Having made acquaintenances with the Tecnam P2006T light twin in 2010, John Absolon returns to get all cozy with the latest model from the Italian manufacturer – the P2008.
When Italian GA aircraft manufacturer Tecnam opened their manufacturing facility in Spain – a factory specialising in composite manufacture –it introduced the possibility of a range of new models using modern materials.
Using composites allowed Tecnam the chance to diversify their line-up, with the first major composite aircraft being the new P2008, which boasts significant composite structures. Previously only composite components had been incorporated into existing models, but now Tecnam could design an entire fuselage from composite structures.
Bruce Stark of Tecnam Australia has one exampe from the first batch of P2008s to roll of the production line available here in Australia.
Arriving at Mason Field at the northern end of Queensland’s Gold Coast, the shiny new Tecnam P2008 was parked on the small ramp outside the Southport Flying Club’s clubhouse. My first impression was of a modern, streamlined composite high-wing light aircraft nothing like the previous model Tecnam singles, which tended to be somewhat angular in appearance.
VH-MSF shone brightly in the Gold Coast sun. Bruce, who is the Australian distributor for Tecnam, proudly showed me around the latest offering from the Naples-based Costruzioni Aeronautiche Tecnam.
Previously in Australian Flying (Nov/Dec 2010 issue) we have reviewed the Tecnam P2006T Twin, an aircraft that has changed the thinking in small four-seat twins with its modern power plants that are both liquid and air-cooled and can run on unleaded fuels as well as Avgas.
Continuing in this line of utilising proven technology, Tecnam again chose the Rotax 912 to power the P2008. What has the made the P2008 different from previous Tecnam models is the choice of construction materials. The P2008 uses both composite and metal construction for major parts, as opposed to just minor use of composites for fairings and the like.
If most smaller light aircraft were to sustain minor damage as a result of mishaps around ramps whilst being moved in or out of hangars, it’s usually to areas like wings, wing tips and other control surfaces. In these areas, the Tecnam P2008 features conventional metal construction using proven style structures of spars and ribs.
However, for the less vulnerable fuselage they chose to use composite – not only for weight saving but also for aerodynamic drag reduction by taking advantage of composite’s smooth surface and ability to be moulded into complex curves more easily than metal. This thinking contrasts with that of some other LSA manufacturers, who have stayed with conventional all metal construction.
The result is an aircraft that displays modern streamlined fuselage lines below an all-metal high-wing supported by struts.
The metal wing is constructed using two conventional spars and multiple ribs. The fuel tanks are located one in each wing between the spars for superior crash-worthiness. The planform of the wing is tapered in at both the wing root and wingtip to give the wing an almost elliptical shape that makes the wing extremely efficient and low in drag. The sweep forward of the leading edge from the fuselage also aids in the visibility forward and high through the windscreen. Apart from the tapered inward wing root, the wing looks otherwise similar to that of the P2006T Twin. The wing is supported by metal struts joined to the fuselage behind the door rather than in front like a lot other conventional high-wing light aircraft.
The inspection Prior to flying the P2008, we walked around the aircraft examining some of its design aspects. Resting on a conventional tricycle undercarriage that in the case of VH-MSF were fitted with the standard composite fairings, the P2008’s nosegear is castering but to a lesser degree than some other designs recently tested here. The nosegear strut is a streamlined fairing containing a steel tube design mounted to the engine mounts. The main undercarriage is of conventional leaf spring design with disc brakes. The overall wheelbase appears quite long for an aircraft of this size.
The power plant is the Rotax 912, developing 98hp. The Rotax has liquid-cooled cylinder heads and air-cooled barrels. The engine is equipped with twin carburettors, with the respective air filtered intakes being inside the engine bay.
Engine access is via composite engine cowls on each side that are hinged along the centreline. They are held closed by simple quick release fasteners the same as those found on most light aircraft. On the front of the nose cowling are the air intakes for the liquid cooling radiator, engine bay air cooling and oil cooler intakes. The entire cowling is composite.
This particular P2008 is equipped with the optional Sensenich three-bladed composite propeller. This prop is of fixed pitch design with ground adjustable blades, allowing the owner to optimise the performance for cruise or field performance.
