Cessna Skylane with diesel engine near certification

Cessna Aircraft is nearing certification of its four-seat 182 JT-A Skylane equipped with a diesel engine, which is designed to burn jet fuel.

With an uncertain future for low-lead aviation gasoline worldwide, Cessna officials said the 182 JT-A – with its 230-horsepower engine – is poised to be an industry game-changer.

Outside the United States, 100 low-lead aviation gasoline, or avgas, is much more costly than jet fuel and more difficult to find.

Inside the U.S., the costs are about the same and avgas is more readily available — at least for now.

A push is on to find a replacement for leaded aviation gasoline.

Cessna introduced the model in July.

Eventually, Cessna will replace the T182Ts now coming down the production line at its Independence plant with the 182 JT-A.

The diesel engine, made by French engine-maker SMA, a division of Safran, is quieter and flies more smoothly in flight than the engine it replaces.

“And it uses significantly less fuel,” Brian Cozine, an engineer specialist in advanced design at Cessna, said at a briefing at Cessna’s flight operations building in west Wichita.

The $515,000 Cessna 182 JT-A model routinely burns 30 to 40 percent less fuel than comparable avgas engines on the same mission, Cozine said.

It also will fly farther — so far, in fact, that pilots will need a rest stop before they need to stop for fuel.

“Half tanks will take you almost as far as full gas tanks (in the other models),” Cozine said.

At normal cruise, it can burn 11 gallons an hour and fly nonstop for more than seven hours. At a low power setting, it can stay in the air 14 to 16 hours.

Although the plane has a diesel engine, it’s not certified to run on diesel fuel, which turns to gel at cold temperatures.

The 182 JT-A has been tested in temperatures ranging from minus 40 degrees to 108 degrees.

Besides Jet A fuel, it will be able to operate on Russia’s TS1 fuel, China’s No. 3 Jet Fuel and JP-8 jet military fuel.

The single-engine plane has been well received worldwide, said Jeff Umscheid, business leader for single-engine aircraft at Cessna.

Plus, “it’s doing a lot better in the United States domestically than expected,” Umscheid said.

Buyers like the fuel savings, lower operating costs and that it’s environmentally friendly, he said.

The diesel engine increases the time for an engine overhaul by 25 percent over the previous engine, Umscheid said.

Cessna is scheduled for Federal Aviation Administration certification by the end of March, with first delivery in the second quarter followed by certification from European authorities in the third quarter.

Flying the new 182 is easier than flying similar airplanes, Cessna officials said.

The work load is significantly reduced, said Cessna test pilot Charles Wilcox.

“It’s a very carefree operation,” Wilcox said. “Basically, you set the power, and you forget it.”

Wilcox demonstrated the ease of operation Monday afternoon.

To start, the plane cranked over like a car.

There’s no worry about magneto checks, carburetor heat, mixture settings, propeller control, exhaust gas or carbon monoxide emissions.

A single black throttle controls the power, and a computer keeps track of pressures and temperatures.

“The computer does the work and gives the engines the proper amount of fuel,” Cozine said.

If the electrical system should fail, the plane will still fly. Pilots can switch to a mechanical mode, which allows them to meter the fuel to the engine like other models.

If the engine quits in mid-flight, say because a pilot failed to switch to the other fuel tank, the plane is easy to restart.

Wilcox demonstrated the ability in mid-flight, by shutting down the engine, then adding power. The plane immediately came back to life.

That’s something the FAA looks at in certifying airplanes, he said.

So what’s next?

“We will be pursuing global fuels in other models,” Cozine said.

If there is an appropriate engine for the 162 Skycatcher, 172 Skyhawk or 206 Stationair, Cessna will take a look.

“We would certainly pursue it when the engines become available,” Cozine said.

That’s a few years away.

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