MY TRAINING AIRPLANE
Piper PA-38 Tomahawk
This is "Pinball." She's a 1979 PA-38 in great condition. Designed as a training aircraft, she serves as a trainer. She is easy to fly, economical to operate, and makes for a comfortable instructional environment. Read on to discover more details.
A Piper Tomahawk
I bought N2331P in 2019. At the time I was flying about 340 hours a year with most of it logged as a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI). As you will see later in this page, the airplane has been significantly modernized with two Garmin G5's as primary flight displays, a GNX 375 WAAS capable GPS/ADS-B, a GTN 175 Comm Nav radio, a new ELT, shoulder harnesses, a LED landing light, and an angle of attack system. I rearranged the instruments on the panel to optimize it for building good crosscheck habits. N2331P is IFR certified and can be used as an IFR trainer for instrument ratings. It doesn't get anywhere fast, but the avionics make it a breeze to fly. Considering the excellent cockpit visibility, it is a great option for a variety of flying tasks.
N2331P IN THE SALUDA CO HANGAR
Below are some pictures of N2331P as it sits in the Saluda County hangar.
And my favorite office....
PA-38 PIPER TOMAHAWK BACKGROUND
A lot of pilots met their first Tomahawk during primary training. But it looks more like a time machine than a run-of-the-mill trainer, with its double doors and bubble view. And this is a machine that almost anyone can afford — for less than the price of a convertible, a pilot can expand precious weekends by spending more time at a destination and less time getting there.
When the original Piper Aircraft Corporation first conceived a new trainer in the mid-1970s, the company polled CFIs to determine what traits this airplane should have. The Tomahawk delivers what these special customers ordered: an airplane that provides honest response to pilot inputs, a comfortable cabin with great visibility, and big-airplane-style handling. Cockpit layout is geared for safety, with the fuel selector front and center on the console.
Flight instructors we spoke to feel strongly that the Tomahawk does what Piper intended. "The student is well trained, and they can't get away with some of the things they can in other trainers," says Jim Tafta of Richmond Flight Center in West Kingston, Rhode Island. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive, with one caveat: This airplane, though a trainer, still demands proper training of its pilots from a qualified instructor. Those with the training have flown the Tomahawk for thousands of hours without incident.
Just fewer than 2,500 Tomahawks were produced in model years 1978 to 1980, with the most units produced from 1978 to 1979. Aftermarket kits for the rear wing spar, vertical fin attach plate, and rudder hinge were developed to address several airworthiness directives (ADs) that were issued soon after these models hit the ramp. In 1981 and 1982, the Tomahawk and Tomahawk II were made with many of the ADs taken care of at the factory. These later models are preferable, as the installation of AD kits in the field was accomplished with varying degrees of accuracy. Aircraft with these field ADs may exhibit divergent flight characteristics from the standard Tomahawk because of what are considered vague installation instructions from Piper, according to several A&Ps we spoke to. Of course, as the gods of economics would deviously demand, fewer of the later models were produced as steeply rising interest rates and a soft economy helped send new aircraft sales to the basement in the early 1980s. Annual production runs during 1980 to 1982 were less than 200 aircraft a year — not even one-quarter the yearly production of Tomahawks in 1978 and 1979. It's no surprise that prices steadily increase with model year.
Original Tomahawks rolled off the line with basic VFR instrumentation. The so-called "Special Training Package No. 1" gave the airplane gyros, external and internal lighting, dual brakes, one (then) King nav/com and transponder, an ELT, and a heated pitot tube — for a total price of $19,730.
Pilots need special training because of the way the airplane was designed to stall and spin. The wing design, the same basic section as the one on the less common Beech Skipper, was a cutting-edge airfoil — the NASA-generated GA (W)-1 — in the late 1970s. On the Tomahawk airframe, the wing produces aggressive stall characteristics suitable for teaching primary students about stall recognition and recovery. However, that design led to a higher incidence of stall/spin accidents, perhaps because the airplane cannot simply fly itself out of a spin like other trainers — it wasn't meant to, so that students would learn proper control inputs. This is one airplane where it pays to know the territory.
The Tomahawk controls have a heavier feel, as they were designed to mimic those of a much larger airplane. In addition, the T-tail delivers reduced elevator control response at low airspeeds — and this is actually reflected in the accident reports to a larger degree than stall/spin issues. During the takeoff roll, the elevator becomes effective at around 35 KIAS. If the pilot has been impatient and is holding greater back-pressure in an attempt to raise the nose before this point, the airplane will overrotate. The same effect reverses on landing, "especially when a headwind shears off," according to Adam Harris, director of maintenance at East Coast Aero Club at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts, who has owned four Tomahawks over the years. These are simply attributes of an airplane that doesn't fit the standard mold, Harris points out. "We rent them to people with 10 hours and they always come back."
In fact, if you're looking for an airplane to provide a steppingstone to a larger aircraft, the Tomahawk makes a sound choice. You face an easier transition in the long run because of these big-airplane characteristics.
The airplane is a two-place, low wing, single engine airplane equipped with tricycle landing gear, and of all metal construction. This airplane is certified in the normal and utility category. In the normal category all aerobatic maneuvers including spins are prohibited. See the airplane’s P.O.H. for approved maneuvers when in the utility category. The airplane is approved for day and night VFR/IFR operations when equipped in accordance with F.A.R. 91 or F.A.R 135.
The aircraft is powered by a Lycoming O-235-L2C and is rated at 112 horsepower. It is a four cylinder, normally aspirated, direct drive, air cooled, horizontally opposed, carburetor equipped engine.
Fuel is stored in two 16-gallon fuel tanks. The tanks are secured to the leading edge of each wing with rivets. A fuel quantity gauge for each fuel tank is located on either side of the fuel tank selector, each gauge on the same side as the corresponding fuel tank. An auxiliary electric fuel pump is provided in case of the failure of the engine driven pump.
The electrical system includes a 14-volt, 60-ampere alternator, a voltage regulator, and over voltage relay, a battery contactor and a 12-volt 25-ampere hour battery.
Generic PA-38 information shown
Exterior Height: 9 ft 1 in
Wing Span: 34 ft
Length: 23 ft 1 in
Max T/O Weight: 1670 Lb
Empty Weight: 1128 Lb
Fuel Capacity: 32 gal (30 gal usable)
Max Range: 468 nm
Service Ceiling: 13000 ft (not realistic..10000 ft is a truer value)
Takeoff Distance: 820 ft
Landing Distance: 707 ft
Rate of Climb: 718 fpm
Max Speed: 109 kts
Information for the PA-38
Normal Cruise: 100 kts
Stall Speed:: 49 knots w/ flaps
Engine Mfg: Lycoming
Engine Model: O-235-L2A
SPEEDS (IAS) [high to low]
Vne (never exceed): 138 kts [Red line]
Vno (operating in rough air): 110 kts [ to of green arc where yellow arc begins]
Va (manuevering @ max gross wt): 103 kts [not marked]
Utility Category Maneuvers (not marked): 100 kts
Manuevering speed @ empty wt: 90 kts
Vfe (flaps extended, top of white arc): 89 kts
Vy (best rate of climb, flaps up) 70 kts (not marked)
Vg (best glide, flaps up): 70 kts (not marked)
Final approach: 67 kts (not marked)
Vx (best angle, flaps down): 61 kts
Vs1 (stall speed, clean): 52 kts [bottom of green arc]
Vs0 (stall speed w/ flaps): 49 kts [bottom of white arc]
*Note: Vx, Vy, and Vg are marked on the vertical airspeed tape of the Garmin G-5s installed in N2331P.