Textron Aviation has the classic Cessna and Beechcraft lines of piston-engined aircraft under its wing. But are they serious business tools, or merely piston playthings?
In October 1924, a group of what today would be regarded as entrepreneurs established the Travel Air Manufacturing Company. Among its leadership, Clyde Cessna withdrew in September 1927, initially forming Cessna-Roos, which became the Cessna Aircraft Company that December. Its first production machine, the Model A, was a high-wing cabin monoplane, successfully setting the format that still serves Cessna so well today.
Another of the Travel Air founders, Walter Beech departed in 1930 to concentrate on his Model 17 Staggerwing. A high-speed cabin biplane designed with corporate flyers in mind, it was among the very first effective business aircraft. He and his wife Olive established the Beech Aircraft Company in April 1932, finding premises in Wichita, Kansas, where Cessna had by now also set up home.
After almost a century of innovation, challenge and corporate reshuffling, both continue under Textron Aviation ownership, where the long-term rivals are complementing each other perfectly. The Cessna piston range begins with the Skyhawk and reaches its ultimate expression in the TTX, while Beechcraft offers the low-wing Bonanza G36 single and Baron G58 twin. All are thoroughly modern aircraft, but do they really have a role in business aviation? EVA spoke to Doug May, Vice President of Piston Aircraft, Textron Aviation, to find out.
Piston aircraft might be considered ideal for training and pleasure flying, but overlooked as efficient business tools. Yet the TTX boasts an exceptional combination of range, performance, avionics and comfort. What does it offer the business or corporate flyer?
The beauty of our piston line is that there’s an aircraft for every mission, whether training, business or pleasure. Cessna’s high-wing products range from the Skyhawk 172, the number one training aircraft, to the Turbo Stationair HD. Our Beechcraft product line offers the Bonanza G36 and the twin-engine Baron G58 for more versatility.
As for the TTX, it’s an aircraft truly designed for the pilot, for superior handling and performance, and it’s equipped with Garmin G2000 avionics. And the TTX is incredibly efficient, burning less fuel than its nearest competitor and getting you to your destination faster, making it ideal for business and pleasure.
Many TTX operators clearly find it optimised for their mission, but is it also a natural starting point for those progressing through the Cessna range as their ambitions and businesses grow?
The versatility of the TTX enables a wide variety of mission possibilities, with features including a certified TKS Ice Protection system and utility-category certified airframe.
We offer a variety of solutions for customers looking to move up through our product line as business and travel needs grow. We absolutely see them step up to turbine ownership from the TTX and our other piston products. The Citation M2, entry-level jet to the Citation family, is designed for single-pilot operation and equipped with Garmin G3000 avionics, so it’s a natural transition for TTX customers looking to step up into an aircraft with more speed, range and payload.
The TTX is also a logical entry point for customers wanting to step up into a Denali turboprop in the future. Like the M2, the Denali will feature Garmin G3000 avionics, offering an easy transition from the TTX’s G2000 suite. We’ve certainly seen interest in Denali from our piston customer base.
With sidestick control and comprehensive avionics, the TTX offers an impressive package and exciting flying experience. But does its high technology require a greater level of pilot training/experience than might have been the case in the past, or do pilots graduating from, say, a glass-cockpit Skyhawk, find the progression quite natural?
We advocate for thorough training whenever transitioning to a new model, but most pilots find there is a natural progression through our piston line. The Skyhawk offers a great foundation and, with the similarities in avionics, there is a natural transition to the next model, be it a TTX, Skylane or Bonanza. There’s always a bit of an adjustment when moving to a faster aircraft, but for most pilots, that challenge is part of the fun.
Connectivity is almost as important as comfort to many business flyers. With its 1,270nm range the TTX is no stranger to long flights, so what does its cabin offer?
The TTX offers XM weather and radio datalink for weather information and digital audio entertainment in the cockpit. There’s also the Garmin GSR-56 Iridium satellite data transceiver option, through which pilots and passengers can access on-demand weather information, text communications and other data sharing capabilities. These include two-way text messaging on the ground and in the air.
The TTX has a 25,000ft service ceiling. What’s passenger comfort like at cruising altitude and what about cabin noise levels?
While the TTX is not pressurised, it does offer state-of-the-art safety, with a CO2 detector and pulse oximeter to monitor pilot blood-oxygen levels. An integrated oxygen system with a 77cuft oxygen bottle, four masks and cannulas is standard, while as an additional safety feature, the G2000 avionics system alerts the pilot when climbing through 12,000ft.
The aircraft’s inflatable door seals keep the cabin tight from air leakage, greatly reducing noise. The cabin is therefore quiet and passengers don’t need to wear headsets, although the aircraft is equipped for them if passengers desire.
Cessna’s offering includes the Skyhawk training/pleasure aircraft, the Stationair utility machine and Skylane, an entry-level business aircraft, while the Beechcraft Bonanza is a high-performance six-seater ideal for business and touring. All four have been available for decades –do Garmin avionics and other modern systems bring them fully up to date?
The Skyhawk is world renowned as the trainer of choice and represents the aircraft most active pilots learned to fly in, while the Turbo Stationair HD is a utility aircraft capable of hauling 1,623lb of useful load and has seating for six. The Skylane offers a roomier four-seat configuration, perfect as the next step in transitioning from learning to fly in a Skyhawk, or offering increased range and payload for pilots travelling with friends or colleagues. The Baron and Bonanza are great options as business aircraft with their levels of comfort, seating for six, speed and overall performance.
The next-generation Garmin avionics modernise the aircraft with improved graphical interface, more powerful software, higher resolution displays, added functionality to improve situational awareness, and optional wireless technology that significantly enhances ease of operation for the pilot. ADS-B In and Out come as standard, and the avionics package offers optional wireless database and flight plan loading.
Cessna no longer builds piston twins… Why?
Cessna twin piston production ended in the mid-1980s. With the merger of Cessna and Beechcraft, and the formation of Textron Aviation, we now have the twin-engine Beechcraft Baron in our portfolio, a perfect fit to round out our versatile piston product line. n