From the moment you approach a Tiger, you may begin to perceive how much it differs from anything that you’ve ever flown before. First of all, the design doesn’t fit the mold for standard swept aircraft. The vertical tail stands vertically for a change, à la Mooney, and the fuselage begs for a stretch. Even less conventional for a production airplane, all of its surfaces are completely smooth and rivetless, a function of aluminum bonding, a technique that’s borrowed from Grumman’s experience building military fighters. The wing, fuselage and all control surfaces utilize bonding.
In combination with aluminum honeycomb construction, the bonding results in an inherently stronger airplane without rivet holes to weaken the structure. Position lights are flushed to the wingtips and to the top of the vertical stabilizer—the twin landing lights are similarly recessed and flushed. All metal surfaces are either chem-filled aluminum or cadmium-plated steel for maximum corrosion resistance—another technique borrowed from the military.
Climb up onto either wing-walk, slide the overhead entry hatch aft, and the Tiger beckons you with its potential for recreational fun. The only other airplanes I can think of that employ such sliding hatches are military fighters or serious aerobatic models such as the Extra 300. No one will ever mistake a Tiger for one of those airplanes, but it’s a similarly light-hearted machine, dedicated more to the sheer joy of flying than to flight speed. The original hatch was a source of problems on the early aircraft, susceptible to side loading and jamming. The machining and materials on the current version are much improved, and whether you’re a Minnesota Vikings lineman or a 110-pound supermodel, the hatch slides forward and aft with minimum effort.
Step over the cabin wall, flip up the bottom seat cushion with your toe and settle into the snug cabin—you’re ready for the Tiger experience. If you’re flying with a G1000, the panel almost looks too sophisticated and serious to be mounted on such a dedicated sport machine. The cabin cross section measures about 40 inches, which provides reasonable room for most people. With the hatch shut, the cabin is 46 inches, again plenty for most folks. Baggage goes aboard through its own door at aft cabin, 120 pounds max, or you can pull out the rear-seat cushions and fold down the seat backs to double the cargo area.
Fire up the little carbureted Lycoming, and the airplane comes to life around you. The Garmin G1000 has its own battery separate from the aircraft battery, designed to provide a full half hour of backup avionics power in the event of a total electrical failure. Like most companies, Tiger Aircraft currently provides a backup analog artificial horizon, altimeter and airspeed indicator, just in case.
Taxiing the Tiger is a combination of sheer joy and total frustration if your only previous experience has been with a steerable nosewheel. It takes a while to get used to the semifree castering third wheel, but once you’ve made the adjustment, you‘re almost guaranteed to love the airplane’s remarkable ground maneuverability. Hold one brake just at the edge of lock (locked-wheel turns aren’t advised because of the possibility of flat-spotting tires), and you can spin the airplane through a 180 in its own wingspan. The Tiger’s free-spirited nosegear fits the airplane’s personality perfectly and is the next best thing to a tailwheel.
With the hatch full back, the Tiger is the ultimate flying convertible on the ground. From engine start to just before taking the runway, you can taxi with the hatch full aft or leave it cracked an inch or two for better airflow with less wind. It’s not as good as air conditioning, but definitely more fun. (It’s also not that much fun climbing in and out through the sliding hatch in the rain.)
Page 2 of 3