By Alan Negrin, CFI, MEI
This article is aimed at the new builder who may have little or no time in a GlaStar or Sportsman. Pilots who are new GlaStar and Sportsman flyers should not underestimate the need for quality transition training, especially if you are accustomed to flying any legacy single engine aircraft—Cessna 172 or 182, Piper Cherokee, Warrior or similar aircraft.
You will easily be lifting off at a slower speed when departing and landing a bit faster compared to the typical Cessna or Piper. The biggest and most important difference comes just before touchdown when landing. The airfoil used on the GlaStar and Sportsman, which is a modified form of the GAW-2 airfoil used on the Glasair, is different from those used in traditional trainers or production-line aircraft. The design is one factor that gives us the extra speed while the unique spade-like vortex generators provide the additional controllability in slow flight. Another factor is size. The Sportsman wing, for example, has 131 square feet, supporting a 2350-pound airplane. A 2450-pound Cessna 172 has 174 square feet of wing.
While you may be used to chopping the power in ground effect and gliding to a touchdown in one of the previously mentioned certified aircraft, with the Sportsman you must carry some power all the way to touchdown if you want to avoid a hard landing (assuming a normal approach speed of 55-60 knots and full flaps). The Glastar is slightly different because it has smaller flaps and a lower flap angle when full flaps are deployed. If you are flying a Glastar, you may get away with reducing the power all the way to idle and gliding to a nice smooth touchdown depending on your speed. Just be sure you do not flare to high above the runway. If you do, you may run out of airspeed and encounter a hard landing anyway.
You can land even more slowly and very short if you are comfortable flying behind the power curve, whereby you control speed with pitch and descent rate with power. The GlaStar and Sportsman also tend to be a bit nose heavy, and unless you have an unusual aft-CG condition, you may run out of elevator in the landing flare. If you have a long enough runway and want to land at a higher airspeed, say 65-70 knots, you will have plenty of elevator authority. Each airplane is slightly different, and this is why we have a 25- or 40-hour test period.
Once you get used to the feel of carrying a small amount of power—8-11 inches of MP for constant speed or just a little above idle with a fixed-pitch prop—it is very easy to land smoothly and you can even land very short. The amount of power is going to vary with density altitude, load, wind,
etc. You just have to experiment to find the ideal power range for you and your airplane. Like flying any different airplane that you have not flown before, it takes a while to “dial” into the feel of the airplane, but when you do, you get to enjoy the incredible speed range and flexibility that comes with owning and flying the GlaStar and Sportsman aircraft.
Alan Negrin is CFI,MEI and former factory demo, flight test and transition training pilot. He owns a Sportsman tail dragger and provides transition training for Glasair, GlaStar and Sportsman owners, including those who are about to commit first flight and those who have purchased flying aircraft.
He can be reached at email@example.com or 425-466-8472