What single engine trainer to buy?


Pre-takeoff checklist
Oct 5, 2018
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I’ve got a buddy getting his CFI, that’s looking to buy an airplane to provide instruction, and he’s asking me for input. He’s a fellow Army helicopter driver, and he did have his FW PPL before he went to Army flight school. When it comes to singles, I don’t know what I don’t know. My first inclination is a tried and true 172, even though those prices are seemingly through the roof with all the flight schools lapping them up. But what model? As we know some years are to be avoided, with “gotcha” ADs and such.

Again, I don’t know what I don’t know. Or is a 172 even the way to go? Cherokee 160/180? I started my aviation career in the Army, so I skipped the GA single engine slog (don’t even have a PPL). My only SE time is a little over 50 hours in a Cherokee 180, and that was just to get my CSEL. Been flying my 310 ever since as far as GA is concerned.

He’s chomping at the bit to procure an aircraft and begin instructing. Any input would be appreciated. Thanks fellas.
Thanks for the feedback. Haven’t even thought of an EAB. In light of Vans’ recent financial challenges (bankruptcy), would continuing maintenance support prove difficult?
It all depends on where he’s going to be and what the competition looks like. Other things factor in, too, such as if he’s instructing full-time or part time and if there is a potential rental base.

Also, EAB isn’t an easy route for instruction unless you are talking S-LSA.
There’s no flight school / instruction currently at our airport, but the demand is strong. He’s looking to instruct full time, eventually standing up a flight school. This is the crawl stage now.
Check with the airport management to make sure that he can teach out of the airport. And what they will want for him to do so.

Next, talk to an insurance broker to get an idea of the insurance costs.

Having only one plane will make thing difficult when it comes to down time for maintenance (don't forget he will need 100 hour inspections).

All that said, there is a reason that 172s are hard to find and expensive. The flight school at my field decided to make their entire fleet 172M models. They are even selling the SP that was on the rental line. Bummer, I liked the SP.
Good points. The airport fully supports standing up instruction capabilities. The city is behind the concept as well. The mayor is a USAFA grad, flew 135s in the AF, and retired after 36 years at Delta. Great relationship and situation all around.
When I instructed I preferred teaching in a Piper. The school that I taught at had PA-140s, Warriors, and Archers. The also had Cessna 152s and 172s but the Pipers seemed more popular with the students. I still fly GA and while I fly both I prefer the low wing Pipers.
172 are popular for good reasons I think.

Hershey bar pa28 not under the eddy current spar AD could also be a good choice. Personally having started on 172s and finished in the Cherokee, I still prefer Cessnas for number of reasons.

Firstly two doors. The single door Cherokees will make getting in and out harder. Might not work well for more “rounded” students.

Wing walk. It’s easier to get into a Cessna also because of this.

Large windows. The pipers are ovens in the summer. You can get the storm window air scoop. It’ll be another item the student can forget on take off especially when solo though.

Carb icing is in the pa28 favour though. I have only seen ice once. The 172 it’s heat on anytime you are off power.

Fueling the piper is a lot easier. But checking under the wings could be a pain literally if you bang your head. Although taller folks can hit the Cessna anyways.

Wing covers are a lot more harder to deal with on a Cessna. Although since our piper is in a heated hangar to haven’t had the opportunity to mess with that just yet.

Oleo on the piper makes for less drama on landings maybe? I have never bounce the Cessna though.

Low wing is a lot easier in circuit, but sucks a fair bit for forced approaches if trying the spiral method. Where’s my darn high key was often my reaction for a while. The Hershey bar wing also glide like a brick.

The trim on 172 are easy to get hang of. The anti servo tabs feels muddy around the trimmed position and so find myself adjusting often.

One last thing. Pa28 tends to be cheaper I think to buy as not as popular for flight schools.
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Great feedback. I retired as well after 26 years, and mentoring this budding aviator as he pursues his FW passion on the civilian side.
150 or 152 will need either your buddy to be on the light side. Or only take thin young ladies for students.

My CFI is a small guy and he complaint he gets too much time in the 150/152 because other instructors wouldn’t work with many students.
150/152 if the useful load works for you, if you are going that route you can also consider a piper cub too.

For a 4 seater I recommend the Piper arrow for sure, but I’m biased, get those complex hours, nice engine with good power and speed, using minimal fuel. Mooney is also a good choice too.
Nearly every flight school uses a 172, a 150, or a Cherokee variant. Your buddy needs something a bit unique to distinguish himself from the others and create a competitive advantage. Has he considered a Beech T-34?
I'm going to apply this same philosophy and say... Piper Cub :happydance:
As a CFI he should have a good handle on the legalities, regulations, and practical issues.

RV 12? - Maybe. You can't use a home built experimental for instruction. Thus, an RV 12 for instruction would have to be an S LSA, not an E LSA.

