Pilot Journal
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Caravan for the Jet Set

Cessna’s Caravan goes plush, with all the accoutrements of a jet (except the speed)

Though no one will ever mistake a Caravan for a Skylane in appearance, the two fly remarkably comparable, with the Caravan easily the simpler of the two. Approach speeds can be about the same—75 knots—and instrument approaches work out well in either airplane at the usual 90 to 100 knots. Stall speed is right at the FAA upper limit for a production single, 61 knots, and that’s a result of large flaps that span nearly 70% of the wing’s trailing edge and deflect to a full 30 degrees. In combination with tough sprung-steel gear that absorbs all reasonable and some unreasonable loads, the Caravan can sneak into abbreviated strips, improved or unimproved, as short as 1,000 feet. The engine intake is mounted reasonably high, allowing use of max reverse braking thrust down to about 30 knots. Below that speed, the risk of FOD damage on dirt runways increases disproportionately.

Quick cruise isn’t the Caravan’s strong suit, but operators don’t seem to care. The big Pratt & Whitney PT6A doesn’t mind at all if you go to the whip for cruise. Reeves says speed typically settles on 165 knots at max cruise and about 300 pounds per hour (45 gph), and he typically blocks the airplane at 155 to 160 knots. “We use max torque most of the time,” Reeves comments. “Because our stage lengths typically aren’t that long—usually 350 nm or less—it’s uncommon for us to fly legs longer than two hours, so clients rarely complain. Our Caravan is fitted with all the distractions of business jets—DVD screens, stereo systems, computer ports, WiFi—but much of the time, people used to flying high in jets are fascinated with the view of the world passing below.”

Reeves is a CFI who has been teaching for a while, and he’s frankly amazed at the simplicity of flying the 208. “Once the engine is running, the airplane really is pretty much a push-forward-to-go-and-pull-back-to-stop machine. I’m convinced I could solo a typical student in less than 10 hours in a Caravan. The prop stays full forward at 1,900 rpm all the time, the condition lever stays at high idle from takeoff to landing, and the only adjustment is to feather the prop prior to shutdown and pull the condition lever to idle cutoff. You do have to watch the torque limits and temperatures, but other than that, the airplane couldn’t be much simpler,” says Reeves.

“Our airplane is a dedicated executive machine, and that’s the only way we fly it, but if we wished, we could convert it to a freighter, load it with a forklift through the huge aft left cargo door and use the airplane in the boonies. It’s the perfect tool for our mission.”
The airplane has almost a locomotive’s sense of straight ahead, but it’s surprisingly maneuverable when you feel the need to twist and shout.
Linehan Aviation has discovered a different kind of business flying with its Grand Caravan, still operating in the lap of luxury with all the conveniences of a corporate office or a recreation room, but slower and lower. Perhaps surprisingly, that’s the way Linehan’s clients want it.

Labels: Piston Singles


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