Where It All Began
Copyright (c) Private Pilot 32:7 (1997): 60-62, 92. Used with permission.
By Skip Stagg

IT WAS IN the pages of this magazine that our readers were entertained with the interview of Jim Bede and the BD-1. His plan was to come up with a plane-a two-seater-that would be built of a soft honeycomb metal, rather than the usual aluminum sheeting and rivets. The wings would fold and would be identical, left and right, while the horizontal- and vertical-stabilizer would be interchangeable. A part of Bede's dream was that this innovation would cruise at 130 kts. with a l00 h.p. engine.

What of Mr. Bede the Man?

During the 1966 interview, Bede said he started flying at the age of 14 in Cleveland, Ohio and soloed at 16. He then went to the University of Wichita, where he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering. His career then took him to North American Aviation where, as he claimed, he worked with the engineering performance section on the FJ-4 project.

In the late 1960s, he and his father incorporated Bede Aviation with the idea of developing a high-performance, executive twin aircraft.

BD-1-The Aircraft

The AA1, and/or the TR-1, began its existence as the BD-1. Bede's design was originally intended for the home-built market in kit form. Other concepts for the BD-1 included a folding wing version that allowed the aircraft to be stored in a garage.

Additional concepts that never materialized included a high-wing, single-seat aircraft in kit form. The BD-1, which Mr. Bede claimed to have developed originally in 1962, was to sell for a suggested price of $2,500 in March 1966. Original production of the BD-1 was optimistically targeted for 1,200 units a year. Bede also claimed the aircraft would be capable of a sustained 9-G loading.

Regarding further developments, Bede also claimed to have envisioned a four-place twin-engine aircraft that would sell for under $10, 000. He alluded to having experimented with a model using two BD-1 fuselages.

Bede was better at promoting aircraft than at developing them. Thus, the little aircraft was soon acquired by American Aviation Corporation of Cleveland, which began building this two-place trainer, the "Yankee," in 1968.

What's In a Name?

Over the years, the AA1/TR2 has acquired such names as Baby Tiger, T-Cat, Tigger (Winnie the Pooh's friend) and Lynx.. Power plants driving the less-than-humble two-place have ranged from the original 108-h.p. Lycoming 0-235 to a 160-h.p. variation listed in "Trade A Plane." Performance, as well as fuel consumption, have certainly exceeded the original specifications by several factors.

Designed originally as a trainer from American Aviation; the American Yankee prototype AA1A trainer first flew on March 25,1970.

In 1973, the AA1 was offered as the AA1B trainer. The spunky little two-place was referred to as the AA1C in 1977 and was marketed under the name Grumman American. Here, the aircraft acquired the name association with Grumman, and to this day, all radio calls utilize it.

Later in 1978, American Jet Industries announced that it had purchased 80 percent of Grumman American Aviation Corporation, held by Grumman Corporation. From 1978, the company producing the AA1C became Gulfstream American.

A Laminar Flow Wing Was Not the Best Idea For a Trainer

The laminar flow wing, while fast and efficient, was not suitable for primary students. The quick-handling and higher landing speeds failed to displace the Cessna 150 from its role as the leading training aircraft. A new leading edge and an optional climb propeller were added in 1971, and again, the aircraft was offered in two versions: an AA1 American Trainer and the TR2. The only differentiating factor was a slightly improved interior.

When Gulfstream American acquired the AA1/TR2, improvements were few in number-except for a 125-h.p. engine on some models and interesting paint configurations. Paint included D-Day markings with camouflage paint and Army Air Corps colors.

While the aircraft is smaller that the Cessna 150, the interior is roomier and more comfortable. The aft baggage compartment/cargo area is larger also, but is restricted to 100 pounds. Unfortunately, only minimal equipment can be accommodated with two pilots--their combined weight quickly reaches the aircraft's useful load.

With an aluminum honeycomb airframe bonded together without the use of rivets, its Grumman heritage for rugged airframes shines through.

A Great Airplane That is Fun to Fly. But It Is Not For Everyone.

Ground-handling is easy, even with the lack of nosewheel steering. The nosegear is free-castering to 90 degrees on either side of the centerline. This free-castering nosegear, along with 99 inches between the main wheels, provide excellent ground-handling. At low taxi speeds, a slight pressure on the brakes allows the aircraft to turn. In a crosswind condition while taxiing, constant correction may be required.

