Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tecnam P92 Echo Super - Brief Review

The first thing you need to know is that I've got a real soft spot in my heart for the Tecnam P92 Echo Super. It's a great little aircraft, fun to fly, predictable, simple and robust.
But first the movie: A couple of disclaimers - no Tecnams were hurt in the making of that movie, and the "mate" of mine who created the little sound effect and the flash had it wrong! Despite appearances there was no sideloading on that wheel - the aircraft just pivoted sweetly on the right main and settled like it always does. That movie was taken during a spot landing competition and no I didn't win!! Thanks Ben for a great video.
So let's talk about the basics: made in Italy by Costruzione Aeronautiche Tecnam. Many of you will know the people behind Tecnam - at least by their history. These are the same people who built the Partenavia. The P92 Echo dates from 1992, the Super is the version with the Rotax 912ULS, not to be confused with the Echo S which is another thing entirely.
The first thing that you notice when handling the P92 is that there's nowhere to hang on to it - the only place you can pull and push on is the base of the prop. Everything else - the struts, the leading edges - are all too lightweight to cope with any handling. Construction is aluminium. The all-flying tail surfaces are fabric covered. Access to the engine is simple with two catches on either side allowing you to hinge up the sides of the cowling - like an old car bonnet. The usual Rotax stuff - check the oil and make sure you burp it first, check the coolant, check the exhaust-retaining springs, look for oil and coolant leaks and make sure all the plug leads are in place and you're good to go.
To get in you back up to the open door, bend backwards as if to do the limbo and slide your head inside, then lift your backside onto the seat and swing your inboard leg under the stick and you're in. Make sure you've put the seat right back first. Now I'm here to tell you that you can get two burly blokes into this aircraft - 6' and 6'5" totalling about 220kg. But you have to be good friends. The luggage compartment is behind the seat and is limited to 20kg - at or about 20kg you notice the aircraft becoming very light in pitch control so I think that's a real limit.
Adjust your seat, ignition switches on and turn the key with the throttle fully closed. She should start immediately. It it's cold you'll need some choke but she should still start immediately.
This aircraft gets off the ground pretty smartly. If you work on it you can be in ground effect in under 100 metres and she will be genuinely flying and ready to climb in 200 metres on a good day. The deck angle is steep in the climb - Vy is 60 knots and Vx about 50-55 knots. You should see climb rates around 1000fpm at Vy. Flaps are on a little switch like a paddle - just like its big brothers. There are no preselects so you have to watch the indicator. First stage for take off is 15 degrees. Full flap is 40 degrees or thereabouts.
Prolonged climbs at Vy on an Australian summer day are not recommended. You will overheat the engine. So I usually opt for a cruise climb of 70-80 knots maybe even 85 knots on a hot day. This will give you 5-700 fpm and keep things out of the danger zone.
The P92 is not a fighter and has none of the features of a fighter - and that includes control loads and displacements. The controls have a reasonably light force required and a reasonably long throw. This gets lighter and longer at very slow speeds. Control forces are reasonably well harmonised and there are no suprises.
These aircraft fly with a MTOW of 544kg in Australia. At MTOW the stall comes at about 40-42 knots clean, power off. No surprises, some buffet and very little wing drop. In approach config - say 3,000rpm and full flaps - you get quite a steep deck angle at the stall and you get quite some wing drop - really all pretty tame but it's there. Stall in that config is lower at around 35 knots.
Like many of these sort of aircraft the cruise attitude results in great forward visibility with a markedly nose-low appearance. Genuine cruise is around 105 knots - if you flight plan for that you won't be far wrong. Comfort for longer trips is not bad, but if you're big it's not great either. Setting up the seat is really important - you need it as far back as you can get it and still be able to get decent control deflection - otherwise your legs will be up close to the underside of the panel and it's all a bit tight.
The tanks hold 90 litres (optionally) and with a burn of around 18 litres per hour that gives more endurance than most pilots would have in an aircraft this size.
In the circuit, downwind is flown at around 80-90 knots. The aircraft is slowed below 67 knots (Vfe first stage) during base turn and then more flap is added progressively. Full flaps are limited to 55 knots. Normal approach speed is 60 knots so you have a very small margin at flaps 1 between your approach speed and Vfe. The aircraft is nice and stable though and the view of your target is brilliant. Many times in a crosswind I've run down final looking out of the passenger door window at my aiming point. The aircraft is lightweight and has a low wing loading so it moves around a lot. You have to control it very actively during the landing phase especially in gusty conditions or substantial crosswinds. From memory demonstrated crosswind is of the order of 18 knots.
As you saw in the movie it handles side slips really well. With full flaps and a decent side slip you can come in very steeply with descent rates of around 2,000fpm if you are game. Gravel and dirt strips are equally no trouble. The main gear is pretty robust but you need to treat the nose gear with some respect.
If you want a recreational aircraft that's simple and robust then you should look at the P92. Only her designer, Professore Pascale, could love her looks but she certainly gets the job done. In addition the cockpit seems reasonably protected. I've seen one that spun in from around 100 feet. The pilot survived and the cockpit didn't look as though it had lost much of its capacity!

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