Tecnam has seen the future of general aviation, and it’s the automobile. Nothing unusual or wrong with that—most OEMs have embraced the concept of replicating the “automotive experience,” seeking to meet customers’ raised standards for fit and finish, and deliver the level of comfort and style one would expect when plunking down the cash equivalent of a super premium luxury car for an airplane.
But more than a route to attracting pilots, Tecnam sees this as the path to salvaging the industry. “If we’re going to try to get new people into aviation, we need pilots to have people to fly with them—otherwise, they stop flying,” said Shannon Yeager, Tecnam’s U.S. sales director. “And to get people to go flying, this”—he nodded toward the airplane in front of us—“needs to be as close to the automotive experience as possible.”
We were standing beside N1107M, a P2010, Tecnam’s new four-place high-wing, at the company’s hangar-showroom at its U.S. headquarters at Sebring Regional Airport (SEF) in Florida (home of the annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo). Opened in 2014, here, all the aircraft models the Italian company makes are displayed auto-showroom style, parked in two facing rows. Visitors can stroll amongst the aircraft, placarded with specs and performance, as they mull choices and options. Now, with the addition of the P2010, the Italian manufacturer—known primarily for its LSAs in the U.S.—has a platform with the room to bring that automotive ideal to aviation reality.
The P2010 (“Twenty-Ten”) received EASA certification in 2014 and was on the cusp of receiving FAA certification when we flew it this fall, operated as an Experimental Exhibition aircraft. Like all numbered Tecnam models, the “P” stands for (Luigi) Pascale, the designer, and the number represents the year the model’s design study was finalized. Notably, this is also the first single-engine high-wing four place certified in the U.S. in almost half a century—since Cessna’s C-177 Cardinal in 1968—making it something of a yardstick of GA’s advance over that span.
Combining a composite fuselage and metal wings, the P2010 blends the traditional and modern smartly in pursuit of performance and practicality. The metal wings “give us a nice flexibility when we’re flying,” said Yeager, noting that the stiffness of a carbon-fiber wing would make it less turbulence tolerant. Additionally, composite material is more difficult to repair in the event of hangar rash, and the wings more susceptible to injury. Meanwhile, the carbo-fiber fuselage allows construction of a wider, stronger cabin than metal would permit. “So we’ve put the right material in the right places,” Yeager said. “It gives us overall weight savings along with aerodynamic improvements.”
Approaching from the starboard side, the most obvious auto-like feature is the rear cabin door, allowing entry and egress for back-seat passengers without having to squeeze in behind the forward seats. The rear door, however, was almost an afterthought. “The aerodynamic flow and the materials allowed us to place the strut behind the front door, and that gave us the opportunity to have a second one,” Yeager says. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise, but we ended up with the right measurements.”
But the automotive experience also needs to be expressed in utility, the ability to pile in the kids or another couple with all your gear and really go somewhere. Tecnam positions the P2010 against the venerable Cessna 172 in highlighting its fitness for duty as a practical traveling machine.
“This weighs a little bit less than a 172 but it carries 300 pounds more, and it goes about 15 to 20 knots faster,” Yeager said. “I can put four 200-pounders, two-and-a-half hours of fuel, and four golf bags in this aircraft, and I am legal to go flying,” he continued. “Those are book numbers—not, ‘Well, we might be able to’ numbers.”
Yeager towed the airplane singlehandedly out to the ramp, showcasing its ease of ground handling, for the preflight inspection. The smooth composite fuselage leaves little to examine. At the rear of the aircraft, hash marks on the port fuselage just forward of the empennage allow quick verification of the stabilator’s proper range of deflection. At the front end, large butterfly access panels expose the engine sufficiently to change oil without dropping the cowl. The Lycoming IO-360-M1A inside can burn 91 octane unleaded aviation fuel, but for now, that’s not much help beyond the limited areas of Europe where it’s available and approved for use. There’s room to spare under the cowl, sparking speculation that Tecnam will offer higher-powered P2010s in the future. Yeager wouldn’t confirm the plan but hinted that it’s true. “This aircraft holds 62 gallons of fuel. Do you need that much to run a 180-hp Lycoming IO-360?” he asked, shaking his head. “Most people don’t need to fly six-and-a-half or seven hours.” He also noted the airframe has been tested at higher airspeeds. “The limiting factor [in boosting performance] is not the structure, it’s the engine.”
The P2010 offers fixed pitch (climb or cruise) and constant speed MT propeller options, and Tecnam expects the latter to be the overwhelming choice in the U.S. N1107M, however, was outfitted with a fixed-pitch cruise prop, installed for final certification re-testing Tecnam was conducting. Our climb rate would suffer, but we could expect to see speed in the range of the model’s 140-knot top speed.
Getting into the airplane is easy, even if not done exactly automotive style. Just put your butt on the seat—use the step as desired to assist with positioning—and swing yourself in. Slide over one in the back if you need to make room.
