Cessna’s Skycatcher … Caught!

By Robert Mark on September 13th, 2010

Cessna’s new 162 Skycatcher has begun rolling out of the assembly hangar at Wichita’s Yingling Aviation across the ramp from Cessna’s mothership factory complex. Cessna expects to deliver about 50 of the Special Light Sport Aircraft (SLSA) aircraft by the end of the year and has orders for another thousand. But that’s not surprising.

162 The Skycatcher is the first new Cessna-designed true training airplane since the venerable Cessna 150/152 series of four decades ago. Without an alternative to the well-aged 150/152 fleet, most flight schools in the Cessna Pilot Center program have been using C172s for primary training which significantly elevates the cost of learning to fly.

In town for the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) conference, I jumped at the opportunity to fly one of the new birds from Mid-Continent Airport when Cessna offered one on Saturday. The flight was particularly well-timed for comparisons for me at least, having recently logged four or five hours in a well-worn Cessna 150 at KPWK (I have about 600 hrs of 150 time in my logbook), as well as with a primary student in the considerably more complex Cirrus SR-20.

Walking Around

My Cessna demo pilot was the occasionally-Australian (have him do that accent for you) senior instructor pilot Jeremy Schrag. We began with a walk-around thata highlighted some of the 162’s design and manufacturing. Powered by the same Continental O-200 as the original Cessna 150, old guys like me will be starting out with a very-trusted old friend under the cowling.

Construction is mostly riveted lap-jointed aluminum – bucked rivets, not pop rivets though – which offers a clean look and a solid feel. Wiggle the horizontal stabilizer on a 150 and it moves. Try that on the 162 and it’s rock-solid. Cessna used it’s considerable design expertise to test the Skycatcher to Part 23 standards although it was not required for ASTM approval on a Light Sport Aircraft. FAA has recently stepped up compliance oversight of LSAs just in case.

Look beneath the 162 rudder on the walk around and you’ll see the ventral fin added during flight testing after Cessna lost a few birds in spin accidents (no one was seriously injured). Since SLSA aircraft are limited to 120 ventralkts,gurney top speed, the Skycatcher prominently touts a gurney strip on the elevator trim designed to slow the airplane just a bit and also give the light controls a bit more feel. The big fat wing adds some drag for sure, but should make the aircraft climb well.

No more need to lower the flaps during the preflight either. They’re actually spring-loaded up so you can simply pull them down by hand for the inspection. The 162 has a number of places to drain fuel for water – six in fact – so be ready. Four are easy (at the wing root) while the last two, including the gascolator under the engine require a little stooping.

One thing Cessna has to fix though is the pitot tube. It’s a quarter-inch – nearly invisible – piece of aluminum tubing sticking out under the left wing and could catch someone at eye or head level during the walkaround if they’re not passing close attention. Jeremy said the first thing he does on landing is put the red pitot cover on for safety. I like that idea or possibly painting the thing orange to make it more visible.

If you’ve never flown a Cessna 150, a detailed explanation of how various body parts need to be twisted and shoved to enter and exit the aircraft may mean little. That entire discussion is now irrelevant on the Skycatcher. Both doors swing upwards and are supported by small hydraulic lifters so there’s no need to hold on to them as they open. The wing strut is now behind the door where it’s out of the way too.

Just sit down in the seat and turn your legs inward. The 162 also uses a stick rather than a control wheel for better use of the real estate. A confession, the real secret to moving in and out easily isn’t only a function of the door. The 162 cabin happens to be about the same width as the Cessna 206 – just a shade under 43 inches – which means the days of flying little Cessnas shoulder to shoulder are also a thing of the past (thank you). The seats in the Skycatcher are fixed in position and like the Diamond, distance to the rudders and toe brakes can be varied. During the flight, I found that it was easy to adjust just by using the toe of my shoe.

Look around inside the cockpit of the Skycatcher and the pulleys and cables that connect to the ailerons, elevators and rudder are right there for all to see, as are the wiring bundles under the panel. Some people might not like that, but after having flown a 40-year old C150 where all the plastic that covered these things was falling apart, I vote for the open system.

PFD and MFD

The Skycatcher is a glass airplane, apanellbeit a simple one. Garmin’s 300 avionics suite fits well and includes a Primary Flight Display standard and an optional Multi-Function Display (MFD). The Skycatcher is not intended to be an IFR airplane, even with some options. The Garmin uses GPS for nav functions and offers a transponder and a communications radio, but no VOR/ILS capabilities so calling for a last minute IFR clearance is pretty tough.

MFDI asked to see a copy of the aircraft POH to work out a weight and balance problem or two when Jeremy showed me one of the coolest toys available for a light airplane … the weight and balance data is all visible on the MFD. Rather than guess at how much fuel the aircraft can hold when people have been added, or whether it tossed the CG outside the envelope, simply crank the fuel knob and watch the dot that represents the CG move around the weight and balance envelope. When it turns red and pops out the top of the envelope, you’re at max fuel. It also makes explaining the intricacies of weight and balance to a student much easier.

The empty weight of the aircraft I flew was 865 lbs and with the two us and 12 gallons of fuel we weighed in at 1280 lbs. Max takeoff weight cannot exceed 1320 lbs so we could have added another six gallons of fuel or 40 pounds of bags.

Let’s Go Flying

One of the most critical weaknesses of the C150 – especially for students –fuel was the difficulty of determining precisely how much fuel was on board, except when the tanks were full because the old Cessna’s mechanical gauges were pretty much useless. The 162 fixed that with a pair of visible fuel indicators at the wing root inside the cabin. The fuel capacity is the same as the 150 – 26 gal. max & 22.5 usable and like the 150, the 162 burns just under six gal. per hour.

