We Fly: Tecnam P-Mentor

The next expression of a modern trainer comes from an atelier of Italian design.

The Tecnam P-Mentor was designed to help aspiring pilots learn to fly. [Credit: Jim Payne]

The courtyard of the Castello di Faicchio spans maybe 50 yards from crenellated pillar to stone post. That was wide enough for two boys—ages 10 and 11—to contest each other in a mad sprint, or to watch as their latest model glided down from a balcony perched up on its walls. Before World War II would topple portions of those ramparts, southern Italy in the late1930s didn’t provide much in terms of resources, except for the space in which the boys would construct models late into the night, hiding from their father—and sometimes to the detriment of their schoolwork.

If you're not already a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Subscribe today to get the issue as soon as it is released in either Print or Digital formats.

Subscribe Now
Subscribe Now

Much like it was during the early days of Popular AviationFLYING’s precursor—one of the first aviation magazines in Italy, L’Aquilone, featured plans for building model aircraft used by enthusiasts enamored by the idea of flight. These kit-built machines catalyzed the dreams of Luigi and Giovanni Pascale as they reached their majority in Campania north of Naples.

In league from the beginning, the brothers would nurture and support each other’s imaginations until they could launch their aircraft design and manufacturing efforts in 1948, 75 years ago. The Pascales built their unique airplanes at first incorporated under the marque of Partenavia in 1957—and within the company we know today as Tecnam.

The P-Mentor draws on the heritage of training airplanes that stretches back to the earliest designs of the Pascales. [Credit: Jim Payne]

Training Legacy

The latest of Tecnam’s single-engine airplanes to come to fruition, the P-Mentor, joins a legacy of aircraft destined to help aspiring pilots learn to fly. The first true Pascale design to reach production, the original P48 Astore, looks a lot like the Piper Pacer taildragger from which the brothers drew inspiration. The P-Mentor breaks from one tradition, in that it is one of the few of the Pascale designs not named after the year in which it began development—for example, the P48 sprang from the drawing board in 1948, and the P2012 Traveller started in 2012, though it didn’t see European Union Aviation Safety Agency certification until 2019, with FAA certification to follow later that year.

While Tecnam has enjoyed recent success in the U.S. with its modern version of the Astore LSA, and the latest edition of the P92 Echo, the P-Mentor makes a compelling case for a primary trainer that goes beyond the light sport category. The P-Mentor achieved EASA certification under CS 23—equivalent to the FAA Part 23 type certification basis for light aircraft—in 2021. Though the P-Mentor is powered by a version of the same engine found on many LSAs—the Rotax 912iSC3—the airplane’s heft and sophisticated cockpit take it up a notch from the entry-level category to create a platform that will serve to educate new pilots intent on progressing into a career—or just larger, more capable airplanes.

The P-Mentor's flight deck is outfitted with twin Garmin G3X Touches. [Credit: Jim Payne]

A. The FADEC-equipped Rotax 912iSC3 engine has an easy preflight check sequence.

B. The simulated landing gear switch is also tied to a gear warning horn to help facilitate training in preparation for more complex aircraft.

C. The Garmin G3X Touch displays can be configured in multiple ways, including a base map, engine information system, and the primary flight display. A Garmin GTN650Xi in the RNAV-capable edition enables a complete IFR training program.

D. The control sticks have a shape to them that falls nicely in the hand, and the seats are adjustable, rather than the rudder pedals, for a comfortable fit.

E. An optional Garmin GFC 500 autopilot outfits the P-Mentor for extended cross-country missions and advanced aircraft training.

The Rotax 922iSC3 up front drives an MT V.P. hydraulic prop for flexible performance. [Credit: Jim Payne]

A Walkaround

My introduction to the P-Mentor began on the ramp at the company’s headquarters in Capua, Italy, following a detailed production-line tour that took in several of the models in various stages of readiness for first flight and eventual delivery. Witnessing how the machines come together always gives insight to how they will perform, so I felt particularly well versed in the P-Mentor’s genesis after hearing Giovanni Pascale—managing director of Tecnam and the latest in the family line to lead the company—walk through each step in that process.

