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Gulfstream Tiger/Cheetah AA5

The Grumman American AA-5A Cheetah and AA-5B Tiger have always been popular among pilots who prized speed, efficiency, and sportiness. "The best plane on three wheels," is a typical owner comment. But one big knock against them has been their orphan status-out of production, with expensive, hard-to-get parts from a company that only grudgingly supports them.

But recently, that competitive disadvantage has disappeared-not because the Cheetah/Tiger situation has gotten any better, but because everybody else has gotten worse. Now virtually every single-engine plane is out of production, and the parts situation is stinko throughout the industry. So the Cheetah and Tiger suddenly have a new allure: if you're going to be buying an out-of-production model with a shaky factory support system anyway, hey, why not get one that's fast, good-handling and sporty-looking in the bargain? [Note: The Tiger is now in production Read about new Model]

Used-Plane Market

Both Tiger and Cheetah are quite modestly priced on today's market-from a top of about $32,000 down to about $15,000 for a raggedy old Tiger. The range for a Cheetah is about $12,000-$22,000. Dare we say it, they might even be considered a bargain. [Note: These are prices from about the late-80's, early 90's. They're quite a bit more expensive now]

In the four-place fixed-gear arena, the Cheetah and Tiger rank about in the middle, well behind Piper and Cessna, in terms of buyer esteem. Leader in the 180-hp class is the Piper Cherokee Archer; a 1979 model has a retail price of about $36,000. The Cessna Cardinal runs a close second at $32,000 for a 1978 model (there was no 1979 Cardinal), followed by the Tiger at $30,000 for a '79. Bringing up the rear is the woeful Beech Sundowner at $24,000.

In the Cheetah's 150/160-hp class, the price story is the same: Warrior, Skyhawk, Cheetah, Sport, in that order. What's remarkable is the huge price difference between the Cheetah and the Tiger, which are essentially identical except for the extra 30 hp of the Tiger. Although the difference between the Lycoming list price of the two engines was only a couple of hundred dollars back in 1979, and the original price difference of the two airplanes was $6,500 (about 20 percent), the difference in current value of the two models is now $8,000 or better than 40 percent of the Cheetah's value.

Genealogy

The AA-5 series was born in 1972 as the Traveler, a 150-hp stretched version of the AA-1 Yankee two-seater. The Traveler was an okay airplane, but Grumman-American's chief engineer Roy Lopresti (later of Mooney and Beech fame, and now with Piper) put in a new engine, redesigned the cowling and cooling baffles, enlarged the elevator and did a detail drag cleanup program. The result, in 1975, was the Tiger. The next year came the Cheetah, which was essentially a Tiger with the Traveler's old 150-hp engine. The two planes were in production only until 1979, when Allen Paulson bought Grumman American and killed the Cheetah and Tiger to concentrate on the Gulfstream II bizjet. About 200 Tigers were sifting at the factory when production stopped, and it took more than two years to sell them all off. (Paulson, in retrospect, looks like a genius; he stopped production just before the aviation industry began its eight-year slide toward extinction.) A total of about 1,300 Tigers and 800 Cheetahs were built. There were no major changes during the production runs, but some refinement occurred: in 1977, soundproofing was improved and windshield thickness doubled to a quarter-inch. Other changes: minor aerodynamic refinements, including rubber fairings on the landing gear, improved windshield sealing and the addition of nose-strut shock absorber. In 1978, the seats were improved, and U-strips were added to the trailing edges of the control surfaces to prevent delamination of the bonds.

Performance

Both Cheetah and Tiger are at the head of the class in terms of speed. The Tiger has a book cruise speed of 160 mph, and Aviation Consumer editors have flown side-by-side with a Piper Arrow (200-hp, retractable gear) and pulled away in the Tiger. We've also watched a Piper Archer retreat outside the Tiger's window at about 15 knots. Running side-by-side, a Tiger will burn 20 percent less fuel and loaf along at about 60 percent power while the Archer is flat out. Owners report that real-world Tigers come pretty close to the book numbers. "At 2,600 rpm and 8,000 feet, I get 155 mph," is a typical comment. Another reports, "I flight-plan 130 knots and almost always beat that number from takeoff to touchdown."

