Cruising high over the Mediterranean coastline, it suddenly occurs to me that I am flying the prototype of the first European four-seat single to be approaching certification in fourteen years. And while this is a pretty damning indictment of the overall state of GA within the EU, my initial impressions certainly suggest that it has been worth the wait.
Some of you may be wondering why this is the fourth Tecnam machine to appear within the hallowed pages of Pilot in the last twelve months. More astute readers will be cognisant of the fact that Tecnam is probably the only GA aircraft manufacturer in the world that presently has a decent product line. Currently the company has, either in production or in flight test: a single-seat aerobatic taildragger; several different side-by-side two seaters, ranging from entry-level trainers to sophisticated and luxurious tourers; high- and low-wing models; an amphibian; and a light twin ? plus of course the latest aircraft and subject of this flight test, the P Twenty-Ten, which is about to achieve full EASA CS-23 certification.
My first thoughts regarding the Twenty-Ten are that it is a very elegant machine and, unlike the Astore I’d tested the previous day, it has a traditional Tecnam stabilator. Secondly, it is built using an intriguing mixture of methods and materials for ? although in common with most other Tecnam designs the wing, stabilator and control surfaces are aluminium ? the fuselage and many other parts, such as the cowling, fin, tail cone and upturned wingtips are of composite construction, primarily carbon fibre. Indeed, in many respects, the Twenty-Ten can be viewed as the bigger brother of the two-seat P2008.
As usual, before we go flying I have a good look around the machine and am extremely impressed by both the very high build quality and the amount of thought that has gone into its design. Inspecting the aircraft in the company of Tecnam’s Chief Test Pilot (and all-round good guy) Marco Locatelli, I can scarcely believe that this machine is the prototype. The build quality is really exceptional, and if it wasn’t for serial number 001 on the dataplate, the taped-on stall strips and the A o A vanes on the extended air data probe, I’d have sworn that it was a production aircraft fresh off the line.
The engine is an 180hp Lycoming IO-360-M1A and is quite closely cowled, the panels being secured by lots of screws. A serious omission is that there is no separate access hatch for the oil filler/dipstick, although this may be rectified on production aircraft.
The fuel is carried in a pair of wing tanks with a combined capacity of 230 litres, although each tank will be reduced by five litres on production aircraft. A good safety feature is that the fuel tanks are located behind the main spar, reducing the likelihood of them rupturing in the event of an accident. The test aircraft’s propeller is a two-blade, fixed pitch MT unit (a constant speed prop is an option) with a sharply pointed spinner. For a nosedragger the prop clearance is pretty good.
The undercarriage appears quite robust and ? as befits an aircraft that has been designed to go places at a good rate of knots ? all three wheels are closely spatted and the legs faired. The 5.00 x 5 nose wheel is suspended from a tubular steel leg connected to the lower engine mount attachments, with shock absorption provided by rubber blocks, while the 6.00 x 6 mainwheels are mounted on a cantilever spring-steel bow. The damping properties of this arrangement are not as good as a gas/oil oleo strut, but on the plus side it requires minimal maintenance. Hydraulic disc brakes are standard.
The strut-braced wing is partially tapered and uses the well-proven NACA63A aerofoil. The logic behind the taper is that it gets the lift distribution closer to the optimum elliptical planform, without the expense and complexity of building an elliptical wing. Single-slotted flaps cover about two thirds of the trailing edge, are electrically actuated and have three positions. Pushrods actuate the Frise-type ailerons and also the stabilator, which features a big anti-balance/trim tab.
The rudder has an aerodynamic horn-balance and is cable-actuated, while the fin features a subtle sweepback. There is a small ventral strake at the base of the fin and a ground-adjustable trim-tab on the rudder. I am told that production aircraft will have electric rudder trim to assist in high altitude directional stability and reduce pilot workload. It will be operated by a rocker switch just forward of the elevator trim wheel between the front seats. So far so satisfactory, albeit unremarkable, but now we come to a feature that I fully approve of. There are doors on either side for access to the front seats and a third on the starboard side for the rear seats, which is a great idea. I’ve never liked the single door arrangement of many Pipers, and I’ve heard that accessing the back seats of a Cessna 172 isn’t that easy…
A hatch on the starboard side provides access to the capacious baggage area, which is accessible in flight. I was somewhat surprised to see that the third door and baggage bay hatch are both on the same (starboard) side, as I would’ve assumed that the fuselage would’ve been stiffer/stronger with the doors on opposing sides. However, the door isn’t that big, and it is certainly a more convenient arrangement for the passengers.
Someone at Tecnam has obviously made the connection that the kind of person who will buy a Twenty-Ten almost certainly drives a fairly expensive car, and upon settling onto the comfortable leather seat I was immediately impressed by the high level of interior trim. Again, you’d never guess this was the prototype.
