Cessna Corvalis TT

Flying high, flying far in a luxury piston single.

Cessna Corvalis

Cessna Corvalis

Cessna Corvalis TTRobert Goyer

(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.

Corvalis Lineage
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.

Competition
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.

The Corvalis TT is a turbocharged, four-seat, carbon fiber airplane with just about everything on it that you might expect on a no-holds-barred luxury single. It comes with the Garmin G1000 cockpit featuring all the goodies you've come to expect, including synthetic vision, the very handy keypad, traffic, terrain, engine monitoring, a sophisticated climate control system and the smooth and capable Garmin GFC 700 autoflight system. You also get built-in oxygen, Cessna's Evade electro-expulsive deicing system and premium interior details.

The engine in the Corvalis, a Continental TSIO-550, used to be a distinguishing feature, but now Cirrus offers essentially the same engine in its SR22T.

As well-equipped as it is, there are a few noteworthy goodies missing on the Corvalis. The displays in the Corvalis are the 10.4-inch-diagonal screens, which are smaller than the Perspective displays in the Cirrus SR22T by a couple of inches. While the Corvalis is available with two forms of ice protection, the Evade electro-expulsive or the TKS wet wing, neither system is approved for flight into known icing. Nor does the Corvalis have a parachute, though how much of a factor that is, if at all, depends on the pilot.

In all of those areas, the latest SR22 has more options. On the Cirrus, you can get the FIKI anti-ice/deice system. Its Perspective cockpit, a version of the same G1000 system as in the Corvalis, features 12-inch displays, and the Cirrus, you might have heard, comes with a whole-airplane recovery parachute as standard equipment.

The Corvalis is a faster airplane at most altitudes, though not by a lot. They are both roomy airplanes and very comfortable to fly in for long legs. Both have available XM Weather (and entertainment), built-in oxygen and Rosen sun visors.

The side controllers are quite different. The Corvalis has a true side stick, which moves just like you'd expect a joystick to move, while the Cirrus has a side yoke, which moves like a little yoke, with forward and aft and side-to-side pull — placed over against the sidewall. The Cirrus side yoke is second nature to me, since I've flown with it for many hundreds of hours, but the Corvalis side stick is a more pleasing device to use. The Corvalis also handles better, with better control harmony and a more fluid feel than in the Cirrus, though to be honest, I don't typically spend a lot of time hand-flying either airplane.

The Corvalis also has speed brakes, a slightly higher first-notch flap speed and 10 gallons more fuel, for better range than the SR22T by 100 nm or more. I also get the feeling sitting in the Corvalis that it is a well-built machine. This sense is the result of a hundred little things in the interior, the arrangement of the switches, the fit and finish of the panels and the carpeting, and the shape and curve of the glass.

Speaking of doors, the portals on the Corvalis are very nicely executed. They open up on cartridges, and you can taxi the airplane with the doors open for air-cooling. Cessna has leather straps hanging from the door handles so that shorter pilots can still reach the doors to close them from a seated position. Once you pull the door closed, you then secure it by moving the very substantial handle to the closed and locked position. This moves a pair of steel pins into position on either side of the door, giving you a very positive closing indication. In fact, I think it would be impossible to close the door halfway and have it come open again, as long as you seat the handle properly.

The digital environmental-control system on the Corvalis is easy to use. Just pick a temperature and fan speed, and it takes care of the rest. You can keep the air-conditioner running on takeoff and landing, and on our warm fall-weather flight, the AC kept the cabin very comfortable.

Traveling
On the ramp the Corvalis is much sportier than it seems in photographs. In many ways, it's analogous to a luxury performance automobile: fast, relatively nimble, stylish and still remarkably utilitarian.

Chris and I arrived early on a Tuesday morning to pick up the airplane and take it back to Houston. We threw our bags in back — no need to swipe the card for the extra $50 fee, thank you very much. The rear baggage compartment of the Corvalis — or should I say compartments since there's a "hat" rack too — is large and can hold 120 pounds, 100 on the main floor and 20 on the hat rack.

We did a thorough walk-around, climbed aboard, donned the Bose and taxied out. The sun had been up for an hour, the pattern was pretty quiet, and before long we were on our way and cleared to 12,000 feet toward the northwest.

On departure, I held runway heading and pointed the nose up to maintain 110 knots, a speed that kept us climbing well in excess of 1,500 fpm as we headed up in steps toward our final altitude, FL 240. The Corvalis doesn't have a yaw damper, but it does have an electric "rudder hold" feature that will hold the approximate current rudder input in the climb. It's a nice muscle-saving feature, though I wish there were a yaw damper, even if it would add some weight.

Like any TSIO-550-powered single climbing at full power, the Corvalis TT burns a lot of fuel in the climb, around 35 gallons per hour, and that's one of the least desirable things about climbing high. You burn a lot of fuel getting up there. A reduced power climb burns less fuel but takes more time. It's a tradeoff depending on if you're getting enough of a push, and on that day heading west and with very light winds, there was no good reason to climb to 240, except to see what it was like. Moreover, you probably hate the mask as much as I do, which is a lot, though I'll put up with it for 70 knots on the tail. On many trips, 20 knots would make it worthwhile. Four knots? Not so much.

In cruise, the Corvalis is a remarkably comfortable platform from which to while away the hours while assessing the progress of the flight. There's a full contingent of tools for both purposes. The XM Weather is there to get the latest updates on cells, fronts and conditions at the destination, as well as wind reports. Because I fly in the teens a lot, the winds aloft feature on XM has become a favorite of mine, Even in descent, the G1000 comes in handy, allowing me to dial in the desired altitude at any given point in the plan and calculating a rate of descent to that point, or just letting the GFC 700 autopilot do it for me.

As I said, the airplane hand-flies very nicely. On approach to Houston's David Wayne Hooks, I flew the approach — we broke out of the broken layer at around 1,500 feet. The Corvalis is a delightful airplane to fly on final, stable and responsive.

And the airplane is just as nice to land. I was aiming for the first turnoff on 17R, which we made easily despite it being just more than 1,000 feet down the runway. And it was my first landing in the airplane in about a year.

The level of performance and style you get with the Corvalis TT comes at a price: around $650,000 very nicely equipped.

What the Corvalis has going for it is a combination of features, from the most sophisticated, like synthetic vision, to ones you'd never notice, like redundant attach points on every control surface, carefully crafted gull-wing doors that close easily and positively, lumbar supports on the seats, push tube controls and the electrically inflatable door seals to quiet the cockpit. Everywhere you look with the Corvalis you see another way that its designers worked in ways both large and small to make it safer, more comfortable and more durable. And for lack of a better word, all of those features add up to an unmistakable sense of quality, which, in my book, is the ultimate feature. For more information on the Cessna Corvalis visit www.cessna.com.

For more photographs of the Corvalis and its redundant systems, download the January iPad editon of Flying available on the App Store.