The Cheetah is about 15 mph slower, but still plenty faster than 150-hp competition like the Skyhawk and Warrior. Later 160-hp versions of the Warrior with speed pants can almost keep up with the Cheetah, however.

Climb performance is another story. At sea level and standard temperatures, the Tiger does reasonably well-850 fpm, about on par with the competition. But under tougher conditions-hot day, high altitude, heavy load-the Tiger's climb performance falls off very rapidly. Service ceiling is 13,800 feet, less than the Archer and Cardinal. Even the president of the American Yankee Assn., the hyperenthusiastic Tiger/Cheetah owner's club, admits that service ceiling is inadequate.

The Cheetah, with 30 fewer horsepower, is even more susceptible to this rapid decay of climb performance when hot, high or heavy. Book numbers are comparable to the 150-hp Skyhawk and Warrior, but our experience and reader reports suggest these are optimistic. One Cheetah owner reports a sickly 250-fpm climb at gross weight in hot weather. Another says that, 150 pounds below gross, he only manages about 500 fpm. "I always get outcliinbed by a friend who has an old Skyhawk." This lack of climb power has resulted in a lot of accidents. (Details in the Safety section.)

Oddly, takeoff and climb performance can be enhanced by ignoring book procedures, which call for flaps up. Some experienced Tiger/Cheetah pilots put down about one-third flaps when takeoff performance is critical. Says Tiger guru Ken Blackman, "The Tiger is a great short-field performer if flown properly. The manual recommends zero degrees flaps, but one-third to one half flaps will make all the difference in the world. For grass fields, keep stick full back, the nose will lift off at about 20 knots and the airplane will lift off at about 45 knots in ground effect, then settling slightly before making like an elevator at 55 knots. For short hard-surface takeoffs, leave the nose flat and flaps up till 45 knots, then pull back and hit one-third flaps at the same time." Says another owner, "It is a lousy climber if you do it by the book, but with one-third flaps and an initial climb speed of 60-70 mph, it does very well."

Gross weight of the Tiger is 2,400 pounds, and typical IFR aircraft run 1,450-1,500 in flight about 10 inches. pounds. That leaves a useful load of about 900 pounds, typical for the 180-hp It's great in summer, not four-placers. That's enough for full fuel (51 gallons) and three adults, plus a so great in rain. smidgin of baggage.

The Cheetah, with an empty weight only slightly less and a gross of 2,200 pounds, typically has a useful load around 750 pounds. That's good for full fuel (38 gallons) and not quite three 170-pound adults. (Some Cheetahs have optional 51-gallon tanks, but these can be filled only m the two place mode.) The marginal useful load is all the more unfortunate because of the Cheetah's rapid loss of climb performance when overloaded However tempted, one shouldn't mess with the Cheetah's weight limits.

The rather small baggage door helps out in this regard. Called a "mail slot by one owner, it discourages the loading of large, heavy items into the baggage department. If you insist you'll have to lug them into the cockpit and over the back seat. Center of gravity is normally not a problem in either Cheetah or Tiger.

The Tiger's 51-gallon fuel capacity is just about right: good for more than four hours at max cruise power (about 10 gph) with a comfortable reserve. If you throttle back a bit, endurance shoots up to near six hours. A reasonable range figure with full tanks is 500-plus nm. One owner describes how he often flies nonstop from Los Angeles to Gunnison, Cob. (more than 600 nm) and lands with 50 minutes of fuel. The standard-tank Cheetah, by comparison, has shorter legs. The 38 gallon supply is good for a bit less than four hours, with reserves. Call it 450 nm. As a two placer with the optional 51-gallon tanks full, the Cheetah will fly a lot longer than you'd want to sit in a small plane.

