• Today the P92 Echo MkII is a sleek aeroplane with a composite fuselage and all-metal wing. It carries on the 30-year tradition of the P92. (Steve Hitchen)
    Today the P92 Echo MkII is a sleek aeroplane with a composite fuselage and all-metal wing. It carries on the 30-year tradition of the P92. (Steve Hitchen)

It started out life somewhat gangly and awkward, but over the years has morphed into a thing of beauty.

Thirty years ago, on 14 March 1993, a small, light and uncomplicated airframe bumped across the corrugated grass at a regional airport outside Capua, Italy. It took off for its first flight and proved to the world that a new era of simpler, more economic aviation was possible.

The world had seen the first of the Tecnam P92.

The hand on the stick that day belonged to Prof. Luigi Pascale, now a legend of aviation design and the inspiration for many subsequent Tecnam models including the P2010 and P2012 Traveller.

Pascale arrived at the P92 after he challenged a class he was teaching to design an aircraft to fit the new "ultralight" category without sacrificing the GA "feel" of the aircraft. It became one of Tecnam's key selling points, and still is today.

The P92 went on to become one of the most desired and capable airframes in the category, and spawned several iterations over the ensuing three decades as it evolved with customer demands and further development.

The engine power increased, the fuselage went from all-metal to composite, plush interiors replaced the more austere upholstery and the basic clocks were superceded by Garmin avionics. Several engine power options have been offered to customers over the years, including 75-, 80-, and 100-hp Rotax engines, and one model boasted a Lycoming YO-233 motor as standard.

It collected names as it evolved: Echo, Echo Super, Eaglet, P92-JS and even P92 SeaSky, an amphibian. In the form of the P92 2000RG, it became a retractable.

From private owners, flying schools, station owners and in some cases even the military, the P92 proved very popular in a market that was to become flooded with other aircraft that embraced the ultralight category. It held its own against some very strong competitors that came later to the party.

Tecnam Australia's Bruce Stark was involved with getting the very first of the type into Australia in the early 2000s. He had seen his first one in NZ and went back at the invitation of the Tecnam dealer there.

"I got invited to Warbirds over Wanaka in 2000. In a little 80-hp aeroplane with two big blokes and a bit gear in the back, it just flew effortlessly. It took off in no distance, flew in bad weather along the coast at 300 feet and climbed mountain passes.

"It was just an amazing aircraft, and that's what convinced me to get involved with Tecnam as a dealer."

When they first came out, the P92 was designed for a European category, which Australia had no equivalent to. It presented Stark with a regulatory obstacle that he needed to climb.

"They didn't fit anything in Australia; they were primarily introduced for the European ultralight market," he recalls."The one I flew in NZ and subsequently brought over here was a P92-J, which was a JAR-VLA [Joint Aviation Regulations - Very Light Aeroplane] certified aircraft that CASA accepted onto the Australian register.

CASA had no provision to allow foreign factory-built ultralights onto the Australian register without a type certificate. It had the effect of restricting imports to the higher-ticket aircraft that were produced in factories and backed-up by supporting quality paperwork.

To illustrate the capability of the P92, Stark points to an early example that lives on a property in western QLD that has logged around 16,000 hours and is in remarkable condition despite operating in an environment that includes extremes of heat and some very taxing surfaces from which it operates.

There are also some flying schools in Australia that are still using them despite the airframe hours now pushing 6000.

Today, the P92 is a sleek, technology-packed aircraft that has managed not to sacrifice the simplicity of operation or the basic functionality that has made it so popular.

Carrying the legacy forward is the current model P92 Echo MkII.

With a composite fuselage mated to an all-metal laminar flow wing, the P92 is the result of many lessons learnt from other Tecnam models such as the P2008 and Astore. The metal wing provides stability; the composite fuselage permits that "tadpole" shape that is so efficient in the air.

It retains the 100-hp Rotax 912, but the interior has had a complete upgrade from previous models in luxury, comfort and avionics, showing how the P92 has changed over time with new technology and customer demands for something a cut above the basic aeroplane.

Despite there being very little commonality between the P92 of 1993 and the Echo MkII of 2023, Stark says the model is retaining its popularity with owners who want a basic two-seater, but with modern touches. At the moment, there are four of the type operating in Australia with another 12 in various states of delivery.

Those figures are expected to be bolstered after negotiations arising from the Tecnam stand at Avalon 2023. That's one thing that appears not to have changed: Australia still wants the P92.

Whilst other Tecnam models such as the P2008, P96 Golf, P2002, P2004 and Astore have served the company well in the market, it is the P92, the first of the line, that is Tecnam's heart aeroplane.

Expect it to be around for a lot of years yet, in one form or another.

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