If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, the Skyhawk should be flattered indeed by the likes of the Italian manufacturer, Tecnam. Last summer, Tecnam began marketing its P2010 Lycoming-powered single in the U.S., having gained a sales foothold in Europe.
It’s not quite accurate to call the P2010 a Skyhawk knockoff because it’s a substantially different airplane. But it follows the same idea: 180-HP four-banger; four seats; modest payload, albeit with a slightly faster cruise speed.
And Tecnam is making a bit of run at Cessna, although the company is aiming more at the personally flown aircraft market rather than the institutional training segment that Cessna essentially owns. In Europe, where Tecnam has placed 30 P2010s, it’s just the reverse.
We recently visited Tecnam’s North American sales headquarters in Sebring, Florida and spent half a day with the airplane. Tecnam is currently touring its demonstrator around the country.
Although Tecnam isn’t a household name among U.S. pilots, it is in fact a major world producer of light aircraft. The company’s U.S. sales director, Shannon Yeager, told us the Capua, Italy-based Tecnam is delivering about 40 airplanes a month, across seven models that include four LSAs, two Part 23 aircraft and one military-spec twin for surveillance work. Even as the P2010 comes to the U.S., Tecnam is developing an 11-passenger piston twin for the commuter market. (See sidebar.)
The P2010—as its numerical designation suggests—has been in the works for five years and has full EASA certification for Europe. Although the FAA cert is supposed to be a rubber-stamp bilateral, as we go to press, Tecnam was still working on final details for the aircraft and was hoping to have a type certificate in hand by mid-October.
It appears to us that the P2010 will compete in an already crowded market, against the Cessna 172SP and Diamond’s DA40, both gasoline and diesel versions. It’s generally comparable in price to the Skyhawk—about $400,000, typically equipped—but is $60,000 cheaper than the Diamond DA40. (Against the Skyhawk, the P2010 would have a constant-speed prop at that price. But the Skyhawk would have SiriusXM datalink at the same price.)
If the Cirrus SR20 is tossed into the mix, the P2010 lands between the $359,000 base-price SR20 and the $517,000 GTS. Fully equipped, Piper’s comparable Archer LX is also around the $400,000 mark. We’re not sure how price sensitive this market is, but there’s not much daylight between these invoice numbers. A new single has simply escalated to the point that $400,000 is the current entry level.
While Tecnam isn’t the only company building both composite and metal airplanes, it may have been doing so for longer than anyone else. The P2010 can be thought of as a hybrid construction airplane. The fuselage and some trim parts are carbon fiber with the fuse being built in two halves, joined and cooked in an autoclave. The airplane’s wings and horizontal stabilator are of conventional metal construction. As is usual for composites coming out of Europe, the fit and finish on the airplane appear to be flawless.
The landing gear is spring-steel leaf type, joined to the fuselage in two pieces in a robust box under the cabin. Like everything else these days, the nosegear is castering and joins the rest of the structure at the bottom of the engine mount. Although it doesn’t have a conventional oleo strut, the P2010 does have a shock absorber on the nosegear to soak up bumps and protect the firewall from hard landings.
The wing-mounted fuel tanks are aluminum cells within the wing bays, with fuel lines running from the tanks through the A-pillars into the engine compartment. A single valve on the console controls left/right and off; there’s no both. For its class, the P2010 carries a lot of fuel: 62 gallons total, all but one gallon of it usable. That gives the airplane quite a bit of range and payload flexibility.
The P2010’s control surfaces are conventional riveted aluminum, albeit plumbed a little differently than other aircraft. Cables are used to a central control box under the cabin floor and from there, a combination of cables and tubes are routed to the ailerons, rudder and the stabilator.
For pitch trim, the airplane has both manual and electric control of an anti-servo tab on the stabilator. Unusually, it has electric rudder trim, too, and it turns out that it needs it.
Weight, Payload, Ergos
At a distance, the P2010 looks smaller than the Skyhawk it purports to compete against. It’s not entirely an illusion. It’s about a foot shorter than the 172 with a wingspan more than three feet shorter. It also appears to sit lower on its gear, so the engine compartment—which has a nice clamshell access door with gas springs—is easier to access.
Weightwise, the P2010 is almost a carbon copy of the Skyhawk, which we suspect is both by intent and governed by the laws of physics and aerodynamics. The P2010’s gross weight is 2552 pounds, on an empty weight of 1643 pounds for the example we flew. That yields a useful load of 909 pounds, just a few pounds less than the standard Skyhawk.
With full fuel—372 pounds—the P2010 has 537 pounds left, or three people and some overnight bags. Down fuel it by 25 gallons and you can just carry the imaginary four people and have two hours of endurance to near dry tanks at a mid-power setting. Again, that’s standard Skyhawk stuff.
What isn’t standard Skyhawk is how you get that stuff into the backseat and baggage compartment. That’s because the P2010 has a third passenger access door on the right side behind the co-pilot’s entry door. It’s large enough to shove big objects into the rear seats or for passengers to slip into the back. All things being equal, that door might give Tecnam a slight edge in selling against the 172 or the Archer. Diamond’s DA40, of course, has the large rear access hatch.
The P2010’s rear seats are comfortable with good but not generous legroom once the forward seats are adjusted. The forward seats slide on tracks and can be elevated with a small lever on the right side of the seat bottom. They also recline. The doors have jamb latches and a safety latch on the top, similar to Piper’s products. The baggage compartment—capacity 88 pounds—is accessed through a hatch on the right side or from inside the airplane by removing a fabric cover that doubles as a hatrack.
