Plane & Pilot
Sunday, August 1, 2004

Socata Trinidad GT

A beautiful little French retractable with a certain je ne sais quoi

socataBy any measure, the sky around us is an aviation mecca. For one week each spring, the weeklong Sun ’n Fun Fly-In brings thousands of flying machines and several hundred thousand people to warm, comfortable central Florida.
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The result is an empty weight just under 2,000 pounds, so full-fuel payload winds up right at 540 pounds, about what we’ve come to expect from most single retractables. Technically, the Trinidad is a five-seater, but it’s hard to imagine a loading situation that would allow carrying five folks, unless the aft three were children.

Its engine start is pure Lycoming, and taxiing is conventional with nosewheel-steering through 18.5 degrees of turn. Once off the runway with wheels in the wells, rate of climb is an easy 1,000 to 1,100 fpm at gross, 1,200 fpm with two up front and full tanks—the way most pilots operate four-seat retractables most of the time. Initial climb bleeds off to about 700 fpm at 8,000 feet, where upward mobility often is more critical. Service ceiling is listed at 20,000 feet for the normally-aspirated Trinidad. If you need more altitude capability, you can opt for the Trinidad TC, which is approved for flight at 25,000 feet.

The new Trinidad offers no great surprises in straight-line performance, not a big shock, since the basic airplane remains, aerodynamically, pretty much the box it came in back in 1984. Externally, the TB-20 hasn’t changed much in the last two decades, although it incorporates a retractable step (that hides with gear retraction) and wingtips from the turboprop TBM-700.

Cruise with the left lever to the stop at a 7,500-foot density altitude works out to 155 to 160 knots, depending on load, rig, CG, temperature and the phase of the moon. Pulled back to 55% up at 11,500 feet, the number is more like 140 knots. Best economy fuel burns at the above settings are 14 and 11 gph, respectively. With the price of avgas well over $3 per gallon in the U.S. and at least half again that figure overseas, hardly anyone uses best power settings anymore, but if you feel a need for a few extra knots of cruise, you could plan on spending about two gph more at each setting.

The TB-20’s handling falls somewhere between a Piper Arrow and a Skylane RG. Roll control is reasonable, and pitch authority is quick; the airplane lays into turns with the authority of a heavier machine, and hands-off stability is good.

Perhaps because of Aerospatiale’s military and aerospace experience, the Trinidad’s manual is unusually thorough, even including a chart called “Antennas’ Effect On Performance” for cruise loss to various antenna and light installations. Everyone knows that hanging antennas and lights from an airplane subtracts speed, but I had never seen engineering data that quantified the loss until I checked the TB-20 handbook. (I own a Turbo Mooney with 13 antennas hanging out, sometimes referred to as the “Pincushion” by my avionics expert, Robin Howard, and I’ve always wondered what those antennas cost me in speed.)

Labels: Piston Singles


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