Redbird Tests Old Cessna 172s In New Role

By John Croft
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

The Jet-A engine burns 4.8 gal. per hour in cruise, down from 8-10 for the Lycoming. For flight training, that should correspond to more than $3,000 in savings in total for a private pilot-training program, given the cost of Jet-A fuel today. Skyport today charges $9,900 for a fixed-price, fixed-schedule private pilot's license.

Continental says more than 3,500 Centurion engines have been delivered, and the fleet has accumulated 3.5 million flight hours. The four-cylinder in-line engine is liquid-cooled and geared to allow the crankshaft to turn at 3,900 rpm while the variable speed, three-blade MT composite propeller spins at no higher than 2,300 rpm. The engine has a full-authority digital engine controller with single-lever control. With its low fuel-burn rate, the RedHawk will have an 8-hr. endurance with standard Skyhawk fuel tanks. However, since the engine is 70-80 lb. heavier than the engine it replaces, flight schools will likely fill the tanks only halfway to boost payload.

John Weber, Continental's technical support and training manager for the Centurion engine, says a turnkey installation is “in the low $70,000s” and the engine replacement cost at 1,500 hr. of operating time is $43,000. He points out that the operator will have saved $65,000 in fuel costs over the same 1,500 hr., though.

Gregoire does not yet have an idea how much the RedHawk will cost in steady state production, and he admits the program could be a failure if the prices are too high for flight schools. He says Skyport has conducted “about a dozen” projects since 2011, with a 75% success rate.

The RedHawk experiment is Skyport's most expensive to date. “We'd rather someone else did this, but nobody is doing anything like this,” says Gregoire. “We'll prove it works, or we'll fix it to make it right.”

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