Handling Qualities

Another big selling point of the Tiger and Cheetah is the superb handling qualifies. These were inherited from its "sports car" AA-1 forebears, but the twitchiness, instability and violent stall characteristics of the AA-1 have been eliminated. In sum, the Tiger is an almost ideal blend of light, responsive handling and reasonable stability and docility. "I have never flown anything as nice as the Tiger," crows one owner. Cessna and Piper pilots will marvel. The other side of the sportscar handling coin is less than ideal IFR stability. "It's adequate, but not a rock-steady machine," says one owner. "It's easy to wobble your way down the glideslope," confirms another An autopilot is a valuable helper on an IFR Tiger or Cheetah.

Landings are no particular problem; unlike the AA-1, the AA-5s don't sink like a brick and skitter around on the ground. If anything, the AA-5s are floaters. The small flaps don't really make much difference. Comments one Tiger pilot who's spent hundreds of hours checking out transition pilots, "Because of the reputation of the AA-1 and the Tiger's high cruise speeds, people tend to bring it in way too fast. Seventy-five mph is the maximum approach speed under any conceivable condition, 70 is fine and 65 is great."

Comments another owner, "The Tiger is a candidate for speed brakes. I've made more go arounds because of being high in the Tiger than any other airplane." The Tiger's floating tendencies and the pilots' tendencies to bring it in too fast-make landing overshoots the number one cause of AA-5 accidents.

On the ground, the Tiger has an oddball swiveling nosewheel that requires steering by brakes. Once adjusted to, however, this procedure allows adroit maneuvering in fight spaces. On the other hand, the pilot does have to ride the brake during the first part of the takeoff roll, before the rudder is effective, and while taxiing in crosswinds. Old Tiger pros often start their takeoffs cocked well to the right. By the time the nose swings around straight the rudder starts to work and no brakes riding is required at all.

Cockpit/Cabin

The first thing everybody notices is the Tiger/Cheetah's sliding canopy. if you're young and agile and wearing pants, no problem, but others may not like it. Also, everything gets wet if it's raining. The canopy provides superb visibility, but can be deadly in a crash. If the fuselage is warped by the impact, the canopy may jam, preventing escape in case of a fire. We're aware of one grisly accident in which a Tiger overran the runway-a minor accident really-but caught fire. The canopy would open only a few inches, and the otherwise unhurt occupants burned to death. This is a rarity, however. (And of course doors in standard airplanes sometimes jam, too.)

The panel is well laid out, with plunger-type engine controls. The AA-5's fuel selector is a good one. Although it doesn't have a "both tanks" position and therefore requires tankswitching, the selector/gauge system is just about idiot-proof: a prominent lever, right under the throttle, with the lever pointing directly at the gauge for the selected tank. In the last nine years, only two pilots have rnanaged to crash from fuel starvation-a very good record, six times better than the AA-1 with its awful fuel system.

The Tiger/Cheetah interior is comfortable, if not cavernous-although the panoramic visibility makes it feel roomier than it really is. Some owners complain about lack of shoulder room. The seats are very basic, with no height or seatback adjustment. The interior appointments are Spartan ('Downright ugly" is how one owner puts it), and the original fabric faded quickly.

A unique feature is the fold-down rear seats, which provide a six foot long cargo compartment that will hold a couple of ten-speed bicycles or even two snoozing occupants in sleeping bags. One Florida water-ski distributor has a Tiger for shipping skis around the state.

Safety Record

The AA-5 series has an uncomfortably high accident rate, considerably worse than competitors like the Skyhawk and Cherokee. During the period 197&1984, the AA-5 series had a total accident rate of 11.9 per 100,000 hours, and a fatal rate of 2.3. These are much worse than the Cessna Skyhawk, which scored 7.5 total and 1.0 fatal-more than twice as good as the AA-5 during the years 1978-1979.

An exhaustive computer analysis of AA-5 accidents (see the July 1, 1986 Aviation Consumer for details) revealed several patterns.

Pilots with low time in type had an astoundingly high proportion of AA-5 crashes. Median time in type for the 315 AA-5 accident pilots we studied was only 20 hours. More than a quarter of AA-5 accident pilots had 10 hours or less in type.

Moral: Newcomers have a great deal of trouble adjusting to the AA-5. The transition period is critical. Get a thorough checkout and be ultracautious for the first 50 hours.

