Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Caravan With Enthusiasm

Blackhawk modifications of Waco, Texas, converts basic caravans to Super Caravans

While it's true that speed isn't the most important attribute of the Caravan, time has value, especially on corporate missions. A 19% increase in speed means a given trip demands less wear and tear on the airplane and less time subtracted from the engine's 3,600-hour time between overhauls.

With a full 2,245 pounds of fuel aboard, you'll still have better than five hours endurance, enough for nearly 1,000 nm between pit stops. And remember, that's at max cruise. Come back to a more moderate power setting, and you could probably endure for 6.5 hours and 1,200 nm.

Inflight handling of the Blackhawk XP-42A is virtually identical to that of the stock airplane, although you're sure to be impressed by the higher cruise speeds. Stalls remain docile and totally predictable.

Chris Duncan demonstrated the rapid- descent maneuver that skydive pilots use to get back to the ground quickly after dropping a load of jumpers, and it's not something you're liable to see every day. Duncan slowed the airplane to about 75 knots, brought power to idle and pushed the nose over to peg the vertical speed indicator at 3,000 fpm down. The windshield filled with eastern Texas prairie as we dropped out of the sky quicker than a jumper under nylon. In the skydiving business, profit depends partially on how quickly you can descend as well as ascend, and a good jump pilot can be on the ground from "jumpers away'' in less than five minutes.

Back in the pattern at Waco, I tried several landings and couldn't get the airplane mad at me. It's an oversimplification to call a Caravan a Skyhawk on steroids, but once you become accustomed to the weight, the Blackhawk Caravan truly is as docile and friendly as a giant 172. Stall speed is 61 knots, and landings are no-brainers if you're simply awake.

The XP-42A conversion to the 208A is priced at $637,000, and Blackhawk has already delivered the first two airplanes with nine more on order. The company also has delivered some 30 of the Grand Caravan conversions that include the same features.

The huge FedEx fleet notwithstanding, some folks argue that the Blackhawk XP-42A is what the stock airplane needed all along. Cessna's recent introduction of the 867 shp Grand Caravan EX, powered by a PT6A-140 engine, seems to confirm that someone at Cessna may have been thinking the same thing.

Labels: Turbine Singles

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