Sitting on the
tarmac, the full canopy sure heats up the cockpit. One last time, go over
the take-off procedures. This machine doesn't like to fly slow; it does like
a lot of runway to get in the air. Raise the nose at 60, the mains will lift
off at about 65. Maintain ground effect until you get past 70. Seems simple
enough. Easy flying for the high-performance pilot. Line up on the centerline,
advance the throttle, and wait for the "rush."
While the real "rush" may be Limbaugh, this rush is the exhilaration of heading down the runway in your own two-seat plane - bubble canopy, 108 hp, tricycle gear. Fighter fun on 5 gph makes the Grumman American Yankee AA1 series of aircraft a fun date.
The Yankee, as it was originally called, is not an aircraft for everyone. The cockpit is small, the speeds are fast, and the canopy is hot. But the pleasure quotient is tremendous. It won't go in and out of the short grass strips, but it will make you feel like you're flying off the deck of a carrier!
The Yankee AA1 was originally designed by Jim Bede (of the Bede 4, 5, and 10 fame) as the Bede 1. It was to be an everyman's aircraft: easy to build, fun to fly, and aerobatic with folding-wing, take-home capabilities. But the "everyman's" status was never achieved. Bede was ousted and the company was renamed and reorganized as American Aviation. American took over the production and design, trying to turn the exciting little two- seat aircraft into a civilized "production" plane.
Modifications included a 108-hp engine (instead of the original 65 hp), nonaerobatic, and stay-at-the-airport dimensions. It also became a stay-on-the-airport-runway airplane; the original design might have been better, but it was not to be.
The Yankee is a neat-looking aircraft, made from a different process. The fuselage is a sandwich of aluminum honeycomb material that is bonded (glued) together (another forerunner to the composite craze?). The fuel tanks are also the wing spars. The aluminum tube fuel tank/spars are small - only 22 gal, which should mean a range of about 4.4 hours at 5 gph. Dream on! Most owners plan on about 3 hours of flying. But while chasing birds and shooting down the enemy, who wants to fly cross-country anyway.
Simplicity is the word. The fuel gauges are sight tubes in the cockpit. (My AA1A had a strange quirk. Once off the ground the left tank went past full and the right gauge went under empty.) The nosewheel is a castering unit, steering is by differential braking. This wears out the brakes sooner but also makes parking in tight places a breeze. Backing into the hangar is an impossibility without a tow bar (the American Yankee Association used to have a "push your Yankee backwards" competition without using a tow bar!). In general, everything about the AA1 series is simple. The ailerons and flaps are on a long torque tube. The tail feathers are interchangeable, as are the wings. The maingear legs are fiberglass. Most Yankees are simply equipped. One reason is room, another is weight, but the best is KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. The airplane was designed as a trainer (although many question if it really was); it wasn't designed for long cross-country. Buying and flying a Yankee is for sheer enjoyment, not for corporate transportation.
Most pilots know the airplane as the Yankee but it went through a few changes that also changed the model names. Over 1770 aircraft were built from 1969 to 1978. The original American AA1 Yankee Clipper came out in 1969, and the Yankee model continued through 1971. This first model was one of the fastest; it also had one of the worst reputations for handling. The wing airfoil and the overall design created a fast airplane that had a quick stall (i.e. dangerous for the inexperienced) that would roll over on a wing if the pilot was behind the airplane. It also lacked enough rudder to get out of spins. Placards noted that spins were bad. In fact, NASA did a spin test with a Yankee and used ballistic chutes to get it to stop. Not good!
In 1971, the AA1 became the AA1A and included a better airfoil that provided softer stall characteristic. The 1973 model was the AA1B, which offered the choice of "trainer" with a climb prop or "sport" with a cruise prop. But 1977 saw the biggest changes. The original 108-hp Lycoming O-235-C2C engine was traded for a Lycoming O-235-L2C that developed 115 hp. These models also got a 1600-lb gross weight and a larger elevator. The T-Cat was the trainer and the Lynx was the sport version. (A bit of trivia: Lycoming says that all O-235 engines produce 115 hp at 2650 rpm. Is that neat or what?)
Small and cheap to operate, the Yankee had the potential to be better. Whatever the negative results of the design, the aircraft is fun if flown by knowledgeable pilots. As a trainer it's considered too "hot" by most because it has a few nasty habits that usually show up with inexperienced pilots. Most instructors prefer teaching in a Cessna, but there are some more experienced instructors who feel the "demanding habits" of the Yankee make it a better trainer, helping students develop more high-performance skills. The Yankee is definitely not for the faint of heart or the slow of reflex!