Its low-wing, side-by-side seating evokes similar LSAs I’ve flown recently—such as the BRM Aero Bristell SLSA—yet with an aspect to the way the canopy slopes into the fuselage that recalls its design heritage, as we saw earlier in the tour, from the mid-’50s designs of the firm, but still modern and inspiring confidence as you approach it on the ramp. Tecnam chose to certify the P-Mentor with a maximum gross weight of 1,587pounds, a good 267 pounds higher than the top of the LSA class. Having done so allows for a useful load of up to 628 pounds and the flexibility to have two healthy adults plus full fuel on board.

Walkaround takes in the normal checkpoints with few unique aspects to the process. Tecnam flight test pilot Massimo de Stefano oriented me to a few items, mostly to do with getting in and out of the airplane. Early Pascale designs—and all of its twins—feature a high wing, in part to aid ingress for pilots and passengers. But the low wing has an easy step-up and good handholds for settling yourself into the seats.

De Stefano guided me to the right seat, which was perfect for this review, as it allowed me to assess the P-Mentor as an instructor and see how it would perform and feel flying from that familiar CFI’s perch.

The flight deck features a twin Garmin G3X Touch installation in the complete IFR package—called the “Sport” version—that we flew with in I-PDVF, the company’s demonstrator. Those displays are accompanied by a Garmin GTN 650 Xi nav/com/GPS, a Garmin GAD 29c ARINC data module, and a remote-mounted Garmin GTX 345R transponder with ADS-B In and Out capability. All of that—in addition to the engine management system—is powered by a 14-volt electrical system that utilizes two electrically isolated alternators (A and B) and a main ship’s battery.

The long-span flaps, rod-actuated ailerons, and curved wingtips aid in low-speed handling and responsiveness. [Credit: Jim Payne]

Startup and Taxi Out

Starting the Rotax involves a simple process, with a couple of nuances—you first flip a toggle switch to energize the starter in addition to having the master switch on. Then, it’s both FADEC Lane A and B switches on, fuel pump on, and push the red starter button to swing the prop—which caught quickly on the warm engine (from previous flights). There are separate avionics and autopilot masters as well.

Run-up was guided by the engine information display on the right-hand G3X Touch screen, checking both FADEC lanes using the 4-cylinder exhaust gas temperature readouts, along with coolant and manifold temperatures, oil pressure, and volts.

De Stefano took on the task of taxiing out in order to familiarize me with the special procedures at the Capua Airport (LIAU), both of the day—rain showers earlier left the grass runway in varying states of rough—and in general. LIAU has a flight information service staffed by the local fire brigade—and therefore non-English speakers. Unusual, but not wholly unanticipated.

We left our abbreviated flight plan with the FIS and de Stefano guided me through the first takeoff, taking a line that was relatively smooth on the left-hand half of the runway, which measures 1,097 meters, or 3,599 feet.

We took just over one-third of the runway on that takeoff roll, not bad considering the condition of the turf, which appears to be a running source of amusement amongst the Tecnam pilots and their dealers. Test flying is often frustrated by the weather at Capua, with winter rains rendering it unusable for stretches of time.

One clear benefit to the location? I saw the airplane’s performance on a truly soft field. All Tecnam aircraft must pass this test or never reach the skies at all. The local council plans to finally pave the runway sometime in the next year—and we hope that’s on schedule, though the current field has its, well, charm.

In-flight Feel

For our mission, we took off to the northeast from Runway 26 to stay clear of the military field—Grazzanise—on whose control zone perimeter Capua sits, at 64 feet msl. I had the controls through the climbout to 3,000 feet for our high work, and we saw 450 to 700 fpm at the VX of 70 knots and power set at 28.9 inches and 5,550 rpm.

During steep turns the controls felt solid, and even between aileron and pitch (in the baseline I use, aileron control feel is usually a degree lighter than pitch). However, I found the P-Mentor easy to keep coordinated both in 30- and 45-to-50-degree-bank turns and the proper pitch attitude facile to find in each direction.

Stalls broke mildly—more of a mush in an approach to landing (power off) stall, with a level break in the departure (power on) mode. Recover came swift and sure. I performed a few additional coordination maneuvers, seeking the marriage between aileron and rudder, and with a brisk roll left and right and back to center, again, straightforward to keep the nose on the horizon in its place.

I made a power-off glide at 70 knots to test that handling, and the P-Mentor preserved the good gliding characteristics of the P92 Eaglet—precursor to the Echo—that I first flew back in 2006, with a reasonable 9.7:1 glide ratio. No surprises—just honest flying.

