Tuesday Topics – Aircraft of the Month
The Grumman Cheetah was a development of the earlier AA-5 Traveler, originally built by American Aviation. After the aircraft line was purchased by Grumman, their engineers felt the design had more speed potential than the original Traveler. With aerodynamic clean-up and other relatively minor changes, the aircraft speed was increased to close to 150 mph with the same 150 hp engine.
The four-place aircraft was a delight to fly. The controls were light and responsive—not quite a fighter, but still fun to fly. With 52 gallons of fuel; burning less than 10 gallons per hour; five-hour trips were a reality.
One neat feature of the aircraft was the cabin. The canopy slid aft so that the pilot and passengers entered by stepping up on the wing next to the fuselage, and then stepping down into the cabin. The bubble canopy provided a panoramic view, and the canopy could be opened—slightly—in flight for ventilation (there was no air conditioning).
The Cheetah was manufactured from 1976 to 1979. A slightly more powerful 180 HP model called the Tiger continued in production—off-and-on—until 2005. It was the same airframe and interior cabin design, but faster at 170 mph.
There I Was…
In 1977, I belonged to a flying club at Nashua Airport in Nashua, New Hampshire. The club was associated with Daniel Webster College adjacent to the airport. Courses taught there included aviation science and flight training. During the summer months, when school was out, it was possible to book the club aircraft for up to a week or more at a time.
My father had recently earned his pilot’s license. I planned a flight to Virginia to pick him up, and we would fly to Florida; destination St. Augustine, stopping at Kill Devil Hills, site of the Wright Brothers first flight. We departed Virginia from Williamsburg-Jamestown airport and flew to First Flight Airport at Kitty Hawk North Carolina. There is a nice public airstrip within a short walk to the site of the Wright Brothers first flight.
The airport is an unattended, uncontrolled general aviation airport. In this case, pilots are responsible for making sure it is safe to land, and following specific procedures so that everyone can share the airport safely. We flew over the airport. The windsock indicated no wind and I elected to land to the south since that would allow us to pull right into parking near the historic site. I made several radio calls indicating my position around the airport including turning onto final approach. The calls were to alert any other aircraft in the area of our intentions.
A soon as we were lined up to land, I could see another aircraft approaching head-on from the opposite end of the runway, less than 3000 feet away.
I jammed the throttle to full power, began a tight climbing turn to avoid the oncoming traffic. Maybe the agile Cheetah could have been a fighter after all. We climbed to 800 feet, and turned, flying parallel to the runway and beyond, then turned back to the runway for an uneventful landing.
Once in the parking area, the pilot of the other plane came over to apologize. He had not tuned his radio to the local frequency and not seen anyone in the area and had simply decided to land. No harm, no foul.
Flying is just a matter of paying attention—and good training. I had the benefit of Air Force flight training!
General characteristics Grumman America AA-5A Cheetah
Crew: one, pilot
Capacity: three passengers
Empty Weight: 1,500 lb
Loaded weight: 2,400 lb
Max Takeoff Weight: 2,400 lb
Engine: 1 Lycoming O-320 – air-cooled, 4-cylinder, 150 hp
Maximum speed: 150 mph
Range: 789 mi
Service Ceiling: 13,800 ft
Rate of Climb: 850 ft/min