Pilot’s editorial team takes the Tecnam P2006T over water to Alderney to see if the little twin really does what it says on the tin – would it perform as claimed?
By Dave Unwin & Philip Whiteman (Pictures: Philip Whiteman)Airways Aero Associations’ Tim Orchard regarded the not inconsiderable bulk of the Pilot crew with a slightly jaundiced air. “I think I’d better just re-calculate our gross weight,” he said, “and when I say gross, I mean gross!” Editor Philip and I affected a slightly hurt air. “Harsh but fair,” I admitted. “I don’t suppose there’s any inflight catering on this trip?” asked Philip hungrily. Tim looked up from the W&B schedule. “Not any more,” he laughed.
When flight-testing an aircraft, far too many magazines fail to use the thing for its primary mission. Indeed, I must admit that when I flew a P2006 in 2010, I didn’t actually go anywhere in it. The flight gave me the opportunity to assess the handling and check the cruise speed; stall it, examine its stick-free stability and explore the single-engine performance, but that was about it. Consequently when the opportunity to fly the first P2006 in the UK arose, we decided that we’d take it on a trip where the twin-engine configuration and claimed economy really would be put to the test. This suggested flying over water so, as none of us had ever visited Alderney, we set our sights on the Channel Islands. While Tim booked us out, I wandered over to renew my acquaintance with this interesting aircraft. Overall, it appeared soundly designed and well made. The P2006’s USP is the choice of engine – a pair of now ubiquitous 98hp Rotax 912s. These very efficient, liquid-cooled engines offer much better fuel economy and power-to weight ratio than the old Lycosaurus or Contiplodicus. VERY MODERN, VERY LIGHTTecnam’s masterstroke was to mount them on a relatively lightweight airframe fitted with a laminar-flow wing – the net result being a very modern light twin. The aircraft is compact, with a relatively low-aspect ratio wing. The engines are partly buried within the leading edge, and turn twoblade, constant-speed, fully-feathering MT props. I noted with approval the generous prop clearance – another benefit of the highwing configuration. All the fuel is carried in a pair of 100 litre tanks, one in each wing, mounted outboard of the engines. There are landing and taxi lights incorporated into the port wing’s leading edge, and stall strips outboard of each engine. The stylish up-turned, swept-back winglets are an interesting aerodynamic refinement – by producing a vortex that delays airflow separation at the tip, they improve slow-speedhandling. Constraining span-wise flow helps to retain the Frise ailerons’ effectiveness on the slow side of the speed envelope without the drag penalty that is incurred by excessive washout. The single-slotted flaps are electrically actuated, while a combination of cables and pushrods drive the ailerons. The nosewheel is a forward-retracting unit, while the mainwheels retract inward. The trailing-link main undercarriage units look pretty robust, and are carried by sponsons either side of the fuselage. An optional fixed undercarriage significantly increases the useful load without slowing the aircraft down too much. It is also cheaper (to buy and insure) and requires considerably less maintenance – so I imagine that it’ll be a popular choice. The fin is slightly swept back, which gives the aircraft a somewhat rakish air, while the tailplane is of the all-flying variety (also known as a stabilator). This features a large anti-balance tab which also trims the aircraft in pitch.
Cables are used for the rudder, and pushrods drive the tailplane. I was impressed by the amount of thought that had gone into the design. Two excellent examples are the external hydraulic pressure gauge on the port side, and the taxi and landing lights. Cleverly, these can be adjusted from behind and are suspended vertically – which means that they are less likely to break if the landing is on the firm side. IN THE COCKPITAccess to the cockpit and cabin is excellent. The cockpit door is on the port side, the cabin the starboard. Due to the close proximity of the props the doors feature a solenoid-controlled interlock. Having settled into and adjusted my seat (which moves over a decent range, although the rudder pedals are fixed) I took in the overall layout of the instruments and controls. The yoke and throttles are well placed, and I liked the neat overhead panel for the mags, starter buttons, fuel valves and pumps. A centre console extends down from the base of the panel, protruding aft between the contol yokes. It carries the throttles, prop levers and carb heat selectors, a rocker switch for the rudder trim, plungers for the parking brake, and canopy de-mist, and the pitch trim wheel.The elevator and rudder trim indicators are in front of the pilot. Curiously, a big analogue gauge shows elevator trim, while an LED strip shows the rudder’s. I’d be minded to use an identical LED strip, mounted vertically, for the elevator trim. The two huge screens of the G950 dominate the panel, with the standby instrumentation consisting of an analogue ASI and altimeter, along with an electric attitude indicator and standby compass. All of the various engine parameters, such as manifold pressure and RPM, fuel quantity and flow, plus oil and coolant temperatures and pressures arecurrently indicated by large analogue gauges, although later aircraft will have this information on the multi-function display (MFD).A large, dual-pointer manifold pressure gauge and two smaller tachometers show power. Sensibly, Tecnam’s engineers have designed