Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cessna 350: Cessna’s New-Generation Single


Is the Cessna 350 the new NGP?


If you want to start a lively debate with a group of pilots, take a side on the high-wing/low-wing debate, and then stand back. You’re almost guaranteed to hear passionate arguments from both sides of the issue. Cessna has always built its single-engine airplanes with the wing on the top. Columbia Aircraft models are most emphatically not high-wing airplanes. Perhaps for that reason, it came as a surprise in November 2007 when Cessna purchased the rights to a bankrupt Columbia Aircraft for a relatively paltry $26.4 million.
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If you want to start a lively debate with a group of pilots, take a side on the high-wing/low-wing debate, and then stand back. You’re almost guaranteed to hear passionate arguments from both sides of the issue.

Cessna has always built its single-engine airplanes with the wing on the top. Columbia Aircraft models are most emphatically not high-wing airplanes. Perhaps for that reason, it came as a surprise in November 2007 when Cessna purchased the rights to a bankrupt Columbia Aircraft for a relatively paltry $26.4 million.

There were several reasons the merger didn’t seem a perfect fit, and the high-wing/low-wing question was only one of them (but I had to bring it up anyway). Cessna has long since learned that clinging to the tried and true might not be very exciting, but it works. The Wichita, Kans., company has manufactured the best-selling models in practically every class, from light singles to jets. (Okay, it’s true that the popular Cirrus SR22 has outsold the Skyhawk for the last few years.) Cessna’s success may be the manufacturing equivalent of the traditional advice, “Age and experience trump youth and enthusiasm every time.”

In contrast, Columbia’s two-plane line was about as innovative as production airplanes got. Featuring a brilliantly smooth, all-composite structure of prepreg glass fiber around a honeycomb interior, the 350 fuselage is assembled like a giant model airplane, with left and right halves bonded together from the firewall aft. Bonded structures certainly aren’t new to Cessna—the company has been using them on the Citation line of corporate jets for years—but the new 350 and 400 represent the first Cessna singles to make extensive use of the technology.

The all-composite Cessna 350, powered by a 310 hp Continental IO-550N engine, is the first Cessna single to extensively use bonded composite structures.

The former-Columbia airplanes feature an efficient natural laminar flow (NLF) airfoil; a wider cabin than in a 206; twin gull-wing doors; dual side sticks, angled inboard for roll and pitch control; flat-panel PFD/MFD screens, originally Avidyne and now Garmin; a standard rheostatically controlled climate-control system; and fixed tube-steel gear that’s so aerodynamically clean, the turbocharged version once went toe-to-toe with the retractable Mooney Acclaim as the world’s fastest production single.

In short, the Columbia airplanes seemed to be from a different aeronautical planet. Yet here we are a year later, and the Cessna 350 and 400 have become stablemates with our old friends, the 172 Skyhawk, 182 Skylane and 206 Stationair. Indeed, the 350 and 400 are effectively the top of Cessna’s piston line, with the 350 checking in at a base price that’s $32,000 above that for the 206, and the 400 pegged at $79,000 above the Turbo Stationair.

The 350 features performance you might not expect from a fixed-gear airplane. Designer Lance Neibauer took special care to configure his first production single with a small but efficient wing and slickly faired tri-gear design to complement rather than argue with the wind. Wing area is a mere 141 square feet, but a combination of wing cuffs bonded to the outboard leading edge to increase camber and the clever NLF airfoil help generate impressive climb.






Labels: Piston SinglesSpecs

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