Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Diesel With A Jet Heart

Cessna introduces a turbo diesel for the popular Skylane

Landings at Kingman were classic Skylane. Plenty of control pitch right into the flare and lots of elevator trim to stay ahead of the heavy elevator. No one has ever claimed Skylanes are short-field airplanes, but the new JT-A could probably use unobstructed runways of 1,500 feet or less without problems.

One anomaly I noticed during landings was that the JT-A isn't as amenable to no-flap approaches as was the avgas version. Residual thrust without the benefit of flaps means a reluctance to bleed off speed in the flare. Cessna is still working that problem and hopes to have a solution by the time the first airplanes are delivered this summer.

Cessna recognized early on that engine maintenance would be a major concern for prospective buyers, and to that end, they enlisted the aid of Lycoming. Cessna and Lycoming are both Textron companies, and Cessna arranged for the Lycoming Service Centers around the country to handle all engine service/warranty problems. Lycoming is in process of bringing its shops up to speed, so buyers should be able to rest easier when first deliveries begin late this summer.

TBO has been set at a preliminary 2,400 hours, and that may not be as optimistic as you think. Automobiles with ECU-directed turbo-diesels under the hood benefit from almost ridiculous reliability, though it's expressed in miles rather than hours, and there's no reason aircraft diesels shouldn't offer the same durability. The engine will require an oil change every 100 hours, a turbo inspection and possible overhaul at half TBO and an inspection of the fuel injection system every 600 hours.

Of course, the big question, conveniently saved for those who aren't punch- drunk from plowing through all the numbers above, is price. As with any other Cessna product, there will be some options, but the base price has been set at a preliminary $515,000. At the press briefing prior to the flight, a British reporter suggested that price would be "a significant challenge" in Europe, but "the shrinking supply of avgas may be a compelling argument for diesels."

Recent developments in turbo-diesel technology have been exponential, and the day of the general aviation diesel- cycle engine may very well have arrived. Diesels are no longer dirty contributors to pollution and noise, and offer some significant advantages over avgas-burning engines. Even in a down market, price is always subjective, and Cessna's Skylane JT-A is certainly a worthwhile subject.

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