Man’s curiosity turned aviation into a possibility, with the first manned-aircraft soaring the sky in 1903. Since then, advancements in the aerospace industry have turned flying into a hobby or standard method of travel for many, especially with large, more commercially available airplanes being devised to accommodate the needs of more eager passengers. For pilots, their personal quest to touch the sky is made possible by light aircraft, allowing them to enjoy the freedom such planes provide.
Light aircraft are airplanes that have a maximum gross takeoff weight (MTOW) of 12,500 pounds. While light aircraft are primarily used in general aviation, they are also equipped to perform roles under commercial air transport as well as specialized aerial work. Clearly, light aircraft are used for numerous reasons, from passenger and freight transport, to sightseeing, photography, and many others.
The majority of aircraft that are categorized as “light aircraft” are made of aluminum, which is characterized as being strong yet incredibly lightweight. However, it is important to note that many parts are made of other materials like steel and titanium. Some well-known examples include the Aviat Husky, the Daher TBM 910/930, the Pilatus PC-12, and a few others.
Due to their size and weight, light aircraft can fulfill a wide-range of roles. For those who personally own a small plane, it is a great way to fly across a state or two, allowing you to avoid long delays, crowded airports, and uncomfortable flights. Small commercial operations using light aircraft also transport passengers and freight across relatively short distances. Other uses include aerial surveying and security, marketing purposes, flight instruction, and light cargo operations.
Light-Sport Aircraft and Ultralight Aircraft vs. Light Aircraft
Light-sport aircraft, which do not typically fall within the same category as light aircraft, are often conflated with light aircraft. Despite having similar names, light aircraft are over the maximum weight permitted for someone operating with only a sport license for flying. You may also hear the term Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) and Ultralight aircraft, both of which are also used for general aviation roles, with a focus on recreational purposes. LSAs cover many amateur-built aircraft, experimental prototypes, and other designs, while Ultralight aircraft are even smaller, weighing around 115 pounds when unmanned.
As these aircraft types are fairly new to aviation, there is no globally-adopted standard or set of rules in terms of certifications and regulations. As such, every country has its own rules and laws governing LSAs and Ultralight aircraft. This means that the United States has a set of governing rules that differ from, for example, Canada or the European Union.
To better understand light aircraft, we will cover some of the most common examples in the history of aviation. When it comes to light aircraft, Cessna serves as a household name. Many pilots trust Cessna for producing high quality aircraft, with the 150 and 152 being their best units. Next, the Piper PA-28 Series by Piper Aircraft Company are another popular set of light aircraft models that have been produced since 1960. The final example is the Ilyushin IL-2, which is a two-seater fighter aircraft. Initially produced in the former Soviet Union, this model reached its peak in popularity in the early 40s.
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