Does Possible Columbia Acquisition Nix A NextGen
by ANN Managing Editor Rob Finfrock
Though overshadowed somewhat by the
news of a factory-installed, diesel-powerplant option in the
venerable Skyhawk, Cessna also had news to share on two of its
newest aircraft programs this week at AOPA Expo 2007.
The planemaker touted over 850 orders for its newly-introduced
162 SkyCatcher light-sport aircraft -- making it by far the most
popular LSA, by orders, in the US marketplace. As ANN reported, Cessna took
the wraps off a mockup of the aircraft at AirVenture 2007 in July,
one year after the company unveiled a proof-of-concept aircraft in
Though Cessna stuck with a resolutely old-fashioned approach to
its LSA -- sticking with all-aluminum construction, and a
venerable, albeit updated, Continental O200 powerplant -- the
planemaker stresses the all-new SkyCatcher isn't just a rehash of
the old 150/152 line.
To drive that point home, one only needs to check out the
planned standard avionics package. All SkyCatchers will sport an
exclusive Garmin glass cockpit, termed the G300. A single-screen
combination PFD/MFD, optimized for the plane's strictly-VFR
mandate, will be standard, with a two-screen panel optional.
First flight of the prototype SkyCatcher is set for the first
half of 2008 and deliveries are expected to begin in 2009. Cessna
expects to produce up to 700 a year at full-rate production.
There was little question of Cessna's likely success in
producing an appealing LSA... but there are many questions
surrounding the future of Cessna's Next-Generation Piston (NGP)
proof-of-concept aircraft, in the wake of Cessna's
Letter-of-Intent to purchase bankrupt Columbia Aircraft
After all, Columbia brings to the table two appealing,
all-composite aircraft -- the 350 and 400, both four-seaters based
on a single airframe -- that are popular with buyers (although not
to the sales levels Cessna is accustomed to) and, most importantly,
So, where does Cessna's proposed five-door, six-seat high-wing
proof-of-concept aircraft fit in? Well, to paraphrase Monty
Python... it isn't dead, yet.
Cessna noted its flight test engineers have racked up more than
180 hours over the past 15 months flying the NGP... and have made
aerodynamic modifications based on the data collected on those
"The latest modifications have shown positive changes to the
performance characteristics," said Van Abel, Cessna’s project
engineer for the NGP. "Our team has captured data that validates
predictions for the production configuration."
With the prospect of Cessna-badged Columbias looming large,
Cessna says it remains committed to producing "a family of
innovative airplanes that would set the standard among single
engine pistons for performance, comfort and value."
Until recently, that would
have implied eventual production of the NGP, and other variants of
the smooth high-wing airframe... but now, it's anyone's guess what
route Cessna will take in developing a worthy competitor to the
And don't count the NGP out just yet in that decision, Abel
"There is still much work to be done," in building a business
case for the NGP, Abel said. "We are in the process of working the
configuration so we would have the potential of multiple
powerplants, and we continue to study features and materials."
The NGP proof-of-concept incorporates a higher percentage of
composite materials than past Cessna aircraft. The company will not
release performance data or specifications until a launch decision