We Fly: Cessna TTx

Seven years after production ceased, a phenomenal single still powers through the skies, though it faltered in the marketplace.

“I just bought the assets of Columbia…” The email came across while I was in a meeting at my former job, just weeks before I’d join Cessna Aircraft Company as the Cessna Pilot Center manager in December 2007.

In a boardroom cross-country—literally—from where I sat, former Cessna president and CEO Jack Pelton had closed the deal, yes, buying “certain assets of the Columbia Aircraft Company.” His excitement about the purchase rang through the few lines of text—for the airplanes Textron had just bought as well as the potential for growing Cessna’s foothold in an evolving piston marketplace. And from that moment, my own relationship unfolded with the airplane. What started as the Columbia 400 could have taken the high-performance, piston-single segment by storm, born of the Lancair heritage. It would become the Cessna 400—known briefly by its marketing name, Corvalis TT—and finally, in its most recent edition, the Cessna TTx.


The type designation—Cessna T240—would place it atop the hierarchy of Cessna singles, but it began life as an offshoot of a popular kitplane, the Lancair ES. Lancair formed a new business entity, Columbia, to oversee the development and manufacture of the 300, followed by the 350, then the 400, under Part 23. The company was new to the process of type certification, but not to high-performance aircraft development, and this resulted in a string of airplanes determined to knock a pilot’s socks off with their ability to go fast, maneuver fearlessly, and look nothing short of awesome doing it.

Columbia upgraded the original 300 (FAA type certificated in 1998) to the 350 with the addition of an optional glass panel—Avidyne’s Entegra primary flight display—in 2003, along with the more powerful, turbocharged 400, right up until the company dissolved in 2007. Columbia achieved the airplane’s stall speed requirement with a multiphase wing, moving the aerodynamic stall inboard and limiting up elevator travel and left rudder pedal range. These changes resulted in an airplane that could be certified under the FAA’s definition of spin resistant—unable to enter a spin even with pro-spin inputs. Recovery would come from normal anti-spin procedures, as opposed to the ballistic recovery parachute system required by its primary competitor, the Cirrus SR20 and SR22.


The only visible moisture we touched in 933 nm between Hagerstown, Maryland, and Wichita, Kansas, came during the takeoff roll at KHGR—wisps of mist that had suppressed the visibility below a quarter mile for the hour prior to our departure still wavered across the wide runway. As soon as we lifted off, we left it behind and continued our climb over the first folds of the Appalachian hills, as I revisited the TTx in September.

As we cut a path through the sky westbound above the scattered threads of valley fog, I thought of the last cross-country I made in an SR22T. Yes, the newer avionics of the Cirrus have had the benefit of continuous evolution—the TTx suffers from a paralysis in updating the G2000, such that its capabilities seem encased in amber.

The touchscreen control pad—called by the model designation GTC—went under development with Garmin immediately after the acquisition, as one of the primary components of the G2000—a two-big-screen integrated flight deck driven by softkeys on the display bezels as well as remotely through the GTC. This formed the foundation that Garmin would leverage into the G3000 we now find on single-engine turboprops and on up the food chain. Thus the lack of a Perspective doesn’t hit as keenly—you still feel like you’re in a modern cockpit though the architecture is now 10-plus years old.

Cessna worked in concert with Garmin on the development of the touchscreen and exactly how the pilot actions would activate the controls on the display. Though it appears to be actuated by the heat of a finger—as our smartphones do—early versions introduced crisscrossing beams across the screen that would be interrupted by the presence of the pilot’s finger. But just breaking the beam wouldn’t be enough to activate the “button” on the screen below—a deliberate pause and stroke was required. This action has been refined in subsequent models of the GTCs—but it was intriguing to give my input to the product management team during the testing phase in Cessna’s R&D lab in Wichita in the early 2010s.

The Way-Back Machine

Continuing the flashbacks: Now we’ll move forward a bit to 2014. I’d joined Jeppesen as a senior manager in aviation courseware development—but was ready to strike out on my own. I decided to take back two familiar roles—working on a book and flight instructing. I paired up with a retired race car driver and engineer who had just bought a 2012 TTx on the preowned market through the local Cessna piston sales dealer in the Denver metro area. He needed a bit of transition training as he pursued his instrument rating. But he felt clearly comfortable with the TTx’s speed and nimble coupling, given his background. The TTx fit him and his personality like a glove.