The aircraft is cute, usually painted (from the factory) in bright, unusual aircraft colors - red, yellow, orange, even camouflage - anything to set the aircraft apart. The bright colors also help the aircraft overcome its small size. It has a wingspan of 24'. A Cessna 150 has a span of 32'! With an empty weight of about 1000 lbs and a gross of 1500 lbs, the useful is only about 500 lbs (fuel, passengers, and stuff). My stuff usually weighs more than is supposed to be carried, especially with my above-FAA standard 185 lbs and full fuel of 22 gal. Do a few calculations: 185 lbs pilot plus 132 lbs for fuel equals 317 lbs. That leaves 183 lbs for passengers and baggage - not really your cross-country aircraft. But if you think about the aircraft design - small, quick, fun, fuel thrifty - it really has more of the makings of agood Sunday-morning-breakfast-flight aircraft anyway. Just watch the weight.
Compare the AA1A with the Cessna 150 in the specifications at the end of this article. It's amazing how close they are in basic performance. They require about the same distances, same fuel burn, etc. The numbers are pretty close! Maybe the Yankee isn't as "hot" as some want you to believe?
One thing to always remember about the Yankee, whatever model, is that it likes pavement and it likes runway. I never flew mine intentionally out of anything with less than 2000' of hard surface to run on. That doesn't include clear space at the ends. Most insurance companies want a runway that has about 1.5 times the takeoff distance over a 50' obstacle. That means at least 2100' of runway for the AA1 (takeoff over 50 is 1400'). If it's hot, look for more or stay home! I said intentionally because when I was ferrying my aircraft home for the first time, I had to land on a grass strip for fuel. It was the only runway pointing into the wind, a wind strong enough that I couldn't hold a slip towards touchdown and stay over the runway. I must admit that if it wasn't for the high winds and only myself on board (and the flat, plowed fields of the Midwest), I wouldn't have made it out of the airport. The flight in ground effect included a turn to stay away from the house on the property!
Taxiing is easy. With a full-castering nosewheel all you do is roll and touch, kind of like using a computer mouse. Roll the direction you want to go and push the brakes to turn the aircraft. The concept is, again, simple. Plus, when you get into those tight parking spots all you do is taxi in, hold the brake, and the Yankee turns around!
The long takeoff gives the feeling of being in a fighter. Roll down the runway and at 60 indicated, start lifting the nose. The nose comes up but the mains stay on the ground while the airspeed builds. At about 65 mph the mains get light and the aircraft flies around 70. Keep the plane in ground effect until 80 mph is reached and you have a decent climb. Get too slow and look for the clearing at the end of the runway. Patterns are the same, fast and fun. Downwind about 90 to 95 and final about 80. The Yankee has flaps, not much of flaps, but flaps. Stall is around 64 mph without flaps and 60 with flaps; not a big difference in speed, but the airplane does have a solid feel with the flaps.
Don't get behind the "power curve." The Yankee will sink like the proverbial brick if you let it. Carry power at all times. This is good practice for heavy, high-performance aircraft or many of the Experimental aircraft on the market. Keep the speed up and keep the power on... to keep the Yankee in the air and make it flyable. (My Smith Miniplane does the same thing, as does a Pitts S1, Volksplane, and any number of other aircraft.)
Make sure that landings are mains first and not on the nose. The "springy" nose gear looks neat, turns neat... and bounces really high. In fact, it's so bouncy that if you hit the nose gear first, you probably ought to make a go-around right away. If you try to save the landing and start bouncing, you get into an oscillation that takes off the gear and/or hits the prop - not a nice claim on your insurance.
Buying an AA1 can be a thrilling experience... or the worst nightmare on the runway. I bought mine cheap. It flew in to an airport and it flew home. It was an 1800-hour total time aircraft with a Genave radio that forgot its job. It didn't have a transponder and it didn't have good paint, but for under $7000 what do you expect. What it did offer was cheap flying fun.
Following the price guides shows that over the past few years the AA1s have gone from "dirt" cheap, around $7500, to reasonable "jet ski" cheap. A recent issue of Trade-A-Plane had listings from $9500 to $25,000. Of course, the higher the price, the more stuff to play with. A lot of the higher-priced aircraft have been converted to the 150- or 160-hp engines. What a powerhouse - 1000 fpm climb with full fuel and two people! This conversion makes the aircraft a real performer... almost an RV-6 but... it can only fly for about two (yes that was two) hours with reserve. Big engines should have the fuel tank STCs. This is a time when more is better.
When shopping for a Yankee take into account the construction. The AA1 structure is unique in that it's made from bonded aluminum honeycomb, has no rivets, and has smooth wings and fuselage. The rest is basic aircraft construction. Basics for buying should always include a good prepurchase inspection by a qualified mechanic. Never try to do it yourself - even if you are a mechanic or mechanically inclined. Following are a few things to look for.
1. When choosing which model to buy, remember that the AA1 models are the quickest and fastest, and have the most abrupt stalls. If you hated stalls in training or don't like to fly fast and quick, look at something else. Be honest with your ability and experience. Get the training if you have none. Most insurance companies will require about ten hours dual before they want you to solo a Yankee. And rates aren't too bad, slightly higher than the rates for a Cessna 150.
