After 80 years in the airplane manufacturing business, the Cessna Aircraft Co. knows a thing or two about aircraft design development.
For starters, it’s easier to develop a jet using wind tunnel tests. When it comes to piston-powered airplanes, however, you have to build a proof-of-concept model and get it in the air, says Cessna President and CEO Jack Pelton.
The company had two proof-of-concept models at Sun ‘n Fun, the Next Generation Piston (NGP) and the Light Sport Aircraft. The LSA made its first appearance at last year’s EAA AirVenture and started flying a few months later.
“Flight testing is well underway,” says Pelton, noting that the job is made easier by the well-defined parameters of the LSA category. “We try to make sure we have the airplane well within that envelope from an aerodynamic standpoint. I would say we are at the point where we are ready to say the aerodynamic configuration is completed. Now we are working on the engine competition between Rotax and Continental.”
The LSA will be controlled by stick, says Pelton, but notes it will be a hybrid stick that extends from beneath the panel and not up from the floor.
Company engineers are studying the internal ergonomics of the configuration, including “egress” issues because of the stick design, he adds.
Meanwhile, Cessna’s high-wing NGP shows very clearly the influence of the Cessna 206 and the strutless Cessna Cardinal. It made a fly-over at last year’s AirVenture and sent a wave of excitement through the crowd.
“It had less than 10 hours on the airframe when we did that,” Pelton notes with a smile.
Flight testing also has begun on that aircraft.
“We are very close to getting the in-flight geometry figured out,” he says. “The next hurdle will be figuring out what is the proper engine combination for that airplane and I think we are well on the way to having a pretty novel concept for avionics.”
As Cessna continues development on its new planes, it’s also celebrating its past this year. As part of the 80th anniversary celebration, the company held a fly-by of historic Cessna aircraft at Sun ‘n Fun. Many airplanes owned by individuals participated, as well as several company-owned planes, including a 182, the NGP and the Mustang. Pelton took on the job as announcer, discussing the planes as they flew by the air show crowd.
Meanwhile, Cessna featured a special display at this year’s Sun ‘n Fun in honor of the anniversary. The display, inside the 2,400-square-foot Cessna Center building on the Sun ‘n Fun campus, included a current aircraft model display, a photographic display of current and historic aircraft, and several trophies, including the 1996 Collier Trophy, awarded to the Citation X Team for creating the fastest commercial aircraft built in the United States; the 1936 Detroit News Trophy awarded to former Cessna President Dwane Wallace for winning the Efficiency Contest in the All American Air Races in Miami in the Cessna Airmaster; and the 1936 Amelia Earhart Trophy awarded to Betty Browning for winning the Closed Course Race For Women Pilots at the National Air Races in Los Angeles, also in a Cessna Airmaster.
The aircraft model display inside the Cessna Center featured all 13 aircraft types currently in production, including nine Citation jets designed for business operations, a turboprop-powered Caravan, and three models of single engine aircraft. With the exception of the Citation Mustang, all Cessna’s Citation jets and the Caravan are manufactured at the Mid-Continent plant in Wichita. The Mustang and all single engine piston aircraft are assembled at the company’s Independence, Kan., facility.
Aircraft on display outside the Cessna Center included the Mustang, Citation CJ1+, Grand Caravan, Turbo 182, Turbo 206, Skyhawk SP, and NGP and LSA proof-of-concept airplanes.
For more information: