What is a good second airplane???
So you feel you have mastered your first airplane and your looking to move on to something a little different? There are a number of questions to ask yourself. No two people will advance in this hobby the same way so there is no standard second airplane. It all has to do with what you learned on your first airplane and how challenging it was to begin with. You also have to look at what your goals are in the hobby.
Let’s assume for now that you started on a high wing trainer with elevator, rudder and throttle controls. You have mastered take off’s, pattern flying in both directions, landings, touch and go’s and maybe even a loop or ugly barrel roll. The next step here would be to advance to a plane with ailerons. Now your current plane may allow you to modify it to just add ailerons. This would be a good thing to consider as your already familiar with the airplane and it most likely will not cost you much to do. If this is not the case you want to look for a good aileron trainer.
Ailerons vs Rudder
If you trained on an airplane without ailerons you’ll need a little transition time to get used to flying with ailerons. When you fly with rudder you are yawing the plane and using the dihedral of the wing to effect the turn. As long as rudder is held the plane will continue to turn. A small bit of elevator is usually needed to maintain altitude. To stop the turn the rudder is released and the airplane will return to level flight. A little counter control will help bring the plane back to straight and level flight faster and smoother.
With ailerons the turn is effected by banking the airplane with the ailerons then pulling through the turn with elevator. You don’t hold all the aileron control in the entier turn but just enough to get the desired bank angle then you back off the ailerons and pull the plane through the turn with the elevator. To make a smooth coordinated turn you will also need to use rudder. While that is a skill that is important to master in the beginning we allow people to get away with the bank and yank method with the ailerons and elevator. To stop the turn you roll back to level with opposite aileron. Elevator control helps pull the plane through the turn but it also helps maintain altitude. The key difference is that if you hold aileron like you would rudder you will continue to bank until you are rolling all the way over and you’ll find yourself rolling while sinking down to the ground. This can be difficult to get used to the first few times you fly with ailerons. But stick with it and maybe ask a skilled pilot to help you out on the first few flights. There is nothing wrong with going back to a buddy box for a few flights on your second airplane until you have the basics down.
High Wing vs Low wing
Most trainers are of the high wing style of airplane. These types of airplanes are generally more stable then the low wing counterparts. However they are also less agile when moving beyond basic gentle turns. They tend to have a bit of a pendulum effect that keeps it from rolling smoothly. This can be a good quality to look for if your still wanting something that has self correcting tendencies. However some people feel they want to move on to something a little more aerobatic. In this case a low or mid wing may be a better choice. The low or mid wing design tend to have more precise movements that are more axial in both pitch and roll. However this is not to say high wing aircraft are not capable of aerobatics. The mid wings tend to require less coupling or cross controlling in maneuvers. One thing to watch out for on low wing aircraft is that ground effect will be much more noticeable and effective. This can lead to longer flares and if a pilot is not ready for it you can stall out of the flare on landing and instead of a nice smooth landing you’ll flop down on the runway and possibly do damage to your airplane.
Trike gear vs Tail Dragger
Another decision to make on a second airplane is to go with a tail dragger airframe or a tricycle gear airframe. In many cases you will have started on a tricycle gear trainer. Tricycle gear tend to be easier to handle on the ground. They tend to steer easier and not tip over as easy. This lets you get used to ground handling without ground looping and worrying about every bump and divot on the runway. However tail draggers are not to be feared they just require a little more attention during setup and taxiing. If you have a short coupled airplane where the distance form the wing to the tail is rather short your controls will be touchier and it’s easier to get the tail going too much resulting in your plane doing a ground loop. This can be frustrating to the pilot and can attract heckles from the field peanut gallery. To help prevent ground looping you want to make sure your landing gear is aligned properly. You want the main wheels pointing straight forward or just a slight amount of toe in. Toe in is where the front of the wheels point into the nose of the aircraft as looking from above. Make sure not to over do the toe in or you will just add to your problems. You will also want to make sure the tail wheel is pointing straight with the rudder and that it is also aligned with the main gear. This will mean that your not fighting the airplanes wheels to keep the plane rolling straight. You’ll want to be smooth on the throttle and be ready to counter the torque effect from the prop. Once there is enough air flowing over the tail and it lifts you should be able to go to full throttle and take off without worrying about a ground loop. However if you really find yourself having trouble keeping the plane from ground looping you can always cheat a little and add a gyro to the rudder channel. I’ll save that for a later article. The other thing to worry about is nose overs. This can happen from simply hitting a hole or bump in the runway that stops the main wheels but the momentum of the airplane pushes the airframe over the wheels. It can also happen on landing or takeoff if the plane is mis-balanced or the gear hits some form of drag while the airframe has decent speed. This can be corrected with elevator inputs but the effect can also be lowered by moving the wheels as far forward from the CG as possible. This plane will want to rotate on it’s CG and with the wheels as far in front of this tipping point it will make it require more force to tip over.
Once you figure out what your willing to tackle with your next plane you’ll have narrowed down the choices a little. There are many good airplanes that will step up the difficulty while still giving you some margin for error as you progress your skills. Do a little research and ask a few questions at the hobby shop or online. Talk to people in your club if your in one. If they have had a good experience with a specific airplane they should be able to make it successful for you as well. Just make sure you don’t bite off more then you can chew. Nothing is worse then an airplane that is ahead of your skill. You still want an airplane that makes you feel good about your abilities at the end of the day.