Introduced in the early 2000s, Tecnam’s P2002 Sierra quickly became a popular aircraft from this Italian manufacturer. It quickly became used as a trainer in multiple flying organisations around the world including some military forces.
Apparently the P2002 made up nearly 70% of Tecnam’s production during that time.
Having a gross take-off weight of only 600 kg, giving a useful load of just over 260 kg, this somewhat limited the aircraft’s capabilities except for initial basic training.
In April 2022 at AERO Friedrichshafen, Tecnam unveiled the P-Mentor looking very much like a modernised P2002, but with increased gross weight, performance and avionic capabilities compared to its predecessor. The P-Mentor has close to 290 kg of useful load.
The P-Mentor also introduced improvements like a constant speed propeller whilst retaining 100 hp and an EFIS as standard equipment. This opens the way in Australia for the aircraft to be used for IFR training.
The first P-Mentor arrived in Australia at the beginning of February 2023, and after being assembled in Brisbane and test flown, the aircraft was ferried to the Australian International Airshow at Avalon, where it attracted quite a bit of interest on the Tecnam stand.
After the aircraft’s return from Avalon to the Gold Coast, Australian Flying was happy to the have the opportunity to fly this new addition to the list of various aircraft available for training in Australia, where there are a large number of aging GA aircraft that are now starting to incur expensive and increasing maintenance costs to remain useful in this role.
Just look at how many flying schools are still using aging C150/172 and Piper PA-28s or have to use smaller–sometimes inappropriate–two-seat aircraft and still need larger types for IFR and cross-country training.
Many designs work well in the European environment, but lack the certification or performance requirements for Australia. The Australian climate is always ISA+ something!
As the P-Mentor is currently the only new small trainer in the marketplace that meets the latest FAR Part 23 Amendment 5 certification standards, a flying school can do all these roles with one fuel efficient, modern, low-maintenance airframe.
The P-Mentor is predominantly a conventional alloy-framed aircraft with glass fibre reinforced panels along the forward fuselage sides to improve the aerodynamic drag.
This makes the cost of any airframe damage to those areas susceptible to "hangar-rash" reasonably cheap and easy to carry out while using modern carbon fibre in areas involving complex curves or to achieve smooth aerodynamic surfaces.
With the airframe being designed to the latest European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) CS-23 Certification standard which equates to the FAR Part 23 standard which has also been accepted by CASA in Australia.
At home base
Walking around the P-Mentor as it sat on the ramp at Southport Flying Club’s Mason Field on the Gold Coast, I could see the ancestry of the design. It just has the looks of a solid aircraft with excellent finish, with this particular aircraft being an attractive red-and -white paint scheme; ideal for a training aircraft. There are many other paint scheme options available.
Noteworthy design features retained from the P2002 Sierra include the large rearward sliding bubble canopy over the side-by-side seating, the streamlined rugged tricycle landing gear, the boarding steps in front of the wing leading edge and the streamlined nose cowling covering the ubiquitous 100-hp fuel efficient Rotax 912 engine.
To comply with the latest certification requirements, the twin 65-litre fuel tanks are located behind the main spar in the wing with the leading-edge section being made of carbon fibre from wing root to tip. This makes for a smooth boundary layer forward section that enhances the cruise performance and gives benign stall characteristics.
These improvements allow the P-Mentor to have superior low speed and stall characteristics to allow it to be certified under CS-23 without the need for a ballistic recovery chute. The chute can be optioned if the customer wishes, but the weight sacrifice is 22 kg.
The wing trailing edge has quite large span electrically operated slotted flaps covering 75% of the trailing edge. By hinging them below the wing surface, it slightly increases the wing area as they lower to the pre-set half or full position.
Located on the wing leading edge around 25% span, are wedge-shaped stall warning buffet strips. These provide good feedback approaching the stall sending buffet warning through the airframe.
