The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Convention in Las Vegas is fast approaching—“fast” being the operative term in all things related to the activity. While business aviation has been dominated by turbine-powered equipment for decades now, that wasn’t always the case. The first business aircraft, dating back more than 70 years now, were piston-powered personal machines, including the Cessna 195, with its throwback seven-cylinder radial engine and Art Deco design. Recently named by this title as one of the 10 Most Beautiful GA Planes ever, the 195 has a special place in business aviation history.
As devotees of the 195 might know, Cessna named the plane “The Business Liner,” and while the folks in Wichita in the ’40s might seem today to have been stretching the definition, at the time, it was right on the money. With a still-fledgling aviation infrastructure, including far fewer airliners flying about and far fewer destinations for them, small personal transportation made a lot of sense back then. This is especially true since in the ’40s traveling for business often meant driving a car, so an airplane, even a 150-knot cruiser like the 195, could make a really long day a much shorter one, or it could condense a three-day trip into one or two days.
And you know what? Nothing has changed. A couple of months back, I flew to Oshkosh for AirVenture in my Skylane. I’ll admit it: Austin to Oshkosh in a Cessna 182 is a long cross-country flight. But at the same time, my commercial airfare options were not great. Because Oshkosh is a regional destination, you can’t get there nonstop on the airlines. Also, because nearby Appleton and less-nearby Green Bay are the airline airports in the area, and neither one pretends to be O’Hare (or even Milwaukee, for that matter), you have to pay extra to travel there and then drive for a while to get to Oshkosh once you do arrive.
So my flight all the way up to Oshkosh, and directly into Oshkosh, I might add, was a deal. In terms of fuel, it was about a wash. I spent around $400 each way—thanks to Garmin Pilot’s fuel pricing feature that helped me find cheap fuel—so my “airfare” was a little more than it would have been for a ticket on United. My time enroute was 7.3 hours, with an added 45 minutes for fuel and lunch at Miami County airport in Paola, Kansas ($3.40 fuel and some great barbecue at the on-airport joint, We Be Smokin.)
My next stop was Oshkosh. My total time, my door-to-tied-down at KOSH, was about nine hours. That’s a long day, for sure, but it would have taken just as long to fly United, when you include the trip through security, travel to Oshkosh from Green Bay or Appleton, and when I arrived, I was exactly where I wanted to be.
I find that unless I’m traveling really far or to a major airline destination, flying in the Skylane is competitive in terms of cost. I reach that conclusion without factoring in the cost of ownership, which I don’t because I’d own the airplane anyway. And if you have to make a connection on the airlines, on most trips the time invested is pretty close, too. Besides, that first sip of coffee when I level off at my cruise altitude, slide my seat back a couple of notches and watch the world slide by below, well, that’s a feeling that the airlines could never, ever, ever, ever hope to compete with. I probably should have used a few more “evers.”
Bizjets: Love And Hate
I’ve been working at aviation magazines for a while now, and one of the complaints I hear most often has to do with coverage of turbine-powered aircraft, the question being, why would we cover something that so few people can afford. It’s a good question, and a fair one, too. At Plane & Pilot we are about two words, and they’re both in our title. If it’s a plane that people own and fly themselves, we want to tell everyone all about it.
There are several really good reasons for this. Perhaps first off, just because I own a Skylane today doesn’t mean I won’t have a Cirrus Jet or a TBM in my hangar in a few years. Is it likely? You won’t have to ask my accountant that, which is good, because I don’t have an accountant. The answer is “no.” Still, is it possible that it will happen? Absolutely. And even if it doesn’t happen, as is the likelihood, I will tell you right now that I’d love for it to happen. I wouldn’t get rid of my Skylane. I’d add to my fleet. I have a good friend whose first plane was a Quicksilver ultralight. He owns a few planes today, including a small jet, which he flies for business and for family visits. I can guarantee you that he was keeping his eye on turbine-powered planes even in those ultralight days.
Another reason we cover turbines is that the technology is just so cool. The Cirrus Jet, as you’ll see elsewhere in this issue, is a revolutionary technology, and as much as we love the planes of the past, we have our eyes on the future, too. I might not have flat panels in my Skylane yet, but it’s very possible that it will happen before too long. Technology makes old planes better, safer and more reliable. It’s not a cure-all for the woes our older planes suffer, but it helps a lot.
Lastly, business aviation means a lot to those of us who fly smaller, usually piston-powered planes. While we might complain about fuel prices and ramp fees and the like, the power that business aviation has to help protect all of private aviation is something all of us benefit from every day our local airport is kept open and we know we can get fuel there and at other airports along our way. Business aviation is about infrastructure and jobs and innovation. Sure, there are very few of us who can afford to fly a Piper M600 or an Eclipse Jet, but my hat’s off to those who can afford to. And you know what? Many pilots who own and fly a Citation have an Aviat Husky, a Robinson R44 or a Cessna 195 back in the hangar, ready to be broken out and taken for a ride on those special occasions when flying calls less for speed and a little more for joy.