An early Xmas present

I had popped out to the Aero Club to get some Arrow time in, and after a rather uneventful flight I had safely hangared DQV and was in the bar with a cold ginger beer when a Tecnam P2008 LSA ZK-JAX rolled up outside the club rooms.  Out hopped instructor Mark and called out to me asking if I wanted to go up for a couple of circuits with chief instructor Roger?  Not needing a second thought, I reached for my headset and headed out to the plane.  Roger gave me a quick tour, pointing out the all flying tail, the free castoring nose gear and the fact that unlike the 172 in which I have 100+ hours in, it flies with a stick rather than a control column of which I am used to.

Roger invited me to jump into the left seat, and we hit the first hurdle.  The doors are placed in front of the wing struts so the old Cessna method of approaching from the rear and climbing in was gone.  The doors do open quite wide, so you walk inwards along the leading edge of the wing into the space between the door and the wing strut.  Then the second hurdle was finding a way of squeezing my 120kg and 1.85m frame into the plane.  After some lateral thinking I figured out the best method and got in.  Like the Cessna 152, the seats are not very high above the floor of the cockpit, but the seat travels quite a way back, so far I could not reach the rudder pedals even with my legs fully extended.

Once in, the seating was quite comfortable (similar to the 172), and I had reasonable headroom above.  The only cramped feeling I had was once the pilots door was closed and latched, I had that funny uncomfortable feeling that something was positioned close to my head on the left side.  I also noted that I could not see clearly out along the wing without tilting my neck forwards and down, but as I found out later in the air, it was not a big problem.  The vision up, forward and ahead of the wings was far superior to the 172,  and I commented as much to Roger.

Roger talked about the avionics layout.  The main instrument panel is a large LCD display with a secondary unit on the right hand side.  There was a "steam driven" ASI front and centre right in my eye line.  If all else failed, I would be able to land it with a reasonable about of confidence.  I found the AH and engine gauges quite easy to read, but the altitude and airspeed tapes took a while of staring at them to make sense to me.  I liked the fact that the tank switch is mounted in a prominent position, but the switcher was quite fiddly to use and I could see bad things happening in an emergency unless they fix it.  For some reason, the flap switch is over on the right hand side of the cockpit, and yet the cabin air switch was close.  Someone needs to give some more thought to the layout because it was a real head scratcher as to why an important secondary flight control is operated so far away from the left seat.

Roger wizzed through the start up sequence, hit a couple of switches, check the position of the choke, turn the key and the Rotax 912ULS2 fired up straight away.  For someone used to the rumbling of a Lycoming at idle, the more car like whir of the Rotax took some getting used to.  Roger got me to apply some power and make my first cautious taxi out to holding point Hotel and runway 07R.  Being a free castoring nosewheel, the plane requires careful handling, and when combined with the light weight, a keen awareness of the wind strength and direction is mandatory.  Today with the wind at 060 at 4 knots wasn't going to be a problem.

Once we lined up on 07R, Roger had me ease JAX forward a little until we had the nosewheel straight before opening the taps.  We applied full throttle, and I applied full right rudder to counter torque and p factor.  Even then, JAX started to slowly swing left until we had enough airflow past the rudder to aerodynamically overpower the turning moment and bring the nose back onto centreline.  Roger said that normally you'd tap the right brake to keep it straight but it was an interesting experiment none the less.  As the airspeed passed 40 knots I started to ease the stick back and we were airborne at 45.  Holding the same nose attitude the speed built up and JAX lifted out of ground effect and up into the afternoon sky.

Take off performance was surprisingly good for such a low powered aircraft.  I would estimate we used barely 100m before we unstuck and maybe another 100m before we got out of ground effect.  We passed 200 AGL and Roger raised the flap and told me to find a cruise climb speed of 70 knots.  It was at this time I announced that this was the first time I had ever flown a stick controlled aircraft.  I have never flown the clubs Alpha's because I had no need.  Now we were into the business end of flying with a stick, I found to my delight that flying with a stick was not really all that different to a yoke, and by the end of the flight I was totally comfortable with it.  I tried a few cautious wiggles of the stick and found that the control forces were quite light and the aircraft at such a low speed was quite responsive.  Once we were straight and level downwind the airspeed climbed to settle at about 105kts indicated.  Not bad at all.  Roger went through the downwind checks, asked for and received a touch and go clearance and asked me to set 4100rpm and maintain our height with nose attitude.  The Vfe in this plane is 70 knots (note to Tecnam engineers, make this 80 knots and you won't have Cessna pilots blowing the flaps off your aircraft).  Roger talked me down around base onto final, saying airspeed is important because you cannot shed it as easily as in the 172. We had full flap out and I had 60 knots on the tape on final and down we came.  The first landing was a little hairy because I had just came from the Arrow and didn't flare enough.  I understand the Tecnam will happily fly at 45 knots, a speed that would have the Arrow in big trouble!

By the time we were on final on the second circuit (right hand this time) I landed it fine by myself with no input from Roger, in fact I greased it in nicely.  The final landing was almost as good.  I made a slight error in that I closed the throttle completely to land and to my shock the engine died as we rolled out.  A quick twist of the key fixed that, but Roger said to keep a little power on as we land.  Noted for future reference.

Well let me see what I think about this plane:

1)  It is easy to fly for a 172 pilot like me.  Being able to land it unaided on my second attempt proved that pretty well.
2)  It is roomy and comfortable enough for the day trips I do a lot.
3)  It costs a LOT less to fly per hour than my current rated GA aircraft.  This means stretching my flying dollar further and that can only be good news.  I can fly more often and keep those perishable skills current.  I wouldn't totally give up my GA ratings because I can take more than one passenger and luggage, something that would be impossible for me to do in the Tecnam (or any other LSA to be fair).

Things that could be better:

1)  Work on the control layout.  Putting the choke (well, any engine control for that matter) out of sight is a bad thing, and the flap switch needs to be closer to the pilots reach.
2)  The radio could be better.
3)  The castering nosewheel - this could be a blessing in disguise because I would be forced to pay more attention to taxiing.

I know I have had some discussions in the past with people telling me to fly Microlights to stretch my flying dollar further,  I think LSA might be the best compromise for someone of my mass and dimensions, at least in a limited fashion because a LSA cannot do everything a GA aircraft can that I might ask of it.  There is a lot more investigation to be done before any concrete decisions are made, but hopefully I have added some useful feedback to the mix that the powers that be might consider.

If the club was to get a LSA (Tecnam or something else), I would fly it, a lot.


Ardmore Pilot said…
I flew JAX and found can agree on almost everything you mentioned there- after coming from a 172. A real tidy little aircraft to fly!
Flyinkiwi said…
Hey mate, I read your write up with interest in Aviation News. It is a nice little plane indeed.
PropellerHead said…
Hi Euan - Happy New Year!! The Tecnam sounds a little beauty - I am very jealous. As I am used to a stick {Alpha & Stearman} and tapes {WIT} would love to give it a try. Do you know if the clus has made any decision on an LSA? - the Tecnam sounds ideal (and I read the write up in Aviation news)
Flyinkiwi said…
Happy New Year Barry. Well last time I was out there were a few more of the important people who needed to fly it to gain an opinion before any decision would be made. It's time for the waiting game I guess. Even if the Committee decides to get a LSA it may not be the Tecnam.