The canopy slides back - even in flight - for maximum cooling, further enhancing the pilot image. Prior to takeoff, what student pilot flying this aggressive little trainer could resist reaching up and behind to slide the canopy closed with a slight air of authority?

Take-off is conventional in all respects. However, taxiing forward to center the nosewheel prior to take-off is considered good procedure. The rudder quickly becomes effective at 15 to 20 m.p.h., and brake steering is no longer required.

The best angle of climb speed is 75 m.p.h., with best rate of climb at 89 m.p.h. The pilot operating handbook recommends a normal climb speed of 95 m.p.h., since this speed "offers the best visibilitv over the ground speed and rate of climb."

Handling Qualities of a Want-To-Be Fighter

The AA1/TR2's handling is quick, responsive and unforgiving with careless pilots and students. When on actual instrument operations, the aircraft does not provide a stable platform, as with the Cessna or Piper counterparts. Instrument approaches are conducted at a stable 100 kts. indicated for best handling qualities. Maintaining instrument proficiency in this aircraft will allow you to appreciate a stable instrument platform when you fly one.

Conducting steep turns of 45 to 55 degrees of bank is a sheer joy. The roll rate will keep you on your toes when performing 720-degree power turns to the left, and then changing to the right.

Dutch rolls - an exercise of pilot coordination between the ailerons and rudder, where the nose of the aircraft is kept on a point on the horizon while the wings are rocked back and forth, are a challenge to the student pilot. Rated pilots attempting a Dutch roll in the AA1/TR2 for the first time find that this aggressive little trainer has something to teach them that other aircraft had neglected.

Not Approved For Spins

While stalls with or without flaps are well-mannered and predictable, the AA1/TR2 is not approved for spins and will not recover from a developed spin. Stall speed at zero bank, flaps up, is listed at 63 m.p.h.; at full flaps, the stall speed decreases to a whopping 60 m.p.h.

Landings are flown all the way to the runway by the pilot. The AA1/TR2 "facesaver®" landing gear concept, consisting of main gear struts of laminated fiberglass, will provide protection to the student or novice pilot. Flaps are best employed to the fall position for landing and prevent the aircraft from what little floating it does.

Normal approach speed is 75 m.p.h., with any flap setting, or none for landing, if desired. It is recommended that touchdowns are accomplished with just a touch of power-1,200 to 1,400 r.p.m., depending on runway and wind conditions.

However, a nosewheel landing with excessive touchdown speed Will only result in a pilot-induced porpoise maneuver. The recommended procedure for this aggressive little trainer is to apply power and go around at the first sign of a bad approach to landing.

Fuel System/Wing Spar

The tubular main wing spar is also a two-cell fuel tank. Each tank or cell holds 12 gallons, of which 11 are usable. The 22 usable gallons are selected by an off-left-right selector. Fuel quantity is indicated by two vertical sight gauges on the left and right cabin walls.

The sight gauges are accurate while on the ground, but in flight are visible to the crew only with uncomfortable contortions. In flight, their accuracy is questionable; during turbulent flight, they are unreadable.

Fuel quantity is best determined by accurate time measurement. Experienced pilots recommend that while flying solo from the left seat during the first hour of flight, fuel should be supplied from the left tank in order to maintain the aircraft in lateral balance. Students learn fuel management in this aircraft very early and seldom have any trouble in more advanced aircraft.

The main spar fuel tank also serves as the entry step when entering the cockpit. Correct procedure when entering the cockpit is to lift under the pilot's seat with your toe and lift the seat cushion up and back against the seat back. Then, step on to the nonskid rubber area on the fuel tank/wing spar and bring your other foot in. Sit down on the seat cushion while maintaining balance by holding onto the windscreen bow, which is reinforced for this purpose. Accomplishing all of this in one motion without the need to adjust the seat or losing the seat belts marks you as a serious Grumman pilot. Stepping on the seat cushion and grasping the sliding canopy quickly labels you as a Cessna driver.

Students who have mastered this airplane and obtained their private pilot's certificate in it easily transition to more demanding aircraft.

Why fly this no-nonsense little fighter? Because she is a challenge to fly and is not docile. When flown with only one pilot onboard, the performance is superior to its "150" counterpart, which it overtakes easily in the traffic pattern.

If you are looking for a low-cost pair of wings that will not leave you bored, consider this want-to-be fighter. A flight on a warm summer day with the canopy open will convince you this is a fun airplane that is only now coming into its own.

Stagg, Skip. "Grumman - Where It All Began." Private Pilot 32:7 (1997): 60-62, 92.