Plane & Pilot
Monday, August 1, 2005

Tonry’s Tiger

This snappy little four-seater was so far ahead of its time, it’s hard to beat the amount of fun you can have flying it!

tonry's tigerEvery pilot loves the Tiger. It’s hard not to. The airplane is one of the ultimate concessions to fun flying, a sporty, eager, little single with just enough practical application to justify it in the minds of those who would never buy a pure fun machine.
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With a fixed-pitch prop and only 180 carbureted horses out front plus laminated, fiberglass, fixed gear below, Tigers are, by far, the fastest airplanes in their class. Tonry reports that his Tiger is easily capable of 135 knots on a smooth day at an optimum density altitude of 8,000 feet. That’s an easy 10 knots quicker than an equivalent horsepower Piper Archer or Beechcraft Sundowner, as well as the modern-generation Cessna Skyhawk SP. The Tiger also is notably quicker than a Cessna Cardinal. Perhaps more surprising, the AA5B’s real-world cruise is significantly faster than the old 195 hp Cessna Hawk XP and not far behind most of the 200 hp retractables, the Piper Arrow, Commander 112 and Beechcraft Sierra. Only the Cessna Cardinal RG and Mooney Ranger, Chaparral and Executive offer any significant cruise advantage.

Primary credit for the Tiger’s and Cheetah’s speed (the Cheetah was a virtual Tiger clone, but with only 150 hp on the nose) goes to the late Roy LoPresti, a dedicated aerodynamicist and speed guru who worked at Grumman-American in the early 1970s. LoPresti almost single-handedly improved the old Traveler to the Cheetah and upgraded that airplane to the Tiger, working nights and weekends with virtually no help or encouragement from Grumman-American. LoPresti went on to father the Mooney 201 and lead the team that certified the Beechcraft Starship, but he maintained a soft spot for the efficient little Grumman-American airplanes. The LoPresti family’s company, Speed Merchants of Vero Beach, Fla., offers a series of speed mods that can help the Tiger reach even better speed.

Predictably, you’ll realize a slight range improvement by flying at 10,000 feet, where 65% is all there is. At that height, intermediate cruise is allegedly worth 129 knots on more like 9.5 gph to push range to 550 nm plus reserve. Service ceiling is only 13,800 feet, so don’t plan any high-level aviating, unless you’re flying light.

Not surprisingly, Roger Tonry feels his Tiger is a cut above most comparable airplanes. “The Tiger really is an outstanding machine,” says Tonry. “Many of the lighter-equipped AA5Bs have 950- or even 1,000-pound useful loads, so even with full fuel [51 gallons], you can often load up two couples and fly without undue concern for weight limits or CG. The airplane was never designed as a freighter, but it came standard with fold-down rear seats that allow carrying cargo rather than just people.”

The owner feels that most of the Tiger’s other numbers are close to or ahead of the competition. “The Tiger has the shortest wing in the class, but it also has the lowest gross weight, and that helps it climb at a realistic 750 fpm or more with a full load, better than most of the other fixed-gear, 180 hp singles,” brags Tonry. “Short-field performance is good as well, although certainly not in the STOL class. Probably because of my hours in the Marchetti, I’m a handling kind of guy, so I’m especially impressed with the Tiger’s aileron and pitch response. Roll rate is probably second only to the Viking’s in the non-aerobatic class. Despite that [or perhaps because of it], the airplane manifests good stability in IFR conditions.”

Labels: Piston Singles


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