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?
|I 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).|
The Skyhawk R’s standard 160 hp piston engine is reliable to a fault. Given reasonable care and feeding, there’s very little that can go wrong in normal service. Yes, things do sometimes break, and catastrophic failures are always possible, but the same basic engine has been around for more than 40 years and has generally had an excellent service record. Also, keep in mind that this is the most derated version available, so it’s not being asked to work very hard.
These days, it’s difficult to talk about the Skyhawk without at least mentioning the Garmin G1000 flat-panel avionics suite, coupled with the GFC 700 autopilot. More and more manufacturers are installing the G1000/GFC 700 as standard equipment, and once you fly with it, you’ll understand why. Once you overcome the system’s intimidation factor and understand its computer-logic base, you’re almost guaranteed to love it.
If you’re one of those folks who likes to analogize flying with driving, you’re bound to find the Skyhawk an easy ride. It has doors on both sides, just like most coupes. Strapping in with the AmSafe seat-belt-mounted air bags is easy, and once you’re settled in, the airplane is comfortable and controls are friendly. Though the Skyhawk’s interior wasn’t fashioned around a BMW’s (more like a Mini Cooper), the airplane’s 39.5-inch horizontal dimension up front is adequate if not excellent. A Bonanza scores 42 inches, a Mooney, 43. In partial redemption, the roof is 48 inches from the floorboards, to accommodate tall aviators.
Pilots don't buy Skyhawks to fly fast, but the type will step along at 120 knots if you're doing everything
right in smooth skies.
Engine start is simple, even in hot weather, contrary to uninformed popular belief. The book procedure works about 95% of the time, and a flooded start will usually solve the problem the rest of the time without grinding the battery down to nothing. Taxiing doesn’t demand any special talent. The steerable nosewheel provides good directional control, and the airplane isn’t prone to upset in crosswinds. Rough ground or dirt strips may transmit some minor bumps through the steel tube gear, but prop clearance is good and the wheel fairings are forgiving as long as the dips are no more than a few inches.
From a student pilot’s point of view, the transition from ground to sky is fairly basic. Once the wings gather enough lift, the airplane will fly itself off the ground with almost no help from the pilot, and there’s little pitch change necessary to transition to climb. Nothing happens especially fast, all the better for new pilots trying to adapt to three dimensions.
Roll and pitch response are similarly unchallenging, quick enough to get the job done, but not so fast as to overwhelm students and other inexperienced pilots. Like many of you, I’ve logged several hundred hours in Skyhawks, and if the type’s climb, cruise and handling are fairly me-too, you have to marvel at how easily the airplane drives around the sky. The Skyhawk is an absolute master at doing exactly what you tell it to do—nothing more, nothing less.
Pilots don’t buy Skyhawks to fly fast, but the type will step along at 120 knots if you’re doing everything right in smooth skies. With 53 gallons in the tanks and a flight-plan burn of 10 gph, you can plan easy four-hour trips out to nearly 500 nm with reserve.
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