A Flight In A Skycatcher

A light airplane that won’t frighten new pilots.

An heir to the 152, the Cessna 162 was unveiled (as a mockup) at the 2007 Oshkosh, Wisconsin fly-in.

Cessna’s 162 skycatcher is vastly different from its forebears, but with its gentle handling and good manners, it too is a very light airplane that won’t frighten new pilots. The interior of the airplane feels more like an industrial space restyled as a loft apartment, as opposed to the Cessna 150/152, which aspires to feel like a penthouse suite. And the 162 is considerably more spacious than the older trainers.

The Skycatcher will top out at 118 knots, or just under 136 mph, and at full power, it burns about six gallons of aviation gasoline per hour. The Skycatcher carries 24 gallons (144 pounds) of gas, and you’d want to land with three or four gallons, which means a three-hour leg is easily doable and plenty safe. The aircraft gets off the runway quickly (needing only 640 feet, according to the Pilot’s Operating Handbook) and climbs like a sparrow chasing a hawk—880 feet per minute at max weight. The Light Sport category limits that weight to 1,320 pounds, or about 300 pounds less than the 150’s, so today’s chubbier pilots (or pilots with passengers) will need to leave some fuel home.

The standard Garmin G300 offers a display that combines all panel information on one screen. An optional second display provides some redundancy in the event that one fails. In this airplane, if you’re a Sport Pilot, you’re flying daytime-only in visual flight rules, so the backup factor is not a huge concern.

The 162’s control stick is mounted not to the floor but to a tube that extends into the panel, where it connects to the control linkages for ailerons and elevators. Think of it more as half a control yoke. It’s a bit weird, but it’s a net improvement in gaining panel access and visibility. Rudder pedals adjust fore and aft to meet your feet.

During a preflight inspection, flight instructor James Allen of Georgia’s Savannah Aviation pointed out one feature of the 162 that’s unique: The ailerons’ upward deflection is markedly greater than their downward deflection. That tends to minimize a phenomenon called adverse yaw, which is an induced drag that pulls on the downward aileron-deflected side and creates a yawing moment. As Allen further demonstrated during an orientation flight, the airplane could spend the afternoon in a near-full-stall condition, as it has absolutely no tendency to fall off onto one wing and spin.

Full flaps in a 150 deflected so much air that—and this is just my own conjecture—the air reaching the tail was turbulent enough to nullify the rudder’s effect. One instructor years ago insisted that I perform accelerated stalls in a 150 with all 40 degrees of flaps hanging in the wind. The 150 wanted to flip over onto its back and enter a spin. I went out alone to practice that one day, scared myself silly, and never did it again. So students on the 162 will be luckier than I was, at least in that one respect. The 162 with full flaps is as benign as your school nurse.

On landing, Allen pointed out that the airplane has a tendency to float a bit before it finally settles to touch down, which some students would find unsettling. In his test flight report for the December 2009 issue of Flying magazine, J. Mac McClellan noted this and wrote about one approach to landing: “I purposely carried 25 knots of extra speed and then wracked the 162 into a fully cross-controlled slip [the aileron pegged one way and the opposite rudder pedal to the floor] on short final to lose the speed and altitude. Because the flaps are the simple hinged type, not the slotted style of other Cessnas, there is no possible interaction between the flaps and tail, so the slip is easily controllable.”

Most reviews of the 162 evaluate the airplane as primarily a trainer, not a recreational airplane for personal transportation. The inventory of used Cessnas of all models and types is so enormous that choosing a new 162 (if Cessna were still making them) would be difficult to justify, given the value comparisons. But once they start turning up in the used market, the 162 will be a viable option for pilots like me who take frequent 100- or 200-mile trips.

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