11:51 PM

Ed. note: This post is a little dated since it was originally written 10.09.07 - dan

Contemplating The
Future of Cessna's NGP

On July 24, 2006 at EAA Airventure Oshkosh, Cessna officials knocked the aviation community on their rear when they flew their Next Generation Piston – or NGP – overhead while Jack Pelton was speaking outdoors at a podium. Pundits made note that the NGP, which was at that point still quite secretive, was flown in such a way that photographers had to shoot straight into the sun, to make sure they couldn't get a clean shot of the future of Cessna.

That same low-contrast shot has circulated on the Internets for a couple of years now, and every once in a while, we see news leak out about the NGP flight testing program, or rumors of the kind of engine it may have in the nose. Forums have been buzzing since that Oshkosh flight, with Cessna faithful trying their hand at playing the guessing game, all trying to figure out this future bird.

But when Cessna signed the letter of intent recently to buy Columbia, some are now speculating that it might be the end of the NGP program. So let's ponder the single-engine line-up presented by the Kings of Kansas after that deal is consummated, shall we:

First, the things we absolutely think we know: With the optional BRS parachute system, the Skycatcher LSA from Cessna is the hottest idea to come out of Kansas in some time. This is the kind of plane that ought to launch the dreams of many people who have wanted to fly but can't stomach the high price of most all other new aircraft. We all know this model validates the Light Sport category, so everyone expects the Model 162 to be around even after the ink dries on the Columbia deal.

Never in a million years is Cessna going to end the 172 Skyhawk program. Even with a base price of price of $254,500 for a G1000-Equipped Skyhawk 172S, it is virtually unimaginable that they would ever stop making the model that most of the non-flying public thinks of when they think of small planes. Plus, the Skyhawk will now be the next step up the food chain for many of those Skycatcher buyers.

Next, we have the 182 Skylane, which will clear your bank accounts of $379,500 for the NAV III turbocharged model. Yes, the Skylane is fast and strong, with a great safety record. But how does it fit into the post-Columbia lineup? That question takes us to...

The Stationair. If you tack options like TAS Traffic from Bendix King, TAWS-B from Garmin and air conditioning from Keith to the base NAV III Equipped Stationair T206H, you'll drop $585,065 before they hand you the keys. I don't need to tell anyone that a big, classy, comfortable brand new 206 is still hard to swallow at just south of six hundred grand. With Piper offering the Matrix at just a shade more then that, expect the Stationair team to have their song and dance ready for the Board of Directors when decision time comes.

Which brings us to NGP. From across the ramp, the NGP looks an awful lot like the 206..high wing, big cabin, lots of power. Sure the differences are endless, but is their line-up in need of a swoopy, composite 206 look-alike?
Now throw Cessna (Columbia) 350 and/or 400 low-wing, composite speedsters into the line-up, and you have an overflow situation. So if I had to make the prediction you tuned in for, it's this: 162, 172 stays for sure, and 182 has a 50/50 chance of survival after the Columbia marriage. There is still a market for 206 around the world, but they keep it in the line-up ONLY if NGP gets the axe. And of course, they will push sales of the low-wingers like crazy – that's a no-brainer – or they wouldn't have bought Columbia.

That means that the NGP may well be toast.

The lucky few that watched that one lone NGP fly out of the sun at OSH may have watched history being made, because they might have saw one of the only public appearances of a plane that now may never get built. And if Cessna does proceed with building it, it will be confirmation that Independence has plans to convert their entire lineup to composite.

One thing is a Sure Thing: Cessna, as always, is in this game to win. They will always produce great planes, and regardless of if they are made of plastic, tin or some future material, there will always be Cessnas out at the little airfield on the edge of town that young boys and girls can watch take off and land, their dreams of flying being fully stoked.

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