OSHKOSH 2009: PICTURES: VIDEO: Cessna unveils revised SkyCatcher

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Cessna Aircraft has brought the third prototype of its 162 SkyCatcher light sport aircraft (LSA), revised after two high profile crashes, to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh as it closes in on finally completing flight testing.

Cessna test pilot Charlie Wilcox arrived at Oshkosh on 25 July in N162CE, a third SkyCatcher prototype quickly assembled by Cessna after the second of the original two prototypes crashed in March during power-on stalls. The first prototype crashed in September during a power-on spin.

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Cessna has redesigned the SkyCatcher's tail since the second crash and Wilcox claims the aircraft is now easier to handle. "Just like any other programme the more you fly it the more it's improved," he says.

Wilcox adds the aircraft is now "a lot more directional stable" and is "nice to fly". Following the first crash Cessna increased the size of the vertical tail, decreased the aircraft's sweep and removed the dorsal fin. The third prototype features a larger vertical stabiliser and single strake on the bottom aft portion of the fuselage.

Wilcox says the third prototype also features the first set of Chinese-built wings and tail surfaces. Cessna produced the first two prototypes in Wichita but will be using China's Shenyang Aircraft to produce all the production aircraft. When a third prototype was needed to complete the test flight programme, Cessna tapped Shenyang to supply the wings and tail, which were shipped to Wichita for re-assembly.

Wilcox says the third prototype has already clocked about 60 hours. He says all the spin testing has been completed and after AirVenture Cessna will focus on testing the optional aluminium propeller. Wilcox says he and the other Cessna test pilot assigned to the SkyCatcher programme worked through Cessna's month-long shutdown from 19 June to 19 July.

The manufacturer has said it expects to "soon" finish American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) compliance testing, which was original scheduled to be completed at the end of last year. Cessna will provide more information on the schedule for completing ASTM testing, which takes the place of formal US FAA certification for LSA aircraft, at an AirVenture press conference scheduled for later this week.

Cessna is eager to move on from the SkyCather programme's recent woes and show existing and potential customers the improved designed. It has decided to display the third prototype right at the main entrance to AirVenture, one of the more expensive spots at the world's largest general aviation show. The first prototype, which flew for the first time in March 2008, made its debut at last year's AirVenture. Cessna already has over 1,000 orders for the SkyCatcher, which is priced at $111,500 before options.