Three-point automotive style seat belts, automatic courtesy lights that illuminate when the baggage compartment door is opened, and seat leather with stitching any Italian automaker would be proud of are among features adding to the auto ambiance. The demo aircraft also had the Premium Edition interior, which includes suede seat inserts and higher-quality carpet and trim. While passengers may be comforted by car culture styling, pilots will likely appreciate the familiar Garmin 1000 avionics suite (standard in the P2010) and Lycoming power, making start-up and operations almost second nature to many. A Mid-Continent SAM (Standby Attitude Module) digital display provides backup instrumentation, keeping the panel uncluttered and round-gauge free. System switches are positioned along the bottom of the panel.
Restricted to flying in a proficiency area under our Experimental Exhibition status, we couldn’t travel very far or land anywhere else on today’s demo flight. But if I were introducing a potential flying buddy to GA, I’d probably stay close to the home field on the first flight anyway, as I decided to imagine today’s mission.
Tinted windows are standard, and all are sealed, which together with soundproofing reduces interior sound level some 15 dB, but can make the cabin warm during ground ops. Keeping the doors cracked works fine for environmental control, even if passengers aren’t used to driving down the road that way.
With the oil warmed, we taxied toward the active, tanks three-quarters full. The nosewheel casters 90 degrees to the left and right, providing exceptional ground maneuverability. Yeager reviewed takeoff procedures as we taxied: Apply back pressure at 55 knots and let the airplane fly itself off between 60 and 65 knots, which will take 800 to 900 feet of pavement at sea level. Cleaned up at 80 knots behind a constant speed prop, climb rate would be about 800 fpm.
“The acceleration will not thrill you,” Yeager said before we took Rwy 01 for departure. But thrills aren’t something passengers necessarily want, and the P2010’s climb profile is also unlikely to produce any adrenaline. “Even though were climbing at best angle, we’re only about four to five degrees nose up,” Yeager noted approvingly during our climb-out. “It’s a real flat climber and descender. That makes uninitiated passengers feel a lot better. They’re not used to a car tipping up 15 degrees.”
The P2010 should give passengers a smooth ride in stable air. Vortex generators (VGs) on the vertical stabilizer improve rudder control authority, and the stabilator, a feature of all Tecnams, has been moved farther aft on the empennage relative to its other models, enhancing pitch stability. Small fences on the back edge of the ailerons boost their effectiveness in turns. Occupants will arrive quickly, as well. At 2,500 feet and 2600 rpm on an above standard day (35 degrees C), our airspeed reached 135 knots. A world of destinations will await. The wheel farings leave enough clearance to operate on turf and unpaved strips. “In Europe, it’s too expensive to land on pavement,” Yeager noted, adding that the home field at Tecnam’s factory in Casoria is “basically a whole bunch of ruts and holes with some green patches, so if it can handle that, there’s not much here it can’t handle.”
But though comfortable operating off-pavement, the P2010 isn’t a short-field airplane. Takeoff performance seems to be its primary operational limitation. As noted, close to 1,000 feet of pavement is needed to get airborne in standard conditions, and if operating on turf, “fully loaded on a hot day, you want 2,500 feet of grass,” Yeager said.
For that reason, Yeager typically has pilots fly slow flight demonstrations at about 70 knots, seeing little reason to emphasize the bottom end of the envelope. “This will land in so much shorter distance than it needs to take off,” he explained. “If a pilot has to get it that slow and close to the edge to land, he’s probably not at a field he can take off from.” (Slowed to just above its landing configuration 50-knot stall speed, control surfaces remained effective in shallow turns; with the throttle retarded, the ensuing break was a gentle burble.)
But those field length requirements aren’t much of a limitation for most pilots or passengers looking for a comfortable traveling airplane rather than a flying SUV. What sort of facilities are you going to find at a hardscrabble strip that can’t accommodate a typical GA aircraft, anyway? A thousand feet of pavement and 2,500 feet of turf (adjusted for elevation) still leave lots of great destinations in the database. Along with the styling, onboard equipment should make getting there enjoyable. Electric trim is standard, and the Garmin GFC700 autopilot is available as an option, though we didn’t have either in our experimental configuration.
Pilots won’t find any surprises in the pattern upon arrival, either, as we saw during touch-and-goes back at SEF. The P2010 can fly flat, no-drama approaches with a gentle 300 fpm descent at about 75 knots. It’s okay to be a little high; you can slip the aircraft in any configuration, and the altitude provides an extra safety margin as there’s slight lag in response to power inputs at low airspeeds.
“Think about this aircraft as the first airplane you own,” Yeager summed up as we taxied back to the showroom. “It looks like a car, and it doesn’t hit extremes, so it won’t freak people out who aren’t used to flying. And you’re going to be comfortable if you’re the pilot because you don’t have a lot to think about.” He was quiet for a moment. “I’m tired of people getting their [pilots’] certificates, going out to fly with dad and mom, and after 30 hours they stop and never come back.”
More than 30 P2010s have been delivered in Europe thus far. Tecnam is currently building about six per month, and one or two per month are earmarked for U.S. customers, with a base price of $345,000. As for how it stacks up as the first certified high-wing four-place in half a century, if the P2010 can get pilots to keep flying and passengers to go along with them happily, that’s progress indeed!