Cessna Cuts Pilot Training Cost In Half

New Model 162 light-sport airplane combined with Cessna?s training program makes big breakthrough.

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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.

Cessna will offer a whole airplane parachute as an option, though no details have been revealed. The Garmin G300 avionics package will include a flat-glass primary flight display (PFD) with engine instrumentation, comm radio and transponder, but there will be options for expanded displays and an autopilot. Garmin has not yet finalized configuration of the G300 so it has not released details.

A single Garmin flat glass PFD will be standard, but the second display will be optional. The new LSA standards are key in simplifying the design of the 162, and thus controlling costs. Standard light airplanes must be approved under FAR Part 23, a rule so vast that it covers everything from a light piston single all the way up to the Citation CJ3 business jet that can fly at 415 knots and cruise up to 45,000 feet. Any rule that covers such an enormous range of airplane capability includes a lot of baggage that doesn't really add anything to the safety or utility of light VFR propeller airplanes. Project engineer Neal Willford told me that he has found the LSA standards to be very appropriate to the light airplane mission, and in some cases structural load factor requirements are a little higher for the LSA design.

Of course, what really matters is that Cessna is applying its decades of experience to the design of the 162. For example, fatigue tests are not required under LSA standards, but Cessna is conducting them. Design features that can meet the standards may not hold up well in the punishing real world of flight training, but Cessna knows how to design an airplane for that mission. The LSA rules are not FAA certification requirements in the conventional way, but are a standard that the manufacturer affirms that it complies with. So it is the reputation and experience of the manufacturer that matters most in LSAs, and after having built half of all light airplanes Cessna is secure at the top.

The static test article of the Model 162 was nearing completion before the Oshkosh show, and the conforming prototype was being built. Cessna will make the first flight of the airplane in 2008 and begin deliveries in 2009. The 162 will be sold through Cessna's existing dealer network and $5,000 deposits were being taken at a rapid rate during the show with hundreds booked on the first day.

The Model 162 will not be built in the U.S. because, well, it would cost too much. Cessna had not finalized all contracts for construction of the airplane at show time so exactly where the airplane will be built was not announced. Cessna's initial demand forecast is for about 700 Model 162s worldwide each year.

Cessna 162 SkyCatcher All information is preliminary with performance projections for standard day conditions at sea level. The 162 will be equipped for day and night VFR flight as standard, with a primary flight display, comm radio and transponder with Mode C capability. Optional equipment will include a whole airplane parachute, autopilot, wheel pants and other equipment.Standard price... $109,500 Engine... Continental O-200D, 100 hp Propeller... 2-blade fixed pitch composite Cabin width... 44.3 in Overall length... 22.8 ft Overall height... 8.3 ft Wingspan... 30.0 ft Wing area... 120 sq ft Wing aspect ratio... 7.5 Maximum takeoff weight... 1,320 lbs Standard empty weight... 830 lbs Maximum useful load... 490 lbs Max fuel capacity... 24 gal (144 lbs) Payload, max fuel... 346 lbs Max climb rate... 890 fpm Max speed... 118 kts Cruise speed @ 6,000 ft, 77% power... 112 kts Endurance @ 6,000 ft, 77% power, 30 min reserve... 3.4 hrs Service ceiling... 15,500 ft Takeoff distance to 50 ft... 1,250 ft Landing distance over 50 ft... 1,040 ft

Cessna Chairman Jack Pelton has been the driving force behind development of the Model 162 because he believes a steady supply of new pilots is vital to Cessna's long-term success and that of the entire industry. Pelton points out that today's young people are more demanding and want to learn to fly in an airplane with current technology, but the airplane needs to be cost effective and robust enough for flight schools to make money. The 162 will be part of a comprehensive training system that includes all materials for ground and flight training with package pricing. And, Pelton notes, the 162 will have low enough operational costs that new pilots can afford to fly family and friends after they earn their licenses. Cessna has about 300 Cessna Pilot Centers operating, ready to put the 162 in service in 2009.

Cessna will deliver more than $5 billion worth of airplanes this year, and nearly all of those dollars will come from the Citation family of business jets. But most of the people flying those Citations learned to fly in a Cessna, and, Pelton says, people at all levels of the company are committed to the Model 162 and the impact it can have on the future of flight training.

I can't remember a time in the past when the price for learning to fly actually came down, and certainly never in a brand-new, current technology airplane. The 162 is today's best hope for the future growth of the general aviation pilot population. And it seems to be working. Jack Pelton's wife, Rose, who has been an enthusiastic light airplane passenger for many years, got a look at the new 162, sat in the mock-up, studied the cabin and its surroundings, and has made a deposit so she can learn to fly in her own airplane. None of the many airplanes she has been in before moved Rose to that decision to become a pilot, so the 162 already has proven it is something special.