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Mon, Jul 24, 2006

Surprise! Cessna Shows Next-Gen Prototype Single At AirVenture!

Flies By Intro Of SLSA Proof Of Concept

The biggest event at Cessna's unveiling of its SLSA Proof of Concept aircraft wasn't the unveiling of the POC -- as much as that drew the crowd.

Early in the announcement, Cessna's President and CEO Jack Pelton, relaxed and genial, hinted that there were two parts of the announcement -- and the second part "we'll get to later."

The second part came as Pelton finished describing the Light Sport Proof of Concept program. Many people were asking about Cessna's long term single-engine strategy, he said, and so he was going to discuss Cessna's next generation family of aircraft. Pelton made it clear that, while Cessna is please with the 172, 182 and 206 lines, that the company intends to cede the leadership in general aviation to no one. Significantly, Pelton referred not to just a Next Generation aircraft but stressed that the firm is developing a family of next generation Cessna single engine aircraft.

A prototype has been flying for a while, Pelton noted; "but it's too early to talk about performance numbers, and too early for photos."

Cessna, ever conservative wants to be "highly confident that we can meet customer expectations for innovation, quality, and performance." But, he said with a dramatic pause, "if you look right THERE we'll show it to you." And he turned behind him and pointed to the sky, where the NGP, as Cessna's insiders call it, made a high-speed pass at low altitude down the runway.

The plane was backlit by the sun, and no doubt Cessna intended it that way; no Cessna official says anything about the NGP without mentioning how unready it is for public display. But at distance, and at speed, most pilots had similar reactions: "what a striking airplane." [And, once again, please note that all the photos we were able to shoot were into the sun... making good photography VERY difficult... that's our excuse and we're sticking to it. -- ANN E-I-C]

We'll have more detailed analysis of these pictures later -- and Cessna insiders stress that the plane is a prototype, and it might be mistaken to draw final conclusions about the production aircraft from its current prototype configuration.

But the airplane resembles a Cardinal overall, with a cantilever wing with a new, fully-tapered planform in place of the familiar Cessna midwing taper. Of course, it's a high-wing plane. It has faired, fixed landing gear. Significantly, like the SLSA Proof of Concept, the Next Generation Prototype has a sleek fastback design, instead of Cessna's signature rear windows, which is clearly meant to enhance the plane's speed.

The airplane made several passes, which let our ace photographers snap these pictures.

At the end of the dramatic public introduction, Pelton promised us a press conference later, so we'll be updating you on Cessna's programs -- Light Sport AND General Aviation -- as the day, and the show, continue.

FMI: www.cessna.textron.com

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