It appears the Cessna Skycatcher is about to enter "the real world". Rose Pelton, wife of Cessna CEO Jack Pelton, will be the first customer. It's interesting to study what -might- be the start of major OEM involvement in the trainer market again, first time in, literally, a generation- the Cessna 152 production ceased in 1985.
And speaking of a new generation (of avionics), the Skycatcher comes with a glass cockpit. (After our many discussions regarding standby indicators, I was perplexed that there is not one in the 162. But the airplane is not offered as an IFR paltform (and LSA-only pilots are restricted to Day VFR).
(This article is a bit dated, Garmin G300 to Make Debut on Cessna 162 LSA (Aviation Week, Fred George, July 20, 2007), but might be indicative of the cost savings philosophy on the SkyCatcher program: "The new Garmin G300 avionics package, a de-contented, non-TSOed, VFR-only outgrowth of Garmin's G1000 integrated system..." The Cessna website has this press release regarding the 162 and Garmin G300- "Quite literally made for each other".
One kind of odd looking item, is the pilot control- Cessna Cuts Pilot Training Cost In Half (Flying Magazine, J. Mac McClellan, Oct 2007) notes "The fulcrum of the sticks is configured so that control inputs feel like those of a centrally mounted stick on the floor instead of a sidestick, or some other kind of push and twist arrangement." (Roomier and more convenient for entry and egress, I suppose).
Cessna LSA Flies
(AVweb, Oct 16, 2006)
"Cessna's proof-of-concept entry into the light sport aircraft category flew for the first time last Friday (the 13th). The 33-minute flight originated at McConnell Air Force Base and ended at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita."
(Not a superstitious bunch!)
"The LSA also has a free-castering nosewheel and, although it's about 200 pounds lighter than a 152, its cockpit is about six inches wider. Cessna CEO Jack Pelton says the LSA market is the fastest-growing sector in aviation and could be a crucial factor in reigniting interest in personal aviation."
(Hmm, six inches wider. One could wonder what really is the fastest growing "sector" in aviation).
"An important part of our thought process in looking at LSA is the value in terms of new pilot starts," Pelton said in the release. The company's thought is that today's LSA pilot will be tomorrow's Skyhawk -- or Citation -- owner."
Using the Cessna 162 article in Wikipedia, it is interesting to map out the timeline for the Skycatcher:
* Jan. 2006- Program launched
*Oct. 13, 2006- nine months after launching the program, the concept prototype aircraft, registered N158CS flies.
*July 22, 2007- at Oshkosh, unveiled a full-scale mockup and details about the planned production version.
*Nov. 27, 2007- Cessna announced that the Cessna 162 would be made in China
*March 8, 2008- The conforming prototype had its first flight
*May 5, 2008- The first initial production configuration aircraft flew
*Sept. 18, 2008- Prototype crashes (spin testing- The aircraft was equipped with a Ballistic Recovery System parachute, but it failed to deploy when activated)
*Late 2008- The 162 received a redesigned vertical stabilizer...with the new larger fin the dorsal fin was unneeded and was deleted from the design to save weight
*March 19, 2009 -A second prototype crashes (spin testing- BRS deployed, but "The pilot exited the aircraft and attempted to remove the parachute, which remained attached to the aircraft. Wind then dragged the aircraft 0.6 miles into a fence, leaving it inverted and heavily damaged".)
*Mid 2009- The final production 162 incorporated a thicker wing and further changes to the tail, including a ventral fin, to make the aircraft more resistant to spins.
*Sept. 17, 2009- The first production Cessna 162 had its initial flight in China
*Nov. 2009- the company indicated that it expected to deliver the first production SkyCatcher...by the end of 2009
The program has been met with good market acceptance, "In July 2009, orders were still reported at "over 1,000." The forecast production rates I've read vary from 300-700 per year (based largely on which year the article was published).
It is interesting to note the "extra" testing Cessna has conducted, beyond the Light Sport Aircraft requirements.
"The company indicated that the testing was outside that required for LSA certification...The aircraft entered an unintentional flat spin and was not under control at 5,000 feet (1,500 m), at which point the test pilot bailed out of the aircraft. Cessna confirmed that the 162 entered a spin from cross-controlled, power-on stall, that the spin became flat and recovery was not possible."
And from the Cessna press release (July 27, 2009)
"In several areas, Cessna conducted additional tests on the SkyCatcher not required by the ASTM International standards, such as an extensive Ground Vibration Test (GVT) and instrumented, in-flight flutter testing. Planned testing, also not required by ASTM, includes an airframe fatigue test to ensure a durable product for the training environment."
I certainly applaud Cessna for the extra testing they have conducted. But I must confess, I am rather perplexed that this is "extra", and not regulatory.
It seems to me these should all be mandatory, and not left to the owner to become unwitting "test pilots"/guinea pigs.
NTSB asks FAA to ground Zodiac CH-601XL
"The NTSB has asked the ATSM to take the following actions: 1) Add requirements to ensure the standards for light sport airplanes reduce the potential for aerodynamic flutter to develop; 2) develop standards on stick force characteristics for light sport airplanes that minimize the possibility of pilot’s inadvertently over-controlling the airplane; and 3) ensure standards for light sport airplanes result in accurate airspeed indications and appropriate documentation in new airplane pilot operating handbooks."
Isn't this kind of what we have the FAA for?
(Not to pick on the Zodiac 601- it seems to be a quite popular airplane, but rather to express concern over the relaxation of purposeful regulatory standards, namely, the FAA Part 23 standards).
A little research turned up this AOPA article from 2004.
"FAA Administrator Marion Blakey on Tuesday, July 20, 2004, officially unveiled the long-awaited Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft rule that allows many pilots to fly light sport aircraft with a valid driver's license in lieu of a medical certificate and creates new, less-expensive ways to become a pilot."
Seems like M. Blakey was quite an "enthusiast" of "new, less expensive", and perhaps- disruptive- ways of circumventing established certification processes, on a number of levels. (I'm okay with the idea of using a driver's license for a 1320 lb airplane, rather than medical exam, but think the pilot training for LSA is in general, an unwise simplification, perhaps appropriate/adequate for those in rural areas, but not in general).
(That's good material for another day- but for now),
Congratulations to Cessna 162 design team.