Even though the frise ailerons are quite short in span in relation to the 9-metre wingspan, they still give quite reasonable roll response especially on approach in light thermal or crosswind turbulence and are very effective throughout the stall regime.
The slightly swept up wingtips are fitted with LED navigation lights and strobes. A LED landing light is mounted at the base of the engine cowling, just above the nose gear leg.
The P-Mentor has an all-flying alloy tailplane with an electrically operated trim tab centrally mounted, somewhat reminiscent of the one on the Piper PA-28. All primary flight controls are operated by push-pull rods, which result in light control forces that give the pilot extremely good feedback, especially when the aircraft is out of trim.
There are no trims fitted to the aileron or rudder, but they can be ground adjusted with the use of trailing-edge tabs.
The standard Rotax 912iSc powerplant is housed under a streamlined nose cowling with good access to both sides of the compartment provided through hinged doors. The forward face houses all the obligatory intakes for the Rotax which uses liquid-cooled cylinder heads and air-cooled barrels, which again is a great attribute for a design that is destined to be used as a trainer and avoids potential shock-cooling issues if mishandled on descent.
The Rotax swings a 1800-mm MT two-bladed hydraulic constant speed propeller made of wood and composite.
The P-Mentor sits atop a standard tricycle undercarriage layout with all wheels being enclosed with streamlined fairings. The nosewheel is mechanically steerable through the rudder pedals and the main wheels are equipped with toe-operated hydraulic brakes.
Getting in it
Boarding the P-Mentor seems wrong compared to most other aircraft in this category. You approach the aircraft from in front of the leading edge as the boarding step is in front of the wing thereby avoiding the tail dropping down excessively.
The non-slip panel on the wing top surface is a short distance back over the top on the metal part of the wing over the main spar and clear of the carbon leading edge’s NO STEP decal. This may make for a long step for those who are vertically challenged with shorter legs.
The forward windscreen frame makes for an easy grab handle in aiding your boarding.
Once standing on the wing, a step onto the large red lettered STEP HERE sign on the raised part of the carpeted cockpit floor in front of the seat makes for easy entrance. You just have to make sure the seats are slid right back before boarding.
Getting comfortable in the cockpit after sliding the seat forward into the correct position, I found even with my 186-cm height and long legs, I even had to slightly slide the seat forward to get a comfortable position with regards the non-adjustable rudder pedals. There was plenty of head room after the canopy was closed.
The overall impression of the cockpit is one of spaciousness and with all controls easily at hand along with storage pockets on the side and shelf behind the cockpit seats. The view over the nose is excellent with the P-Mentor having a slightly nose-low stance on the ground.
The cockpit is well laid out with all necessary controls easily at hand and a good view of all instrumentation. The panel is surrounded by quite a large glareshield that provides excellent shade over the Garmin EFIS displays in daylight.
Speaking of Garmin, the panel is dominated by the two large Garmin G3X touch displays separated by a Garmin GI-275 integrated standby instrument.
Located below the main G3X screen are the engine starter control switches including the master switch, main fuel pump, electronic Lane A and B switches, the starter button and electric primer. The internal and external lighting controls are below the right-hand screen.
To the far right-hand side of the panel are the circuit breakers.
Each control column stick grip is equipped with electrically operated pitch trim switch. There are two switches located side by side and both have to be operated together. This is to avoid accidental pitch trim runaway should one switch get stuck. This type of installation is now common in a lot of aircraft.
Also, to avoid differing pitch trim inputs from either the student or instructor, a pitch trim priority switch is located just below the glareshield in front of the instructor’s seat allowing the operation to be changed to LH or RH stick.
Both sticks have a push-to-talk switch on the underside of the stick grip, enabling easy operation with the index finger. Only the left stick grip is equipped with an autopilot disconnect button.
Mounted in the lower centre of the panel is the Garmin GNC-255A COMM/NAV and GTX-345R transponder (ADS-B In and Out) control panels and integrated Garmin autopilot with yaw damper.