The cabin is accessed via large side doors hinged on their forward edge. These doors were large enough to allow easy access even for my sizeable frame. Each door fixed window is equipped with a circular swivelling cooling air scoop. The door latch was a small lever on the aft edge that, when the door was closed, was recessed back in a small cut-out in the aft door frame outer skin.
The composite fuselage has smooth lines back to the aft end with the composite fin faired all into a single structure. The standard Tecnam all flying tailplane was mounted on the aft end of the fuselage. The all metal tailplane is equipped with a large span, electrically operated trim tab, which provides plenty of power to be able to trim out the aircraft at any airspeed and flap configuration.
The rudder is constructed from conventional metal and is fitted with a fixed tab that could be ground adjusted.
Like the rudder, the frise type ailerons are also fitted with a single fixed trailing edge tab on the right-hand aileron only. The single slotted electrically actuated flaps cover more than half the trailing edge span. The swept upward wingtips are fitted with both navigation lights and strobes.
A single landing light is fitted in the left wing leading edge. This light can be selected on in either an occulting mode or as a steady beam. Just below the landing light on the leading edge of the left wing strut is the pitot tube, protruding some 10cm proud of the strut.
When uncovered it could potentially produce a hazard during walk rounds, particularly in poor lighting conditions or unfamiliarity as access to the left cabin door is in front of the strut.In the rear of the cabin is a luggage shelf rated to hold 20kgs. Although this particular P2008 didn’t have tie downs in the area, Bruce tells me that future P2008s will be equipped with such, using either a restraining net or tie down points.
Jumping in Entry into the P2008’s cabin was the easiest I’ve found in any light sport aircraft that I have flown recently. In my case, stepping into the left-hand seat was just a case of lifting your right foot in and placing it on the far side of the control column, sliding one’s posterior onto the comfortable seat and then lifting your left leg in behind you. Very simple really, and made easier by the large fore/aft door opening and the wide cabin that is another by-product of using composite construction.
And even with my 180cm plus frame I had to slide the seat forward. Compared to the P2004, which I took the air to air photos from for this review, it was a breeze with elbow room to spare. The access is improved by the wing strut being well clear and aft of the door opening and the low floor height negating the need for a step on the main gear spring strut like in, say, a C172.
Each control column stick is pivoted about a point directly under the front edge of each seat. The stick has a large bend from the floor forward and then upwards to the stick grip. This exaggerated bend, like some helicopter control columns, aids the easy entry and exit of your legs past the stick. The rudder pedals are not adjustable.
Getting comfortable in the seat, I perused the instrument panel. VH-MSF is fitted with what’s a fairly common setup these days – a combination EFIS on the left-hand side, an avionics stack in the middle and engine instruments to the right, all fitted above electrical switches across the bottom edge.
The seating position was very comfortable, not only due to the rather wide cabin, in comparison to most other aircraft in this category, but also due to all controls and instruments falling easily to hand and being clearly visible. In fact, the P2008 is wider than most single engine light aircraft.
The only drawback I found was the lack of visibility to the side. The side door windows were a little low for your average sized Aussie. My eyeline was level with the top edge of the window, which meant I had to stoop forward to look level sideways out the side window. The single piece windscreen however had unrestricted visibility forward and to the side. The door window height was almost the same as in the Tecnam P2006T. Bruce indicated that he experienced the same problem but had nonetheless grown used to it.
Visibility to rear was excellent, with the tailplane tips easily visible from the cabin through the tinted aft side windows.
Instrument layout The EFIS fitted to VH-MSF is a Dynon D1000 10-inch Skyview system incorporating synthetic terrain. The Dynon system has the conventional layout of two vertical tapes with digital readout of airspeed, altitude and vertical speed. A conventional ASI and altimeter are mounted above the Dynon EFIS.
Below the attitude indicator display is a full compass card representation. TAS and GS are displayed below the IAS tape display. An indication of the wind direction is in the lower right corner of the EFIS display.
The centre avionics stack was dominated by the Garmin G695 colour GPS map display. The G695 had a handy feature that creates a ‘snail trail’ of your flight path, should it become necessary to retrace your route.
Below the Garmin were a Garmin Transponder and single VHF. There was still ample space on the panel for a second backup VHF should customers wish to option it with a second system mounted in a round instrument cut-out.
