Cessna Unveils its LSA, surprises crowd with “next generation” aircraft

Cessna Aircraft Co. opened this year’s AirVenture with a buzz, showing off its proof-of-concept Light Sport Aircraft, then wowing the crowd with a fly-by of its Next Generation Piston aircraft.

The much-anticipated unveiling of the Cessna LSA took place at AeroShell Square, attracting hundreds of onlookers, including many industry insiders who spent the minutes before the unveiling trying to guess what the LSA would be made of and what powerplant Cessna had on the plane.

Those questions were answered when the black covering was peeled back, revealing a mostly-aluminum, high-wing aircraft powered by a 100-hp Rotax 912 engine.

But even as the crowd pushed closer to see the plane, Jack Pelton, Cessna’s chairman, president and CEO, emphasized that the company has not made the final decision to enter the LSA sector. “We will be assessing the market over the next few months and plan to make a go/no go decision in the first quarter of next year,” he said.

Helping to make that decision were Oshkosh attendees, who were asked to fill out surveys at the Cessna booth and at the LSA exhibit. The company printed 25,000 surveys, which will provide plenty of data to help it make its decision, he added.

Entering the LSA market is a natural extension of Cessna’s business plan, Pelton noted. “We believe that Light Sport Aircraft may be the key to stimulating new pilot starts, re-energizing our industry and feeding the important pipeline of human talent which is so important to all of us,” he said.

At the same time, Cessna is concentrating on its piston line, showing off its next generation piston proof-of-concept airplane with a fly-by. The plane, which made it first flight June 23, did several passes, but was not put on display. In fact, it flew back to Wichita that same day to continue flight testing.

The plane, which has been in development the last two years, is designed to augment the company’s current piston product line of 172 Skyhawks, 182 Skylanes and 206 Stationairs. “We are committed to maintaining our lead in the single engine piston sector,” Pelton said. “We have been looking at a range of possible technologies, features, materials and processes that will result in an aircraft that is responsive to market needs and will be a strong competitor.”

The company is not releasing performance numbers or specifications, or even detailed photographs, until the development program is further along.

“We want this to be a world-class plane, but before making any commitments, we want to have a high level of confidence that we meet or exceed those commitments. That’s the way we like to do business at Cessna.”

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