For many pilots, speed is the narcotic that attracted them to the discipline in the first place. Everyone agrees that airplanes have myriad applications, but the prevailing benefit is the ability to move people and things from one place to another in minimum time and do it in comfort and safety. To that end, manufacturers are constantly pushing the limits of what's possible in terms of cruise speed, slicking airframes, adding power and generally improving the state of the art. Speed sells.
For years, the laws of aerodynamics and simple logic have dictated that the fastest and most efficient single-engine piston airplanes should be retractables. An airplane that can put the wheels to bed has a significant drag advantage over those that must leave the tires hanging in the wind.
That would probably still be the case, except that there are hardly any retractables still in production, partially a function of the high labor hours required to produce the type. Only the Piper Arrow III and Beech G36 Bonanza are still being built, and no one can say how long either will survive.
While retractables do enjoy an aero-dynamic advantage at low to medium heights, that benefit decreases at high altitude, where the air becomes thin and less able to support a wing. Well-designed struts and wheel pants can help minimize a retractable's cleaner-drag coefficient. The Mooney Acclaim S was the unchallenged speed king for a few years, but now, sadly, it and all other Mooneys are out of production.
The new touch-screen Garmin G2000 dominates the Intrinzic flight deck on the Corvalis TTx. The Garmin GTC570 touch-screen controller is on the lower center console and allows a pilot to program comm frequency, navigation and mode information, plus environmental control and intercom commands.
Cessna hopes to deliver its first fixed-gear Corvalis TTx by the first quarter of 2013. It's an improved version of the Corvalis TT, in turn, an updated model of the former Columbia 400. The original was a turbocharged, all-composite single designed by Lance Neibauer and built by Columbia Aircraft Manufacturing Co. in Bend, Ore.
The modern Corvalis represents a significant departure for Cessna Aircraft, a company that had never marketed a low-wing single or an all-composite machine before the model 240 Corvalis. In fact, the TTx is both Cessna's and general aviation's fastest piston airplane, and that includes twins. Neither the Beech G58 Baron nor the Piper Seneca V can come close to the Corvalis' cruise performance.
Cessna had a press reintroduction of the 2013 Corvalis TTx last June at the company's Wichita plant on Mid-Continent Airport. I met with Cessna chief pilot Kirby Ortega and Corvalis team leader Terry Shriner on a typically warm June day, and we prepared to launch into a 100-degree afternoon.
Three questions I'm asked most often in conjunction with flying new airplanes are: 1. How much can it carry; 2. How far can it travel on a single tank; and 3. How fast can it fly?
Kirby showed me the weight and balance on the experimental test airplane, and the empty weight checked in at 2,660 pounds. That leaves a useful load of 940 pounds, not so bad until you consider that full fuel is 102 gallons. That's 612 pounds of petrol, and the result on our test airplane was a full fuel cabin load of 328 pounds.
In fact, if the TTx has an Achilles wing, it's probably payload (though the test airplane could have been slightly heavier than a production model). Even Cessna claims only 388 paying pounds on a standard Corvalis with full fuel. Remember, however, that includes air conditioning, and on the day we flew in Wichita, that was a godsend. The environmental control system did a respectable job of maintaining a reasonably comfortable cabin.
Check pilot Ortega commented that Cessna is fine-tuning the system to offer a little more AC power for really hot conditions. A buyer has the option of deleting air conditioning for a price concession and 70 pounds more payload. Personally, I'd happily leave behind 70 pounds of fuel rather than forego air-conditioning.
(Non-pilots are always nonplussed when I take them flying in my Mooney on a warm day and there's no air-conditioning, a feature that's usually standard equipment on even the least expensive small car.)
A 388-pound payload suggests you could carry two folks plus some baggage in a fully fueled standard-equipped airplane. That's not the disadvantage it seems, even if you do need to haul four folks. Business-jet operators understand that it makes little sense to tanker fuel if you can buy more at each stop. Every extra pound of fuel you carry demands more fuel to lift, so most business airplanes pump aboard only what petrol they need for each leg.
Cessna chose a striking geometric paint scheme to emphasize that a buyer can specify a personalized design as an increment option on their purchase.
That's exactly the case with the Corvalis. As we were to discover later, a full 102 gallons provides excellent range, so it's probably not necessary to fill the tanks on every flight. Reduce the fuel load to 52 gallons, and you could still fly with two couples without exceeding the 700-pound max payload.
The paint job on the test airplane was a non-standard geometric design that included several light colors, but I couldn't help noticing how well the stripes and shapes merge together beneath the clear coat. The striping is almost perfectly flush. There are no raised edges when you run your hand across the wing or fuselage surface. Of course, the Corvalis features all-composite construction, a smooth surface that lends itself extremely well to whatever paint design you wish.
To that end, Cessna offers an option of custom paint. Terry Shriner explains: "This is a high-end product, so one feature a buyer can specify is a personalized paint scheme and design. It's what we call an incremental option. We know what it costs to paint the aircraft, so if a buyer desires a special scheme, we calculate the additional cost over and above a standard paint job to keep the price as low as possible, consistent with meeting the production schedule."
Shriner says Cessna has examined a number of paint colors that work well on the heat-sensitive composite surface, based on solar reflectivity value, and they should be able to accommodate practically any request.
Inside the cabin, the Corvalis features leather-covered side sticks for roll and pitch control. Trim is via a conventional, Chinese-hat actuator that allows fast, accurate positioning. It's also a worthwhile benefit in the event of a control failure, as you could conceivably land the airplane with only the four-position trim control. Conceivably.
strong Citation jet influence. All the little details are attended to with quality appropriate to an
upscale, personal airplane.
