Its not-so-subtle nickname is the "Cirrus Killer" and, judging by the smoke signals coming from Cessna in the past couple of weeks, we may soon know something concrete about a new piston single the folks in Wichita hope will address a situation many would have regarded as unthinkable only a few years ago. At its current growth rate, Cirrus could very well become the world's largest manufacturer of piston singles. According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association's first-half report for 2005, Cessna sold 301 piston singles while Cirrus sold 295. What's more, energized by new capital and an overhauled marketing department, Columbia Aircraft (the former Lancair Certified) is clearly in a race with Cirrus (and not Cessna, Piper or Raytheon) for a share of what could be described as a new light aircraft market. Add some other gadget and glass examples (Symphony and Liberty come to mind) and the dominance of the so-called Big Three becomes more questionable all the time.
Although it's been widely speculated that Cessna is working on a new model, it's not saying much (officially) at the moment. "I wouldn't expect anything on that for a long time," said Cessna spokesman Dick Ziegler. So why the buzz? Cessna CEO Jack Pelton recently drew the winning ticket in Sporty's Pilot Shop's annual sweepstakes and John Frank, the technical support director for the Cessna Pilots Association (CPA), got to talking to him. According to Frank's posting on the CPA's e-letter Pelton told him flat-out that a new airplane was in the works. "Cessna is totally committed to the single engine line," Frank quoted Pelton as saying. "The company will not let that market wither on the vine. We are working on new products." According to some trustworthy AVweb sources, it was Pelton who used the term "Cirrus Killer" in describing the new airplane. Frank said he thinks that's the first time Cessna has acknowledged working on a new single and others insist it couldn't have been a slip of the tongue.