Obstacle crashes were a big problem. We counted 37 accident-12 percent of the total-in which an AA-5 failed to get out of ground effect or clear an obstacle. (For comparison, a sample of Cessna Skyhawk accidents showed just one percent obstacle accidents.) Circumstances like grassy or snowy runways, high density altitude, overloads or snow on the wings played a big role in these accidents.

Moral: Leave big margins for error in takeoff and climb performance, particularly under the conditions cited above. Be especially careful with the Cheetah. Don't count on book performance. Don't overload. Ignore the POH; instead use partial flaps for takeoff and max climb performance.

Landing particularly overshoots are a problem, accounting for 42 percent of all AA5 accidents.TheAA5rankedworstof 33 aircraft measured in a 1976 NTSB study of landing overshoot accidents. The light pitch control and springy nosegear also accounted for an unusually high proportion of porpoising crashes often the result of the pilot attempting to fly the plane onto the runway too fast. If you do porpoise badly, there's a good chance you'll hit the prop; ground clearance is minimal.

Moral: Carefully control airspeed on approach. 70-80 is the absolute fastest approach speed you should ever see (heavy weight, gusty wind). Normally 70-75 is about right, and 65 is fine at light weights m still air. If you're too fast, go around.

Maintenance

The Tiger generally has proven to be a simple, reliable airplane. "Nothing ever seems to break," says one owner. Compared to Although the pilot has to other 160-mph airplanes, maintenance costs are low. (No retractable gear or switch tanks, the system constant-speed prop like the others.) Compared to other 180-hp fixed-gear aircraft is almost foolproof, and of lesser performance, maintenance costs are similar. Very few fuel exhaustion accidents occur. Owners report typical annual inspection costs in the $500-$700 range, although one fellow who helped out his mechanic paid only $125, and another who bought a long-neglected airplane spent close to $3,000 on his first annual.

Here's a checklist of the most common maintenance problems:

Cylinder problems. The 180-hp Lycoming O-360 and 150-hp O-320 are two of aviation's most enduring and reliable powerplants. Unfortunately, the installation in the AA-5s is not the best; in an attempt to wring every last knot out of the airplane, Grumman cut the cooling airflow margins very close, and some Tigers and Cheetahs tend to overheat. This shortens engine life, wears out rings and valves, and can cause high oil consumption. "The cylinder barrels run very hot," one mechanic told us, "and the walls get glazed and they start to pump oil." It's not unusual to see top overhauls in Tigers well before the 2,000-hour TBO.

The problem is exacerbated by thin, flimsy engine baffling and poor baffle sealing. If the baffles aren't in tip top shape, cooling suffers even more. Closely inspect the baffling of any Tiger or Cheetah considered for purchase, and be sure to do careful compression checks and a borescope cylinder inspection to check for heat related problems. We'd also recommend installing a four-probe cylinder-head temp gauge to more closely monitor the engine. One owner who did reports seeing temperatures as high as 450 degrees. Another uses his to carefully monitor his leaning and keep CIlTs below 400 degrees.

Bond-line separation in the early models. The culprit turned out to be an improper bonding sealant, American Cyanimide FM-123, known as "purple passion" among production employees. The FM-123 was used in all Grumman American aircraft built between April 1974 and December, 1975 including Tigers up through about serial number 125.

At least one severe delamination occurred in flight in a 1975 Tiger, but no accident resulted. At least two Tigers, serial numbers 15 and 19, were virtually rebuilt from scratch because of severe bonding problems. According to a former Grumman American production employee, 30 or 40 honeycomb fuselage test panels somehow found their way into production aircraft, possibly affecting Tigers with serial numbers below about 30.

A 1976 AD required rivets along bondlines, and the problem has receded in recent years. But any buyer of a 1975 or early 1976 Tiger should be aware of the potential for problems. As for the Cheetah, since it came along a year later, only a tiny handful of the earliest Cheetahs used the purple stuff. (Incidentally, you can check for the defective glue by pulling off the wingtip and inspecting the bonded seam at the spar-to-rib or rib-to-skin joint. If there's a purple line, you may have a problem.

