How many times have you heard this? “I’ll never learn what all these dials, gauges and numbers mean.” Probably as much as you’ve had to say, “right rudder.” When a new student climbs into an airplane and takes his first look at the instrument panel, it’s often overwhelming and intimidating. So we decided to get back to fundamentals and only give the students the basic necessities for their first couple of hours.
The Sporty’s 172 LITE started with a 1970s-vintage airframe with low to moderate time. Our staff of technicians went through the airplane inside and out making any required repairs. Windows were replaced, modern LED lighting installed, Precise-Flow air vents added, and then the airplane was given a fresh coat of paint for the appearance of a brand new aircraft. The airplane received a freshly overhauled Lycoming engine, new accessories and seals and an overhauled propeller.
Inside, the seats were refurbished, side panels recovered and carpet replaced with vinyl floor covering. More robust, durable switches were installed to accompany the new metal panel with minimal avionics, as the 172 LITE is as much about training philosophy as it is a “new” affordable aircraft.
The concept is simple. Take tried-and-true technology that is universally understood by technicians, then clean, fix and simplify it as an introductory training aircraft with useful load for today’s customers. As you can see from the pictures, the only avionics in the airplane are communications and a transponder. We also covered up the attitude indicator, directional gyro and turn-and-bank for those first few hours. The goal is to reduce distractions and focus the student’s attention outside the aircraft while at the same time, reducing student workload and stress that comes from an overloaded panel or glass flight deck. Students will learn to fly first before they become avionics managers and menu experts.
After we’ve established this baseline skill of controlling the aircraft by outside visual reference and proper rudder use, we introduce the turn-and-bank with inclinometer and show the student the little black ball that tells them when they need right rudder. Later, we tell them that the unstable compass they have been referencing has a better solution. Now you get a gyro-stabilized compass, and at some point before solo, we’ll uncover the attitude indicator explaining that while fundamental airmanship is dependent upon outside visual reference, there is a mechanical representation of the horizon available. And of course, we’ll take that a step further providing at least the requisite amount of instrument training should they ever encounter inadvertent flight into IMC.
That’s our philosophy. You, as flight instructor, will decide the right time to uncover the gyro instruments. And, this aircraft has everything you need to go all the way through the Recreational or Sport certificate and even beyond if you choose. While conceiving this project and trying to sell the idea to our own instructors, I was asked if I had ever flown an aircraft without gyros. It was a perfect setup. My answer, “I’d never seen a gyro or a radio in an aircraft until after I had my private certificate.”
So, how does this work? Essentially we’ve created a comfortable Cessna 152. We completed the 172 LITE project for around $110,000, which included $30,000 to $40,000 worth of labor. Lower cost of acquisition and lower maintenance costs on simplified systems mean more profitable operations and client savings. There’s no reason why someone else couldn’t take on the same project (we’ll even provide guidance on parts), but as we build up more “LITES” than we can use, we’ll have some available for purchase.
Remember, you only get one opportunity for a first impression, so it better be good. The 172-Lite is a trainer that looks as good as a brand new aircraft — it’s clean, sleek and simple.