We cruised along under a high gray overcast at 13,500 feet, solitary in the sky over the winter patchwork Kansas countryside. On the gauges were figures that a pilot of any single-engine nonturbine airplane would be delighted to see: 210 knots true while burning 18 gph. This was the kind of true airspeed that 30 years ago you’d only see in a cabin-class twin. Today, we were doing it in a low-wing carbon fiber Cessna, the newly recertified TTx.
It has been more than a dozen years since the introduction of a new breed of airplanes — starting with Cirrus Aircraft’s SR20 and SR22. The Lancair Columbia joined the fray a few years later. These composite-construction, fixed-gear, high- powered speedsters boasted innovative design features and high-tech avionics. Today, these airplanes have become so much a part of the fabric of the general aviation fleet that it’s easy to forget that not too long ago they were the stuff of science fiction, or at least the futuristic-looking kit-built world.
It’s heartening to see that Cessna has not moved away from single-engine production over the past few years, as many feared might happen as business slowed during the economic downturn. Instead, the company has invested in the segment. After a production hiatus of almost two years, the TTx, which was newly recertified last summer, is back and not only ready to go but also ready to compete in the high-performance single-engine marketplace.
We flew a late preproduction model a couple of years ago and raved about the G2000 avionics system. Today the TTx is a mature product with a number of new capabilities. There’s also an increased payload, a flight into known icing-approved ice protection system, new standby instruments and a nicely upgraded interior.
The TTx started life as a Columbia, an airplane that was developed by a startup aircraft manufacturer and based on an early 1990s kitplane design by Lancair founder Lance Neibauer, the Lancair ES, a fixed-gear carbon fiber four-seater with a big engine. With the encouragement of the FAA’s various programs promoting the development of new certificated lightplanes, Neibauer created a company to do just that and based it in the central Oregon community of Bend. The airplane that emerged was the Columbia, a highly refined development of the ES. The company was beset by financial woes — certifying an airplane is a staggeringly expensive proposition — and by 2008, it declared bankruptcy. Cessna bought the program and worked to weave the airplane, which it renamed the Cessna 350 and 400 and later the Corvalis, into the Cessna family while continuing production in the Bend facility. The Oregon adventure was short-lived, however. Following the economic downturn of 2008, Cessna was forced to close the Bend plant and relocate manufacturing to Wichita, Kansas, and then to Mexico.
In late 2010 on an FAA acceptance flight, a section of one wing debonded in flight. No one was hurt, but the event led to the shutdown of Corvalis production, a big fine from the FAA and a complete redesign of the plane and its manufacturing processes.
New Certification, New Airplane
It wasn’t until last summer that the airplane, now known as the Cessna TTx, emerged from a recertification program complete with a new designation, the T240. The redesign cut weight from the airplane by optimizing the composite construction methods and re-engineering numerous airframe components to make the TTx lighter and stronger — the holy grail of aviation engineering — than its predecessor. The TTx’s carrying capability rose accordingly, giving it a useful load in excess of 1,000 pounds for the first time. With 92 gallons (552 pounds), that means a full fuel payload of around 450 pounds, enough for a couple of 200 pounders and bags or three lighter occupants. When filled to the tabs, the TTx, like its competitors, becomes a true four-place airplane.
One of the TTx’s main attractions is it is an undeniably sexy airplane. It always has been, but today’s model is even hotter thanks to Cessna’s focus on enhancing every element. As you approach the airplane on the ramp, this is apparent, but the source of the appeal might be a mystery. The answer is the new TTx is painted just like in the olden days. The paint adds a degree of class and style to the airplane, even while admittedly cutting down on customizing options. Therefore, it is a good thing Cessna’s current paint schemes are so pleasing and classic, especially when compared with the Corvalis models that graced our covers in years past, including a neon-lime green example and a yellow-and-black-striped demo model, which inspired a number of letters to the editor critical of the schemes.
Climbing in, you get the second treat, a completely redesigned and restyled interior. The interior of the airplane I flew for this story was tan with contrasted stitching and leather accents throughout. It’s a big improvement on an already great interior. The redesign accomplished one other thing I applaud: It replaced the big wooden fuel selector knob on the console with a metal one. Though it’s been a trademark since the Lancair days, I’ve always thought the wooden selector was out of place in such a modern wonder and looked like something from the local boat shop. This sounds like a bit of a rant, but it underscores the fact that Cessna left no component unturned in its quest to update the TTx.
The panel too is brand-new, and it is a remarkably clean and well thought out place to do the business of flying. The selection of the Garmin G2000 helped a great deal in eliminating boxes and switches, but Cessna didn’t stop there. The panel includes as standard the brilliant L3 Trilogy backup instrument, so your backups in the TTx are numerous, independently powered and rely on different software engineering, which all adds to the redundancy of the electronics. It is the best lightplane panel in the industry.
Sliding In, Heading Out
I flew the TTx with Cessna demo pilot Dave Richardson on an ideal, cold and dry day out of Cessna’s single-engine building at its Wichita Mid-Continent Airport (KICT) campus. The TTx makes a pretty picture on the ramp. Indeed, it looked as though some big shot had flown it in from hundreds of miles away for an important same-day meeting with business associates, a mission the TTx is tailor-made for. The light-colored interior is roomy and gives the impression it is bigger than it is. The seats are situated snugly in the cabin, and the controls to adjust them are identifiable by touch, a necessity due to the tight fit of the doors to the side and the console in between the pilots. The G2000 touch controller frees up space with its all-in-one goodness, and the side sticks bring additional breathing space, as there’s no conventional yoke intruding. The seats are low-slung, so Cessna provides custom cushions to elevate pilots who aren’t as tall as others. Since I played point guard in high school, compared to Richardson, who at 6 feet, 5 inches would have played center, I needed the view afforded by the extra padding. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s one that makes it easier to meet high G force requirements for modern seats.
