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'68 Ops
Initial Training?


Can you learn to fly in a Cardinal?

And should you?

The simple answer is yes. However there are questions, usually taking a form such as this:


3 partners and I are interested in purchasing an airplane. Two of us have our private license with 200 and 400 hours of flight time. The other two are new to flying and will be receiving their instruction in whatever plane we buy. My question is this: is the Cardinal (FG) a reasonable plane to use for receiving primary flight training?

My sense is that we're probably better off with a C172 or an Archer as it seems that the Cardinal is better suited to pilots with a bit of experience under their belt due to the additional complexity of cowl flaps, variable pitch prop and it's somewhat quirky(?) handling during landing.

I've never been up in a Cardinal but it seems like a very capable airplane from what I've read - I'm just concerned that it may be a little too much plane for a novice pilot.

A New Pilot

Keith wrote in reply:

I don't see any reason why you can't learn to fly in a Cardinal, in fact it is better than most airplanes to learn in. The reason is that it flys honestly, from control inputs, rather than mushing in the flair like a 172, for instance.

I did some flight training in an Archer and its nice enough, steers more like a car and brings comfort to those who are a little concerned by seeing the ground go by. But an Archer doesn't really prepare you for other airplanes either.

Many people have learned to fly in a Cardinal. I have a neighbor who bought one for his son to learn in and that worked out very well. We have members, Sandy Honeycutt for instance, who learned to fly in a Cardinal RG. (see the story below)

I know one person who had very low time when he got into Cardinals, and flew only Cardinals for his first year or so. Then the Cardinal was no longer available and he started renting Skyhawks. He hated them, said he could not land them, and I saw some landings that were pretty good proof! He got back into a Cardinal relationship and his landings came right back on.

You see, the porpoise effect comes from trying to play 172 tricks while flying a Cardinal. The Cardinal doesn't need those tricks, and the controls are effective enough that slamming the yoke forward actually does slam the nose down, and that gets you in trouble.

You would do yourself and your friends a service to put a note in the digest asking for someone nearby to give you a Cardinal ride. That's what sold me... first that it flew like a dream, secondly that I had to keep my eyes open to avoid running over Skyhawks in the pattern!

So I'd say get with the Cardinal early and often, spend the few minutes unlearning your bad habits, then enjoy the extra space, comfort and speed and a year from know let me know what you think... then you can answer these questions! I get 3 or 4 of these a year, and so far no complaints from those who went ahead and went for the Cardinal.


For a few other perspectives on this question read on:

From Digest 2361.txt Subject: CFO 05-28-2004, #2361

From: `Jimmy Honeycutt` (

Lon Nelson writes about the `disadvantages` of learning to fly in a Cardinal.

Lon, this has been hashed out before in the Cardinal Digest. I`m sure we won`t be able to change your mind and I wouldn`t try. But, the facts speak for themselves.

You do a disservice to the thousands of men and women that learn to fly jets in the military...their first plane is a high performance JET! Lots of them have never been at the controls of a prop plane. Tell the military pilots they don`t know how to keep the ball centered while they are in combat...a few months after graduation. But, don`t stop there: Many of us learn to fly in complicated planes and in all sorts: Bonanzas, Mooneys, even the Cardinal RG.

My wife, Sandy, learned to fly in our `76 RG. She is a great natural pilot and is starting work on her instrument rating. She learned all the cowl flaps, pitch trim, adjustable prop, retractable gear, etc. as a NATURAL part of learning to fly. She doesn`t suffer from lack of concentration because of the extra controls, it just makes her a better pilot, and she loves it. She hasn`t damaged our plane and I invite you to check it out. She learned to use the JPI with the `shock-cooling` temperature display right away, and that is part of her scan during approaches.

A new pilot doesn`t have to be rough, bounce, or mistreat the engine any more than someone that rents your plane. Sandy at 350 hours makes nice approaches and her landings are better than mine at 28,000 hours.

As far as keeping the ball in the cage during coordinated turns, or learning to look out before banking into a turn; isn`t that part of any training? Our visibility in the Cardinal is better IMHO than most `trainers.` Our plane has both pitch and rudder trim, but that isn`t a reason to learn in a C-152.