The rudder pedals are non-adjustable so I approve of the fact that the front seats offer a considerable amount of adjustment both fore-and-aft and vertically, but am less enamoured by the three-point inertia reel harness system. The only restraining system better than a four-point harness is a five-point harness! The flight and engine controls are all well laid out and easily accessible. The pilot’s yoke currently only has a PTT button, but production aircraft will also have electric pitch trim and A/P disconnect, once the G700 autopilot is installed. Just to the left of the command pilot’s control yoke is the rotary magneto/starter switch and a split, rocker-type Batt/Alt master switch, while a neat row of rocker switches between the two yokes operate the other electrical services. Two neat features are that all the circuit breakers are easily accessible as they are located in the roof, while cockpit lighting is with LED strips.
Unsurprisingly the Twenty-Ten will be available with several different panel permutations, ranging from a traditional analogue Day/VFR ‘six pack’ to the Garmin G1000 IFR configuration in the test aircraft. Here, the panel is dominated by the G1000’s two big GDU-1040 PFD/MFD screens, with standby analogue ASI, altimeter and attitude indicator mounted in a neat column between them. The attitude indicator is powered by an engine-driven vacuum pump, which surprises me as I would expect it to be electrically driven from the standby battery. I mention this to Marco, who reminds me that this is the prototype. Production aircraft will have a Mid Continent Standby Attitude Module, or SAM. This neat little unit is entirely self-contained, can be mounted vertically or horizontally, and provides attitude, altitude, airspeed and slip information for up to sixty minutes from its integral battery.
Below the rocker switches are the fuel valve, flap selector and co-located position indicator lights, with a quadrant for the throttle, prop and mixture levers underneath. As for stowage, there’s a good-sized glove box to the right of the MFD, neat pockets attached to the doors and the baggage bay is accessible in flight.
Cockpit heating and ventilation appear more than adequate, although I’d always prefer a DV panel if the windows don’t open. Another feature that is less than satisfactory is that the small levers for the park brake and alternate static port are by the pilot’s right ankle and knee respectively. It would be better if these levers were juxtaposed, as the park brake gets a lot more use than the alternate static port! I also think a better location for the compass would be at the top of the windscreen, and not on the glareshield.
Steers by differential braking
Taxying out behind the P92 cameraship flown by Giovanni Pascale and carrying Editor Philip (who was doubling as photographer) to Capua’s short bumpy grass runway is easy – the nosewheel castors so all steering is by differential braking, but the toe brakes are powerful and have a nice progressive feel, while the field of view is excellent.
The pre-takeoff checks are entirely standard and although we use T/O flap this is more in deference to the runway. On a long smooth runway that is directly into wind I think you could easily leave the flaps up. As mentioned earlier, the test aircraft has a fixed-pitch prop but it also has a redundant prop lever in the quadrant, which I automatically adjust whenever I change the power ? as did Marco when he was flying. Old habits die hard!
Having trundled forward a few feet to ensure that the nosewheel is straight, I advance the throttle to the stop. Ambient conditions are 18°C with practically no wind, while I would estimate that at our weight we are probably around 200kg below the maximum of 1,160kg, and the acceleration is correspondingly brisk. Initially the Twenty-Ten reveals a slight preference for the left side of the runway and small dabs of right brake are necessary to track the centreline until the airspeed starts to build and the rudder becomes effective. Directional control is easy on grass, but I suspect it would be a different game on a tarmac runway with a strong crosswind from the left. As with the Astore, I wonder if a nosewheel lock might be a useful option.
As the ASI tape sweeps briskly through sixty knots, I ease the yoke back and the aircraft practically leaps off the ground and settles into a brisk climb. Eighty knots is attained within seconds and I flick the flap switch to the up position. The flaps retract quickly with only a small change in pitch trim, but we already have so much ‘overtake’ on the P92 that I have to swing out of formation, pull the power back and lower the flaps to avoid overshooting. Not a good start!
With the Mediterranean coastline providing a superb backdrop, I ease into formation for the pictures. The aerial photography part of any flight test can often prove to be an excellent indicator of an aircraft’s handling, and the Twenty-Ten is not found wanting. The handling is crisp and precise, throttle response good and the field of view excellent, for a high-wing aircraft. With what proves to be a fine set of pictures in the can, I break away from the cameraship and begin to evaluate the aircraft more closely.
Stability and control around all three axes are excellent. With the aircraft correctly trimmed it is really more a matter of control pressures as opposed to control movements, although, particularly in roll, should you apply a large control input the aircraft responds with alacrity. A couple of steep 360-degree turns reveal excellent handling qualities, barely any rudder input being required to balance the turn. Visibility in the turn ? and indeed throughout every stage of flight ? is very good, but it is the handling that most impresses me. The controls are nicely weighted and well balanced with very little ‘stiction’ (despite this prototype having relatively few hours) and it really is a very agreeable aeroplane to fly.
So the controls work well, but what about the Twenty-Ten’s natural stability? Overall I’d say it is extremely stable longitudinally, barely neutral laterally and positive directionally ? although I do wonder if directional stability had at first been found wanting and that the ventral strake was an add-on. The aircraft also displays interesting behaviour during the longitudinal stability check: having released the stick from a trimmed speed of 120kt it performs only one long wavelength/low amplitude phugoid before returning to the trimmed speed.