the tachometers to show propeller speed, rather than engine rpm (which would appear unfamiliarly high to those not used to Rotaxes). I approved of the location of the CBs and also liked the chunky rocker switches for the electrical services. It’s not all perfect, though. I didn’t like the location of the wheel-shaped undercarriage selector (it’s too near your right knee) and would rather the prop levers were in the centre of the quadrant, as they are on just about every other modern light twin. In fact, ergonomically this is not so bright. However, the factory appears to have already reached the same conclusion, as from now onwards new aircraft from the production line will feature exactly this! Finally, the flap selector is a simple three-position switch with the flap position indicator gauge located next to it. Comparedto the flap position pre-select switch fitted to the humble Cessna 152, it is rather poor. To be fair, I suppose that with a few hours on type you would soon get used to the length of time it takes for the flaps to deploy. Nevertheless, when compared to any kind of pre-selector flap switch this arrangement is soon revealed for what it is – cheap and crude (although easy to maintain). READY FOR THE OFFWith Tim in the right-hand seat and Philip (doubling as photographer) in the back, it was time to start the engines. Having turned on the master and mag switches, checked the throttles were at idle and ensured the starboard prop was clear, I pressed the starter button and the engine burst into life. After a quick check that the oil pressure was rising satisfactorily, I repeated the performance for the port engine which started equally easily. The motors warmed up quickly, and by the time I’d completed the rest of the post-start checks we were ready to roll. Overall, I thought the P2006 to be a very straightforward aircraft to taxi, even though it has a relatively narrow track undercarriage. The nosewheel steers through the rudder pedals, and tighter turns can be made with a deft combination of differential thrust and differential braking. The toe-operated hydraulic disc brakes are powerful and progressive. With around 140 lit of fuel in the tanks, camera bags etc and three POB, I would estimate that we were pretty much at the 1,180kg max weight. The OAT was 17�C and there was a 8-10kt wind blowing from the south as we lined up on Runway 24. This summer, EASA will approve an increase to the gross weight from 1,180kg to 1,230; this change will be retrospective on all P2006Ts, a mere paperwork exercise. Despite having less than 200 horses at our disposal, the acceleration was surprisingly brisk – I would guess that we used less than athird of the 735 metres available before I rotated at 65kt and the aircraft flew itself off at 70. I gave a quick dab on the brakes to stop the still-spinning wheels and, as the last of R24 vanished beneath the nose, I clicked the undercarriage selector to up. The undercarriage retraction system is electrohydraulic and seemed to me that it went up quite promptly with no discernible change in pitch trim during the retraction sequence. Retracting the flaps pitches the nose down slightly, but this is easily trimmed out. With the wheels tucked up in the wells I drew the throttle levers back a surprisingly long way before also easing the prop levers back and trying to synchronise the props. With the notable exception of the B-25, most of the twins I’ve flown over the last few years have had synchrophasers, but the P2006 doesn’t. Consequently, it took me a while to sync the props and get rid of that horrible wah-wah-wah din. The best rate of climb is achieved at 80kt, but I climbed flatter and faster for better visibility. A FINE DAY FOR FLYINGIt was a beautiful day; I had a fine aeroplane under my control, agreeable companions and an interesting destination. Indeed, the only downside was that there wasn’t anything to eat. However, as we climbed higher into the strengthening headwind Tim shook his head ruefully and suggested that we should have planned to go maximum thrust. And if you’ve ever flown one, you’ll know that a Cougar’s maximum thrust is nothing to write home about. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in many respects classic ‘light twins’ – such as a Baron or Twin Commanche – are actually harder to fly than many large jets. Indeed, the most demanding flying I’ve ever done was in a Twin Commanche, flying a single-engine approach using an ADF to minimums, single pilot. While still in the cruise I momentarily removed my headset so I could assess the ambient noise level in the cockpit. This was pleasantly low – in fact, I’d say the P2006 is one of the quietest light twins I’ve ever flown. Alderney was troubled by a fair crosswind (I subsequently learned it is a near-permanent feature) and – as I’d expected – we were buffeted by curl-over from the cliffs on short final. Nevertheless, the Tecnam coped with the slightly tricky conditions easily, and taxying over the fairly bumpy grass revealedthat the trailing-link undercarriage is very well damped. Having finally been fed, Philip flew us back, giving me the opportunity to assess the cabin from the passenger’s perspective. The legroom available is extremely good, as is the visibility. I noted with interest the escape hatch built into the roof. Back at Booker Tim dipped the tanks, which revealed we’d burned 85 litres during the combined flight time of two hours and 16 minutes. Essentially, four people could have flown to the Channel Islands and back in comfort and twin-engine safety for �110 of fuel. If you’re not impressed, you certainly should be! With full fuel, the range