Your connection with the sky

Learning to Fly: What Will I Fly?

by Chris Findley, CFI

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What is available at your local airport might vary, but it will likely be one of about four airplanes.  Probably the most common is the Cessna series of trainers, particularly the 152 and the 172.  These high-wing, single engine planes are among the most popular entry-level aircraft ever built.  Their proven design dates back to the 1940s and the Cessna 172 continues to be in production today.  The 172 is a 4 seat aircraft that flies at about 120 miles per hour.  It’s little brother is the 152, which is a smaller 2-seat version.  Both of these trainers are very forgiving and easy to fly.  More pilots have learned to fly on the 152/172 combination than any other plane in the world.

Another very popular plane today is the Diamond DA-20 or DA-40.   These planes have a similar relationship to each other as the 152 and 172.  Basically the DA-40 is a bit larger 4 seat version of the 2-seat DA-20.  These are low wing airplanes developed in the 1990’s from Diamond which had previously made high performance gliders.  These aircraft have a composite construction and are fun to fly.  The DA-20C1 was selected to be the U.S. Air Force’s Introductory Flight Trainer and in 2007 the DA-40 earned Flying Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award.  Known for solid performance and predictable flight characteristics, the Diamond series are great training aircraft.

One of the other popular trainers you may see on the ramp at your local airport is an aircraft manufactured by Piper.  These include the Warrior, Cherokee, and Archer.  These are also historically proven designs that date from the 1960’s and are 4 seat aircraft.  Known for very docile handling, these aircraft are wonderful trainers, though perhaps a bit underpowered (depending on the model).

One note about age—not yours, the plane’s!  Aircraft tend to have a longer life span than most automobiles.  That sometimes causes a bit of concern for students when they find out their trainer is a  1978 model.  This is not uncommon.  Due to the careful inspections and maintenance that is required of light aircraft, these airplanes stay in service for many years.  I have time in a Cessna 140 that was built in 1946.  It was in great condition and flew just as it did the day it came out of the plant in Wichita!

While each of these popular trainers have their differences,  you really can’t go wrong with any of them.  The pilots and instructors who fly them have their favorites, but we know that they are all solid performers.  Between them, they have been the starting point for most of the pilots in the air today.

8 Responses to “Learning to Fly: What Will I Fly?”

  1. Why would anyone fly in a Cessna with a lack of positive detection of water in the fuel tanks? Why would anyone fly Cessna aircraft that was designed in the 1940's? Name anything that anyone in the year 2010 still uses from the years 1940 and 1950? Cessna's glass cockpit inside that old riveted metal fuselage reminds me of a 90 year old woman with breast implants.

    Why would anyone fly a Cessna in light of the SAIB CE-10-40R1 just released telling Cessna pilots how to prevent water from getting into the fuel tanks? Why was SAIB CE-10-40R1released? In my opinion it is because you cannot positively detect water in the fuel tanks during the preflight. Why else would the FAA caution pilots about all 100, 200, and 300 series of Cessna aircraft? Add all three series together... must equal close to a quarter of a million Cessna aircraft. If there is no problem with a lack of positive detection, then why the SAIB? The SAIB is all about prevention of fuel contamination which is just fine and dandy. I prefer positive detection and elimination during the preflight to "getting to know my fuel supplier all over the country. Can you imagine pulling up to the pumps at the FBO and asking to "Know your fuel supplier. Regularly check and verify quality controls are in place to ensure you receive only dry, uncontaminated fuel from a supplier. Have on-field checks and verify to ensure continued supply of dry uncontaminated fuel to an operator. Gain assurance that the fuel supply has been checked for contamination and is properly filtered before allowing the airplane to be serviced. When ordering fuel, specifically state the exact fuel grade and quantity needed. Be present at each and every refueling and observe the fueling process" If a pilot did all the above If I were the FBO I would refuse him fuel for fear its a set-up to a lawsuit. If Cessna did not have their own DOA, and the FAA did their job and Cessna aircraft met the certifications of CAR 3.444 and the preflight procedure really worked there would be no SAIB.

    You mention the Diamond 20 and 40 both built in the 21 first century without rivets, built in passive safety devices, active safety devices, smooth, sleek and pleasing to the eye. A state of the art modern aircraft like the DA 20 which passed my red dyed water test in a New York minute. Poured 10 ounces of red dyed water into the DA 20 fuel tank, went to the sump drain where it was positively identified and then removed the entire ten ounces of red dyed water I just pour in the fuel tank. I cannot believe you could write about Cessna and Diamond in the same article. I cannot believe you fail to mention the SAIB just released on Cessna fuel tanks. Will your next article be how great the game of Russian Roulette is?

  2. Brandon Freeman Says:
    August 15th, 2010 at 12:15 am

    First of all, I think the intent of the blog was to point out the many different kinds of airplanes that are available to a prospective student. These include all the manufacturers listed (in addition to, but to a lesser extent, Liberty, Cirrus, and an increasing number of LSA). Cessna just happens to have more training aircraft out there than anyone else. If you walk into any flight school or FBO, chances are, you're going to find mostly Cessnas. They're about the most ubiquitous training aircraft out there.

