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 the Cessna 350 has an Achilles wing, it may be payload. Unlike the bad ole days when manufacturers used to stretch weight and performance specs far beyond any reasonable credibility, Cessna’s website acknowledges a typical empty weight of 2,475 pounds for the 350. Columbia chose to fit the 350 with 98-gallon tanks, fairly big fuel for a 3,400-pound airplane. In contrast, Beech installs only 74-gallon tanks on the A36 Bonanza, Cirrus uses 81-gallon containers on the SR22-G3 and Mooney fits its new Ovation III with 95 gallons. That means full fuel in the 350 limits payload to only 345 pounds, barely two folks plus toothbrushes.

Most people who fly four-place airplanes know that such weight limits are a little artificial, as pilots of four-seaters normally use the backseat as a huge baggage compartment. I bought my current Mooney in 1988, and in 20 years, I’ve carried four full-sized folks exactly three times.

The reality is that most of us buy at least two seats more than we need, then fill the tanks and fly, so a two-person limit with full fuel may not be a significant penalty. (How many times have you cancelled the flight, told one passenger to stay on the ground or defueled an airplane when the suggested weight and balance were slightly over gross?)

Still, if you do need to transport a full string quartet (without instruments) in the 350, you’ll need to leave about 56 gallons in the truck, limiting your flight to two hours. Baggage capacity is 120 pounds if it really is stored in the baggage compartment. The CG envelope is generous, so the 350 offers a variety of loading options.

As mentioned, the 350 and 400 use side sticks to control roll and pitch, and that’s both good and not-so-good news. The lack of a conventional yoke directly in front of the pilot and copilot does free up panel space and legroom, providing a certain feeling of openness, but if you’re expecting control response akin to an F-16, you’ll be disappointed. It’s true that air show pilot Sean Tucker performs limited aerobatic routines in a Columbia 350, but roll rate is fairly slow and ponderous, closer to that of a 206 than a Bonanza. The side sticks are mounted on the sidewalls of the front cabin, so by definition, you can only fly with your outboard hand. Handling either side stick with the inboard hand is next to impossible.

Columbia, and now Cessna, installed the Garmin G1000 glass-panel display coupled to its attitude-based 700 autopilot. This combination of avionics wizardry provides all the automation you could ask for in autoflight mode. Cessna uses the G1000 on all its piston models, so the 350 and 400 are standard additions to the fold.

This combination of avionics wizardry provides all the automation you could ask for in autoflight mode

My girlfriend is working on her private ticket and is making the transition from round gauges to flat panel in a new Skyhawk faster than I ever could. She loves the G1000’s large, vertical tape presentation. (Cessna hedges its bets by providing three two-inch, round backup instruments.)

The new Cessna 350 is far from a simple machine, but it’s an all-electric airplane, with no vacuum or hydraulic systems to complicate matters. This brings up the obvious question of what happens in the event of a total electrical failure. The 350 features separate wire routings, a backup battery, dual alternators and regulators with full crosstie capabilities to maximize redundancy. That means there are no vacuum-driven instruments to worry about as there’s no vacuum system installed.

Labels: Piston SinglesSpecs


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