Nosewheel shimrny. The Tiger/Cheetah nosewheel not only looks like a shopping cart wheel, sometimes it acts like one, too. The shimmy problem is caused by a variety of factors: improper tension in the spring washers (they may be worn out, or the shop may have adjusted them too loose by improperly interpreting the 18-22-pound side-pull requirement as a torque requirement); loose axle nuts, bad tire, or loose torque tube strut. The nosegear demands a lot of maintenance, and must be lubricated and adjusted strictly by the book. (Not many shops even have the book.) In particular, the strut inside the torque tube should be free of corrosion and well lubricated.

The 1977 and later models have a shock absorber in the nosewheeL which helps to some degree, but they make removal of the nose gear rather tricky. If you have persistent shimmy problems, see a good mechanic who specializes in Grumman American aircraft.

Cost/Performance/Specifications

                Average Cruise  Useful  Std/Opt

                Retail  Speed   Load    Fuel                            TBO   Overhaul

Model   Year    Price   (kt)   (lb)    (gal)   Engines                 (hr)  Cost

AA-5A   1976    $17,000 128     800     38/51   l50hp Lyc.  O-320-E2G   2,000 $6,500

AA-5A   1977    $18,000 128     800     38/51   150hp Lyc.  O-320-E2G   2,000 $6,800

AA-5A   1978    $19,000 128     800     38/51   150hp Lyc   O-320-E2G   2,000 $6,800

AA-5A   1979    $21,000 128     800     38/51   150hp Lyc.  O-32O-E2G   2,000 $6,500

AA-5B   1975    $22,300 139     950     51      180hp Lyc.  O-360-A4K   2,000 $7,500

AA-5B   1976    $24,300 139     950     51      180hp Lyc   O-360-A4K   2,000 $7,500

AA-5B   1977    $26,000 139     950     51      180hp Lyc.  O-360-A4K   2,000 $7,500

AA-5B   1978    $28,300 139     950     51      180hp Lyc.  O-360-A4K   2,000 $7,500

AA-5B   1979    $30,300 139     950     51      180hp Lyc.  O-360-A4K   2,000 $7,500

Cracking prop spinner. Pre-1979 Tigers (s/n 1047 and below) had problems with cracking spinners, possibly related to propeller vibration. Virrually all Tigers in the field have been retrofitted with improved spinners, but check to make sure.

Magneto problems. The Slick mags in the AA-5s just don't seem to last. We have numerous reports of failures in 500 hours or less. Reports one Tiger owner, "The most expensive and annoying items have been the Slick magnetos. My airplane has needed five mags in 1,000 hours. Slick mags belong on garden tractors, not airplanes." Another owner referred to them as "those throwaway Slick mags."

Leaky fuel tanks. Several owners reported leaks, and blamed it on the aromatics in lowAead fuel. The Cheetah, incidentally, may legally use leaded autogas, which should save a lot of many in addition to cutting down fuel tank sealant problems.

High brake wear. Because of the steer-by-brakes system, pads wear out quickly. Clever AA-5 pilots manage to minirnize brake use, however. Good brake maintenance is important if there's a failure, the plane cannot be taxied.

Fragile rudder return springs. Several owners reported repeated breaking of the rudder springs. One fellow took to always carrying a spare, just in case.

Airworthiness Directives

Tiger owners face two major repetitive AD annoyances. The first is the 200-hour inspection of the MCauley prop hub for cracks. (Tab: about $100.) Second is the 100-hour inspection of the ailerons, which runs about $60.

In addition to the usual shotgun ADs that apply to many aircraft-Lycoming oil pumps, Airborne vacuum pumps, oil coolers, ELTs, air filters, altimeters, Bendix and Slick mags, etc.-the Tiger and/or Cheetah have had onetime ADs on the rudder bar, cowl hinge, mixture control bonded skin, alternate static source, carb air box and carb heat valve. All of these should have been complied with, of course, on any aircraft considered for purchase.

