The Symphony 160 was introduced five years ago by OMF Aircraft of Neubrandenburg, Germany, which established a Canadian manufacturing subsidiary, OMF Canada, in 2003, located in Three Rivers, Quebec. Through no fault of its Canadian subsidiary, the parent company declared bankruptcy and the Symphony design was left stranded in the murk of litigation. After negotiating an almost unimaginable morass of legalities, several of the original OMF Canada team has emerged with the rights to bring the high-tech two-seater back to market. And it’s back with a vengeance. The new Symphony 160 is the first certified two-place aircraft in the world to offer a 21st-century glass cockpit and an airframe parachute.
Despite its fiberglass lineage, the Symphony is constructed mostly of metal. The tube-steel fuselage, all-control surfaces, struts and aluminum wings are all metal. Only the fuselage skin is made of fiberglass materials. Still, the design has the look of tomorrow—a slim, low-drag configuration that makes it easily identifiable.
And that futuristic look continues right into the cockpit. Symphony offers the amazing Avidyne FlightMax Entegra glass flight deck, making the airplane the most advanced trainer on the market. With the big 10.4-inch primary flight display and multi-function flight display, student pilots learn to fly glass from day one, making their transition into the larger aircraft almost a non-event. The Symphony offers the full range of Avidyne’s digital magic, from full-featured moving maps to complete engine instrumentation. The system features the latest options, including XM weather, a flight director, CMax™ Jeppesen JeppView electronic chart display and Avidyne’s MultiLink™ datalink graphical weather.
Obviously, this level of sophistication makes the new Symphony 160 not only a good primary trainer, but a more-than-capable cross-country personal transportation. Adding to its talent is what the company calls a new “strategic alliance with Meggitt/S-TEC to provide autopilot technology.” Symphony currently offers factory-installed S-TEC System 30 autopilots and expects to begin shipping the advanced System 55X in the fall.
Also to Symphony’s credit is its selection of engines. The 160 features perhaps the most reliable engine in general aviation, Lycoming’s O-320. The published TBO is 2,000 hours, but it’s not uncommon for 320s to run well beyond that recommendation.
By any measure, the basic Symphony is an attractive package, possessed of Warrior-like performance and priced $139,900 in VFR trim and $154,900 for the IFR package, and $189,650 with the Avidyne FlightMax Entegra. Starting this September, Symphony will also begin offering the option of an airframe parachute from Ballistic Recovery Systems, the same people who supply Cirrus Design.
Unlike other aircraft manufacturers, Symphony has a singular focus on evolving the two-seat Symphony to its full potential. “The new company is determined to sell the 160 before they even consider building anything else,” says Symphony dealer Tony Settember of Foothill Aviation in Upland, Calif. “OMF had dedicated considerable time and money developing a 135 hp Thielert diesel-powered version of the same airplane and a stretched, four-place Symphony 250. Those designs aren’t dead, but they’re definitely on the back burner while Symphony Industries works on the basic 160.”
Wingspan is 35 feet, quite a bit longer than the span of a Cessna 150, Piper Tomahawk or Beech Skipper, and that helps the airplane support a gross weight of 2,150 pounds, making this the heaviest of the two-seat, sport trainers. Empty weight is typically 1,470 pounds, so useful load works out to 680 pounds. Subtract 180 pounds of fuel, and the airplane winds up with a payload of 500 pounds. Remember, there are only two seats available, and baggage capacity behind the pilots is 165 pounds. The Symphony can easily carry pretty much anything you can cram aboard.
“Cram” may not be the operative term, considering that the Symphony’s cockpit is four inches wider than a Cessna 150’s and 3 ½ inches wider than a C-172’s. Once you’re settled into either front bucket seat, the flight deck is reasonably roomy. Roll and pitch control is via a joystick, flaps deploy electrically to 40 degrees, and the rudder pedals are light and effective.
Visibility is very good in practically all directions, including straight up. Symphony has mounted a pair of rectangular, Plexiglas windows directly overhead to improve the view to the top. (During the air-to-air photo session that produced the accompanying photos, I used those windows to good advantage, maintaining a visual lock with the photo ship directly above us.)
