircraft.


      By FAA definition a light-sport aircraft ("LSA") must have a maximum gross weight less than 1,320 pounds, which is almost 300 pounds less than the traditional Cessna 150 trainer. An LSA must also have a single engine, no more than two seats, and a top speed not to exceed 138 mph.  Most aircraft that meet these criteria look like ultralights.


      The Quicksilver Sprint that Lasko flew very definitely looks like an ultralight.  The wings and fuselage are made of aluminum tubing covered by Dacron fabric. It is powered by a two-cylinder, two-cycle Rotax engine. It has minimum instruments on board, and the pilot sits in the open air with no cockpit surrounding him. The maximum weight of the airplane is 850 pounds. In keeping with the intent of the Sport Pilot initiative to make flying fun and affordable, the Sprint costs about $15,000.


      John Lasko, age 46, flew the Sprint without an FAA medical certificate.  Under the new Sport Pilot rule a pilot may fly an LSA without taking the traditional FAA medical exam. A pilot only needs to have a valid driver's license. Although John is a private pilot, he let his medical exam expire and intentionally did not renew it so that he could show that pilots can legally fly without a medical certificate under the Sport Pilot provisions. 


      The Sprint is owned by Terry Johnston of Lawndale, California. Johnston, age 59, is an FAA certified flight instructor as well as an ultralight instructor. He checked Lasko out in the Sprint on August 31, so that Lasko would be ready to fly solo on the morning of September 1, the effective date of the Sport Pilot rule.


      After his historic flight in the Sprint, Lasko next soloed a Quicksilver GT-500. Although the GT-500 qualifies as an LSA, it has an enclosed cabin and looks more like a traditional general aviation airplane than the Sprint does.  The GT-500 is faster and more sophisticated than the Sprint, but costs about $10,000 more to purchase. Lasko was checked out in the GT-500 by flight instructor Jon Thornburgh.


      Interested persons can obtain more information about new Sport Pilot opportunities from a local FAA office, or at the FAA web site at http://www.faa.gov.