Slowing down to explore the low speed side of the flight envelope takes a while because ? despite the struts and fixed undercarriage ? this is quite a slippery machine. Whether the flaps are up or down it is quite reluctant to stall, with ample pre-stall buffet occurring before the warning horn sounds: I think that it would be actually quite difficult to inadvertently stall a Twenty-Ten. Even with full aft trim applied, holding the nose up required a considerable amount of back pressure, although it should be noted that the C of G was well forward. It is also interesting to note that, even when deep in the stall, the ailerons remain effective. The published stall speed flaps down is 55kt, but at our light weight I see 48 before the wing finally and reluctantly quits flying.
Accelerating out of the final stall I set the aircraft up for the purpose that it was designed for; going places. At 3,000ft the throttle and mixture levers are set to give a percentage power setting of 75 and this produces an IAS of 124kt and a TAS of 130, while burning about 38 litres an hour. These numbers will obviously be even better if the C/S prop option is exercised.
Flying further north along the coast Marco points out the Italian Navy’s flagship ? the aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi ? and also the fairytale fortress that is the Citadel of Gaeta. Meanwhile having been airborne for about an hour, I note that the ride quality and field of view are both good, ambient noise levels low and the seats comfortable. This would be a very nice aeroplane to go touring in.
Getting back to Capua takes no time at all. Marco recommends a speed of 80kt in the circuit, reducing to seventy on short final. The Twenty-Ten is very speed-stable and I have absolutely no difficulty in holding exactly seventy all the way down. A smooth, easy flare and the mainwheels roll gently onto the grass. Flaps to T/O, full power and the Twenty-Ten surges back down the runway and up into the sky.
The next circuit and approach work out even better, and by retarding the throttle fractionally earlier the tyres kiss the grass with the minimum of fuss. Marco then proposes I try landing with T/O flap, and again I get a good touchdown in the right place. Determined to make me earn my money, he then suggests that I close the throttle on the downwind leg, trim for 75, leave the flaps up and land on a specific spot on the runway. Through a combination of luck and sideslipping, I land exactly where Marco wants me to, and with firm but not excessive braking we’re down and stopped in 300 metres, flaps up! I was a little lucky ? but it is also testimony to just how easy the Twenty-Ten is to fly.
A flexible load carrier
Philip then decides that we’ll fly another photoshoot with the Astore, and while we wait for the sun to sink towards the sea, I discuss the Twenty-Ten’s performance with Marco. The useful load is pretty useful at 450kg, providing plenty of flexibility when planning. Even full fuel leaves 285kg for bodies and baggage, while putting an 80kg adult on each of the four seats still leaves enough fuel for a range in excess of 400 miles plus IFR reserves at a reasonable speed. And of course, when you get to wherever you’re going, you don’t need a long tarmac runway, as the aircraft is equally at home operating from grass ? a very important point for European operators, although less so in the USA.
During our visit to Capua, Giovanni also showed us around the factory (see ‘Family business’, Pilot February 2014 ? Ed) and I couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be several Twenty-Tens in various states of completion, even though (at the time, this was last December) it still hadn’t received its Type Certificate.
Giovanni explained that it’d been decided to put the type into full production even before the certificate had been granted, as around sixty aircraft had already been ordered!
A second bite at the cherry
For the second sortie I fly from the other seat, although the most notable facet of this flight is that the engine (being neither hot nor cold) is reluctant to start. This is a trait well known to operators of fuel-injected aero-engines, and is also the source of my biggest beef with the Twenty-Ten. Here we have an aircraft that is being certified in the second decade of the 21st Century, and it’s powered by a variant of the O-360; an engine that was introduced in 1955! Anyway, we eventually succeed in getting it going, and have a lovely evening flight over the Mediterranean, which enables Philip to shoot some equally lovely photographs. And if you’re wondering then, yes: my last landing also turned out to be my worst!
At home at airport or farm strip
So, what to make of the latest creation from Capua? Overall (and prehistoric powerplant aside) I was very favourably impressed. It’s smart, stylish and speedy and is easy to fly, while the combination of modern avionics and good short-field performance mean it would be equally at home at Heathrow Airport or Hedgerow Farm. Now, I’ve observed before that, although comparisons are odious they’re sometimes unavoidable, and this is doubly true on this occasion because several of the Twenty-Ten’s competitors are powered by an identical engine.
So what else is new and available to tempt a prospective purchaser? Comparable contenders that have the same horsepower and number of seats are the DA40, PA-28, and C172. I’ve tested all of these machines and they all have their strengths and weaknesses but while trawling through various websites I noticed one very pertinent fact. Although the MAUWs of the four types are all quite similar, the Twenty-Ten has the lightest empty weight, and consequently the largest useful load – which possibly makes it the most useful aeroplane.