In fact, when we spoke at Sun 'n Fun earlier, Pelton underscored the importance of the G1000 in the acquisition calculus, as did company strategist John Stack. The 350 and 400 G1000 installations are not identical to those in Cessna's Independence airplanes, no more than a Mustang's is to a 172's, but the overriding system commonality gives customers a real leg up in transitioning to Cessna fast glass. It also gives Cessna one more avenue to move its famously loyal customers up through the product line to ever-faster airplanes.
Now, I'd had my arms around the concept for a while by then, but I have to admit that when Emily, who was handling the radio calls, announced that "Cessna 400 40387" was taxiing to Runway 34, I almost corrected her and said "Columbia." She saw my reaction and volunteered that she was only now getting used to the sound of it herself.
We had a great flight in the 400. We took it to its ceiling of 25,000 and saw how fast it was (very), flew some WAAS approaches with the G1000, and I rediscovered that it was indeed a very pleasant airplane to hand-fly. Since I flew it last, the big change is to the panel. The G1000 system (with the integral GFC 700 autopilot), as we've reported in previous stories on the airplane, brings a whole new and entirely appropriate level of sophistication to this remarkable cross-country machine. And pilots love the keypad controller, as I did.
I have to admit that my perception of things was probably colored by the fact that so many uncertainties about the company -- questions about its ability to provide support for its products and about its long-term financial prospects -- were suddenly moot. The Cessna 350 and 400 are here to stay, that is unless they're replaced by even better versions of themselves. That fact seems to make them fly more solidly than ever.
Cessna plans to build around 150 airplanes in Bend in 2008, a plan that Withrow and Pelton both feel might even be a little conservative given how well the transition has gone. How many airplanes they build in 2009 will depend, says Pelton, on customer demand, though he says that he'd like to see it go to 250 airplanes a year, a level of production that Withrow says can be easily accommodated with the current facilities.
And the rampup has gone better than Cessna had ever imagined it would. One of the biggest reasons for that, undoubtedly, is that Columbia did such a good job developing and building the airplanes that there are simply no big rough spots for Cessna to fix. Instead they can focus on getting the products back into production and into the air.
There will be a few near-term improvements. Both airplanes, for example, will soon get Garmin's Synthetic Vision product, SVT. Furthermore, Cessna is evaluating the ice protection on the airplane and will possibly offer it with factory-installed TKS ice gear.
And Pelton says that there will likely be follow-on products at some time in the future, perhaps even a pressurized model, though such introductions are years off.
For now it's time to transition from buying and taking charge of a new company and model lineup to building and turning out those airplanes reliably and consistently. The Midwest airplane manufacturing giant whose vision took root in the dawn of aviation and whose product line today runs the gamut from an emerging two-seat sport plane to an emerging widebody intercontinental business jet, has fully welcomed these new airplanes, a new company and new workers into the Cessna family. And it can now get down to the business of building, selling and supporting its newest single-engine piston airplanes, the 350 and 400, proudly built in Bend, Oregon, by a company called Cessna.