Rising Stars: Light Sport Universe
The first Cessna 162 Skycatcher light sport aircraft was delivered in December of 2009. Under much controversy, Cessna opted to produce this clean sheet design in China in an effort to keep the price at a minimum — a price that was $109,500, but today starts at $149,900.
The side-by-side-configured Skycatcher is a high-wing, all-metal airplane with tricycle gear. It is powered by a Teledyne Continental O-200D engine producing 100 horsepower and equipped with a Garmin G300 PFD, SL40 comm and 327GXT transponder on the panel. The MFD is optional, as is the autopilot.
Strapping into the Skycatcher with Rich Manor, president of Pacific Air Center, an Authorized Cessna dealership in Long Beach, California, I found the seats very comfortable, but the leg position felt flat. This was particularly apparent during taxiing when I had to lift my legs a little to reach the brakes on top of the rudder pedals. And while the hamstring workout I received during the runup may have had some unintended benefits, the positioning is not optimal for ground operations.
While the yoke/stick combination (some people refer to it as the “stoke”) feels good in the hand, I was not able to get into a position where I could rest my arm on the armrest or my leg to hold the grip. The trim is electric, a decision made by the engineers partially to save weight, and it is located on top of the control stick.
The way the airplane flies is much like a Cessna 150 or 152, not counting a huge improvement in the climb performance. Climbing out of Long Beach Airport on a cool, clear morning, we saw more than 1,000 fpm — far superior to the Skycatcher’s predecessors, some versions of which I’ve had to push to get 300 fpm.
The Skycatcher flies beautifully in slow flight. It is very stable and I could only detect a slight bump in the stall with no tendency for a wing to drop. The docile stall characteristics can be credited partially to the strake under the empennage — an addition Cessna made after a test airplane was unable to recover from a spin during the development process. Cessna put its first LSA through the wringer with flight-testing that exceeded the requirements for ASTM approval.
While the safety benefits of the strake come with a weight penalty, weight was a consideration during each step of the airplane’s development. Even the primer is optional. Paneling is minimal and the rudder pedals are hollow. The total useful load for a standard Skycatcher comes out at 490 pounds, leaving 346 pounds with the fuel tanks filled with 24 gallons. The airplane I flew had a 470-pound useful load due to upgraded avionics.
The initial success of the Skycatcher, with somewhere around 1,000 deposits taken before the first delivery, has waned. Many customers canceled their orders after Cessna announced that the airplane would be manufactured in China and when the big price increase hit. As a result, there are many available Skycatchers in Cessna’s inventory today. The future of Cessna’s LSA remains to be seen.