The way in which the airplanes were built was also innovative. Airframe parts were produced in France and shipped to the US to be assembled and fitted with American components.
The idea met with some limited success, but the company didn’t sell enough airplanes to keep the venture going. In 1995, SOCATA teamed with Morane Saulnier and Renault to begin work on a new line of aircraft, the MS series, that is slated to replace the Caribbean series. Based on the TB-series airframes, the MS series will use a new piston engine that runs on jet fuel. At present there is no indication that a TB-9 equivalent is in the works.
Except for its smaller, 160-hp engine, the Tampico TB-9 actually is pretty much a clone of the 180-hp Tobago and 250-hp Trinidad, These others were introduced earlier, in 1986 and 85, respectively. Reversing the usual process in the States of starting small and working upscale, Aerospatiale backed into the U.S. trainer market with the Tampico introduced in 1990, even though U.S. certification came along in 1989. Aerospatiale presumably held off until 1990 to tackle the U.S. market because Piper in 1988 was talking about bargain-basement prices of $46,000 for its Cadet trainer, a Warrior with a new name. And that was not something Aerospatiale could compete with.
Only small changes occurred in the Tampicos in the years they were sold here. The electrical system went from 12-volt to 24-volt, and a spin-on oil filter replaced the oil screen. Also, at one point they went to a high-speed starter to get the engine cranking more easily, but encountered durability problems and went back to the old one.
Thanks mainly to their climb-pitch props, Tampicos climb like rockets and cruise like turtles. The takeoff angle and climb rate with two aboard is dramatic, and you’re looking at around 900-1,000 fpm, with a deck angle that obscures everything out front. (For what its worth, book max climb is 738 at gross.)
The rationale for the climb prop goes back to conditions in France, where students often learn on grass strips, at high elevations. To use the Cessna Skyhawk for comparison to check short-field performance, we can report the Tampico comes within 81 feet of the obstacle takeoff distance of a Cessna Skyhawk with a 160-hp engine and within 98 feet of its obstacle landing distance. (And for nit-pickers, the Cessna is 63 pounds heavier at gross.)
Cruise speeds with the Tampico climb prop is not a thrilling prospect for cross-country trips, with the book calling for a vapid 105 knots/120 mph true pulling 73% power. The Skyhawk, by comparison, has a big 15-knot edge on the Tampico, with a 75% book cruise of 120 knots at 8,000 feet. And it still climbs slightly better.
With control rods instead of cables, the Tampico bends to the pilots touch with a kind of smooth majesty. The ailerons are not what you’d call sprightly, or as light as, say, an American General Tigers. But control response in general is quite pleasant. And our stability checks disclosed no unusual characteristics or quirkiness.
Stalls are boringly benign and reassuring. Its hard to imagine a pilot ever getting bitten by a nasty stall or wing drop in this aircraft, power on or off, flaps up or down, straight or turning. Takeoff stall demos seem even more spectacular than in most trainers thanks to the extreme nose-up angle and the resulting casual nod as airspeed bleeds down to nothing.
The flaps produce healthy gobs of drag. Even using the generous 80-knot final approach suggested by some instructors (which is well over the commonly recommended 1.3 Vso of 65 knots for something closer to short-field landing length), newcomers will be surprised how altitude disappears in big gulps on the turn from base to final. And if that’s not enough, the bird slips nicely, with no book warnings against doing so. Also, incidentally, lowering or retracting flaps produces no untoward pitch reactions.
The Tampico further pleases transitioning pilots with its Bonanza-like willingness to yield smooth, easily judged landing touchdowns. But we understand that at one school they’ve experienced a few scrapes on the fiberglass tailcone bottom as students pulled the nose up on flare a bit too enthusiastically. Apparently the tail tiedown hook is positioned a bit too far forward to offer protection. And in crosswind challenges, the Tampico pilot will be reassured to know that the aircraft passed its certification with a 25-knot crosswind component.
Comfort & load carrying
The Tampicos width and airiness will captivate pilots, especially students used to the cramped quarters in Cessna 152s. Headroom is not always so great, but seat modifications are available that can give another inch and a half of headroom for heads and coifs. To get specific, cabin width is a luxurious four feet, two inches.
Pilots sit up high instead of down deep in a typical cockpit enclosure and, thanks to grand side windows that curve into the roof, have a great view of the outside world, not to mention other traffic. Open the gull-wing door, and you can rest your elbow on the sill and let the breeze flow through. The folks at Embry-Riddle caution not to taxi around with the doors full open, however, lest they get blasted with a gust of wind or prop wash on the ramp. The ventilation solution they’ve devised in sunny Florida is a short standoff rod about eight inches long that holds the door open.
