Cessna Grand Caravan EX
Last year at AirVenture, Cessna rolled out its latest Caravan, and it is the most powerful Cessna-built 208 yet. The new model will maintain its 208B designation, but it will give operators a great deal more power, thanks to a new Pratt & Whitney turboprop engine — the PT6-140 — which Pratt developed expressly for the EX. After a quick certification test program, Cessna earned FAA approval for the big bird early in the new year (2013). We recently had the opportunity to fly the EX out of Cessna’s flight-test facility in Wichita, Kansas, and got to see just how much good the new engine does for the airplane, the airframe of which is essentially unchanged from the previous model.
The Caravan formula is legendary, and for good reason. Customers keep lining up for it because the airplane makes them money. With the Caravan, you get the brawn of a PT6, the economy of a single-engine airplane, the ruggedness of a Super Cub and the simplicity of a 185, all rolled into one gargantuan utility machine that can hold a prodigious combination of cargo and passengers.
The Caravan is unpressurized — it’s not about raw speed, for which you need to fly high. Rather, it’s about good speed, with great performance in every other area. It’s not that you can’t fly the Caravan at high altitude — you can; its ceiling is 25,000 feet — but it isn’t made for it. The airplane is used mostly for trips that are just a few hundred miles, and its ability to dispatch quickly compensates for its modest speed on most missions. It more than makes up for it on trips that originate from a small airport instead of a big, busy one, allowing easier access for package companies and close-in delivery at the destination. FedEx has operated hundreds of Caravans over the years for just this purpose.
While the new model boasts numerous enhancements to the Garmin G1000 avionics suite, the interior and the ice protection system, the EX is really all about the engine, a model that Pratt & Whitney developed by working hand in hand with Cessna. The goal was to create an engine that not only put out a lot more power — nearly 200 extra shaft horsepower, compared to the original Grand Caravan — but that could also make use of the original engine mount and cowling. Consequently, the EX looks nearly identical to the previous model. The fuselage, wing, window arrangement and landing gear are all identical or nearly identical; the only real change is the prop, which is a slightly modified version of the same Hartzell metal prop used before.
The healthy addition of power does wonders for the 208B, including giving it sufficient power for amphibious floats (for the first time on a production Caravan). At least one float maker, Wipaire, is working on the STC for amphibious floats for the EX.
The new engine brings a lot more power, and this does good things all around for the Caravan. This is no surprise, as higher-power Caravan engine mod packages have been around for some time, clearly proving the point that more power brings better runway performance and a much greater rate of climb while costing just a bit in fuel efficiency. With the EX, the increase in power is nearly 20 percent, and the attendant improvements in rate of climb, takeoff distance and cruise airspeed are true to form, around 20 percent or better.
Arguably the most noteworthy enhancement is the Caravan’s improved climb rate, which has increased very substantially from just under 1,000 fpm to over 1,300 fpm. While there is a slight increase in maximum takeoff weight due to the approximately 60 pounds the new engine adds to the airplane, the payload is identical. While this might seem like a wasted opportunity, it is anything but. With its greatly improved performance, the EX will allow operators doing business in hot, high or otherwise challenging environments to carry much larger payloads while maintaining required dispatch margins. This means that charter operators will be able to depart from mountainous airports in the summertime without leaving off a lot of fuel, which will allow them to fly flights they otherwise couldn’t while also eliminating fuel stops on some longer trips.