Plane & Pilot
Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cessna Skyhawk: Four-Seat Trainer?

When does it make sense to train in a $220,000, four-seater when you could use a $140,000, two-place model instead?

cessnaI have a friend who recently began flight training in a Skyhawk. Pete is one of those future pilots you just know won’t have any problems with the private-pilot course. He knows cars, drives a Porsche, understands things mechanical and doesn’t have any inherent fear of attitudes more complicated than vertical (standing up) and horizontal (lying down).
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For its part, the Skyhawk is about as idiotproof as possible. That fact has been demonstrated time and time again by Safety Board accident reports. The Hawk consistently holds the best safety record of any personal aircraft in a training environment. In one study, the FAA compared 32 of the most popular general aviation aircraft in 10 safety categories, and the Skyhawk scored top honors in eight of those 10 classes.

The Garmin G1000 flat-panel suite and GFC 700 autopilot take Cessna’s new Skyhawk to a new level—as a technologically advanced trainer and traveling machine.
Part of the reason for this is safety by design. The fuel system has “left,” “right,” “both” and “off” positions, but many operators simply place the selector in the “both” position when they pick up the airplane at the factory and leave it there forever. There are circumstances that might dictate burning down one wing tank or another asymmetrically, but most pilots never encounter those problems. The wing is mounted above the engine, so the standard engine-driven pump provides all the necessary fuel pressure. There’s no reason for a supplemental electric fuel pump.

If you do need to make an emergency landing, dirty stall is below 50 knots, and with the advent of air bags, people in cars have survived head-on collisions with bridge abutments at that and higher speeds. (In any case, in the event of an engine out, most pilots don’t aim for bridge abutments.)

The wheels and prop are fixed and so are the wings, attached to the top fuselage by large bolts and braced at the bottom with stout struts. With such a tough structure, in-flight structural failures are ridiculously rare.

The 2008 Skyhawk 172R comes standard with an injected IO-360 Lycoming engine, which is rated at 160 hp just like the carbureted O-320s of old. The difference is that you can buy a hopped-up version of the Skyhawk rated for 180 hp, the 172S. (In fact, that may be the dominant piston model for 2008.) The Skyhawk S offers two knots more cruise and a slightly higher service ceiling, but the biggest advantage is 70 pounds more payload, boosting the airplane to a true three-place machine. If you operate from airports at medium altitudes, you may also appreciate the slight improvement in climb.

Cessna is now delivering the Diesel Skyhawk, a 172 powered by a German Thielert Centurion 2.0 turbodiesel engine. Diesels capitalize on the nearly universal availability of jet fuel and may be the wave of the future as some oil companies stop refining avgas, supplies shrink and outlets become more scarce.

That’s an especially critical consideration in places like Africa, the Middle East and Malaysia, where it’s inconvenient to stock two types of fuel. Essentially a follow-on product to the Centurion 1.7 used in pairs on the Diamond Twin Star, the Centurion 2.0 is a FADEC-controlled adaptation of a dual overhead cam, four-cylinder Daimler-Benz automotive mill that burns jet fuel and is capable of maintaining sea-level power to 8,000 feet. Service ceiling is 16,000 feet, 2,500 feet taller than the Lycoming model. Cruise performance is about the same with nearly identical range and payload and slightly less sea-level climb.

Specific fuel consumption (SFC) is 25% better than in the piston engine, and time between replacement (TBR) on the Thielert is 2,400 hours. (The German manufacturer isn’t set up to overhaul engines, and, therefore, the diesel wasn’t certified for overhaul, only replacement.) An extensive midlife check at 1,200 hours is included in the price.

Labels: Piston Singles


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