Monday, July 31, 2006
Cessna recently revealed it has been working at a new high-performance aircraft they are calling NGP, which stands for Next Generation Piston (aircraft), by making a fly-by at Oshkosh. The plane sports a high-wing cantilever design, vaguely reminiscent of the Cardinal, with some Cirrus-like features. A castering nose wheel and what looks to be a laminar-flow wing, not to mention the tail, are all reminiscent of the Cirrus as Ron mentioned. I don't attribute this to outright copying so much as engineers coming to the same design conclusions. Look at automobiles and you will see that most have similar shapes in an effort to reduce the coefficient of drag.
Cirrus aircraft have numerous drawbacks, some serious, that Cessna could capitalize on with its new NGP design. The Cirrus have had door problems from the get go. I have a nice bruise on my right forearm from trying like hell to get my door shut and latched (top and bottom) on a SR22 G2 earlier this week. There I was, holding the brakes with the engine running, repeatedly closing and opening my door. The temperature on the ground was about 104˚F and by the time I finally found a way to get the door latched, I was wringing wet with perspiration. Part of the SR22 G2 (second generation) marketing claims was that the doors would shut easily. Since all the late model Cessna aircraft have positively locking doors, one would think that the Cessna NGP would offer the same.
A new 182 is much more fun to hand fly than the Cirrus, but it has very heavy heavy elevator control pressures. You really need to trim the 182 or have a lot of upper body strength to hand fly it successfully. The new 182 reminds me of a Caravan, which is probably why I have a soft spot for it. The heavy control feel makes the plane very stable when flying IFR, but it can be tiring. The Cirrus is a weird plane to fly by hand, but if you have a very sensitive touch, there is some control feel you can establish in spite of the spring-loaded trim cartridges. Given all that horsepower and torque up front, the lack of rudder trim in the SR22 I fly is a shame, really. The Cessna NGP could really have an advantage if it is a more pleasant to fly aircraft, but laminar-flow wings, while offering good cruise characteristics, tend to be temperamental at slower speeds.
Cirrus has electrical system problems and its Master Control Unit is widely recognized as a potential Achilles Heel. The Cirrus I fly has had repeated ALT2 failures and at least one complete MCU replacement that I know of. I'm not the first SR22 pilot who has considered the possibility of a complete electrical system failure in IMC and I know at least one SR22 owner who flies with a hand-held Garmin GPS as a backup.
Another issue with the Cirrus is the ridiculous placement of circuit breakers, alternate air, and alternate static source controls, which would be pretty easy to address in the new Cessna design.
The pitiful ventilation in the Cirrus is barely better than the Diamond Katana (aka Ka-sauna), though you can leave the Cirrus doors open during taxi and that helps a bit. I'm told there is an after market air conditioner available for Cirrus, but I'm also told that the installation requires some serious modifications. A high-wing aircraft is not immune from being hot, but a high wing does give you some shade from the sun and shelter from rain in bad weather. Air conditioning as an option in the new Cessna would be ... cool.
The Cirrus is a noisy beast, hence the Bose headsets that Cirrus markets with the plane. I found my LightSpeed Mach1 works well in the Cirrus, easily dampening the loud racket. Still, one would expect the new Cessna would be quieter inside.
The Cirrus have had brake issues that, combined with the unfortunate placement of the fuel sump drains, has resulted in some ground fires that have completely consumed a few SR22s. With a castering nose gear, the Cessna NGP will need some beefy brakes and Cessna has not had a great track record with its brake systems on single-engine aircraft. Even some Caravans I have flown had some brake problems, so Cessna better get the brake system right on the NGP. The fuel sumps being far away from the wheels should obviate the fire danger and one assumes the NGP, like all late model Cessna, will have a bevy of fuel sumps.
Other things that could help make the NGP serious Cirrus competition?
TKS icing with known icing certification.
A vacuum-driven attitude indicator.
A back-up alternator similar to the one on the Caravan and just one battery.
And if I win the lottery and Cessna does produce the NGP, I'd opt for a turbine engine version.