In Cruise

Where the P-Mentor trades off its weight for performance shows up in two places—the not-quite-as-short takeoff roll, and in the modest cruise speed of 117 knots. That’s at a power setting of 27 inches MP and 5,480 rpm.

Reducing the power to 24 inches and 5,030 rpm brings us to 100 knots indicated at 2,000 feet msl and13 degrees C—nearly ISA conditions. The panel is setup for cross-country missions in the sport package we tested—and you can do so at the modest fuel burn afforded by the Rotax, which sips 3.7 gph at that economy cruise setting. The company prides itself on the efficiency of its models, which certainly holds true here.

Training to Land

One unique feature of the P-Mentor that places it squarely into the training class is the simulated landing gear lever on the pilot’s subpanel. Though the airplane’s gear remains fixed firmly in place, if you don’t actuate the gear lever to the down position when bringing the throttle to idle, a warning horn sounds—just as it would in a true retract, and it's tested during the run-up. The idea is to ingrain each of the steps into the thinking process of a new pilot. However, one could argue that because the airplane doesn’t reflect the aerodynamic change of the gear moving and the swinging of the gear doors, it’s a tenuous transfer of learning.

However, Sporty’s sells the same portable type of device in its catalog towards the same purpose, and I suppose it holds merit for building that habit of always checking to see if the gear is down on final.

In economy mode, the P-Mentor cruises along at a modest fuel burn of less than 4 gph. [Credit: Jim Payne]

Short and Soft Techniques

The long-span flaps can be set at the takeoff position (roughly 15 degrees) as high as 106 kias, with full deflection of about 30 degrees—the landing position—at 96 knots, aiding greatly in the ability to slow the airplane.

De Stefano wanted to demonstrate a landing first (and the right line to take on the rutted field), and I was keen to try out the go-around profile of the airplane. A nice, easy approach speed of 70 knots kept us on a smooth path to the touchdown point—and I braced myself for the bounces I figured would be inevitable—but the P-Mentor’s tires handled the uneven turf with aplomb. He pushed the power up for a touch-and-go, and handed the controls back over.

We did a low approach first, and I kept myself purposefully high, and slipped on final to see if the P-Men-tor’s good coupling held true, and it did. During the pass, I flew just off of the deck by about 15 feet, so I could continue to get a sense of things. I pulled up into a nice fly-by for the folks on the Tecnam ramp and entered the pattern again, level at about 750 feet agl—about 800 feet msl.

Remembering to put the “gear” down as I throttled back, it didn’t take long to find the approach speed that seemed to give the best mix of low speed and positive control authority on final. I aimed for the good line in the grass, and I was rewarded with a pleasant touch-down—stick in my lap and a little bit of power in to keep us going as the tufts of turf snatched at the tires.

We readily made the turn off just past midfield to taxi back into the factory—and de Stefano was all smiles as I did—a mark of approval that goes beyond translation. That grin matched my own, as the P-Mentor had been a true pleasure to fly—and would likely be just as much fun to use, yes, mentoring new pilots into the skies.

Tecnam P-Mentor

Price (fully equipped, as tested): $350,750

Engine: Rotax 915iSC3, 100 hp

TBO (or equivalent): 1,200 hours

Propeller: MT V.P. hydraulic with governor, two-blade

Seats: 2

Wingspan: 29.5 ft.

Wing Area: 128.1 sq. ft.

Wing Loading: 12.39 lb./sq. ft.

Power Loading: 15.87 lb./hp

Length: 22.1 ft.

Height: 8.2 ft.

Baggage Weight: 66 lb.

Standard Empty Weight: 959 lb.

Max Takeoff Weight (EASA CS 23): 1,587 lb.

Standard Useful Load (EASA CS 23): 628 lb.

Fuel: 140 liters/37 gal.

Max Rate of Climb: 750 fpm

Max Operating Altitude: 13,000 ft.

Stall Speed (flaps extended): 44 kias

Max Cruise Speed: 117 ktas, at sea level, max continuous power

Max Range @ Max Range Power: 950 nm

Takeoff Distance, Sea Level (over a 50 ft. obs.): 1,706 ft.

Landing Distance, Sea Level (over a 50 ft. obs.): 1,280 ft.

This article first appeared in the July 2023/Issue 933 print edition of FLYING.

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter