You'll never forget the first airplane you fly. No matter how many other aircraft you may pilot, that first trainer will always have a special place in your heart and your logbook. However, picking the airplane or helicopter you learn to fly in should to some degree be based upon your flying goals and your budget.
The most common four-seat trainers tend to be more costly than their two-seat counterparts, but you won't have to transition or “move up” from your trainer when you want to take your spouse and two children for their first ride. These aircraft also tend to be capable of flying farther and faster, and often have more advanced avionics that will help if you later decide to earn your instrument rating. Basic two-seat trainers are solid little airplanes with just enough room for you and your instructor. While the smaller cockpits may be less comfortable for some pilots, these aircraft make learning to fly as easy as possible while keeping your flying cost low; those that qualify as light sport aircraft may be used for training for your sport pilot certificate. Whether you decide to learn in a two-seat or four-seat aircraft, most trainers are very forgiving to fly and are more tolerant of a beginner's mistakes.
Though strictly speaking it's not a pure trainer, the Cessna 172 is one of the most common airplanes used by flight schools. Variants of the Cessna Skyhawk include newer 180-horsepower and 160-hp airplanes with fuel-injected four-cylinder engines; 160-hp or 150-hp four-cylinder engine versions; and the early 145-hp, six-cylinder models. Cessna 172s are also very common instrument training aircraft as well as a very popular rental model. Learn to fly in a Cessna 172 and you'll be able to rent and fly from almost any fixed base operator (FBO) worldwide.
Many pilots have spent their formative flight hours in the four-seat Piper Cherokee or its successor, the Warrior. While Cherokees are less common within the training fleet today, Piper Warriors can be found at many flight schools. Warriors are also very common instrument training aircraft as well as a popular aircraft to rent. Cherokees and Warriors are two of the most common private aircraft, second in numbers only to the Cessna 172.
While more expensive to rent than the Cessna 172 or Piper Warrior, the Cirrus SR20 and SR22 offer an appealing combination of speed, comfort, and modern features such as composite construction. They’ve earned a reputation even outside the aviation world as “the airplane with the parachute,” a safety feature that may be a selling point to future passengers.
Some people say that since then end of World War II, more pilots have learned to fly in the Cessna 150 or 152 than any other type of airplane. They're so easy to fly that they're often affectionately called the Land-O-Matic after a term used by Cessna in its old marketing campaigns. These two Cessna models leave complexity behind in favor of low operating costs, reliability, and ease of use.
The two-place piston-engine Diamond DA20 is made of composite construction that creates an aerodynamically clean airframe. The trainer offers wraparound cockpit visibility, fighter jet-like entry and stick control, stable flight characteristics, and modern avionics.
Generations of pilots fell in love with aviation flying low and slow in J-3 Cubs with the doors and windows open in flight. Perhaps no other airplane captures the pure essence of flying's joy and freedom better than the tube-and-fabric Cubs from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. This iconic yellow aircraft is no longer in production, but still functions as a tailwheel trainer.
Spell the word “aerobatic” backward and you come up with something like Citabria, an airplane commonly used for tailwheel and aerobatic training. Its close cousin, the Decathlon, increases aerobatic performance with a symmetrical win.
This German-designed aircraft has been a top seller in the light sport aircraft category and features excellent visibility and fuel efficiency. With more than 30 gallons of fuel, it also can travel more than six hours at a time between fuel stops.
The Tecnam Eaglet’s handling, tough frame, and flyability have earned it a place on flight school flight lines. With a roomy cockpit and a sleek Italian design, this high-wing light sport aircraft may be a choice for sport pilot students.
Robinson's 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 at a cost well below that of his competitors.
Schweizer introduced the 300CB in August 1995. The company moved the pilot's position from the left seat to the more traditional (for helicopters) right seat; installed a less-expensive, lower-powered engine with a longer interval between overhauls; and reduced the gross weight. The visibility is great; the pilot can look back and see the main rotor drive assembly and the tail rotor. The cabin is wide and comfortable, allowing the largest of students plenty of elbow room.