The right-hand side of the panel held a multitude of engine instruments. Interestingly, this particular P2008 has an RPM gauge calibrated in prop RPM. Other Rotax powered aircraft I’ve recently flown have their RPM calibrated in engine RPM, whereas that of the P2008 from now on will have ‘numbers’ that are more familiar to pilots of aircraft having conventional Lycoming or Continental installations.
With the plethora of engine instruments on the right side of the panel, I asked whether the aircraft could be fitted with a modern electronic management system and Bruce informed me that it surely could. In fact, the P2008 flown by Giovanni Nustrini, from Tecnam New Zealand, has one installed. Also, the RPM was of the same diameter as all the other engine instruments and didn’t really standout when you looked for it. But then again, this is something that an owner would get used to quickly.
Along the bottom sill of the panel, are the electrical rocker switches with a conventional L, R, BOTH magneto key switch on the left-hand end. In the middle of this panel is a large red selector valve for the fuel system. The valve can be selected only to either L or R. Either side of this valve are two large air outlets. These deliver fresh air from two flush mounted air scoops on either side of the forward fuselage just in front of the door openings. The outlets are fitted with a louvre arrangement to help direct the airflow direction or to close them off.
Below is the throttle quadrant with the single quadrant lever style throttle. Just forward to the left-hand side of the quadrant and under the panel is the choke lever, which when selected OFF lies flat against the underside of the panel. A throttle friction adjustment is on the right side of the quadrant.
Above the left EFIS display is the pitch trim indicator and the standby airspeed and altimeter. Although this particular P2008 was extensively equipped with modern glass instruments, the P2008 can be ordered from the basic VFR ‘T’ instruments right up to the latest EFIS systems and even autopilots.
Tecnam Australia recommends that customers order their aircraft without the factory fitted systems and instead order the systems here in Australia. That wat you can get systems that are recommended and maintainable by local service agents and tailored to your individual needs.
On the fly As it was a quite hot and humid southeast Queensland morning, we didn’t hesitate in getting the Rotax started to generate some airflow. Like most Rotax engines, the starting procedure was very simple. As Bruce had already been running the engine that morning, there wasn’t any need for choke and a quick turn of the key and the 912 instantly fired into life.
After a short time with the Avionics Master switched ON, the EFIS and GPS sprang to life and, following a quick check through the supplied checklist, we were ready to taxi. Steering is via differential braking, and with the braking forces being quite light I found the ground manoeuvrability of the aircraft extremely easy compared to other recent designs that I’ve flown. Only light braking forces were required to begin turns, with no tendency to begin an unbalanced motion lurching from left to right. Even with the slight crosswind the Tecnam tracked the taxiway nicely, which may have been an added benefit of the slightly longer wheelbase.
If a tight turn was required a little application of power and rudder to assist quickly turned the aircraft almost as if on one wheel. In all I found it to be one of the easiest differentially steered light aircraft I’ve ever flown.
At the holding point for Mason Field’s Runway 01, we performed a conventional run-up and carried out the Before Take-off Checklist. After the appropriate radio calls we lined up and commenced the take-off.
A smooth and continuous application of power brought instant acceleration with a fair increase in noise level, but still quieter than most conventional light aircraft. As the RPM rose to 2200-2300, Bruce explained that the adjustable pitch propeller fitted to this aircraft had been optimised for cruise performance and not for rapid acceleration on take-off.
Back pressure was increased a little passing 40KIAS and rotation airborne achieved at 55-60KIAS. Directional control was fairly easy considering that there was approximately 10 knots of crosswind from our right gusting and causing a little lee turbulence as it blew across the eastern line of hangars.
A climb at 60KIAS was maintained until well clear of the ground out over Lake Coombabah, and then with the airspeed accelerating the half T/O flaps were raised and airspeed accelerated to 70KIAS for a climb up over the southern end of Moreton Bay.
At 70KIAS and approximately half fuel, we were climbing at an average of 500fpm, occasionally boosted by some thermal activity and associated mechanical turbulence. At 3000 feet we levelled off and let the airspeed increase and then set the engine RPM of 2200 for the cruise. This produced an indicated airspeed of 110 knots and with the 24°C OAT, the TAS on the Dynon EFIS indicated a TAS of 115 knots. Glancing over to the combination fuel and fuel flow gauge, we were using 20l/hr.