Richardson ran through the checklist with me for the pre-start and start sequences. One item includes inflatable door seals, a feature that seems odd in a single-engine airplane (though it’s not the first to have the seals) but quickly makes its value known. The interior is pretty quiet, if you can use that word for a single-engine airplane with a 310 hp engine a few feet in front of your nose.
Taxi is accomplished with differential braking, a method that has become so common it’s hard to remember that not too long ago it was mostly kitplanes and oddballs that used the brakes to taxi. Suffice it to say, the TTx taxies easily and can turn within its own wingspan.
As is the norm, we were light for our flight with 65 gallons on board and no TKS installed — no one ever tops it off to take a journalist flying. Richardson had no need to bother, though. Going out of KICT with the temperature barely in the double digits on the Fahrenheit scale and a stiff breeze on the nose, we were off and out of there, scarcely taking 1,000 feet to hit a rotation speed of 70 knots and then climbing at best angle at nearly 2,000 fpm. We hit 400 feet and made the tower-requested turn before we ran out of runway below us.
Richardson knew I was familiar with the flying qualities of the TTx — nothing aerodynamically has changed on the airplane. So we spent our time heading out to lunch at one of the best airport restaurants around, Enrique’s in Ponca City, Oklahoma, which serves excellent Mexican cuisine. I had the gorditas. Highly recommended.
Performance and Safety
We wanted to play around VFR, so we headed up to 13,500 feet and were seeing 210 knots true — a typical cruise speed, Richardson says — at around 17 gph at 50 degrees lean of peak. At that altitude, the TTx is considerably faster than the SR22, though the Cessna I was flying was not outfitted with TKS panels, which normally steal a few knots in drag. That, coupled with our light weight — we were a few hundred pounds below max takeoff weight — combined to put the estimated speed difference at around 10 knots, not an insignificant advantage of the Cessna and one pretty much confirmed by the books. Up into the flight levels, you can see speeds into the mid-220s or higher, according to the book, though I’ve never coaxed a TTx to its top published speed of 235 knots. Regardless, it is a smoking-fast airplane.
In addition to high-speed capabilities, we wanted to check out the airplane’s slow-speed manners, which I know from prior experience are very docile. In this case, we did it by intentionally engaging the airplane’s ESP envelope protection mode, a function of the G2000 avionics package. In a climb with the autopilot engaged and the throttle pulled way back, the system would intervene at 80 knots and lower the nose to maintain that airspeed. The result is a hands-off controlled descent. ESP also has overbanking control, hypoxia descent mode and overspeed protection, all fantastic safety advances.
One huge advance is the TTx’s ability to fly the missed approach completely coupled, a rare capability in a GA airplane, let alone a light single-engine model. We tried it out at Stillwater, Oklahoma, flying the south approach down to minimums and then going missed. You apply full throttle, lose a notch of flaps, check that the gear is indeed permanently down and clean up that last notch while you monitor the GFC 700 as it flies the procedure, including the vertical nav part. Considering the workload and potential stress during the missed approach phase, a fully coupled miss (save autothrottles, that is) is a great safety bonus.
I’ve written about G2000 before, but every time I fly it, I get to see new capabilities. The G2000 represents a quantum leap in avionics design. G2000 does everything differently, and by that I mean it does most everything. By integrating all of the functions of navcoms, transponders, audio panels and other system controllers, such as the environmental controls, it eliminates the need for those other federated boxes and their attendant switches, buttons, dials, knobs, displays, and well, you get the idea. The G2000 is managed through a touch-screen controller, and in the case of the TTx, it’s mounted at the front of the console just below the panel. It’s easy to reach and to control, even in turbulence. With G2000, you get one controller for every “box,” instead of having multiples, which is still the case with all Garmin G1000 systems. Want to adjust the intercom settings? Go to the touch-screen controller. The temperature in the cockpit? Touch-screen controller. Monitor systems status? You got it. It’s one-stop shopping for airplane management.
G2000 has the added advantage of being easy to learn. If you’re familiar with any G1000 system, all you need to do is spend a little time with the new touch-controlled version to get the hang of it. There are a few new ways to do things, like swapping frequencies and configuring the audio, but all of them require less head-down time, less inputting of data and fewer “button” pushes. G2000 is a huge advance in GA avionics and a strong selling point for the TTx.
We missed the approach to Stillwater that day and headed to Ponca City for lunch and then back to KICT. I love the TTx’s stability as an instrument platform. I hand-flew a practice ILS — the nearest cloud was in Ohio — keeping things centered with synthetic vision on the big PFD.
With its relaunch, recertification and extensive reworking, the Cessna TTx is in a more competitive place than it has arguably ever been. It’s the fastest in its class, has the best avionics, boasts a number of highly desirable safety features and has terrific ramp appeal. In many ways, the dream that was the ES two decades ago is finally coming to fruition in the form of a fast, comfortable and technically advanced carbon fiber marvel called the TTx.
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