Maintenance - a plane used for flight instruction needs more inspections (100 hour, etc.), plus the additional wear and tear students put on a plane. Got a shop that can do that without waiting a month?

Insurance - not going to be cheap

Availability - which plane is going to have a high percentage of time that it's flyable and not in the shop? Will there be local and available support? Will the local A and P be able and willing to work on a Rotax engine? Can handle avionics, etc.?

All of this does point to a 172.
I'd stick with common airplanes if he wants to have a successful operation. Insurance and parts availability are going to be far easier to deal with on something that there are a lot of, like a 172 or a Cherokee. Personally, I suspect the 172 has a slight edge on ongoing operation costs but a Warrior or Archer may be cheaper to initially buy, which may ultimately make the cost differences negligible. What he doesn't want is a novelty. We've got a local guy who has an obscure aircraft available to rent and train in (he is the only guy offering something to rent at this airport BTW) that is nearly impossible to insure and when it is down for maintenance it takes a while to get parts. It's a great training airplane and pleasant to fly but when you have primary students that need/want to be consistently flying and get abruptly cut off for a month or more while waiting on parts it doesn't work out very well. Whatever gets chosen, it is a lot easier to start with a nice aircraft and keep it that way vs. buying something ratty and trying to fix it at the same time you're trying to make money with it.

If I were buying an airplane as a good all around trainer/rental aircraft I'd buy a Cessna 172N or P model and put enough equipment in it to meet the TAA requirements. That way I could offer training for the broadest range of clients.
I like both the Cessna 150/152 and 172 also like the old Hershey bar wing airplanes. The Cherokee fleet works fine. Never paid much attention to debate about high versus low wing.
Depending on location, I second FH’s skipper nod- if your friend is less than 180 lbs or so.
Revenue - expenses = some positive number that fits the expectations.

Buy an economical plane (fuel, insurance, parts) that is easy for A&Ps to fix, with affordable bank payments (unless buying for cash).
If you want to be out of the main stream, AA5x is nice. A bit more responsive, so a bit more attention to fly.

But I did my PP in AA-5B Tigers. I drove past two schools flying Cherokees and Cessnas to train in the Tiger.
Don’t Grumman have hour limited airframes?
I don't know for sure, but I think the life limited airframes were on the seaplanes they built.
Cub or Champ or Citabria...
Unless you're teaching full time, near a good pool of pilots, and willing to take risks, those planes are best off personally owned. The costs of insurance demand a lot of volume to make it a business and not a hobby... unless of course, you can afford a charity / hobby.
Don’t Grumman have hour limited airframes?
The spar is but it’s a 12,000hr life and places like FletchAir have spares to replace if needed. Thankfully the Grumman line has a ton of support.
Roughly what part of the country, temp/altitude, and what kind of students is he looking to attract? Asking because a pa-28-150 may not be a great choice to teach with in Colorado, and a Cub may not be a great choice if he's looking at teaching 200lb+ former military guys.

Also, suggest he get a business plan, and check weather somehow to see how many days a year he's actually going to be able to fly. Up here in NY, I don't know what the number of flyable VFR training days are, but it feels like 60% or less some parts of the year. Don't want to be a wet blanket, but flying businesses can be an effective way to loose money quickly.
Cessna 140 or 170.
It's all about how much an hour you can make and if your a start up my vote goes to the PA28-140 and ideally with a 150HP

The O-200 in the C150 isn't robust enough. The exhaust valves stick and it's not possible to lean like a ***** in a training environment. When fitted with a metal prop the center main bearing is prone to failure and the the oil pump is a bit weak to. For what you save in fuel burn you will loose with all the repair work.

The O-235 in the C152 is a better engine and its well known cam problems have been sorted with the Diamond Coated Tappets. However finding one that hasn't got high time as a trainer is hard.

Your size and weight may vary, but personally I find C150 and C152 are a bit small. You will end up turning work away becuase potential students can't fit in them.

PA28-140's are well priced and if you treat it as a two seater then the performance is fine. They also have enough performance to teach instrument approaches (the C150 is slow). The O-320 is a pretty robust engine and can also benefit from Diamond Coated Tappets and has a good chance of going to TBO and a bit beyond.

If you can get ethanol free Mogas the PA28-140 and 150 are just a paperwork exercise and fill up. If it has the 160HP engine fitted then quite a bit of expensive work needs to be done before you can use mogas. And when used as a two seater the extra 10HP doesn't really make a difference.

Of course the C172 is well suited which is why they are a premium over a PA28-140 but don't get an example with the conti in it. Unless your end came is to put a Lyco in it.

By the way after the Rotax 912 the most robust engine in the training market is the O-360 but the fuel burn gets sort of high.
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