Spin training is nice, but not a requirement. Many schools either don`t, or won`t, give spin training. Maneuvering flight is where spins occur, not flying at altitude. Remember too, the Cardinal spin recovery is different. Look it up.

I consider pilots that learn to fly in the Cardinal to be just as proficient and just as well trained as in a C-150 or C-172. They go through the same lessons, do the same maneuvers, and learn the same emergency procedures, etc. And, they are good pilots, not Cardinal drivers!

Jimmy and Sandy Honeycutt `76 RG N177BS

I've seen a few posts lately about learning to fly in a Cardinal. I bought my Cardinal ('72 FG) two year ago and learned to fly in it. Prior to that I didn't even know what a Cardinal was, much less anything about other planes. I basically stumbled upon the plane while shopping for 172's and fell in love with it. My instructor said the Cardinal was worth the extra money and would be a plane I'd always be happy with...he was right! The only so-called complexity to the plane, according to my instructor, was the constant speed prop and he assured me it was not a big deal.

I devoted all my free time and attention to training and was licensed in three months. I've never flown any other plane, so I still don't know how it compares to a 172, but if I can fly it, anyone can! Of course, I've had my share of "interesting" landings. Now have about 200 Cardinal hours...pure pleasure!

Robert May
Atlanta, GA

From Digest 1012.txt Date: Sun, 7 May 2000 17:20:49 (EDT)

From: Stephen Carstensen (
Subject: Learning to fly in a Cardinal

Bill, Ditto what Jerry said. One reason we choose the 177B is that Barb could learn to fly in it. Her instructor`s only comment was that it might take a little longer to solo but that the *total* time to transition would be the same as soloing in a simpler (not by much...) plane then doing a transition to the Cardinal. Barb was about ready to solo in about 16 hours (of course YMMV) Gee I know 2 people who took their primary and soloed in *twins*!


From: Guy Maher
Subject: Cardinal as a trainer

As one who has been flying and/or instructing in Cardinals since 1968 and having logged nearly 5,000 hours in the type alone, I'm stepping in to say that the Cardinal, any year model, makes an awesome primary trainer, especially in the hands of the right instructor.

The airplane not only teaches you to "fly" the plane instead of "driving" it, but offers the envelope margins to allow this training to be done safely. And the added bonus is not risking "falling out of one's seat" when looking for traffic in the turn, whether it's high or low.

Guy Maher '74 RG N912GM

From: `Kris Larsen` (
Subject: Cardinal as a trainer

I have lost count of the fors and againsts of using the Cardinal as a trainer. I think it is safe to say that the well informed and un-biased Cardinal owners (NOT!) are almost unanimous that the 177 should be used as a trainer... grin

From: `Lawrence` (
Subject: Cardinal as a trainer.`

I guess you can count me as a `FOR`. I had a Cessna 180, and my wife wanted to learn to fly...but no way did she want to learn to fly in the 180. I had the 180 for commuting to work, and occasional cross countries to visit family...a Cessna 150 or Cherokee 140 was not going to be a viable replacement. I traded the 180 for a `68 Cardinal and a large wad of cash...and it does a decent job of getting me to work, and is much, much more to my wife`s liking as well. Not so many knobs to fiddle with, and a lot easier to steer on the ground :).

I miss taking off fully loaded out of my neighbors 2400` grass strip (at 4225 MSL) on a hot summer day, but for the most part, the Cardinal does what I need, and what she wants, and she is definitely learning to fly in it, so it MUST be a good trainer :)


There is no record of whether Lawrence's wife ever saw what he had written, and if so whether he is still capable of flying...

From Digest 2363.txt Subject: CFO 05-31-2004, #2363

From: Van Caulart (
Subject: Cardinals as trainers tally

)) Looks like we have a nice debate going on using a Cardinal as a trainer. So far we have 4 CFO members for learning to fly in a Cardinal, and 1 against. Keep the advice coming people, I need it!

Add one to the `for` group Kris. We bought our `68 just so we could both train in it: PPL for my wife and IFR ticket for me.

The unseen training benefit for my wife has been that of travel agent, a la `where are we flying to this weekend?` As for me it`s been a practicum in maintenance management and repair. Not that our plane needed much work, but I just wanted to do lots with it.

`68 Cardinal, approx $50k. Education and entertainment value, priceless.

Peter Van Caulart C-GCPG `68 ~150hp

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