Below these are the quadrant-mounted throttle and prop controls. There’s no mixture control with the electronic fuel injection of the Rotax 912iSc. The Engine Management System (EMS) looks after ignition control, fuel injection control, fault detection and internal generator management. All the engine indications are integrated into the Garmin G3X displays.
On the floor between the seats is the fuel selector with selections for either L/R wing tank or shut-off.
Above the centre of the panel under that large glareshield is a large red stall warning light with an associated voice alert heard through the audio system as the stall is approached.
This appeared to activate a little early during our flight and Tecnam Australia pointed out that the stall warning tab-style transducer located on the right outboard leading edge is easily bumped by someone leaning against the wing and may get bent to the incorrect angle when the protective cover is not installed whilst on the ground.
Both carbon-fibre framed seats are fitted with shoulder and lap harnesses. The seat back is also adjustable in rake for a comfortable flying position. The cabin floor is finished in standard carpet lining.
Two large louvred air outlets are located either side of the main panel giving excellent air flow into the cabin for Australian conditions especially when coupled with swivelling air scoops located on either side of the main canopy that can be used as extractors to increase flow.
For those schools that may have students transitioning to retractable types later in their training, training in retractable landing gear operations can start on the P-Mentor by optioning a mock landing-gear handle with indicator lights. A great idea to get students thinking before their next step up; it’s an ingrained habit from the beginning.
Up and away
After the initial pre-flight was complete, it was time to start the Rotax.
With a quick prime whilst pushing the starter button, the engine immediately sprang into life, and after all the temps and pressures were in the green, we were ready to taxi.
The forces on the rudder pedals were quite light to steer the aircraft along with good feel to the toe brakes. This made ground handling very easy. This was ably demonstrated when we had to do a 180 degree turn within the confines of Mason Field’s taxyway to line-up into wind for the run-up.
The run-up is performed by setting RPM to 4000 and then selecting Lane A switch OFF and observing about a 250 rpm drop or increase. The Lane A lamp on the warning panel illuminates while the Lane B light remains out. After selecting the Lane A switch back on, the warning light should extinguish after about 3 seconds.
The Lane B check is then performed in the same manner.
A fuel pump check is then carried out followed by checking the propeller governor by setting the RPM to 4300 and then moving the prop lever to decrease RPM to 3800 and then full forward again. Cycle three times.
Sliding the canopy forward and locking requires three separate locks to be engaged. One on each side with rollover types locks onto a lug protruding from the base of the windscreen frame and a sideways swivelling lock in the centre of the canopy to the top of the windscreen frame.
After the usual final check, "hatches, harness, boost pumps and controls" and check all clear on final approach, we were ready for launch.
Slowly advancing the throttle on take-off and checking approximately 5700 RPM, we experienced quick acceleration that required very little rudder to counter the yaw. We therefore quickly approached the rotate speed of 53 KIAS.
Transitioning after flap retraction to a climb speed of 70 KIAS, I reduced the prop RPM to 5200. This produced a rate of climb of approximately 6-700 fpm.
We had initially engaged the yaw damper to experience it. Personally, even though it keeps the skid ball in the middle, I found it off-putting because it activates directly through the rudder pedals and not independently like I’m used to in larger aircraft. A great feature when used with the autopilot, but I think I’d rather look after yaw control when hand-flying in turbulence.
I found the P-Mentor to have excellent visibility all around probably better than expected for a low wing aircraft where the cabin is on top of the wing.
Even in the southern eastern Queensland sun, the cabin was quite cool with adequate ventilation with sun shielding from the heavily tinted sections of the bubble canopy above the occupants and at the top of the windscreen.
After levelling off at 1500 feet, the power was reduced until the manifold pressure indicated ECON which equated to approximately 26” and 5200 RPM. This netted a cruise speed of 105 KIAS.
Turn reversals from 45 to 45 degrees of bank were accomplished in 6-7 seconds which is comparable to aircraft in this category.
