Cessna is perhaps the most easily recognized name in aircraft of all time, or at least general aviation. Cessna has been in the business since 1927 and has perfected the art of light aircraft, particularly those tasked to train the next generation; the venerable 172 Skyhawk, tasked with patiently coaxing tens of thousands of nervous young pilots into a confident state of mind.
But high-wing Cessna monoplanes haven’t only been used for primary training. The C-180 and C-185 Skywagons are staples of the bushplane communities in remote Alaska and Canada, and the C-206 has long served as a rural cargo hauler, commuter, and aerial ambulance in some of the most remote, unreached areas of the planet. In that same storied bloodline we find the most oversized of the lot: the C-208 Caravan.
Built for Everything, Anywhere
We often associated turbine engine airplanes with great altitude and speed but this is somewhat of a misnomer. While that realm is where they will be the most efficient, it does not make them anemic at different portions of the flight envelope. Turbine engines have been increasingly replacing piston engines in agricultural aircraft for several decades now for a few reasons: they are more reliable, much simpler, and much lighter. Pilots end up with a faster, lighter aircraft which in turn yields higher payloads.
The same is true with the C-208B Grand Caravan. Yes, the fuel burn is higher, but the truth is that there aren’t really any piston engines of comparable yield of the stalwart Pratt & Whitney PT6A, of which the C-208B operated in the 600hp-675hp range. The dry weight of the PT6A is under 300lbs, which is incredible. The closest non-radial piston available, the Lycoming IO-720, a 720ci deep-breathing monster, still only puts out 400hp and has a dry weight of 600lbs! Not to mention the time between overhauls is about a third that of the PT6A.
With so comparatively few moving parts, turbines have proven themselves to be almost utterly reliable, exactly what you want in a dedicated workhorse, and make no mistake, a dedicated workhorse is exactly what the Grand Caravan is.
The Grand Caravan is found doing just about everything conceivable. Produced in two packages, they could be originally acquired with seating for eleven (two crew, nine passengers), or seating for two and cargo configuration. They can be equipped with a slick belly, or with the cargo bay attached to the belly, opening it up for tremendous versatility.
Over the course of their career, they have found themselves in many parachuting clubs since they are well suited for slow flight, and have a full size cargo door for easy egress. Also, they are in service as an aerial ambulance, rural/bush airliner, and dedicated cargo aircraft. FedEx is the most prolific user of them in their windowless cargo configuration, with a fleet of nearly 250. They have even been used in military services with hardpoints on the wings for launching missiles! Their fixed landing gear is extremely durable and robust, and most importantly, low maintenance. With full fuel, operators will still get over half a ton of useful load, which is not bad on single engine aircraft and further capitalized on with a single-pilot.
The Grand Caravan is basically a flying truck or bus depening on configuration. Here are the significant specifications
Cruising at 186
The Grand Caravan has proven itself over a long and highly successful career, spanning nearly four decades. They are operating in all corners of the globe, performing all variety of missions. With over 2,000 strong, they show no signs of letting up; they are just as viable today as they were at inception.