Light Sport

Tecnam Aircraft: Peppy Companions

November 1, 2007

Flying the Bravo and the Echo Super

We taxied out to the runway at Peachtree City's Falcon Field near Atlanta, doors open, the breeze from the composite MT propeller warming us up for the quick evening flight. At the spur of the moment, Lynne Birmingham, one half of Tecnam Aircraft's U.S. distribution team, had suggested we take the Tecnam P92 Echo Super around the patch so that I could compare it to the P2004 Bravo I had just flown.

Although both are two-seat Italian light sport aircraft, the Echo Super is the trainer to the Bravo's cruiser. The pair aptly illustrate the wide variety of LSAs, even from a single manufacturer.

And they both illustrate the LSA concept well—want to satisfy your thirst for flight now? Then go!

We failed to grab so much as a headset from the hangar before hopping into the airplane for a trip around the patch. The hazards to my hearing notwithstanding, the ensuing flight took me back to my first intro flight nearly 20 years ago—soft light from the setting sun, green treetops not far below, and the reassuring beat of the engine.

Of course, I was flying behind a brand-new 100-hp Rotax 912ULS with dual carburetors and a nearly instant start and stop, and not the trusty old Continental O-200 of a Cessna 150.

Michael and Lynne Birmingham signed onto the Tecnam program upon Michael's retirement from the airline industry—and aside from the growing disappointment from losing a pension once promised him by his company, he felt a burning desire to envelop himself back into the happy confines of general aviation. Lynne, his wife, started flying in earnest in 1999, fulfilling a lifelong dream. She left her career in the banking industry to pursue aviation full-bore in 2001, obtaining her flight instructor certificate in March 2002, just a handful of years after her training began.

The Birminghams researched various light sport aircraft companies and determined there was a great opportunity to help Tecnam Aircraft, a long-established Italian aircraft manufacturer, build a dealer network for its newly LSA-certificated airplanes in the United States.

Costruzioni Aeronautiche Tecnam was founded in 1986 by F. Ili Pascale (called "Il Professore" by those who know him, Pascale founded a school of aeronautics in Naples prior to Tecnam's inception), and the company has produced aircraft components and parts for other manufacturers, including McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, and Agusta. The company began building its own aircraft line in 1992, and it currently produces roughly 30 aircraft each month at its facilities in Naples.

The company now exports three models to the United States, the P92 Echo Super, the P2002 Sierra, and the P2004 Bravo. The three cover a wide variety of pilot wishes and wants—a fact demonstrated by the company's LSA market share after only a couple of years on these shores: Tecnam currently has about 6 percent of the U.S. market for light-sport aircraft, according to data from ByDanJohnson.com, an information provider for the LSA industry. This percentage puts Tecnam in fourth place in the rankings behind Flight Design, Legend Cub, and Evektor. Tecnam also recently received approval from European certification agencies to begin the test flight program on the P2006T twin, for which the company is pursuing Part 23 certification.

How it flies

I initially took the Birminghams up on their invitation to fly the Bravo, the latest addition to the U.S. fleet—but I ended up sampling the Echo Super (or ES, for short) as well, for comparison. At first glance, both to the eye and on paper, the two airplanes look similar but for a couple of details: Both fit into the LSA class, with basic empty weights around 720 pounds, flying behind Rotax 912ULS engines. But in the air, their different aerodynamics—well suited to each airplane's mission—show.

The Echo Super's raison d'etre is clearly training. Although its general high-wing shape comforts those accustomed to benign, side-by-side two-seaters, there's a more advanced design reflected in its lines. Visually, a straight line extends nearly from the nose strut fairing up the windshield profile to the wings, catching the forward sweep of the wing's inboard leading edge. The wingtips flare up at the trailing edges into winglets of sorts. The otherwise all-metal ES has composite fairings, as does the Bravo.

The ES gets off the ground in short order, well less than 1,000 feet during each of our touch and goes. After gaining a comfortable 100 feet off the runway, I brought the engine setting back from 5,800 rpm to 5,000 rpm to reduce noise and stress. The engine is geared so that the tip speed on the propeller stays below Mach 1—which translates to roughly 2,400 propeller rpm on the 912ULS2. The 912ULS2 is not certificated for IFR flight—the 912S2 is, and it's an option on both airplanes. The difference between the two lies in but a few parts and is primarily paperwork.

As we stroll around the traffic pattern, I appreciate the Echo Super's low-speed handling characteristics and easy transition from full-power climb to level off to powered-down approach and landing. The drag inherent in the strutted configuration and traditional straight wing means that when the power comes back, the airplane slows naturally, and quickly, compensating for a student's learning curve—or that of a transitioning pilot. N406ES made the pattern simple.

The long stick lends good leverage to the control response. Though not sprightly, the control inputs come promptly enough to make the airplane feel stable and capable. There are no surprises here for a new pilot. The cabin is cozy but not tight for an instructor and student, or two friends out on an evening cruise.

The 75-percent-power cruise comes in at 116 knots. It was easy to keep speeds below 100 knots in the traffic pattern.

The Echo Super is an approachable, friendly airplane that should make learning to fly a lot of fun, and not a daunting prospect, all while aptly teaching the basics of aerodynamic action and reaction—just like a good trainer should.