We headed to Independence, Kansas, for the factory-led portion of his TTx training—and my refresher course in the model since I’d left Cessna. In fact, KIDP was the scene where just a couple of years ago I’d seen the TTx fuselages join together from their composite halves on the production line as the company sorted through the best way to replicate the former Columbia Aircraft factory in Bend, Oregon. I’d visited that facility as well—in February 2008, Cessna held a sales meeting in Bend, and members of the team toured the compact production line, with clearly skilled craftsmen attending to each unit. The initial promise to keep production within the hands of this dedicated team boded well—as well as retaining a beautiful location for customer delivery and training—but internal and external economic forces in late 2008 and 2009 conspired against that original business plan.

For the likes of Six Sigma-led Cessna to pick up that work and translate it to a line more like that of its legacy singles, such as the 172, 182, and 206, it would be a feat—but made more so by the nature of the Columbia airplanes’ composite construction. At the time, most composite work for Cessna was completed at the TAM facility in Mexico, but these were nonstructural components like fairings and nose bowls. The entire fuselage required a complex layup process beyond that kind of work. Still, Textron forced the movement of production from Bend to Chihuahua. As it turned out, the need wasn’t properly identified to upgrade all the environmental systems at the Mexico plant to properly address the layup and curing via autoclave of the carbon fiber and Kevlar composites used in the Columbia design—and early serial numbers on the Cessna 400 suffered. Delamination in a handful of wings—discovered in an FAA flight test when an integrated fuel tank in the wing leaked—torpedoed the 400’s reputation in the market.

The move of more production and assembly to Independence, and the rebranding and upgrades to the model to create the TTx, sought to assuage those issues. However, the loss of confidence—however temporary and well addressed—combined with Cirrus Aircraft’s powerful presence and success in the market gave the TTx too far to go to make up lost ground. Though 110 units sold in 2008—the last of the Bend-built Columbias— sales never reached beyond the double digits per quarter, even after the upgrade to the TTx. In the end, Cessna ceased production on the TTx in 2018, with a total of 704 400s and TTxs built.

Pelton offers the perspective of reflection after 15 years have passed since Cessna made the transition from Bend production to Kansas and Mexico: “The economic downturn of 2008 really forced things, making it necessary to move the line away from Oregon where the knowledge base for composite layup was, as well as a great place to have customer deliveries.” That stumble cost dearly, along with a couple of other key delays, one in bringing FIKI certification into play, and the other in failing to market well on the strength of the airplane aerodynamically over its competitors.

Yeah, Baby!

Yes, shunning the TTx as weak in any way would be a serious mistake. In fact, the 400 from which it derived carries a utility category certification, meaning it actually has as a limit load factor of 4.4 positive Gs—and minor aerobatic chops as a result. Legendary airshow pilot

Sean D. Tucker nabbed the Columbia 400 for use in his Tutima Academy of Flight Safety in 2006—and if you search his name and the model on YouTube, you’ll find an inspiring video of the master taking the 400 through a graceful routine. The FAA granted a reclassification of the stock 400 into an experimental airworthiness certificate so that it could be flown in aerobatic and upset prevention and recovery training. And that’s what Tucker used the mount for, as it closely resembles the airplanes many pilots fly for themselves—as opposed to an Extra 330—yet it provided a slightly wider envelope for maneuvers. Though Tucker no longer offers the 400 as part of the academy’s portfolio, the legacy remains meaningful.

So don’t get any ideas about taking a TTx out for a loop and a roll—just know that the model carries this strength forward, along with impressive maneuverability and a real appeal to hand-flying pilots. The Columbia 400s came with carved mahogany flight control sticks mounted on the side panels—left for the pilot, right for the copilot—and they are true sticks, with a natural range of motion and articulation. When I had the chance to put the now leather-wrapped stick in my hand during our flight to Wichita, it was like greeting an old friend who falls into step next to you.

