What You'll Fly
The aircraft you learn to fly in will always have a special place in your heart. Depending upon your choice of flight school and its aircraft rental fleet, you’ll have many options from which to choose. You may even select your flight school based in part upon the type of aircraft that they fly. Here are some of the most common aircraft used for flight training.
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The Cessna 172 Skyhawk is one of the most common airplanes used by flight schools. The four-seat airplane can be used for primary and advanced flight training, but it is also a practical rental aircraft for cross-country flights. The Skyhawk’s two doors make boarding very easy for student and instructor alike and provide ample ventilation while on the ground during warm weather. Handling qualities are docile and reasonably well balanced. Because the Skyhawk is the most popular airplane in the world, with more than 40,000 built in the last 50 years, you’ll be able to rent and fly from almost any airport worldwide.
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Some people say that since the end of World War II, more pilots have learned to fly in the Cessna 150 or 152 than any other type of airplane. These two Cessna models leave complexity behind in favor of low operating costs, reliability, and ease of use. It’s the docile handling of the two-seat airplanes that makes them so enjoyable to fly. Like everything else in the aircraft’s design, handling characteristics require very little effort.
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The SR20 is not widely available as a primary trainer, although there are a growing number of flight schools that use them in that role for clients who are planning to own their own or are pursuing a career as a professional pilot. The four-seat, composite, fixed-gear airplane also includes airbags and a parachute system designed to lower the entire aircraft safely to the ground in case of an emergency. The airplane is stable and smooth in flight, and control response is snappy enough to interest even the most jaded military pilot, yet new pilots will not feel intimidated by the predictable handling.
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Diamond’s DA20-C1 is a composite aircraft designed for the flight training marketplace, or for the needs of the weekend rental flier or owner. This two-seat modern aircraft is made of composite construction that creates a very aerodynamically clean airframe, not unlike a high-performance sailplane. The DA20-C1 features great wraparound cockpit visibility, fighter-jet-like, flip-up canopy entry with dual between-your-legs stick controls, stable flight characteristics, and modern avionics. If you’d like to learn to fly in a modern airplane, the DA20-C1 will do the job nicely.
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With its long fiberglass and carbon fiber wing, unusual forward-opening canopy, and upward-swinging aft door, the DA40 looks thoroughly modern. The expanse of wraparound Plexiglas provides tremendous up, down, and all-around visibility that makes you feel like you’re inside an IMAX theater. Control forces are well balanced and harmonized. The four-seat DA40 is easy to fly and well mannered even in strong winds.
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The Tomahawk provides a comfortable cabin with outstanding 360-degree wraparound visibility and big-airplane-style handling. Thanks to the inclined seat rails that move up while moving forward and down while moving back, tall pilots gain headroom while short pilots can easily see over the instrument panel. Ventilation is much better than average, and the cabin is wider by several inches than most other two-seat airplanes. Two doors make boarding a snap.
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Tens of thousands of pilots have spent their formative flight hours in the four-seat Piper Cherokee and its newer variant, the Piper Warrior. Second in numbers only to the Cessna 172, Warriors can be found at many flight schools and can be used for primary and advanced training. It’s also a popular aircraft to rent. The airplane’s single right-side door requires the left-seat student pilot to board first, followed by the instructor. Mechanical flaps and cable flight control linkages produce handling qualities that are well balanced.
Light Sport Aircraft
Light sport aircraft have been flying in Europe and elsewhere in the world for years but are now making their debuts in the United States. Many of these two-seat airplanes look much like a smaller Cessna 172 Skyhawk or Piper Warrior. The handling characteristics are very docile, and their slower speed and lower rental prices make it fun, easy, and more affordable to learn to fly.
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The two-seat R22 is by far the most widely used helicopter in the flight training industry. Designer Frank Robinson earned his success by building exceptionally engineered helicopters. In flight, the Beta II feels light and crisp. In fact, the Beta II has become known for its responsive control characteristics, requiring pilots to perform to higher standards from the beginning. Yet the sharper skills required by the Beta II make future transitions to high-performance turbine helicopters easier.