At a time when new aircraft designs come up with unusual proposals, the traditional planemaker Cessna works on two new conventional-configuration turbopropellers.
The twin-engine SkyCourier and the single-engine Denali, scheduled to fly later this year, have entered the final assembly stage of prototypes, the manufacturer revealed last week.
Of the two models, the SkyCourier is what most seems to be promising. Cessna designed the twin engine following the precepts used in Caravan, one of its most popular airplanes.
The versatile single-engine came in the 1980s with an unbeatable configuration: high wing, fixed landing gear, good internal space and the extremely reliable PT-6 engine. It was an immediate success both as cargo plane and for the transportation of passengers, among other functions.
But only recently has Cessna decided to repeat that formula in a larger aircraft, the SkyCourier, launched in late 2017 already with a request for 100 units made by the cargo company Fedex – divided into 50 firm orders and 50 options.
The SkyCourier follows pretty much the same Caravan configuration, with high wings, fixed landing gear and, of course, the PT-6 as standard engines. The differences are in the T-tail and the fact that the SkyCourier has a much wider fuselage, capable of accommodating a row of three seats in the passenger version (up to 19 seats) or three containers of the LD3 standard in the cargo version.
The promised performance is also quite similar to Caravan. The cruising speed will be 200 ktas (5 ktas faster than the Grand Caravan) and the maximum range of 900 nm, slightly lower than the single engine.
With SkyCourier, Cessna expects to explore a segment that today has no major competitors, only vintage aircraft or non-traditional manufacturers.
“We are building this aircraft with the flexibility and reliability needed for a variety of high-utilization operations including cargo, passenger or special missions and we are excited that the customers are responding positively to their capabilities,” said Chris Hearne, senior vice president, Engineering.
If the SkyCourier looks like a new opportunity for Cessna, Denali is more for a late response from the company. The single-engine business will hit the market to compete with models already known as the Pilatus PC-12 and Daher TBM.
Unlike the SkyCourier, the Denali will have the cabin pressurized and will be able to fly at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,500 meters). The maximum design speed is 285 ktas thanks to the propulsion system that features composite 5 bladed propellers and GE’s new Catalyst turboprop engine.
The Denali could carry up to 11 passengers or four occupants at a distance of 1,600 nautical miles (almost 3,000 km).
Both are expected to enter service in 2020, although this forecast appears somewhat optimistic at the current stage. In any case, Cessna will certainly have two aircraft in its portfolio that can make a difference in sales.