Grumman Cheetah (AA-5A) as a first plane?

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Grumman Cheetah (AA-5A) as a first plane?

Postby voretaq7 » Fri Nov 11, 2011 4:58 pm

Anyone have any experience with these little cats? I'm a student finishing up my PPL (probably in the next 2-3 months weather permitting) and soon to move on to instrument training, and the idea of having a plane at my beck and call rather than having to deal with dispatching and office hours at the local flight school is really appealing to me.

I've done most of my training in PA28 series aircraft (Cherokees and a few flights in Warriors - a few flights in a friend's Cessna have convinced me I'm definitely a "low wing" guy - I do not like climbing up on the wing to check fuel tanks :lol: ), so if anyone has made that transition I'd be especially interested in feedback. Other than that, any maintenance gotchyas, big-ticket items to look out for in my personal once-over or the mechanic's pre-buy (assuming my once-over goes well)?

Thanks in advance!


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Re: Grumman Cheetah (AA-5A) as a first plane?

Postby JimP » Sat Dec 10, 2011 3:54 pm


You and I are thinking along the same line. I am just about to purchase a 1977 Cheetah as my first airplane. Our situations are a bit different, since I have a Commercial certificate and 1600 hours, but this will be the first airplane I've owned.

I chose the Cheetah because its relatively inexpensive to purchase, operate, and maintain. It's faster than anyother 150 HP fixed-gear airplane, and has a reasonable combination of speed, range, and useful load. It's a fantastic 2-place, full fuel, and lots of baggage airplane. And when you need the other two seats, you can go with half fuel, and can still have well over 2 hours (plus reserve).

The airplane is a blast to fly, with light controls and excellent visibility. It is a bit more demanding than a Skyhawk or Cherokee, but rewards you with improved pilot technique that will make it easier to transition to higher-performance airplanes in the future, should you ever decide to upgrade.

You may hear people say that you have to keep the speed up over 80-90 kts because below that speed these airplanes just "fall out of the sky". It's flat out not true. The original 2-place Yankee (AA1) built by American Aviation (Jim Bede's old company) was a "hot" airplane with a rather "abrupt" stall (and higher stall speed). But the AA1A/B/C and AA5A/B built by Grumman-American have a leading edge cuff that completely changed the stall characteristics. Stalls have plenty of aerodynamic warning, and recovery is very straightforward. Intentional spins are prohibited, but are highly unlikely unless you're completely ignoring the airplane.

Compared to the "competition", the Cheetah is a good bit faster, with similar useful load and range, but with less climb performance and lower service ceilings. A fully loaded Cheetah on a hot day will take a long time to get to altitude. For this reason, lots of Cheetah owners upgrade to a PowerFlow exhaust system, or upgrade their engines with a High-Compression mod. The PowerFlow adds about 15-20 HP without changing fuel consumption, and people who have upgraded their Cheetahs claim their sea-level climb rates increase by 50% or more.

The High-Compression mod replaces the cylinders, pistons, and maybe a few other parts to conver the 150 HP low compression engine to the equivalent of the 160 HP high-compression engine. For certification purposes, the STC limits power to 157.5 HP (dropping the RPM by 500) max. But the impact is much greater than 7.5 HP would indicate. Because the HC engine can produce that pwer at lower RPM, you get a double savings on fuel - first because the higher compression results in more complete fuel burn and second because you're producing the same power at lower RPM, which reduces fuel burn even further. Higher power at lower RPM equals more torque, which means you can use a different propeller (or re-pitch the one you have) for mre speed.

The "hot" ticket, to me, would be to have both the HC and PowerFlow mods. ("My" Cheetah is getting a PowerFlow installed before I purchase it, and will probably get the HC mod the next time a top overhaul is needed.)

Before you purchase a Cheetah, you should do two things:

1) Join the American Yankee Association, the type club for Grumman-American AA1, AA5, and GA7 airplanes. Membership is cheap, and you get access to a range of information that would be difficult to obtain otherwise. They also offer discounts on Grumman-related parts and services from sponsoring organizations. Their insurance program is going to save me almost $500 a year over quotes I received elsewhere, in part because of the Pilot Familiarization Program they sponsor. They have several CFIs with Grumman experience, and you will receive training specifically focused on improving your pilot technique in ways that will help you avoid the most common causes of incidents/accidents in these airplanes. Well worth the money!

2) Get a pre-purchase inspection from a qualified Grummanologist. The AYA has a checklist to be used, and will suggest qualified people for the pre-buy inspection in your area. I can't stress that last part firmly enough. A friend purchased an AA1A with a "fresh annual" but no pre-buy inspection (apparently). He thought he got a great deal on it - something like $12K for a flyable 2-place airplane. During his next annual, the IA found severe corrosion in the spar carry-through section - bad enough that a screwdriver tapped on the surfact penetrated through the metal! The repair cost would be more than it would cost to replace the airplane, and he cannot afford to buy "another" airplane after spending the money on this one... A pre-buy inspection from a qualified person would definitely have uncovered this corrosion.

Good luck to you.

Jim - soon to be a proud Cheetah owner!
Jim Parker
N5842N - 78 Commander 114 Hot Shot (Turbo Normalized)

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