The first exercise I wanted to explore was the stalling characteristics of the P2008. After some clearing turns and the flaps selected up, the airspeed was progressively reduced. Extremely minor buffet was felt passing 53 knots and a stall with quite a high nose attitude occurred at around 49 knots. This wasn’t bad for an aircraft that would mainly be intended as a personal touring aircraft. However, if it were to be used for training I would like to see a little more pre-stall buffet warning.
Next I simulated a circuit and set-up for a final approach with the flaps selected to full. From a stable final approach ROD, I levelled the aircraft out and let the speed bleed without increasing the power.
The first thing that became apparent was, with the speed decreasing and the control column steadily being moved aft to hold the nose up, we were rapidly running out of elevator. In fact, the control column ended up on the aft limit and the buffet still hadn’t commenced at around 45 knots. It just settled into a rate of descent with full back stick. It would only be a ‘ham fisted’ pilot that would not recognise this on approach – stick on the aft limit, no more back trim and low airspeed. Throughout the exercise, the ailerons remained extremely effective. With the application of full power, the airspeed increased instantly and climb commenced.
I next explored the general handling qualities of the P2008. Turn reversals from 45° angle of bank one way to 45° the other were accomplished in 3.5 - four seconds with around three quarters aileron deflection. Not bad.
What I was particularly impressed with was how delightful the controls were harmonised. The pitch rate and roll rate seemed to match extremely well with near equal control forces and response rates. There appeared to be not one control response that you would rate as being overly sensitive.
An RAAF trick Bruce then suggested looking at a ‘bad visibility’ configuration. This is something we used in my RAAF days in some aircraft if you had been caught out in reducing visibility conditions under, say, a low cloud base and you wanted to maintain visual contact with something on the ground. It allowed you to manoeuvre the aircraft at a reduced speed whilst retaining the ability to easily maintain the aircraft well within the operating envelope and obtain the best inflight visibility with the terrain.
The low speed allowed for tight turns to be carried out. An application for this might be checking out an area for obstacles prior to making a precautionary landing with engine power still available, or checking out that country airstrip for obstructions like cows or ‘roos. To replicate this we slowed below the white arc and lowered the flaps to the half T/O position. With the airspeed held at around 53KIAS, the elevator was easily trimmed out. Manoeuvring in this configuration was very easy and the aircraft was easily rolled from 30° of bank in one direction to the other in close to three seconds. Only a slight amount of rudder was required to keep the turns balanced.
The aircraft was a delight to handle in this configuration and speed and with the associated great view downwards through the side windows you would have no problem in closely observing features on the ground in this set-up.
All too soon it was time to head back to Mason Field and land. Joining the circuit pattern on downwind, we slowed to 70 knots and after taking half flap on turning base we slowed to 60 knots with a further reduction to 50-55 knots with full flap.
The crosswind that was present when we departed seemed to have increased slightly and was getting close to the Tecnam’s limit of 15 knots. However, visibility over the nose was excellent in the approach attitude and the aim point was easily maintained with a little crab on. Having such low momentum, speed control was critical in the mechanically generated turbulent conditions.
Entering the flare at 50 knots aiming to touchdown at around 40-45 knots, I accidentally over flared and ended up performing a slight bounce, which we turned into a go-round. Engine response to the rapid application of full power was excellent and a climb was immediately established.
The winds swirling over the closely located hangars from the east made for interesting conditions, but an uneventful second circuit resulted in a full stop landing and we taxied back to the hangar.
Final impressions Tecnam Australia quotes that the pricing on the P2008 ranges from AUD$130,000 – AUD$150,000 plus GST depending on avionics ordered. As previously mentioned, the P2008 can be equipped from the basic VFR machine right up to the latest EFIS for such aircraft.
Walking away, I was left with the impression that this a great little aircraft. It features the latest design ideas from designers who have done a little thinking outside the square with the combination of proven metal construction where needed and composite in the areas that need low drag.
Couple this with the use of modern lightweight engine technology instead of the older and heavier Lycomings or Continentals and you have a two-seat aircraft that is more efficient on fuel than a car over the same distances.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Tecnam P2008 as a handling aircraft and an example of what can be done within the equipment and price range of today.