A 1975 Grumman American Aviation print ad made some bold claims: “Nobody can climb, cruise, and carry like we can for anywhere near the money. Put everybody’s literature in front of you and let’s talk numbers. Start with our new TIGER—4 place, 180 hp., 1115 lb. payload, 170 mph top, 160 mph cruise, and all with a prop that stays fixed and gear and price that stay down…The only thing we don’t have are doors to adjust, oleo struts that leak, and rivets to slow you down.”
Grumman American was justifiably proud of its newly introduced Tiger. This final iteration of Grumman’s AA-series aircraft stuffed a powerful engine into a low-drag airframe to produce outstanding performance for the money. The Tiger’s airframe was a dramatic departure from traditional GA aircraft of the time. Most airplanes were constructed by riveting aluminum panels to bulkheads and ribs. The drawback was that thousands of exposed rivet heads added parasitic drag, significantly reducing top speed. Grummans were rivet free, instead employing bonded aluminum wing skins and fuselage panels; aircraft-grade structural adhesive replaced the rivets. The speed difference was remarkable. Even with fixed gear and a fixed pitch propeller, the Tiger could keep pace with contemporary retractable gear aircraft—such as the Piper Arrow—that sported a 20-horsepower advantage and a constant speed propeller. A free-castering spring steel nose wheel and fiberglass main landing gear reduced maintenance hassles.
The two-seat American Aviation AA–1 Yankee Clipper pioneered the Tiger’s bonded aluminum construction technique, and has a comparable speed advantage over a Cessna 152 or Piper Tomahawk that the Tiger enjoys over the Cessna Cardinal or Piper Archer.
The Grumman AA–5 Traveler was the first major evolution of the Yankee, stretching the design to create a four-seat, 150-horsepower version (two-thirds of the parts are interchangeable). Four years later, Grumman increased fuel capacity and modified the tail—and the AA–5A Cheetah was born. Within a year, Grumman offered a 180-horsepower version, the AA–5B Tiger.
The AOPA sweepstakes airplane is a 1978 model, built by Gulfstream American (although its airworthiness certificate says Grumman American). A total of 1,555 Tigers were built between 1975 and 2006. They remain rare and highly sought-after airplanes owing to their speed, simplicity, and innovative design. Oh, and everyone loves the sliding canopy.
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