I had traveled across the country to a Mathematics conference. My presentation had gone well and I'd had some interesting in-depth conversations with other mathematicians. The conference was over, but I still had 24 hours before my flight home. I could spend $100 (round numbers) for a ticket change, I suppose, or...
A quick check of airnav.com showed that one of the local FBOs was renting a Cessna Skycatcher, the Cessna 162, Cessna's entry into the Light Sport category. It was time to fly the Skycatcher!
(This kind of fun is not new to me; see, for example, this post about a similar adventure. Someday I will write about flying adventures in Australia, England, and France.)
I explained my situation to Tom, the instructor. There wasn't enough time for a full checkout, but he walked me through the preflight and showed me the Skycatcher's addition to the catalog of Cessna scars pilots can suffer. First, the door swings up, landing ahead of the leading edge, so it can hit you in the face. Second, the pitot tube is small and at eye level, which could lead to a very nasty injury. This complements the diamond-shaped scar many have acquired walking into the aileron of a 172.
The O-200 started nicely, and that's when I discovered another quirk: castering nosewheel. I've flown a bunch of airplanes with castering nosewheels, including the Grumann Tiger, the Aero Commander, and the DA-40, but this was the most awkward example I have seen. By the time we parked I almost had the hang of it.
The Skycatcher controls are unusual as well. The stick moves fore-and-aft, like a yoke, but it slides left-and-right rather than rotating about an axis. This violates a basic but unwritten law of aircraft controls: the control device should move like the actual control. Landing gear controls are shaped like wheels, flap controls are shaped like flaps, and the like. A roll control usually rolls!
The checklist says to rotate at 50, and the Skycatcher leaped into the air. We headed to the local practice area for some steep turns, stalls, and slow flight. The breakout forces on the controls were a little harsh, making it harder than I like to be smooth, but manageable. There is no trim wheel, just electric trim on the stick, and I found it easy to trim the airplane to fly level. At 2400RPM cruised at about 90 knots (we were at sea level so this was both KIAS and KTAS).
The Garmin panel is super slick, much like a larger airplane, and I think this fits in well with Cessna's long-term design philosophy that a trainer should prepare a pilot for a career. There was a nifty terrain display on the PFD, showing local obstacles sliding by during my steep turns, and of course all of the engine instruments were visible on various pages of the MFD. We didn't have time to explore all of the pages, and the reversionary procedures, but I imagine that this is similar to all of the Garmin panels.
The Skycatcher is placarded "Intentional Spins Prohibited;" a little exploration with a search engine will reveal why.
There was only time for one landing, with a rather hefty crosswind, but it was easy to track the centerline (once I found it).
The baggage area is pretty big, but of course it's Light Sport, so you will max out on weight before you bulk out. Still, a skinny retired couple could have a lot of fun in this airplane. They might have more fun in the spiffed-out RV Cessna Caravan I saw a little while back, but that would take a lot more money and a medical certificate rather than just a driver's license.
Still, if someone bought me one I'd take the Caravan.