The full-size seat in the rear allows space not only for two, but three, believe it or not. So a couple have to be tiny. But at flight schools a student can ride in the center of the rear seat and watch the fellow at the controls cope with instrument flight.
Maximum useful load is 911 pounds, so subtract maybe 70 pounds for a decent batch of equipment, and you’re looking at 841 pounds for people, baggage and fuel. Top off the tanks, and that leaves a pretty decent 600 pounds of payload, or three 170-pounders and a healthy 90 pounds for kids or baggage. Depending on balance, of course, don’t expect to get any more than 142 pounds (the modest structural limit) in the baggage compartment. The compartment itself is quite roomy, but the roughly triangular shape of the door makes for less than ideal loading.
Naturally, with a gull-wing door on both sides, getting in and out of the Tampico is a ball. Climbing into the rear seat is, um, different, because you have to tip up the entire front seat. Its a rigid one-piece bucket-seat shell fastened hinged at the floor in front. The gull-wing doors loft upward and stay there obligingly without sagging or biting. A plastic lip on the front of each door permits front-seaters to grab on and pull them down. A single lever locks the door with utter sublime simplicity and security, compared to the awkward double side and top latches on many U.S. aircraft.
The instrument panel is marvelously styled in three prominent, distinct segments: left, center and right. In lots of the Tampicos, the entire right section is simply cut away, leaving a curved blank concavity for the instructor to stare at, or a convenient place to dump charts (or maybe play solitaire on cross-countries). But at the same time it gives a bit more visibility out the right front portion of the windshield. We understand progressively larger panel sections can be added: half sized and full sized, for those who desire to add more instruments.
American pilots also will have to learn to interpret certain vertical instruments, stowed like half a dozen tiny book ends on top of the radio stack, for engine temps, fuel and oil pressure, etc. And instead of the familiar rocker switches for the fuel pump, landing lights and strobes, etc., the Tampico has pushbuttons. They’re located handily at the base of the radio stack.
The throttle quadrant resides perfectly under the pilots hand in a delightful ergonomic arrangement. The trim wheel has a nice solid feel, is positioned perfectly under the pilots palm and doesn’t take forever to crank to a proper position. Flaps are activated by a little lever above the mixture control. And the fuel selector is positioned at the base of the center console where both front-seat occupants can keep an eye on it.
Schools and FBOs that expose the Tampicos to endless punishment as trainers tell us the aircraft stand up well and are easy to maintain.
Jack Haun, maintenance chief at Embry-Riddle, told us also that the Aerospatiale people are among the most eager he’s encountered to work with and help out his crew. He said the school had experienced a few problems with the high-speed starters and chewed-up ring gears. So now Aerospatiale has gone back to the slower starters that may not launch a start as well, but seem to stand up longer. He said mechanics liked the easy access behind the instrument panel, thanks to the unusual eyebrow cowlings.
John Pfeiffer, Westchester County-based Westairs maintenance chief, told The Aviation Consumer that his fleet had stood up well to their rigorous training regimen, as well. There were very few Service Difficulty Reports on the Tampicos, not enough to show any trends. They called out the following problems: cracked fuel transmitter, leaking brake fluid reservoir and worn trim outboard hinge.
We also noted an Aviation Airworthiness Alert noting that right and left stabilator trim tab hinges exhibited abnormal wear after a relatively short time in service.
Type-specific ADs are few: 98-4-3 calls for inspection of the upper front seat belt attachment bolts and spacers, and 98-4-47 requires inspection of the main landing gear support ribs for cracks.
There is one recent AD of particular note on the engine. 98-2-8 calls for inspections of the inner diameter of the crankshaft for corrosion pits or cracks. If nothing is found, the crank is treated with an anticorrosion coating and no further action is necessary. If cracked, it must be replaced immediately. But if pitted, its subject to 100-hour repetitive inspections until the next overhaul. By now, the initial inspections will have been done.
Owners scouting for a used Tampico may at first be put off by the high price in comparison with comparable small-engine economy four-placers. But most of the others of similar engine size and passenger capability, such as the Skyhawks and Warriors are not really much cheaper. And now that the earliest examples have some hours built up on them, the prices are getting more reasonable, with current values of the 1990 aircraft running at about $59,000.