Clearly, there was some unknown problem with the composite construction of the wing section. Because fabrication had recently been moved to Cessna’s facility in Chihuahua, Mexico, where since 2006 the company has been building wiring harnesses and sheet metal components for its Citation product line, it was natural to presume there was something wrong with the composite process, that some variable had unintentionally been introduced since production was moved from Bend.
To its credit, Cessna immediately owned up to the problem (though the severity of the event was not widely known), took the Corvalis out of production (a call that probably was not made solely by the manufacturer) and went to work first trying to figure out what had gone wrong and, second, fixing the problem.
Right away the problem looked to be more systemic than the result of a single manufacturing flaw. While there were no known discrepancies in any of the handful of airplanes that had been built from the Mexico components, Cessna took the extraordinary step of destroying all of the airplanes that originated at the TAM plant. It was Cessna’s way of erasing any doubt about the quality of the Corvalis, which had previously enjoyed a sterling reputation.
At the same time Cessna set out to understand what had gone wrong, which it quickly did. The issue had to do with the environmental factors in the new plant and the sensitivity of the composite materials used in the construction of Corvalis components to changes in humidity, temperature and particulate matter, conditions that were apparently ideal at the Bend plant but were out of tolerance at TAM.
Cessna made, it says, “considerable investment” in systems to both control and monitor the environmental conditions in the plant, creating a system whereby the production process is regulated by green, yellow and red lights that indicate whether conditions allow production to continue, call for corrective action or require that production be halted. Cessna says it believes the new system will allow it to produce parts with great reliability. It is approaching the process, a former Corvalis program leader told me, systematically and with great patience, the only goal being getting it right.
The process has taken longer than Cessna had thought it would. Part of its effort was a rebranding. In Lakeland, Florida, in 2011, Cessna announced the launch of the TTx, the successor to the previous Corvalis, which had been called the TT. The project, much to Cessna’s dismay, took more than a year longer than it anticipated.
Still, the vision of the new model was the driving force. It would be equipped with the new Garmin G2000 touch-control, integrated avionics suite. Accented with carbon fiber and sporting a new modern interior design, the TTx brand would signal a fresh start for the Corvalis.
For the record, on a flight plan the airplane is now designated the T240, in place of COL400. While Cessna is calling the model “TTx” in much of its marketing material, the company says that it is still a Corvalis. (That latter name, by the way, is a deliberate misspelling of the city in eastern Oregon that is home to Oregon State University.) The airplane, in case you haven’t noticed, has had a lot of names.
The TTx will technically be a new airplane, since it will be built under an amended type certificate, which doubtless made Cessna work hard to comply with the latest revisions of Part 23. It also gives customers the assurance that the airplane has been gone over with a fine-tooth comb, which was also part of Cessna’s plan.