Flip on the master switches and the first thing I noticed was that without mechanical gyros to spin up, the cockpit is silent. It was 78 degrees at ICT on Saturday, so no prime was needed and the Continental was running in a couple of swings of the prop. Engine gauges on the MFD announced that oil pressure was up pretty quickly.

The Skycatcher is a castering-nosewheel aircraft but I found it pretty easy to taxi once I got a feel for the brakes and the movement of the rudder pedals. On a hot day, taxiing around with both doors wide open is really pretty cool and cool!. The runup … well there isn’t much to say … check the mags, be sure the primer is locked down, turn on the LED lights and away you go. I dropped one notch of the flaps using the manual handle in between the seats.

Time for takeoff as the tower cleared us to head northbound off runway 1 Right. The 162 accelerates faster – it’s nearly 400 lbs lighter – than the 150 so the pilot needs to be paying attention. Somewhere around 40 knots I eased back on the stick and we were airborne. The ground roll was about 500-600 feet. The Skycatcher is a little light in pitch. I can’t imagine what it would be like without that gurney on the elevator trim.

After just a few seconds of acceleration to best rate, I was surprised to see just a tad over 1,000 fpm in the climb that added to the wow effect created by all those big windows … front, side, rear on both sides and ceiling. Imagine a student losing their way on a cross country … they could actually look out the windows.

We climbed to 3,500 feet and let the aircraft accelerate. With the power at 2,700 rpm, we were scooting along around 112 –114 kts. I slowed a bit for steep turns which are easy thanks to all those windows. Again, the Skycatcher’s touchy in pitch until you get used to it. I overcontrolled on the first couple of turns. On some jets I’ve flown recently, the controls were extremely heavy. Controls just take time getting used to.

My first landing at Newton was a zero flapper at 65 knots crossing the end. When I tried to flare, I overcontrolled in pitch feeling for the ground. By the third or fourth landing though, I had a handle on it. The first notch of flaps (10 degrees) can go out at 100 kts, the second (25 degrees) at 85 and full flaps (40 degrees) at 70 kts. I think the Skycatcher’s 2 1/2 foot flap handle is too large for this airplane and gets in the way by the time you pull full flaps on for landing. I know I could rest my arm on the handle, but the flaps are so lightly loaded that very little leverage is really needed to add flaps anyway, so a smaller handle would probably work just fine.

Most of all though, even in my short flight, I learned that the Skycatcher doesn’t like extra speed at the flare. Carry any and you can expect to float. I like that. An small aircraft that makes it easy to demonstrate the value of solid speed control. Even with no wind and full flaps the Skycatcher gets down and stopped really quickly … if you’re on speed. A short-field landing means 52 knots and power until you’re about to touch down. We were stopped in about 400 feet.

The Skycatcher lists for $112,500. With an MFD, the intercom and a primer, the total is closer to $125,000. Cessna Finance is, of course, ready and willing to help. Yingling Aviation rents their Skycatcher for under $100 per hour, a figure many future pilots will find inviting.

Much to the chagrin of some, the Skycatcher is never going to cost $45, 000, or rent for $35 an hour, but perhaps only in comparison to other aircraft. At our flying club in Chicago, the Piper Archer is $165 an hour and the Cirrus and Diamond rent out at $180 so under a hundred looks pretty good for a new airplane, I think.

I also believe that learning in an airplane with simple electronics like the Skycatcher will shorten the total training to earn a license and hence the total cost considerably from say, learning from scratch in a Cirrus. And then, of course, as my instructor Jeremy Schrag said, “The 162 might be small, but the fun factor is big!” I agree. We forget about the fun part too much these days. The Skycatcher will help any pilot remember.

Rob Mark, editor

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5 Responses to “Cessna’s Skycatcher … Caught!”

  1. David Trost Says:

    Mr Mark,

    I read your article on the 162 with great interest since I have one of the few out there.
    No one seems to know this but there are 2 162s out for rent. The one at Kansas Aviation and mine. I have mine( serial #5) at Panorama Flight Services at KHPN in White Plains, NY.

    I obtained mine from the sweepstakes winner at Sporty’s this spring, because he already had a Cessna 310 and a 206.

    The plane is renting well and is developing a loyal following. Last Saturday it rented for 9 hours.

    I am a student going for my private license and just soloed in the 162 on Labor day. As a student coming from a 172 I found the 162 to be much more responsive, especially on pitch and as you mentioned easy to land if you are on speed. I think Cessna has developed a great little trainer.

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    And in another note, David mentioned that he rents the aircraft for $99 an hour.

    That sounds particulalry nice to me, especially since I just paid $85 per hour to rent a 35-year old Cesnna 150.

  3. Mark Henderson Says:

    Nice article Robert.

    Although I don’t have much 150/152 time (just enough to knock out the spin portion of my CFI training), I really enjoyed that legacy trainer.

    But the Skycatcher now holds the baton for training our next generation of pilots, and I can’t wait to log some time behind a modern Cessna stick.

  4. Aaron Says:

    David,

    I am interested in hearing how your 162 is renting. I am considering a leaseback on one of these airplanes. Seems like a great opportunity but I am curious how many hours yours is getting and if students are choosing it over the 172’s. Looks like a great little plane.

  5. Dave Says:

    Aaron,
    The plane has been renting well. I think that the details of this discussion should be private. Please contact me directly by email datrost@mac.com

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