The TTx sports semi-Recaro-style leather seats that look as if they came straight out of a Carrera. The cabin measures 48 inches across by 49 inches tall, nearly the same dimensions as the old Piper Navajo Chieftain cabin-class twin. Rear seats are easily removable to allow a large baggage area in the rear. The overall impression of the interior suggests a strong Citation jet influence. All the little details are attended to with quality appropriate to an upscale, personal airplane.
In The Air
The TTx's Intrinzic flight deck introduces the new touch-screen Garmin G2000. Seven years ago, when I flew the first Garmin Gee Whiz 1000 that was to eventually dominate the industry, I was impressed by the exponential improvement in avionics technology. The G2000, first announced at Sun 'n Fun 2011, very well may be as far ahead of that initial flat-screen system as was the G1000 above steam gauges.
Much of the magic is in the Garmin GTC570 touch-screen controller, a small panel on the lower center console. This is a marvel of miniaturization that allows a pilot to program comm frequency, navigation and mode information, plus environmental control and intercom commands, all through a single, 5.7-inch console.
The GTC570 features large icons backed by infrared sensors (that respond to heat), and it's designed to keep fingerprints off those big, beautiful, 14-inch, GDU1400 displays.
The TTx has a zero-fuel weight of 3,300 pounds against its 3,600-pound gross weight. In other words, all weight above 3,300 pounds must be fuel. This is intended as a hedge to minimize loads on the wing-spar carry-through structure. If you depart at max gross weight, you'll need at least 50 gallons on board.
Ortega and I departed Wichita MidContinent with 75 gallons in the tanks and climbed up to 12,500 feet to see what the airplane would do at breathable heights. Despite the fierce heat, the TTx elevated above the flat Kansas plains at an easy 1,100 fpm, ascending at cruise climb speed to keep the engine cool. Once we leveled, the G2000 suggested we were flying at ISA +23 degrees C, not exactly optimum cruise conditions.
Still, running the big Continental at max cruise settings, 2,400 and 31 inches mp, with best power dialed in, we saw 193 knots true on about 21 gph. Pulled back to 50 degrees lean of peak, fuel burn dropped to 15.5 gph, but speed maintained 182 knots, certainly a fair trade.
Using that setting for cross-country travel, we could have endured for 5.5 hours, worth nearly 1,000 nm. Cessna claims a maximum 1,250 nm range at long-range settings. That would allow one-stop transcontinental hops across most of the U.S., and as we witnessed on a sizzling Wichita, washboard afternoon, the Corvalis high-wing loading imparts a ride that's placid and serene even when the sky isn't.
The oxygen system wasn't operational for our flight, but a previous hop in a Corvalis TT to 17,500 feet suggested a cruise of 213 knots. Another flight in the predecessor Columbia 400 to FL250 granted us 222 knots max cruise.
Cruise checks complete, we cleared the area and tried a series of stalls and a few other maneuvers to check the Garmin Electronic Stability Protection System. This is an attitude monitor that guards against operation outside the normal flight envelope. I decelerated to 80 knots, and wrapped the airplane over to a 60 degree bank, simulating a left departure stall.
At least, I tried to. Garmin's attitude minder decided that was a little too aggressive for a utility category airplane and automatically rolled back to the right and pitched forward. GESPS has no connection to the throttle, so it won't add power to help you recover, but it does practically everything else to keep you from straying too far from straight and level.
Air show pilot Sean Tucker obviously didn't have such a system aboard several years back when he flew a full aerobatic routine in the earlier Columbia version. Admittedly, Tucker confined his show to standard positive maneuvers—loops, rolls, hammerheads and spins—but it was still a strong testament to the airplane's maneuverability.
Cessna expects the TKS de-ice system to be FIKI certified by mid-2013, and it's planned to be fairly idiotproof. The FIKI system has four modes, Normal, High, Max Flow and Backup, and the readout of fluid remaining will be in time as well as gallons, based on the rate you select. Max capacity is 10 gallons, and even at the high position, you'll have nearly an hour to get out of trouble. The TTx will have spray plates from root to tip, and they'll be contoured to the leading edges rather than glued in place as on the former uncertified Evade system. Ice lights will be mounted in the fuselage, focused on both wings.
After our air work, we headed for Hutchinson, Kan., for a few landings. The TTx is restricted to a max landing weight of 3,420 pounds. That means you'll need to burn off a minimum of 30 gallons if you depart at gross, or you'll have to convince a 180-pound passenger to bail out.
Speed brakes are standard on the TTx, and they expedite a descent without shock cooling the big Continental. Like many heavy singles, the Corvalis does its best work in the pattern with some power on all the way to the ground. Ortega recommended 85 knots to the threshold, and the airplane seemed to paint itself onto the runway with little input from me. Full flap stall is only 60 knots, so you could easily use 75 knots for a short-field effort. The Corvalis nosewheel is non-steerable; differential braking is mandatory for directional control on the ground.
I've been lucky to log several flights in Cessna Mustangs, the company's entry-level Citation jet, and you can't help but think the Corvalis could be a great step-up airplane for pilots ascending the ladder of complexity within the Cessna family. Apparently, at least one Cessna buyer has reached the same conclusion. He's planning to earn his private license in the Corvalis TTx, then step up to a Mustang. Rich Manor, president of Pacific Aircraft Sales in Long Beach, Calif., says he has a customer coming the other direction, as well. The pilot plans to step up from his Skylane to the TTx.
The panel layouts of both the TTX and the Mustang are comparable, bug landing speeds aren't that dissimilar, and with the benefit of FADEC, the jet's systems aren't that much more challenging. If you can learn to handle the systems on the Corvalis, you should be able to manage the Mustang.
Overall, the piston-powered Corvalis flies like it should have Breitling instruments and Northrup controls. It's an impressive package with genius level technology in the service of super-fast.