Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

SIAI-Marchetti SF.260: Bellisimo In Tre Dimensioni

Yeah, it’s Italian, and if you’re thinking “flying Ferrari or Lamborghini,” you’re ABSOLUTELY right

If you've never flown a Marchetti, stock is more than good enough. If I ever write the book, 20 Airplanes To Fly Before You Die, the Marchetti will be near the top of the list. The SF.260's airfoil is thin and jet-like in configuration, only 12% thick with five degrees of dihedral. The wing is tiny by general aviation standards, only 109 square feet (compared to a Bonanza's 180 square feet and a typical Mooney's 170 square feet). This generates a high wing loading and helps impart handling characteristics closer to those of a T-33 jet than those of a piston trainer.

At only 2,430 pounds gross (in the utility category), the SF.260 enjoys a power loading of a mere 9.3 pounds per horsepower, and while its enthusiasm on takeoff may not rival a Ferrari's, it will still knock your hat in the creek. The book spec for climb at sea level is 1,770 fpm. Even if that's a little optimistic, the real number is still impressive. It's better than virtually any other production single, some with turbocharging and as much as 90 more horsepower. A few aerobatic singles and high-powered piston twins can beat the Marchetti in initial vertical speed, but not many.

Dual center sticks offer pilots exceptional control. Handling is excellent; rolls are smooth and spins can be instantly recovered. A Plexiglas sliding canopy provides pilots with excellent visibility.
The fuel system is simple and straightforward, but the four tanks—a pair of 18.3-gallon tips and twin 12.7-gallon wing tanks—do require some management. Total usable capacity is 62 gallons, and at a burn of 14 gph at high cruise, you have about three hours and thirty minutes (and reserve) before you'll need a fuel stop. Those strange people who like to fly fast airplanes slow can realize even better endurance and range.

Cruise with the short wings and clean drag profile is excellent—175 to 180 knots. Remember, that's with only 260 hp on the nose. That's about as quick as the current generation of normally aspirated hot rods, the Cirrus SR22, Columbia 350 and Mooney Ovation3. More than coincidentally, all those models employ 310 hp and 17 gph to achieve their speed.

Where the Marchetti shines brightest is in its handling qualities. At the risk of overstatement (hard to avoid on a Marchetti), the SF.260 probably has the best handling of anything even remotely close to its class. The Frise ailerons impart a right-now roll rate, pitch response is light and control harmony is suitably aerobatic. Casual acro is only a fingertip away, provided you've left the tip tanks empty and limited takeoff weight to 2,205 pounds. Rolls are so smooth that even a magazine writer can accomplish them without practice, and loops require little touch across the top, provided you pull to 3.5 G's or more on the entry. The Marchetti performs easy, confident spins with instant recovery by simply easing off the back pressure and applying opposite aileron.

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