Conversely, the P2004 Bravo answers to a different call—this airplane is clearly more advanced in its aerodynamics. The high-wing Bravo has a tapered, cantilevered wing (the Echo Super has slim struts), laminar airfoils, and upturned wingtips, together with a fuselage more streamlined than the ES. These traits combine to create a snappier, slicker feel once airborne.

Maximum cruise bears this out, pushing the edge of the LSA maximums at 120 knots. At the same time, the slotted flaps help bring the stall speed down below 35 knots. The takeoff roll is shorter, about 500 feet, and matched in the landing roll at the hands of a conversant pilot.

During an hour checkout flight with Michael in the Bravo, I flew through a set of typical maneuvers: steep turns, lazy eights, and stalls. I was impressed with the Bravo's low-speed handling and eagerness to act on my control inputs down at the bottom end of the dial. In fact, Michael took the controls for a moment and showed off some valiant attempts to encourage the airplane into spin territory, which pretty much ended up for naught.

Lynne defines the difference between the two airplanes this way: "I prefer the ES for primary flight training and the Bravo for instrument training and cross-country flights, but both work well for either." Both reach nearly the same milestones as far as performance is concerned, but they exhibit their own personalities getting there.

The Sierra cross country

Another member of the tribe pictured on these pages is the P2002 Sierra, which sets itself apart from the pack as a low-wing cruiser with a sliding canopy and a dash of panache. It also runs behind the Rotax 912ULS2 and offers nearly the same basic empty weight (620 pounds on average). Rate of climb bumps up to 1,200 fpm, slightly more than the ES or Bravo during our tests. With a tapered wing but a longer wingspan and greater wing area than the Bravo, the Sierra offers greater wing loading for a more comfortable ride over long distances.

Although not flown for this report, the Birminghams took the Sierra on an extended cross-country flight last fall and reported back after 22 hours and 2.5 days in the saddle (one way from Atlanta to Corning, California). The pair made the trip to attend a 120-hour light sport repairman certification school, in anticipation of expanding their business in the United States. "We took a detour over the Grand Canyon and then crossed the Sierra Nevada to the north, at 13,700 feet," said Lynne. The plane performed well. We landed at dusk on a Sunday, tired but a bit sad we had to quit. The plane didn't have a functioning autopilot so one or the other [of us] was flying all of the time. But the plane is so balanced and well mannered it did not matter."

Options

The OP Technologies EFIS (electronic flight information system) is an option for all three models, and it was installed in N406ES, the Echo Super flown for this report. The ES, Bravo, and Sierra all come in VFR and IFR versions.

Tecnam offers a somewhat a la carte menu of options, from the barebones airplane such as the Bravo we flew for this report, which had yet to receive its electric directional gyro and attitude indicator (a vacuum system is another option), to the ES, which was equipped with the panel-filling OP Tech EFIS. A Dynon compact EFIS is another option.

We had a single Garmin SL30 nav/com and a GMA 340 audio panel already installed in the Bravo; neither are standard equipment.

The sales and distribution network has its hub in the Atlanta metro area at Newnan's Coweta County Airport (flight testing for this report was out of Peachtree City's Falcon Field). Through last year, the aircraft were shipped to each dealer and then assembled; now all aircraft are shipped to Atlanta and assembled there. The price for the aircraft (see "Spec Sheet") includes shipment to Atlanta for pick-up; avionics and other options packages are additional.

E-mail the author at julie.boatman@aopa.org.

Spec sheet

2007 Tecnam P92 Echo Super
Base price: $95,900
Price as tested: $140,000
Specifications
Powerplant Rotax 912ULS; 100-hp @ 5,800 rpm
Recommended TBO 1,500 hr
Propeller MT Propeller, 2-blade
Length 20 ft 9 in
Height 8 ft 2 in
Wingspan 26 ft 7 in
Wing area 129 sq ft
Wing loading 10.2 lb/sq ft
Power loading 13.2 lb/hp
Seats 2
Cabin width 3 ft 7 in
Empty weight 620 lb
Empty weight, as tested 720 lb
Max gross weight 1,320 lb
Useful load 700 lb
Useful load, as tested 600 lb
Fuel capacity, std 23.8 gal (23.6 gal usable)
143 lb (142 lb usable)
Oil capacity 3.2 qt
Baggage capacity, aft compartment only 44 lb
Performance
Takeoff distance, ground roll 590 ft
Max demonstrated crosswind component 15 kt
Rate of climb, sea level 1,067 fpm
Max level speed 118 kt
Cruise speed/endurance w/no reserve, std fuel (fuel consumption)
@ 75-percent power 112 kt/400 nm (4.9 gph)
Service ceiling 13,110 ft
Landing distance, ground roll 328 ft
Limiting and Recommended Airspeeds
V X (best angle of climb) 60 KIAS
V Y (best rate of climb) 68 KIAS
V A (design maneuvering) 93 KIAS
V FE (max flap extended) 78 KIAS
V NO (max structural cruising) 106 KIAS
V NE (never exceed) 134 KIAS
V S1 (stall, clean) 45 KIAS
V SO (stall, in landing configuration) 35 KIAS

For more information, contact Tecnam Aircraft Inc.; 184 West Aviation Way, Newnan, Georgia, 30263; telephone 770-309-4155; fax 770-971-7937; e-mail: tecnam@bellsouth.net; or visit the Web site.

All specifications are based on manufacturer's calculations. All performance figures are based on standard day, standard atmosphere, sea level, gross weight conditions unless otherwise noted.