Planes You Can Fly
An overview of the training fleet
You'll never forget the first airplane you fly. No matter how many other aircraft you may pilot, that first trainer will always have a special place in your heart and your logbook. However, picking the plane or helicopter you learn to fly in should to some degree be based upon your flying goals and your budget. Basic trainers are solid little airplanes with just enough room for you and you instructor. These "two-place" or two-passenger aircraft making learning to fly as easy as possible while keeping your flying cost low. Most are very forgiving to fly and are more tolerant of a beginner's mistakes. However, they can also be a bit sparse when it comes to equipment and, in some cases, comfort. If you and your wallet are a bit bigger, then you may want to consider learning in a larger four-place (four-passenger) aircraft. Your costs will be higher, but you won't have to transition or "move up" from your trainer when you want to take your spouse and two children for their first ride. These aircraft also tend to be capable of flying farther and faster, and have more advanced avionics that will help if you later decide to earn your instrument rating.
For the last three decades, the training fleet has been dominated by two aircraft: the Piper Cherokee, which evolved to become the Piper Warrior, and the Cessna 150/152. Tens of thousands of pilots spent their formative flight hours in the larger four-seat Cherokee or Warrior and the diminutive two-seat Cessna. While Cherokees are less common within the training fleet today, Piper Warriors can be found at many flight schools. Warriors are also very common instrument training aircraft as well as a popular aircraft to rent. Cherokees and Warriors are two of the most common private aircraft, second in numbers only to the Cessna 172.
When the original Piper Aircraft Corporation first conceived a new trainer in the mid-1970s, the company polled flight instructors to determine what traits this airplane should have. The 1978 to 1982 Tomahawk delivers what these special customers ordered: an airplane that provides honest response to pilot inputs, a comfortable cabin with great visibility, and big-airplane-style handling. The control forces and sensitivities match those of the Learjet 35, making transitions to larger aircraft the easiest of any basic trainer, hence the Tomahawk's popularity with U.S. Air Force flying clubs.
Though strictly speaking it's not a pure trainer, the 172 is one of the most common airplanes used by flight schools. There are really three Cessna Skyhawks — the newest versions, produced since 1996, are 180-horsepower and 160-hp airplanes with fuel-injected four-cylinder Lycoming engines; the 1984 through 1968 models with the 160-hp or 150-hp four-cylinder Lycomings; and the early ones (1956 to 1967) with 145-hp Continental six-cylinder engines. 172s are also very common instrument training aircraft as well as a very popular rental model. Learn to fly in a 172 and you'll be able to rent and fly from almost any fixed base operator (FBO) worldwide.
Some people say that since then end of World War II, more pilots have learned to fly in the Cessna 150 or 152 than any other type of airplane. They're so easy to fly that they're often affectionately called the Land-O-Matic after a term used by Cessna in its old marketing campaigns. These two Cessna models leave complexity behind in favor of low operating costs, reliability, and ease of use. However, these same easygoing flying qualities can make transitioning to a larger aircraft later more difficult.
After the success of Diamond's new-generation composite Katana DA20-C1, designers decided to make their trainer even better. They rolled out the DA20-C1 Eclipse (shown in photo) and the DA20-C1 Evolution. The two-place piston-engine aircraft are made of composite construction (like the Katana) that creates an aerodynamically clean airframe. The Eclipse features wraparound cockpit visibility, fighter jet-like entry and stick control, stable flight characteristics, and modern avionics. The Evolution is essentially the same as the Eclipse only with fewer bells and whistles to make it a more affordable trainer. The Evolution has a less elaborate avionics package, less interior trim, and no rear window.
What matters most in a training airplane is function, reliability, durability, and, of course, affordability. And that's just what you'll get with Aircraft Manufacturing and Development's (AMD) Alarus. Created to be a lower-cost, certified alternative for flight schools wishing to purchase new trainer fleets, the two-seat Alarus is also attracting student owners who want to purchase an airplane in which to earn that first certificate.
Liberty XL2 (2-place)
One of the newest airplanes in the training fleet, the Liberty XL2 is the next generation training aircraft that offers flight schools a two-seat aircraft certified for IFR at very reasonable pricing. The aircraft's high levels of safety, performance, comfort, economy, and affordability are big draws for the Liberty. As is its clean-sheet design and good handling characteristics. New two-seat training airplanes are rare, and the Liberty XL2 has cemented itself as one of the best.
Robinson's R22, shown in the photograph, is by far the most widely used helicopter in the flight training industry. Designer Frank Robinson earned his success by building exceptionally engineered helicopters at a cost well below that of his competitors. Robinson has continued his tradition of innovative engineering by introducing several design changes to the R22 Beta model, including a four-seat model that has been very popular.
Schweizer introduced the 300CB in August 1995. The company moved the pilot's position from the left seat to the more traditional (for helicopters) right seat; installed a less-expensive, lower-powered engine with a longer interval between overhauls; and reduced the gross weight. The visibility is great; the pilot can look back and see the main rotor drive assembly and the tail rotor. The cabin is wide and comfortable, allowing the largest of students plenty of elbow room.