Imagine that, sometime after the sweepstakes ends on May 20, 2022, you’re invited to the airport to fly with a friend. As you walk across the ramp, you notice a stunningly painted airplane with a sliding canopy and a bright orange tiger on its nose. If the AOPA Sweeps logo on the tail doesn’t give it away, the sight of AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker walking toward you with a huge smile on his face and the key to the airplane dangling from his fingers finally clues you in to the fact you’ve just won perhaps the finest 1978 Grumman AA–5B Tiger in the world.
Before you scoff at the possibility of winning, you should know how sweepstakes winners are chosen. There are 99 prizes in addition to the grand prize airplane. An international judging organization in New York City handles the drawing and sends AOPA randomly selected entrants’ numbers with a prize assigned to each so AOPA can deliver the prizes to the winners. In 2019, an 81-year-old student pilot won the AOPA Sweepstakes Piper Super Cub, and in 2021 an airline pilot (and paraglider enthusiast) won the AOPA Sweepstakes Van’s Aircraft RV–10.
Still in shock, you and Baker walk around your new airplane prior to taking a flight. Its pearlescent paint shimmers in the sunlight. Craig Barnett and the team at Scheme Designers dreamed up the dynamic Matterhorn White, Illuma Blue, Mystical Black, and Tequila Sunrise orange paint scheme. Then the team created templates and 3D renderings to help Kendall Horst and his crew at Lancaster Aero masterfully apply the Sherwin-Williams SKYscapes General Aviation basecoat-clearcoat paint. Lancaster Aero also fitted previously missing wheel fairings and passenger steps donated by FletchAir.
The upper engine cowl lifts wide open, and you admire the factory rebuilt Lycoming O-360 engine, contributed by Air Power Inc. The new logbook that came with the engine reflects more than 50 hours of reliable service since it was installed in the Tiger last summer. The orange Airforms engine baffles not only dress up the engine compartment, they also help keep the tightly cowled engine cool. And the conspicuously empty spot where the vacuum pump used to be? It’s not needed now that all instrumentation is digital—which translates into less weight, more available power, and more performance for the Tiger.
Although you won’t need it on this warm summer day, a Tanis engine preheat kit is installed and ready to keep your engine toasty warm on a cold winter night, ensuring your engine will effortlessly start when you’re ready to fly.
Stepping onto the wing and sliding the canopy open, you are rewarded with that unmistakable new leather smell. Roberto’s Aircraft Interiors, located just a few hangars away from Lancaster Aero, handcrafted the interior appointments. No fans of simplicity or understatement, Roberto and his team revel in creating one-of-a-kind interiors incorporating high-quality leather, contrasting-color stitching, leather-wrapped trim, and logos stitched into seats and baggage areas. Vantage Plane Plastics contributed an entire set of thermoformed plastic interior trim pieces to replace the fragile originals.
Buckled into the sumptuous leather seats, your focus shifts to the world-class glass cockpit. J.A. Air Center painstakingly gutted and then installed a new instrument panel, new wiring, a new glare shield, and avionics contributed by Garmin.
It’s finally time to start this beauty. A flick of the master switch energizes the flight displays so that you can view the engine instruments. But that key Baker gave you won’t start this airplane. The keyed magneto/starter switch has been replaced by separate rocker switches for a magneto and an Electroair electronic ignition system; this airplane starts with the push of a bright red starter button.
Lined up on the centerline, you feel all 180 horses from the newly overhauled engine tenaciously pulling the airplane down the runway.After starting, all remaining avionics are turned on using a single avionics switch. You’ll effortlessly fly your new airplane in visual and instrument conditions with the aid of two Garmin G3X Touch flight displays (a 10-inch primary flight display and a 7-inch multifunction display), a G5 back-up attitude indicator, a GMA 245 audio panel, a GNX 375 all-in-one GPS navigator and transponder with ADS-B In and Out, a GNC 255 back-up nav/com radio, a GFC 500 digital autopilot, and two GSB 15 USB chargers that provide a total of four charging ports.
Engine runup is normal, except for the addition of the three-blade electrically controlled constant speed propeller, contributed by MT-Propeller. Before takeoff you perform several operational checks using the electronic propeller control unit to confirm the automatic rpm control is functioning properly, and that the propeller is in “high rpm” for takeoff. The constant speed propeller offers a shorter takeoff roll, higher climb rate, and faster cruise speed—or increased fuel efficiency during cruise—compared to the Tiger’s original fixed-pitch propeller.
Before taking the runway, you switch on the Tiger’s spectacularly bright LED exterior aircraft lighting, donated by Whelen Aerospace Technologies. The landing, navigation, and strobe lights are hard to miss.
Lined up on the centerline and applying full throttle, you feel all 180 horses from the newly overhauled engine tenaciously pulling the airplane down the runway and hear the unmistakable rumble of a tuned exhaust system courtesy of Power Flow Systems Inc. Less restrictive than stock systems, the tuned exhaust enables the Tiger’s engine to produce an additional 10 horsepower and reduce fuel burn by up to 1.5 gph. After takeoff, you turn the dial on the propeller control unit to your desired propeller rpm to begin trading climb performance for cruise efficiency.
The Tiger is a comfortable cruiser and a sweet handling airplane. It will achieve 139 KTAS at 8,500 feet, and the precise-feeling control yoke requires little deflection to produce an immediate roll. As you depart your home airport and follow your favorite scenic route, you notice the great visibility afforded by the low-cut windows in the side of the canopy—they’re brand-new UV Solar Gray windows contributed by LP Aero Plastics. Of course, you can also slide the canopy back about 10 inches to take in the view, as long as you’re slower than 113 KCAS.
You’ll soon learn that Baker loves to listen to music while flying (country is his favorite), so you select one of more than 150 SiriusXM entertainment channels through the Garmin G3X Touch. “We can listen to country, or western, or country western,” quips Baker. The sweepstakes grand prize includes a complimentary one-year subscription to SiriusXM Aviation weather and entertainment to keep you safe and happy during cross-country trips.
If the satellite-delivered weather dictates flying high, you can use the portable four-place Aerox oxygen system to maintain a safe blood oxygen saturation level. Way up here, the electronic ignition system is automatically adjusting ignition timing to compensate for altitude, further improving fuel economy 10 percent or more over traditional magnetos.
Too soon, it’s time to begin a descent and return to the airport. You switch fuel tanks before landing and can feel confident in the accuracy of the fuel level thanks to the digital fuel senders contributed by CiES Inc.
With flaps deployed, the Tiger is not difficult to slow down in the pattern. And the experts at the Grumman Owners and Pilots Association (GOPA) emphasize speed control is particularly important at touchdown. Landing on-speed and in a nose-high attitude helps prevents a pilot-induced oscillation that could damage the free-castering nosewheel.
If this sounds like a lot to learn, don’t worry. You’ll receive a complimentary one-year membership to GOPA, which offers a pilot familiarization program and access to more than 50 knowledgeable instructors throughout the country who can teach you the unique characteristics and handling qualities of the Grumman Tiger.
Now comes that magical moment when you slide the canopy open during taxi and enjoy the rush of fresh air flood the cockpit. It’s just like driving a convertible car and has the same cool factor. There’s no doubt your friends will want to experience the thrill of flying with you in your completely refurbished AOPA Sweepstakes Grumman Tiger.
We can’t wait to surprise the next AOPA sweepstakes winner. It could be you!