Cruise Control

For our two-leg mission to Wichita, we planned a stop at Spirit of St. Louis Airport (KSUS) on the north side of the metro area on the western banks of the Mississippi River near where the Missouri River joins it. At 8,000 feet, we kept 150 kias and 175 ktas most of the way, with a little more or less in spots. The weather gods not only blessed us with clear skies but also a mere breath of a headwind, which translated into a crosswind somewhere over Illinois.

A quick fuel-up and turn at Signature Flight Support at KSUS—and chicken tenders and waffle fries for the road—had us off again for a two-hour jaunt across Missouri and into Kansas for the slide into the bumps below the LCL and Eisenhower National Airport (KICT). We arrived in comfort and style, as we weaved through the obstacle course of construction to the ramp at Yingling Aviation.

For our troubles, we averaged about 15.8 gph on both legs, taking a total of roughly 100 gallons of 100LL to make the journey halfway across the country in about six hours. Try getting from door to door, Maryland to Wichita, in less than that on the airlines. I dare you.

The TTx gets off the ground in roughly 2,000 feet at sea level and can climb at up to 1,400 fpm. [Mike Fizer/FLYING Archives]

Any Gotchas?

The twin turbochargers on the Continental TSIO-550 respond well to careful management—and replacing them is not cheap. Nor is making up for any damage they might do if pressed to failure, so they’re worth treating nicely.

When you do, however, you’re rewarded with great performance figures across the board. The TTx can get off the ground in a relatively short distance: a 1,300-foot ground roll, with 1,900 feet to over a hypothetical 50-foot obstacle in sea-level standard conditions, as shown in the book values and as I witnessed many times in practice. It will land just as short, as far as ground roll is concerned—1,250 feet—but you need to budget a bit more space for the whole trees-at-the-end approach at around 2,700 feet.

Just as with the SR series, speed control on final rewards the pilot and helps to avoid the dreaded runway overrun that plagues high-performance singles. One area in this regard where the SRs have an edge? The approach flap speed has been raised to 150 kias on SR22s—while the TTx’s remains at a painfully slow 127 kias. Fortunately, the TTx has speed brakes to help you slow down and get down at the same time. You will use them all the time—there’s no speed restriction on them (apart from VNE)—just have them tucked in before you touch down.

The Columbia 400 originally came with an optional E-Vade anti-ice system on the wings, which used heat-conducting panels to shed the ice. However, it didn’t come certificated for flight into known ice (FIKI). Whether to add the option was debated within Cessna ranks until finally the TKS “weeping wing” de-icing system was introduced in March 2012, with full FIKI certification coming in June 2014. The TKS Ice Protection system offers up to 2.5 hours of icing protection—but that translates into 10.15 gallons at a hefty 9 pounds per gallon weight for a total of 91.4 pounds fluid weight—137 pounds for the system.

On the Market

You’ll want to search for the Columbia 400, Cessna 400, Corvalis, and TTx in order to capture all of the possible models existing on the market. At press time, I found roughly 20 TTxs available, mostly in the U.S. but a few overseas. The original 400 gained FAA type certification in April 2004 under Lancair’s direction, and European Union Aviation Safety Agency approval followed in 2009.

Pricing runs the gamut—from the mid-$300,000s to just north of $700,000—depending on equipment, total time, and location. But most appear to have between 900 and 2,000 hours, reflecting flight time of 100 to 200 hours per year since new. With the TBO at 2,000 hours, the cost of a new big-bore Continental or its overhaul may need to be factored into your purchase price.

Still, with the SR22Ts of the same vintage asking an average from $699,000 and up in Aircraft For Sale, the TTx looks mighty attractive on the spreadsheet. But the numbers tell only a small part of the story. As with all airplanes for which we harbor grand affections, the real joy comes in the flying.

Accelerated Bliss: Flying the Cessna 400 Series Was a True Pleasure

By Pia Bergqvist

In my 24-plus years of flying, I have been fortunate to take the controls of many different types of airplanes. Like adopted children, the two airplanes I have owned—Peppermint Patty, the Cessna 170, and Manny, the Mooney—occupy the softest part of my pilot heart. But the airplane that brought me the most enjoyable personal flying experience was one that, like some favorite children, bears many names. It started out as the Columbia 400, became the Cessna 400 when I first flew it, and was later renamed Corvalis TT and TTx.