2. Have a good AD search done. The Yankee has an AD on the nose gear. Strip, inspect, and repaint. Listen for any noise from the nose gear to indicate damage to the mounting. There is also an AD on the engine oil pump at 2000 hours, and an AD that adds rivets in the control surfaces to protect them from separation.
3. Check for corrosion all over the aircraft, including the main landing gear brackets and nose gear fittings.
4. Check the bonding of the fuselage and wings. Although this is difficult to determine, take a very careful look at all the seams and edges. If the aircraft was repainted, check to see if it was a total strip and repaint. Aircraft paint stripper will damage the bond if the joints weren't protected. Try to lookinside the cowling and in the cockpit at the construction. Look for wrinkles or loose spots.
5. One problem with my Yankee was that the bushings in the ailerons came loose. I was surprised to be flying along and suddenly have the outer end of my aileron lift up a couple of inches at the hinge point. Check all the bushings on the torque tubes.
6. Look for dents or wrinkles in the tail surfaces, which are easily damaged by people putting pressure on them. Some older AA1s have had newer tails installed. If that's the case, make sure they have the additional dorsal fin and all the paperwork.
7. Fuel gauges (in the form of sight tubes) have very little failure, but they can be hard to see. Make sure they work, are not plugged, and that the tubes are not discolored. (There was an AD to put a colored marker in the tube.)
8. I have seen a number of control yoke bushings that are worn or loose, which allows the control wheel to move up and down. Check these bushings.
9. The canopy, which helps make the Yankee image, also gets cracks and leaks. Inspect the seal around the windshield and check out the locks. Sliding should be easy and one-handed. A sunscreen is helpful to keep out the heat but sometimes hides the cracks. Take a close look. Cracks can be slowed by stop drilling. Just make sure there aren't an unusual amount of cracks.
10. Lycoming O-235s may be thrifty but they also run hot. If the engine doesn't have an oil cooler (you should put one on) make sure it is inspected closely. Heat does strange things. It stresses parts, cracks cylinders, creates leaky gaskets, and shortens engine life. Check the baffling.
11. Verify that the stuff under the cowl and behind the propeller works. If you need to repair things near the prop (not much clearance) and you have to remove the nose bowl cowling, it means removing the propeller - not a big thing, but more labor costs. There is a split nose bowl option that cures this problem.
12. If the aircraft is a big engine conversion you are really in for some thrills. Don't go anywhere without the STC papers approving the conversion and look over the installation carefully. If you don't have the extended fuel STC, the trips will be short. An average O-320 Lycoming 150-hp burns 7 to 8 gph. Standard fuel is 22. That's about 2.75 hours maximum, no reserve. The nose gear on the early AA1 needs to be changed to the AA5 nose gear for prop clearance with the bigger engine.
The real "rush" a pilot gets is from how much he enjoys flying. Have you ever met an aircraft owner and pilot who didn't take great pleasure in flying? The Grumman American Yankee AA1 series of aircraft requires careful training and regular practice, but you'll also find it is fun, cheap, fun, fast, fun, exciting, and fun!
|Make:||Grumman American||Grumman American|
|Empty Weight:||982 lbs||1037 lbs|
|Gross Weight:||1500 lbs||1500 lbs|
|Original Engine:||LYC O-235-C2C 108 hp||LYC O-235-C2C 108 hp|
|TBO:||2000 hours||2000 hours|
|Fuel Capacity (max):||24 gal||24 gal|
|Fuel Capacity (std):||24 gal||24 gal|
|TO over 50:||1650'||1400'|
|Rate of Climb:||710 fpm||765 fpm|
|LDG over 50:||1240'||1065'|
|Stall Speed (VSo):||56 knots||51 knots|
|75% Cruise:||116 knots||108 knots|
|Econ Range:||373 nm||350 nm|
|Model:||AA1C Lynx||150 L|
|Empty Weight:||1034 lbs||1025 lbs|
|Gross Weight:||1600 lbs||1600 lbs|
|Original Engine:||LYC O-235-C2C 108 hp||CONT O-200-A 100 hp|
|TBO:||2000 hours||1800 hours|
|Fuel Capacity (max):||24 gal||38 gal|
|Fuel Capacity (std):||24 gal||26 gal|
|TO over 50:||1590'||1385'|
|Rate of Climb:||700 fpm||670 fpm|
|LDG over 50:||1125'||1077'|
|Stall Speed (VSo):||52 knots||42 knots|
|75% Cruise:||117 knots||100 knots|
|Econ Range:||305 nm||303 nm|
FMI: Airedale Press Inc., 3000 21st St-NW, Winter Haven,
FL, 33881. Subscriptions/Orders: 800-356-7767.
Questions: 941-294-6396. Fax: 941-294-3678.
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Questions/Comments??: E-Mail Jim Campbell/US Aviator Magazine