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In flying schools, there are aircraft designated for training student pilots. Do these aircraft have special equipments or controls on-board which are used by instructors? Like maybe extra panels or something?

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  • $\begingroup$ One of the requirements is that the aircraft is controllable from both seats. One of our colleagues could not use his own plane for training because the brakes were only controllable from the left seat, so the instructor would not have had any. $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Feb 2 '15 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of What are the properties of a good general aviation training aircraft? $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 2 '15 at 17:24
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The short answer is that there's no real difference between a "trainer" aircraft and an "owner" aircraft when they roll off the manufacturer's assembly line.

Below are two mid-1970s Piper Cherokee Cruisers - take my word for it that they both have virtually identical instruments, avionics, and interior finishing. One of these airplanes is the "trainer" I did much of my early training in, and had a little over 11,000 hours of flight time as of when the school sold it. The other is (probably) an owner-flown airplane with about 2,000 hours of flight time.
N2269Q N32711
Can you tell which is which? The answer is in the spoiler box at the end of this post.


"Trainer" aircraft generally have flight and operational characteristics that makes them "suitable for use in training" -- though what that means is a subject of some debate.

In modern training aircraft you'll almost always find the following:

  • Dual controls
    Much like a Driver's Education car has an extra brake, aircraft used for training will have dual controls so your flight instructor can correct any mistakes the student makes before they become dangerous. (Dual controls are in fact required for flight training, at least under FAA regulations, though interestingly dual brakes are not required.)

  • 2-4 person seating capacity
    Hand in hand with dual controls goes dual seating - You need a place for both a student and an instructor.
    You don't generally find many trainers that will seat more than four people, as those larger aircraft cost more to purchase and operate.

  • Some kind of intercom
    Students and instructors generally wear headsets, and an intercom system makes it easier for them to communicate.

  • One or more Radio systems
    Part of flight training includes learning how to communicate with Air Traffic Control and other pilots, and how to use radio navigation systems. This requires at least a communication radio, so there's usually one either installed or available (a handheld unit), and in most modern trainers you'll find one or more navigation radios of various types.

In addition trainer aircraft tend to be inexpensive to maintain (mechanically simple), operate (relatively fuel-efficient), and tend toward the slower end of the speed spectrum (because it's easier for a student to keep up with a slower aircraft).

It's important to note that not all "trainers" fit this mold: The T-6 Texan is, by designation, a Trainer aircraft, but its goal was to train Air Force pilots, many of whom would go on to air combat roles. The things a T-6 is optimized to teach are very different from what a Piper Cherokee or Cessna 172 are optimized to teach.


Not surprisingly many of those same characteristics are also desirable in a plane you might buy to fly yourself: Dual controls in case you take a friend or another pilot along (or in case you want to take instruction in your own aircraft), an intercom to let you talk to your passengers, and radios so you can navigate and communicate in the air traffic system.
Because of this many pilots who elect to buy an airplane purchase what we would consider "trainer-class" aircraft, frequently models similar to the ones they trained in (and in the used market, frequently aircraft that were used for flight training at some point).

When you leave the "trainer" range you tend to find faster aircraft, more complicated systems, more attractive finishing elements (plush cabin interiors, fancy paint schemes), and more seating capacity.
You also find aircraft that begin to specialize more: Where trainers tend to be well-rounded the "non-trainer" planes tend to excel in specific areas, serving specific niches in the market (the Extra 300 is a high-performance aerobatic aircraft favored by many airshow performers, Mooney aircraft feature extensive speed optimizations and are favored by many pilots who use their planes for long-distance travel, the Piper Mirage is a "luxury" cruiser/transportation aircraft suitable for flying corporate executives to and from smaller airports, etc.).


N2269Q is the trainer, now sporting a shiny new paint job.
N32711 is the owner-flown airplane, with its factory paint. (Trade-a-Plane ad)

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    $\begingroup$ The control situation in particular is very different than with cars - while cars are designed so only one person can drive them, it's very common for aircraft to have two sets of controls if they have two side-by-side seats up front (for whatever reason; one possibility is that unlike cars, you can't just pull a plane over and switch who's in the pilot's seat if you want to switch who's flying). $\endgroup$ – cpast Feb 2 '15 at 8:01
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    $\begingroup$ Left one is trainer since it is in use. Right one is the owner plane. It is well kept in a nice clean hangar!! $\endgroup$ – vasin1987 Feb 2 '15 at 10:38
  • $\begingroup$ Do I get any bonus for guessing correct? $\endgroup$ – kevin Feb 2 '15 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ Would it be worth mentioning aircraft used for higher-level training, such as twin ratings, instrument ratings etc? $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Feb 2 '15 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth I thought about it but decided to confine the answer mainly to primary trainers. There's certainly more that goes into a good multi-engine trainer, but a (single-engine) IFR trainer and a basic owner-flown (single-engine) IFR aircraft are often pretty similar (Two radios, one of which might be a GPS, a transponder, heated pitot tube, etc..) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Feb 2 '15 at 20:41
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To give a general answer, it is important to define what makes an aircraft suitable as a trainer:

  1. It must load at least two people. But also rarely more than two. Therefore, most trainers are two-seaters or half-empty four seaters. They come with dual controls and - in case of tandem seating - two sets of instruments, and none to little modification is needed.
  2. It must fly slowly and be naturally stable. Slow aircraft leave you more time to do the flying, traffic monitoring, radio communication and what else is asked of a proper pilot. Natural stability makes flying much easier, and it helps to avoid the cost and complexity of a computerized flight control system which could compensate for the instability. Propeller aircraft of a conventional layout fit well here, and only advanced training is done on jets.
  3. It must be cheap to operate. The physics of flying does not change with size, but the cost per flight hour certainly does. Again, GA propeller aircraft are a good fit.

Now look at what those pilots will fly later in their lives:

  1. Recreational flying: Mostly the same GA aircraft, or more advanced, but still broadly similar types.
  2. Professional civil pilots: Big turboprops or even bigger jets. If they have to earn a profit, aircraft need to be big and fast. Both characteristics disqualify them for training apart from getting a type certificate. Since they also have dual controls and are designed to be flown from both seats, they can be used for training without any modification at all.
  3. Military pilots: They fly either similar types like their civilian colleagues, or highly specialized machines with relaxed static stability, extreme power-to-weight ratios and complex electronic equipment. Now it depends what your definition of a "normal" airplane is - but this category of aircraft is very different from trainers. In this category there are indeed special two-seater versions especially for pilot training. In most cases, a second cockpit was added at the expense of internal tank volume, so the equipment is fully functional and identical to the combat version. See the examples below:

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Single-seat "regular" Eurofighter (above) and the two-seater training version (below)

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Single-seat "regular" MiG-21 (right) and the two-seater training version (left)

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  • $\begingroup$ Some military planes have no 2-seat versions - they train in dedicated trainer aircraft, get rated in those, and then spend time in the simulators before flying their final aircraft (usually with a qualified instructor flying chase in another identical airplane) $\endgroup$ – SSumner Feb 4 '15 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ Additionally, some of the 2-seat fighters aren't trainers - they have the second seat for a Weapons System Officer, though the plane can be flown from there $\endgroup$ – SSumner Feb 4 '15 at 1:58

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