Environmental systems are as simple as possible. Heat is via a conventional exhaust muff, and ventilation in flight is channeled through NACA ducts to standard Wemacs. There are no openable windows, but keeping cool on the ground is a simple matter of leaving the doors in trail until you’re ready to fly.
In taxi mode, the airplane enjoys maneuverability more in line with a taildragger. The non-steerable nosegear casters 90 degrees to allow the airplane a full 180-degree rotation practically within its own wingspan. The only obvious downside is that braking is the sole method of directional control at low speeds, so regular brake maintenance is critical.
With 160 hp under the cowl, the Symphony manifests an enthusiasm uncommon to other sport trainers. Power up for takeoff, and the Symphony generates good acceleration, not surprising considering the available power.
The airplane comes off the ground cleanly and starts uphill without pausing for breath, ascending at about 800 fpm with the stock, composite, MT propeller. A Sensenich climb prop also is available that will elevate the airplane at more like 900 fpm. (Symphony also plans to offer a three-blade, MT, constant speed soon.)
Service ceiling with the long wing and plentiful power is listed above 16,000 feet, so the Symphony should be reasonably adept at density altitudes of 5,000 to 7,000 feet. This may make the airplane more attractive for operators in the American West and other locations where pilots need airplanes to match their mountains.
If the Symphony hopes to make serious inroads into the training market, good slow flight characteristics will be critical. Fortunately, the Symphony is gentle and forgiving throughout its speed range. The airplane sports a full flap stall speed of 51 knots at gross (48 knots at a typical mid-cruise weight), slightly quicker but not that different from the competition. That means you can plan approaches as slow as 60 knots if there’s a need to plunk it on and stop it short. More normal approaches are recommended at 65 to 70 knots.
Best of all, though, stall characteristics are extremely docile. The Symphony mounts a vortex generator atop each wing designed to direct airflow across the ailerons at slow speeds. This allows a modicum of roll control in the stall. Pitch the airplane to 30 degrees nose up with full power, and the break is hardly noticeable. Keep the rudder anywhere near centered, and the Symphony merely settles straight ahead with little tendency to fall off on a wing.
Accelerated stalls are similarly unchallenging. The airplane resists stall in any attitude, similar to one of Rutan’s canard designs. For that reason, students should find the Symphony easy to handle in slow-fly mode.
Quick cruise isn’t mandatory for trainers, but Symphony Industries also hopes to sell its share of airplanes to owner/operators who will use them as sport machines. The manufacturer’s spec is 128 knots at high cruise, and there’s little reason not to use max cruise all the time. The O-320 Lycoming enjoys an excellent specific fuel consumption, .43 pounds/hp/hr, and that translates to just under 8.5 gph. That allows 2.8 hours plus reserve for a range of just over 300 nm. Pulled back to 55%, fuel burn drops to a little over 6 gph, but speed also diminishes to 115 to 118 knots.
Throughout the cruise regime, the Symphony demonstrates low noise and vibration levels, and that provides a friendly cabin environment for a trainer. Instructors who may have to sit in the seat for six or more hours a day should love the airplane’s contoured bucket seats, generally spacious interior and easy access to all controls and switches. Students will be impressed by the control response, gentle flight characteristics and, perhaps most important of all, low rental rate.
During Cessna’s 10-year, piston hiatus, many flight schools were forced to train in older Skyhawks and transitioned to new 172s when the type was reintroduced essentially unchanged in 1996. Using a four-seater for a two-seat mission is virtually guaranteed to result in a higher rental rate. The Symphony’s modest acquisition cost leads directly to lower hourly rental rates than most other new trainers.
Landings are similar to those in a Cessna 150, with comparable approach and stall speeds. The Symphony’s extra weight lends the airplane a more solid feel in the pattern, but it doesn’t seem to affect landing characteristics. Controls remain positive and effective all the way to stall, and the actual payoff is easily predictable. Should you happen to misjudge flare height and level too high, the sprung steel gear will absorb your mistake without springing you back into the air, provided you’ve kept speed in check.
As general aviation continues its slow, halting recovery from the economic depths of the late ’90s, Symphony Aircraft plans to carve out its share of what everyone hopes will be a larger pie. The Symphony 160 is a good first step toward that goal.
For more information, contact Symphony Aircraft Industries at (866) 799-5811 or log on to www.symphonyaircraft.com.
SPECS: 2005 Symphony 160