Parts Supplies

Although Grumman American/Gulfstream has historically done a good job supporting the airplanes, parts are getting more and more expensive, with longer lead times for shipment. Some parts are now on a build-to-order basis, at astronomical prices. A good source of parts is Fletcher Aviation at Hobby Airport in Houston. (7786 Branift St., Houston, Tex. (713) 641-2023.) In addition to being a factory distributor with a big stock, Fletcher also sells aftermarket parts. One owner described how he got a quote from Gulfstream of $487 for a nosegear boot. fletcher supplied the part for $75. Owner David Fletcher is a Grumman fanatic who can provide expert technical info (the Grumman factory reps call him for advice).

Modifications

We'd recommend three modifications for the Tiger. First, a Sensenich propeller in place of the plagued MCauley. In addition to eliminating the AD inspection, the new prop also does away with an annoying rpm restriction between 1850 and 2250 rpm in descending flight. This yellow arc, due to vibration problems of the particular engine/prop combination, sits unfortunately right at the usual ILS approach speed. In addition, the Sensenich is claimed to increase speed two to four mph. It's available in six different pitches from Air Mods NW, P.O. Box 8, Snohomish, Wash. 98290, (206)691-7634. Cost is $1,940.

Air Mods NW, which specializes in AA-1 and AA5 mods, also offers an oil cooler and baffle modification that is claimed to reduce oil temps by 25 degrees. Considering the Tiger/Cheetah's tendency to run hot, that's a good idea. Cost of the kit, which takes about four hours to install, is $375

The third nice-to-have mod is modified cooling exit and baffle reseal/fixup by a fellow named Bill Heard (213) 641-1729. The mod is basically an enlarged cooling outflow with a small fixed cowl flap. Heard claims a CHT drop of 50-75 degrees and no loss of performance. There's no STC, so the work must be done by Heard under a field approval. Cost is $300-$500, depending on how much resealing must be done.

Other mods are available to boost performance and cut maintenance costs.

Aeromod offers three engine conversions for the AA-5:

The Saber-Tooth Tiger, a 260-hp Lycoming installation with constant-speed prop. Claimed speed is 180 mph, with an 1,800 fpm climb rate, but the useful load penalty is about 100 pounds. And watch that fuel consumption! Cost is $20,000 for a low-time used engine, more for a new one.

A more practical conversion is Air Mods NW's upgrade to a 200-hp Lycoming and constant-speed prop. Cruise speed is up 10 mph to 170, and climb rate soars to 1,300 fpm. Useful load penalty on a Tiger is about 70 pounds. Cost is about $16,000 for a low-time used engine.

Air Mods NW can also turn a Cheetah into a Tiger with a 180-hp conversion. Total cost is about $11,000 for a mid-time engine. If a Cheetah owner wants to have the work done locally, the STC paperwork alone is $500. This mod might be a good way to take advantage of the big price difference between the Cheetah and Tiger. If you can't find a good Tiger, get a runout Cheetah for $12,000, spend $11,000 for the mod. You've got a nice mid-time Tiger (value: $23,000) that will return the full value of the conversion.

Air Mods NW also offers an improved air box that lets the engine breathe easier and is cheaper to maintain. Cost is $750 plus two hours' installation. Air Mods NW also can offer advice on antenna locations that improve reception and add a couple of knots speed. Fletcher Aviation also offers hints for aerodynamic cleanups, and operates what it claims to be a perfectly stock 180-mph Tiger.

Owner Group

We also throw our full support behind the American Yankee Association, the owners group for the Tiger and Cheetah (as well as all other Grumman American light aircraft). In addition to the usual newsletter and fly-in activities, the AYA is a useful source of technical and maintenance information. Such specialized expertise is almost a necessity to own and fly an oddball airplane like the AA-5 that may not be familiar to every local mechanic. The AYA also has a special group insurance plan that may save you money, and can put you in touch with approved pilots for a proper AA-5 checkout. The American Yankee Assn., http://www.aya.org