When the bank angle was increased to just over 60 degrees, a voice alert of "autopilot engaging" was heard as the autopilot safety system engaged to level the wings. This is a feature of the Garmin autopilot which can be selected at any time through a button on the autopilot control panel or automatically if it senses a possible out of control situation, or if the pilot wishes for attitude recovery.
After a further climb, the clean stall characteristics were investigated. In level flight with the power reduced, as speed decayed through 70 KIAS, the audio stall warning sounded followed by light but noticeable buffet at approximately 63 KIAS, followed by the stall and nose drop at 53 KIAS.
The stick had to be held full back to keep it in the stall. Application of power and slight check forward produced instant unstalling and climb away.
At all times during the stall even a slight wing drop was easily picked up with aileron.
Returning to the circuit, I lowered half flap commencing downwind, and full flap as I turned base. With a slight tailwind on base, I conducted a continuous turn onto finals, and with speed at 65-70 KIAS, approached slightly steeper than I needed. Any crosswind drift above the tree line was easily corrected, and with the power at almost idle for most of the approach, I surprised myself with a quite smooth landing.
With the power at idle, the P-Mentor easily decelerated during the landing roll and only minimal braking was required to safely exit at the taxiway.
The excellent economy of the P-Mentor was demonstrated during the return flights between the Gold Coast and Avalon where it returned an overall economy of 18 lph whilst cruising at 112-117 KTAS at 7-9000 feet. With an overnight stop in central western NSW en route, the ferry flight was reported as quite comfortable. It could’ve been made in one longer day, but why rush?
Don’t let the maximum take-off weight of only 720 kilograms fool you in its capabilities. The empty weight of the P-Mentor as tested (VH-TMG) is 450 kg, so there’s a useful load of 270 kg available for crew and fuel.
If you take two Australian adults of 105 kg each, this leaves 60 kg for fuel (83.3 l @ SG 0.72) which equates to 4.4 hours endurance with VFR reserves (4.2 hrs IFR).
With a solo student of similar weight, full fuel could be carried producing 7.2 hours endurance with VFR reserves. This is a great improvement over the pedigree of the P2002 Sierra that it follows on from.
The fitment of the ballistic rescue parachute would subtract 22 kg from these calculations.
In the end
In all the P-Mentor was docile in handling and would adequately be a great platform for both basic training and especially IFR training with the comprehensive avionics fit that is standard, enabling Precision Based Navigation (PBN), which is approved for navigation using GPS and SBAS for IFR en route, terminal area precision and non-precision approach operations.
The flight manual states that in accordance with ICAO doc 9613, the Garmin GTN 650 system has been shown to be eligible for RNAV-5 (B-RNAV), RNAV-1 (P-RNAV) for en route, terminal and approach navigation, RNP 1 for en route, terminal and approach nav, RNP APCH LNAV, RNP APCH LNAV/VNAV and RNP APCH LPV/LP.
This is no Rotax powered LSA slouch "bugsmasher", but a very comprehensively capable and equipped aircraft all from a small 100-hp trainer. And with pricing to match, the P-Mentor is a viable aircraft for the training market compared to even some of the other European manufacturers using new technology powerplants or older American flat-four engines.
And as proven by the large number of Tecnam designs being used for training around the world many years on from first service date, the Tecnam certainly has the durability to last in the training environment.
My thanks to Bruce Stark of Tecnam Australia and Hugh Ragg for their help in performing this evaluation.
Wing Span 9.0 m
Length 6.74 m
Empty Weight 450 kg
Max Take-off Weight 720 kg
Max Landing Weight 720 kg
Useful Load 270 kg
Baggage Compartment Limit 30 kg
Maximum Fuel Capacity 130 l
Maximum Speed 135 KIAS
Max Structural Cruising 107 KIAS
Max Design Manoeuvring 102 KIAS
Max Flap speed T/O 106 KIAS
Max Flap speed landing 96 KIAS
Max Operating Altitude 13,000 feet