I was one of four Cessna 350/400 product specialists (the 350 being the non-turbocharged version) spread around the country when the company took over and started marketing the aircraft type in 2008. Emily Waters covered the West Coast, Doug Walker the Northeast, and Kel Jones the Southeast—all three were previous Columbia pilots. I was new to the airplane, and my territory spanned from New Mexico to Tennessee and South Dakota to Texas. It might appear to be a large area for a single-engine piston four-seater. But covering the region in this sports car with wings was no trouble at all.

I will never forget traveling to Bend, Oregon, where the factory was located at the time, to pick up my first demo airplane. The terrific team of employees there gave me first-class treatment, as if I was a customer. There was a sign bearing my name standing in front of a factory-new Cessna 400—a black, silver, and white beauty—N86DE. The production quality was stellar, with flawless composite production, paint finishing, and interior and avionics installation. It was easy to proudly represent the airplane for the Wichita, Kansas-based company.

In no other airplane have I been able to sit as comfortably, with my left hand on the sidestick and the right hand on the keypad that manipulated most functions on the G1000 MFD—the flight deck installed in the 400 before the TTx moved up to the G2000. I had many long days in that seat, without even a hint of discomfort. While the Cessna 350/400 was equipped with the terrific GFC 700 autopilot, I hand-flew the airplane on most legs. It was simply a really fun airplane to fly, with enough maneuverability to satisfy one of the best aerobatic airshow performers of all time—Sean D. Tucker (yes, there are YouTube videos to prove it). In fact, the airplane earned well its certification in the utility category.

And the Cessna 400 got me where I needed to go quickly. I could count on around 200 ktas at 10,000 feet, but if I wanted to go faster, I simply hooked on to the built-in oxygen system and climbed higher. On one flight from Independence, Kansas, to Memphis, Tennessee, I reached 306 knots ground speed. Walker was kind enough to send me a patch, inaugurating me into the 300-knot club of Columbia pilots.

In the nearly 600 hours I was fortunate enough to fly the Cessna 400 and 350, I flew from coast to coast to dealers and airshows, and I took countless friends and strangers for rides. Many fond memories were forged in that airplane, and I hope, one day, I will return to that blissful seat.

[Photo: Mike Fizer/FLYING Archives]

Controls/Instruments at a Glance

A. The TTx featured the first—and perhaps only— Garmin G2000 integrated flight deck in a piston single. It works quite well, but the upgrade path is uncertain at this point.

B. The first of the GTC touchscreen controllers—a single one—came with the introduction of the Corvalis model.

C. The Continental TSIO-550 up front requires management of the twin turbos, but a robust engine information system display aids with keeping everything in the green.

D. The beautiful, wood sidestick flight control in the Columbia 400 transitioned to a leather-wrapped model, but it still falls comfortably to hand and maneuvers with ease throughout the significant flight envelope.

E. The GFC 700 takes FMS input for smooth climbs and descents tracking a flight plan.

2013 Cessna TTx Specs

Price New, Avg. Equipment: $810,000

Price, 2023: $450,000 to $700,000

Engine: Continental TSIO-550-C (310 hp) TBO: 2,000 hours

Propeller: McCauley, three-blade, constant speed

Seats: 4

Wingspan: 36 ft.

Wing Area: 141.2 sq. ft.

Wing Loading: 25.5 lbs./sq. ft.

Length: 25 ft., 2 in.

Height: 9 ft.

Baggage Weight: 120 lbs.

Standard Empty Weight: 2,520 lbs.

Max Takeoff Weight: 3,600 lbs.

Max Landing Weight: 3,420 lbs.

Max Useful Load: 1,070 lbs.

Fuel: 106 gal./102 gal. usable

Max Rate of Climb: 1,400 fpm

Service Ceiling: 25,000 ft.

Stall Speed (landing config.): 60 kias

Max Cruise Speed: 235 ktas

Max Range: 1,250 nm

Normal Range: 502 nm with 3 passengers (Conklin & deDecker/JSSI)

Takeoff Distance, Sea Level (over a 50 ft. obs.): 1,900 ft.

Landing Distance, Sea Level (over a 50 ft. obs.): 2,700 ft.

This column first appeared in the November 2023/Issue 943 of FLYING’s print edition.


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