    Secondly, relax. It's quite obvious you're a fan of the Diamond models. That's fine. I've ridden in a DA-20 (though, sadly, not from the left seat). They are quite sleek, and will get you where you need to go, and they definitely seem like a joy to fly. However, I learned to fly in a Cessna, and while I see the 100 series as flying trucks, I have a big soft spot for them, since they were my primary training aircraft. I find the series to be very enjoyable, a great cross-country machine, and a wonderful platform to give friends/family their first flights in.

    As far as the SAIB is concerned, most everything mentioned seems like an official re-iteration of the common sense items most of our CFIs should have (hopefully) been drilling into our heads, since we first were students. For example:
    "Be present at each and every refueling and observe the fueling process." - Well, yeah...most aviation wags will be the first to tell you this.
    "When ordering fuel, specifically state the exact fuel grade and quantity needed." - Another no-brainer. How many NTSB reports involve turbo-charged models that crashed, because a line-person mis-read "turbo" to mean turboprop, and filled an airplane with jet fuel?

    My instructors have all beaten into my brain the need to re-verify the fuel supply after the truck has left, by waggling the wing tips, and re-checking the fuel drains...anything to verify that the fuel grade is correct, and uncontaminated. I'm the final authority as to whether a plane is airworthy, so I'm going to make sure everything is right. It's a huge privilege and responsibility to be given that kind of authority.

    Now, there's always a risk, even when we say, as PIC, that the plane is airworthy, that something we never noticed during pre-flight will cause something to go awry while in-flight. That's something that we have to accept. At no point has flying every been risk-free.

    To be fair, I understand why you might want students to be aware of the SAIB and its implications. However, thousands of pilots have been trained in the 172 and 152 models for decades without too much of an issue, and they're not exactly falling from the sky at this time. Most pilots will tell you that Cessnas aren't particularly great at anything, but they're good enough at everything.

    Now, someone at the FAA obviously saw fit to make sure pilots were aware of the potential risks in the Cessna fuel tanks. However, as I mentioned previously, just about everything asked of pilots in the SAIB is something we should already be doing as Pilot-In-Command (and this includes student pilots) during every pre-flight and fuel stop.

    If nothing else, the SAIB should serve as a reminder to all pilots (and this includes Student Pilots) to be diligent during all pre-flight inspections, and take to heart FAR 91.3...if it doesn't look right, don't do it. Otherwise, have fun flying!!

  3. "If nothing else, the SAIB should serve as a reminder to all pilots (and this includes Student Pilots) to be diligent during all pre-flight inspections, and take to heart FAR 91.3...if it doesn't look right, don't do it. Otherwise, have fun flying!!"

    Unless and until you have actually performed pouring red dyed water into the fuel tanks of any high-wing Cessna aircraft you are speaking about what you think and not what you know!

    Had you performed just one water test on any Cessna high-wing you would know the PREFLIGHT PROCEDURE DOES NOT WORK!

    Had you performed just one water test on any Cessna high-wing you would know the fuel tanks have an indicated design flaw.

    Anyone any where can pour water into the fuel tanks of Cessna aircraft as they sit out at night totally unprotected, its called sabotage. In the morning the pilot needs to be able to positively detect and eliminate any hazardous quantity of water from any where in the fuel tank as the aircraft sits in its normal ground attitude. Until you actually do the test, in my opinion, more student pilots will not have fun dying as the engine sputters, runs rough and quits.

    Brandon, you and the SAIB are about prevention of fuel contamination. You just like the SAIB do not mention one time about a possible lack of positive detection.

    You fail to mention that Rodeny Gross, an aeronautical engineer, rocked the wings and dipped the tail of his Cessna 182 and it did work to get the water out of the fuel tank. You fail to mention the the University of Illinois did the rock and dip and it did not work. You fail to mention that the NTSB did the rock and dip and said it did not work. I have done this ridiculous preflight procedure and it did not work. Tell me how a pilot can dip the tail of a Cessna 182, 210, 205 and a 206? In order to perform this effort in futility you would need two people to dip the tail, one more person to rock the wing, and one fool at the sump drain trying to find the water. You would fly in this "certified" aircraft?

    I work daily trying to expose the indicated design flaw in the Cessna fuel tanks in an effort to save the lives of students, pilots and passengers.

    Who do you work for?

  4. Robert, you need to calm down. This is a blog about training aircraft. Not about specific airplane characteristics. Your ranting is having the opposite effect on me then you intend. It makes you sound like a crazy troll.

    What aircraft do you recommend oh wise one? Because I bet I can find some safety issue with it, whether by design or by flight characteristics.

  5. I bet he is! Total wall of post that I barely managed to read all of it. Interestingly enough, I misinterpret his reply too just like you had.

    Why not just enjoy the differences pointed out by Charles in his short yet fully packed post?

    Always a pleasure to read Charles, I'll be back!

  6. Well it does vary, since in our local airport those aren't the typical planes I find. What's even more interesting is that helicopters are the most common aircraft I see here, wonder why?

    Can you agree that helicopters are alot safer as an aircraft than planes though? Since I for one believe that it is..

  7. Great blog i shall come back often to follow your blog as i plan to become a pilot soon and have started my own site.


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