Owner Comments

As an obvious supporter of the Grumman line of aircraft, let me turn the tables and contribute what I find to be the drawbacks of owning a Tiger. I have had a 1976 model for 10 years, and have some 1,500 hours on the airplane. My major complaint is that the service ceiling is only 13,800 feet. While this is adequate for many, those of us who fly across the Sierras and Rockies find it occasionally restrictive. A second drawback is that without cooling modifications, the engine tends to run hot, necessitating cylinder work before TBO on most planes. My aircraft has a modification designed by Bill Heard (213) 641-1729 (evenings) and I highly recommend it. And that's it. I consider the Tiger to be the best bargain in aviation today. The aircraft provides an honest 130-knot cruise. Typical owner-assisted annuals run about $350, and aside from the usual maintenance items (tires, brakes, etc.) nothing much goes wrong. Incidentally, we have a group insurance program and a pilot familiarization program to inform our new members about flight characteristics. Airspeed control is of great importance on final approach, but properly taught, this presents no problem.

William M. Marvel
President, American Yankee Assn.
Fresno, Calif.

My partner and I owned both a Tiger and a Mooney 231. The Tiger is a much easier airplane to operate than the Mooney, especially on the ground. I fly the Tiger long distances, with quite a bit of IFR. I flight plan for 130 knots, and almost always beat that number from liftoff to touchdown. Out west, most of the flying is at 9,000 feet or higher. At lower altitude, the 139-knot book cruise speed is easily bettered. Fuel burn is 10.5 gph down low, declining to 10.0 up high. I almost always fly at full throttle and/or 2,700 rpm.

The Tiger is considerably more difficult to fly on instrument approaches than the Mooney. The controls on the Grumman are sensitive, so a little goes a long way. Speed control on approaches is also more difficult. The Tiger is very clean in approach configuration, so very little power is required to hold 100 knots. The fixed-pitch prop also makes it harder to establish a stable power setting.

There are a couple of ADs that help keep maintenance costs up. Every 100 hours the ailerons have to be checked, and every 200 hours the prop has to be pulled and checked for cracks. That costs $100, including profiling and repaint. Annual inspections run about $600 when I don't do anything, and about $200 when I do the grunt work. The direct operating costs have worked out to $24 per hour, including a reserve for overhaul. The interior is pretty noisy at cruise speed. Earplugs or a headset are a necessity. After 11 years use, everything in the interior is warped faded, cracked or all three. The new replacements don't look much better. Parts are no problem at all. Fletcher Aviation in Houston seems to have everything required, and the parts are generally inexpensive.

William Barton Encinitas, Calif.

I have been flying Grumman Tigers since 1981 and have owned a 1978 model for three years. I consider the Tiger a most economical aircraft that allows me to justify it for leisure-time purposes. Initial investment is reasonable, maintenance minimal, fuel consumption averages about 9.6 gallons per tach-hour, insurance about $1,000 per year, annuals average about 16 hours' labor.

In IFR conditions, it bounces and rolls with turbulence, but is comfortable if you go with the flow. There is some learning curve in the transition from a Piper or Cessna. The Tiger has lots of fuel capacity. With full tanks, I carry 675 pounds payload, and consider it a good "three people and gear" plane for weekending. I recently replaced the MCauley prop with a Sensenich, and it eliminates the yellow arc from 1850 to 2250 rpm. It is also smoother, quieter and quicker on the climbout.

Ronald Esau

I bought my 1976 Cheetah, serial number 60, in 1986 and have flown it 260 hours in 18 months. I cruise at 125 mph true at around 2475 rpm, and it uses about eight gph. My only performance complaint is its climb capability. At my usual weight on of about 150 pounds under gross, I can only get about 500 fpm at best rate. I have long-range tanks, which come in very handy, but contribute to poor climb performance. The airplane handles very crisply, but is a tailwagger in turbulence, and isn't as stable as a Cardinal or 172 on instrument approaches. Insurance the first year was $1,174 declining to $1,074 the second year because I had gotten an instrument rating.

It's a bit tough getting passengers in through the canopy and over the front seats into the back. But otherwise it 5 a comfortable airplane. Visibility is great. In spite of it being the most accident-prone airplane in its class, it seems fairly docile. It mushes rather than breaks in the stall. Landings are smooth, but it's squirrelly on rollout because of the lack of nosewheel steering. Backing into a tiedown spot requires a towbar.

Gary Keck San Diego, Calif.