When I heard that Italian aircraft manufacturer Vulcanair earned an FAA type certificate for its V1.0 four-seater this past December, for some reason my mind did a rewind to a time when Fiat was trying to sell its X1/9 targa sports car in the American market. The two have absolutely nothing in common, of course, but everything in common when it comes to market acceptance and support confidence. Thankfully, the X1/9 went away in 1982. Tony will never have to fix many of them again. These days Fiat is enjoying better American market acceptance with a few new models that seem priced just right. Whether the American airplane market will embrace a Skyhawk look-alike from Italy is anyone’s guess, but Vulcanair might be nicely positioned for success.
You might not know a lot about Vulcanair, but you might have seen one of its airplanes, the P68, and wondered what it was. What you saw is the Partenavia SF600, which is a sleek, six-seat, high-wing, Lycoming-powered light twin. It was Vulcanair that around 1997 purchased the assets, type designs, trademarks and tooling for the SF600 from Siai Marchetti. The P68 series comes in different variants and has an earned reputation for being a workhorse for airborne law enforcement, firefighting and aerial surveying, and it is flown by multiple U.S. government law enforcement and wildlife conservation agencies. Vulcanair is, in my view, a success in a fragile market. And now, with U.S. certification of the V1.0 under its belt, the company is making a run at the Cessna Skyhawk market, while targeting flight schools, flying clubs and private owners.
Vulcanair is off to a good start with its model V1.0, earning serious respect for being serious. When it showed the airplane at AirVenture last summer, company CEO Remo DeFeo said it would be FAA certified by the end of 2017 and he wasn’t kidding. The V1.0 is one of those airplanes that from a distance passes as a Cessna Skyhawk and that’s intentional. But get closer and you might think it’s a Skyhawk on steroids, evident by the third cabin door on right side of the aircraft. That door had me digging the airplane right away. It would be easy to load in my snowboards and a folding bicycle. The other striking detail about the V1.0 is the price. Fully equipped for IFR, it will sell for around $260,000. Check that against a new Skyhawk that is priced near $400,000.
Previously certified in Europe, the all-metal airplane is FAA certified in the utility category and is powered by a 180-HP Lycoming IO-360-M1A slinging a constant-speed Hartzell propeller. The engine is certified to run on both 100LL and ethanol-free/lead-free mogas. DeFeo said the company isn’t ruling out a diesel option in the future, but not now. Cessna’s Skyhawk comes standard with Garmin’s G1000 glass cockpit, but the V1.0 I saw over the summer had Garmin’s retrofit G500, a Garmin GTN650 navigator, a big-screen digital engine display and a Mid-Continent SAM digital backup EFIS system, plus an angle-of-attack system. Garmin recently announced its new TXi series displays—which will replace the G500—so it wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the Vulcanair. For the price savings, I think the majority of buyers will be just fine without a G1000, but will demand an autopilot.
The airplane has an 88-pound baggage capacity (accessed just aft of the third door on the right side of the fuselage), a 50-gallon usable fuel capacity, an 882-pound useful load and a 135-knot cruising speed. Takeoff and landing distance is advertised at 1440 feet. The V1.0’s cabin structure is made of steel tubes under an aluminum wing. As for support, the current U.S. distributor is Ameravia (which reports 60 orders for the V1.0) in Miami, Florida. We’re planning a full flight evaluation of the Vulcanair later this spring.