The most exciting news to come out of the big Oshkosh AirVenture show last July was that Cessna committed to building a light-sport airplane, the Model 162. The new two-seater will have a standard price of $109,500 complete with an exclusive Garmin flat-panel glass cockpit, a price well below half of any other Cessna single.
The new Model 162 is the culmination of years of work by the EAA, which spearheaded development of the Light Sport rule, and by Cessna, which is committed to a strategy of maintaining its position as the world's leader in flight training. The simplification of the LSA rule, combined with Cessna's more than 60 years worth of experience in building metal two-seat trainers, will allow a person to earn a basic Sport Pilot license for a fraction of the cost of a traditional private pilot certificate. And, Cessna expects the training package for the full private license earned in the 162 to be much, much less than what it would cost in a new 172 Skyhawk.
Much of the price reduction in learning to fly will come from the initial price of the 162, but, for the first time, fuel is expensive enough that it is an important factor in the operating costs of a light piston single. The 162 will burn about half the fuel of a Skyhawk, and similar levels of cost savings will flow through on maintenance and insurance.
The new Model 162, which Cessna named the SkyCatcher, features the Cessna trademark high wing and is powered by a 100 hp Continental O-200D, a new version of the engine in the ubiquitous Model 150 Cessna trainer. But the Model 162 is no mere warmed-over 150. It's an all-new design with a cockpit over 44 inches wide, eight inches wider than the 152; swing-up doors mounted ahead of the landing gear and wing strut for ease of entry; an all-glass panel from Garmin; ingenious control sticks that emerge from under the instrument panel sweeping upward to a convenient centralized position without blocking entry and exit. 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. And, electric pitch trim is standard so there is no need for a wheel or crank, you just blip the trim where you want it with a button on the stick grip.
The Model 162 resembles the proof-of-concept LSA that Cessna showed at Oshkosh last year, but there are major differences. One of the big changes is the Continental engine in place of the Rotax engine that was in the POC. Flight school operators and other prospects just didn't feel comfortable with how the Rotax would hold up under a heavy schedule of flight training, but have great confidence in the decades of experience with the Continental O-200. The propeller will be made from composite and will be fixed pitch. The landing gear has been lowered by five inches, so the Model 162 sits much closer to the ground than other Cessna singles, making it a breeze to slide in and out of the seats without need for steps or contortions. The windshield, side and rear windows are all huge, making the big cabin feel even more spacious.
Another change from the POC shown last year is that the wing was redesigned from a sort of "gull wing" on the POC to a conventional wing that is continuous over the top of the cabin. The new wing gets the 162 comfortably under the 45-knot maximum stall speed the rules allow. However, the wing and airframe are low enough in drag that top speed is 118 knots, faster than the 150 or 152, and just under the LSA limit of 120 knots. The slotted wing flaps will be operated manually by a central Johnson bar handle. The pilot seats will be fixed, but the rudder pedals will be adjustable. The nosewheel will swivel with hydraulic toe brakes on the pedals at each pilot position used for ground steering. There is room for a center console to hold maps and other gear.