by Chris Findley, CFI
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.