A defining feature of the Tiger is its sliding bubble canopy. The company makes much of the ability to slide it back in flight-you can roll it back nearly 10 inches at speeds as fast as 112 knots-but I never slid it back once in all the time I flew the airplane. The real benefit, in my view, is the visibility the canopy affords. It's remarkable. Getting into or out of the airplane is easy; the side of the fuselage is relatively low; the real down side of the canopy is the greenhouse effect; it gets hot in there when the sun shines. While taxiing, however, the sliding canopy is a godsend. Pull it back as far as you want and feel the breeze. One other note about the canopy: when it's raining hard, you've got to be pretty quick to avoid getting yourself, and your airplane, drenched when you slide the canopy back to get out of the airplane. Lots of Tiger owners carry a big umbrella with them in the airplane, to keep both occupants and airplane as dry as possible.
I went flying in the new Tiger with the company's marketing director and test pilot, Bill Crum, who also flew the airplane for the air-to-air photographs that accompany this story. As I hinted before, you don't fly in the Tiger as much as you wear it. It's more "sports car" than "sport ute," though the roominess and utility of the airplane belie its runabout style. The canopy is mostly to blame-or praise-for this, depending on your bent, but once you get used to the vistas, you won't want to go back to more conventional views. This isn't just a plus for sightseeing, which it is, but for safety, as you can keep your eye on traffic much more easily in a Tiger than in just about any other kind of production lightplane I've flown.
On takeoff, performed without flaps, the Tiger accelerated nicely, though it doesn't have the kind of get up and go you might imagine, a result of the compromise fixed-pitch prop. The airplane's max rate of climb at gross weight under standard conditions is 850 fpm, and it requires 1,550 feet to clear a 50-foot obstacle.
At cruise, the Tiger does well. With nearly full tanks and two aboard, we calculated a true airspeed of 142 knots, a click below the advertised 143 knots. In terms of handling, the Tiger feels about as sporty as it looks, with a quick roll rate and light aileron forces.
Despite this, the Tiger is a fine IFR platform, when properly outfitted, that is, and today's Tiger comes very nicely equipped. It features twin Garmin GNS 430s and an S-Tec 30 two-axis autopilot, as well as a Garmin digital transponder and dual CDIs, both with glideslope. Once the company gets its production certificate, it plans to offer an HSI (a glaring omission in an airplane this nicely equipped) and a Garmin 530 in place of one of the 430s as options.
In fact, it's hard to imagine that an IFR transportation airplane could be much easier to fly. With mixture and rpm being the biggest systems management concerns-there's no prop control, no retractable gear and no cowl flaps-and with the autopilot holding nav track or heading and altitude, single-pilot IFR doesn't get much more manageable.
Bill and I headed out to Block Island, off the Rhode Island coast in the Long Island Sound, for a quick lunch. Coming into Block Island's cozy 2,500-foot strip allowed me to revisit the Tiger's excellent short field manners. With full flaps, you simply hold 80 knots on final, 70 over the fence and 60 as you touch down, and, if you aimed well, the airplane uses precious little runway. As a note, the Tiger is equipped with straight flaps, as simple as simple can be, but they're not as effective as larger and more elaborate varieties-they also offer precious little lift; the difference between flaps-up and flaps-down stall is just three knots. You also have to be aware of the maximum flap extension speed-105 knots-both before and after you extend the flaps. If you point the nose down a bit, it's easy to pick up five or 10 knots, which will allow the needle to accelerate beyond the limits of the white arc.