(January 2010) — We were settled in at 24,000 feet, cruising along at around 225 knots true, burning 24 gallons of 100LL every hour while watching the nautical miles slip behind us. We'd taken off from Orlando Executive (ORL) in a Cessna Corvalis and were an hour into our flight, cruising at an altitude that few people actually use.
My flying buddy that day was Cessna regional sales manager and central Texas neighbor Chris Lee, who has hundreds of hours in Cessna Corvalis airplanes — for the record, I don't know what the plural of Corvalis is, either. Even though we both live in Texas, we met down in Orlando, Florida, for the flight, since that's where the airplane, which needed to be brought back to Texas for some demo flights, was situated. (What we really wanted to do was fly the Corvalis all the way to California, where Chris and I would be attending the AOPA Summit in Long Beach later that week, but we'd be forced to go on the airlines for the second half of our trip.)
Our mission was simple: Fly from Orlando to Houston, just the two of us and a bunch of suitcases and bags of gear, and we wanted to do it when we wanted to and how we wanted to. On our way to the airport we stopped at Starbucks and I grabbed a large coffee, which I simply brought with me aboard the airplane. Yeah, there are cup holders, which, along with countless other smart touches, make a huge difference.
In the broadest terms, our experience was not atypical of GA pilots flying for transportation. We got to pick our airport and our departure time and our routing. We even got to pick our company. To top it off, we got to do the flying. You can't say any of that for the airlines.
In less broad terms, our experience was special. The Corvalis is a fast, rangy and comfortable airplane, one that is about as good as a nonpressurized single can get.
In fact, one of the typical customers who buys a Corvalis is downsizing from a Baron or a cabin-class Cessna piston twin. While the Corvalis has only one engine, it does offer a great deal of other redundant features, performance that one-ups a new Baron, outstanding cabin comfort, air conditioning, ice protection and more.
The history of the Corvalis is the stuff of soap operas, with certification drama, takeovers and even hailstorms. Because of the recession, even Cessna's stewardship hasn't completely ended the drama. When Cessna purchased the program out of bankruptcy a few years ago for $20 million, it got a tremendous bargain, because that price was a small fraction of what it would have cost Cessna to develop its own composite single — it had, in fact, attempted to do just that with its now-abandoned NG piston program. When it bought the Corvalis, the airplane was being built in Bend, Oregon, and Cessna initially kept production there. Shortly after the acquisition, I visited the factory and got a chance to see how the airplane is built. I was, in short, amazed by the quality of the workmanship and the attention to even the smallest detail.
Unfortunately, a few months after that trip, the global economy went into crisis, and with it, the sales of high-end piston powered singles tanked. Cessna soon closed the Bend factory and moved production to its existing single-engine factory in Independence, Kansas. Today, the Corvalis is assembled there, though some composite components are manufactured in Cessna's state-of-the-art facility in Mexico.
When it bought the Corvalis program, Cessna got a pair of relatively mature airplanes in the naturally aspirated Columbia 350 and the turbocharged Columbia 400, airplanes that, while conceived differently from any previous Cessna, fit the Wichita airplane maker's high design standards. The airplane is a light, strong — it's certificated in the utility category — impeccably engineered airplane that delivers on its performance promises.
For most folks, choosing a new personal transportation airplane isn't an easy thing to do. There are, it's true, far fewer choices than there used to be. Back in the 1970s, there were more airplane companies with more models at just about every price point. Today, there are relatively few airplanes that fall into that category, and very few twin-engine airplanes that do. Moreover, the number of airplanes that fit into the Corvalis TT's segment — high-performance, turbocharged four-seat singles — has just two main players, it and the Cirrus SR22T. (The Mooney Acclaim, an all-metal single, is a close match too, though it is on a production hiatus.)
Like it or not, the Corvalis has forever been linked throughout its production life with the Cirrus SR22. Today, the airplanes remain the most popular high-performance singles on the market. And they are remarkably similar in features and performance.