when cruising at a TAS of 140kt is around 600nm (inc IFR reserves), while the powerful avionics make flying airways and shooting IFR approaches into large airfields easy. Clearly the P2006 would be at home at Heathrow Airport, but what about Hedgerow Airstrip? Tim and I saddled back up, and he demonstrated the short field procedure. As a farm strip flyer myself, I was impressed by how little runway we used – and, as there are many more farm strips than airfields, this vastly increases the P2006’s usability. A SHORT LANDINGI made the last landing, and although it wasn’t as short as Tim’s, I doubt we used half of the 735m available. In conclusion, this really was a very tough aircraft to snag. If you want to mix it with the big boys, it’s vital to be able to keep your energy level (speed and/or height) high and then be able to wash it off quickly. As soon as I’d mentioned that I’d prefer a higher limiting speed for extending the undercarriage and the first stage of flap, Tim remarked that again Tecnam are ahead of the game. The maximum undercarriage lowering speed is to be increased this year by a very useful 25kt. I’d like to see the undercarriage lever and status lights moved higher up in the panel, and a flap pre-selector switch installed. The pilot’s seats should have four-point harnesses, as when you’re ‘tickling the top of the green’ in turbulence, inertia reel seat belts just don’t work. I’d also change the park brake plunger to a T-handle, as it’s a bit too similar to the defrost. Finally, when the engine data is incorporated into the MFD I’d recommend moving the MFD slightly further to the right and angling it more towards the pilot. This would allow the standby instruments to be arranged vertically between the PFD and MFD, as I feel that they are set far too low in the panel. But these are minor quibbles, and (with perhaps the exception of the seat belts, which really are unsatisfactory) also subjective. This really is a thoughtfully designed, well made aircraft that offers fine handling, good performance and – for a twin – very good running costs. And the best thing? It could be safely based on the same farm strip as my VP-1, and I honestly can’t think of another light twin that could! ***VIEW FROM THE BACK SEAT (words: Philip Whiteman)
For this flight test, I went along as ‘self-loading freight’ and photographer. On boarding the aircraft, the passenger’s first impression is inevitably of the close proximity of the starboard propeller to the rear cabin door. It was comforting to learn from Captain Tim about the electrically-operated interlock, triggered by oil pressure, which prevents the door from being opened while the engines are running. In the event of system failure, this can be overridden by digging your finger in a clearly marked recess and flicking a little red tab – not for one moment something you would do by accident, but just the sort of thing an inquisitive small boy would discover. Overhead, there is a hatch that represents the ultimate escape route in a water landing – an unlikely event, given the P2006’s twin engines. I did find myself voicing the not wholly rational concern about sitting with my legs in line with the prop blades – a common situation with light twins – but, as Tim joked, “that’s because you know too much…” Speaking of legs, there is an astonishing amount of room in the rear cabin. Six-footers can sprawl back in the seats with space to spare – small boys would be able to undo their straps and run around. It makes Business Class airline seating look like the school bus. The seats are what I now come to recognise as being ‘typical Tecnam’. They look rather like tombstone slabs, are thinly upholstered and feel at first rather firm. However, the shape and stuffing have got to be right, because you are not aware of any discomfort after several hours. The cabin interior mouldings look like the Royalite you see in the usual club aircraft, giving a durable, quality finish – but not the impression of luxury you might hope to see in swish private-owner machine. However, if you ask, I suspect the factory might now be able to oblige… One thing passengers may not pick up on is the slight smell of exhaust that pervades the rear cabin when the engines are run up. This is totally absent in flight and is a consequence, I suspect, of the swirling flow pattern around the props and fresh-air intakes when high power is set while sitting on the ground. Given the proximity of the propellers, it is no surprise that the cabin is not quiet, but the noise level is never uncomfortable and you could leave off your headset — although, as in any other light aeroplane, it is probably better in the interests of preserving one’s long-term hearing to leave it on. Somehow the Tecnam’s twin Rotaxes produce much more of a ‘big aeroplane’ sound than they do in the usual single-engine installation. The comforting noise, excellent view out under the high wing and smooth ride make for a happy passenger experience. Despite the rather Spartan cabin, you actually feel pampered and somehow transformed by the experience into a VIP when travelling in the back of the P2006 — and isn’t this just what a good light aircraft should do for its passengers? Dave was of course our test pilot for the day, but I did prise him out of the front seat for the trip back from Alderney. I do not have a twin rating, but with Tim’s expert coaching I found the P2006’s handling both straightforward and delightful. Tim was happy to have me pilot the aircraft from start-up to shut-down and I would say that the average single-engine driver would find it easy to cope with, at least when flying on both engines.