Yeager describes the interior as “an automotive experience” and we would agree. Although it’s spare in the way European cars tend to be, it’s comfortable and adequately roomy. A center console extending aft even has cup holders and there are individual reading lights and vents on the overhead. The panel is consumed by a G1000 suite, which is standard with the airplane, with the GFC700 autopilot as a $30,000 option. Yeager told us European models can be equipped with the Garmin G500 and that option might be available for U.S. aircraft as well. Despite the looming ADS-B deadline, Garmin still doesn’t have an integrated solution for the G1000, so for ADS-B Out compliance, the P2010 has a GTX 330ES transponder. A GDL88 is an add-on option for ADS-B In.
For backup, Tecnam uses the Mid-Continent Instruments SAM, mounted vertically between the PFD and the MFD. Electricals are controlled by large, clearly labeled rockers on the lower panel and—a nice touch—they are backlighted for night operations. Breakers, again, clearly labeled, occupy the far right panel and are easy to get to. The only things we found difficult to access were the parking brake lock, which is a long reach to a knob near the floor on the center console, and the alternate air knob by the pilot’s right knee. The throttle is a T-handle on the center quadrant.
We give Tecnam’s Yeager props for being the most honest sales person we’ve encountered recently. Before takeoff, he warned us that the airplane would be slow to get off the runway and slow in initial climb. It was. To be fair, the airplane we flew was equipped with a fixed-pitch cruise prop, which is just one option. It can also have a fixed climb prop or a constant-speed model—all MTs—and we would highly recommend the latter. With the cruise prop, the engine just doesn’t seem to make sufficient static RPM.
The ground roll is leisurely—the POH says 2053 feet over a 50-foot obstacle on a standard day with no wind. Once at rotation speed, which Yeager recommended as about 55 knots, a little steady back pressure does it, not a distinct rotational tug. The sight picture is low compared to other airplanes of this class. The airplane is not a brisk climber—500 to 600 FPM. It might do better on a cooler day—we had 85 degrees F—but worse in high density altitude. A climb prop would help, too.
The P2010’s forte is stability, which it has in abundance. It holds a trimmed airspeed with a will, requiring little pilot input even in a climb. In trimmed cruise, disturbing the pitch provokes a phugoid that damps almost completely in two cycles, suggesting that the airplane will be a standout for instrument training and instrument flight.
Control forces are on the heavy side, with rudder being the lightest and roll the heaviest. Surprisingly, the airplane requires almost as much rudder input as a taildragger does and it takes attention to get a coordinated turn. There’s no rudder/aileron interconnect and it takes tweaking the rudder trim to keep the ball centered.
Initial flap deployment causes quite a bit of pitch up, but the second notch is less noticeable. This is comparable to a Skyhawk, we would say. So are the stalls; it takes work to get one to break, but they will if provoked. But the nose hardly falls through before the airplane is flying again.
With the cruise prop, we set up the airplane for a typical low-altitude cruise value of 125 knots, which required 12 GPH leaned to 50 degrees rich of peak. The P2010 will cruise faster, up to about 136 knots, says the POH. But it will take some gas to do it; 15.6 GPH, according the POH.
And it’s at this juncture where economy-minded buyers will wish to put a sharp pencil on the performance pages of the POH. For instance, at 116 knots on a standard day, the P2010 POH calls for 11.9 GPH against the Skyhawk’s 9.9 GPH at 119 knots. That’s 9.7 NMPG for the P2010 versus 12 NMPG. This is not a trivial difference. Over the course of an engine TBO run, it’s 4000 gallons of gas or more than $20,000 in the U.S. To be sure, the P2010 is faster than the Skyhawk, but the operator will pay for that in more fuel burned.
We also noticed that CHTs in cruise were on the high side. The lowest we saw was 400 degrees F, the highest about 450. We were given data from a longer flight done in the U.K. and while the temps were lower, cylinder 1 was still above 400 degrees. While Lycoming’s limit is 500 degrees, we prefer max temps in the 380-degree range, in the name of cylinder durability. We would like to see some tweaking of the baffling or cowling to bring those numbers down.
Approaches are flown power off at about 75 knots, from an 85-knot pattern entry speed. Crossing the numbers at 70 knots, Yeager advised flying into a flat flare and landing with the mains, but with the nosewheel just off the pavement.
A no-drama landing seems easy enough, partly because the P2010 is so stable and the controls heavy enough to preclude over-controlling. It’s one of the most trim-stable airplanes we’ve ever encountered and students should find it easy—and safe—to land.
Who will buy this airplane? Yeager is honest about it; in the U.S., it probably will not be flight schools for the short term. Cessna, if it stays in the market, is a strong player there primarily because it’s a known quantity and big schools are biased toward product support and dispatch reliability.
A reasonably equipped P2010 will invoice similarly to the 172, so a buyer looking at both won’t have much price Delta to work with.The P2010 carries about what the 172 does, but cruises a little faster, albeit at the expense of more fuel. We would give it the edge in cockpit appointments and amenities and its sleek good looks make the Skyhawk look a little dated. But it’s the third door that really sets it apart from the competition. That alone might ring up some sales for Tecnam.
If we had our druthers, we would like to see some re-propping for better climb performance. For normal density altitude, it’s adequate, but in the desert or intermountain west, it could be marginal. Perhaps turbocharging or an upgraded engine could address that. And we wouldn’t mind some tweaking of the cowling or baffling to nudge the CHTs down. We simply don’t agree with Lycoming that 400-plus degrees is okay. High CHTs aren’t a good thing for cylinder longevity and OEMs ought not to accept them, in our view.