One thing has not changed, however. The airplane I flew that day, N66078, a 1976 Cessna 150M, is still out there earning a living as a trainer in the Philadelphia suburbs. Cessna cranked out thousands of what many have called the best primary trainer in general aviation history. The design was/is more or less timeless --it was outdated back in 1981, just like today! I should know. Just a few serial numbers later, Cessna produced N704AE, a 150M that I own today.
In all my years of flying, I never thought much of myself as a pilot. I mean, I learned in -and have most of my time in- Cessna 150s -very easy planes to fly. The next most-common type to appear in my logbook is the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, a plane even easier to fly than the 150. The 150 and its successor the 152 have taught generations of pilots how to fly. But there has not been a 152 produced since the mid 1980's. When Cessna started up the single engine line again in the 1990's, the smallest, lightest new Cessnas were Skyhawks.
With the advent of the Light Sport category of aircraft, Cessna got back in the business of two seat trainers. They came up with the Cessna 162 Skycatcher, an airplane in many ways a natural evolution of the 150/152 line.
|Cessna 162 Skycatcher|
The pre-flight is classic Cessna. Most things are where they always have been and the drill is quite familiar. A few small changes here and there, but if you'eve ever walked around a Cessna single, you will find everything remarkably familiar. Even inside the cowling. The Skycatcher uses the Continental O-200-D engine, almost the same powerplant as the 150.
The Skycatcher is clearly a Cessna -a high wing braced with a single strut sitting on tricycle gear. But the strut sits farther back than on the 150, which allows the doors to open straight up. The placement also allows excellent side visibility as the strut is behind the pilot. Visibility in all directions except straight back was superior to my 150. While the Skycatcher has a rear window, the horizontal tail is almost impossible to see. A significant change for pilots accustomed to Cessna singles is the flap system. Gone are the "barn door" slotted flaps of the old days. The new flaps are much smaller, are not slotted and only drop to 30 degrees.
Inside, things start to change. The first thing you notice is room. Elbow room to be precise. The Skycatcher is 4.5" wider than the 150/152. This means you don't have to be quite so intimate with your passenger. The next thing you notice sits between the two seats -a big manual flap handle mounted in a console. Forward of the handle sits cup holders! On the sides of the console are document storage holders. For this 150 owner, we are talking luxury! The flap handle is almost over-sized considering the size of the flaps themselves. You look at the handle and expect the plane to drop like a rock when you pull it. Not even close.
The interior is comfortable, but spartan. The seats don't adjust, but the rudder pedals do. There is no carpet, but a nice cargo net is installed. There are not even any fuel gauges, instead there are vertical tubes in the wing roots that directly (and accurately!) measure fuel quantity.
The panel is where any classic Cessna driver will notice the difference.
|A nice 150/152 panel.|
Cessna has completely redesigned the panel, replacing the old design with a modern "glass" panel. The focus of the pilot's attention will be the Garmin G300 Primary Flight Display (PFD) screen right in front of him/her. The PFD replaces the old six-pack of instruments and also does much more. The second G300 screen is usually programmed as a moving map GPS display, although it too can do MUCH more. In between the two displays sits switches, breakers, and the radio/transponder stack. Intercom and engine controls (sans primer) round out the front office.
The control "stick" is also a new design. Rather than come up from the floor as a traditional stick, in the Skycatcher, the stick emerges from the bottom of the panel, much like typical Cessna yokes. However, this "yoke" is gripped as a stick. Both sides include push to talk and trim switches.
Once the engine is running and the instruments programmed (no wet compass to check, no gyros to whine, no DG to set), the next difference becomes apparent. To me, the 150 was just about the easiest plane in the world to control on the ground. The rudder pedals were linked to the nose wheel, so you steered with your feet. In the Skycatcher, there is no such linkage. You still steer with your feet, but use the top of the foot -where the brakes are located. The nose wheel is of the full-swivel type and to the uninitiated seems to have a mind of its own. A little blast of power helps activate the rudder as a ground control device, and nimble footwork keeps you pointed in the right direction. I found the plane got easier to control as I got used to the new setup.
Soon enough we were at the departure end of runway 17 at Sumner County Regional Airport (M33) in Gallatin, Tennessee. The wind was 250 at 8, with a few small gusts waking up the windsock every now and then. "Great, an 80 degree crosswind in a new airplane with a swivel nose wheel. This takeoff should be fun," I thought.
(To be continued....)