There were two major developments in the business turboprop sector this year and neither involved new aircraft. However, they did show where potentially the next growth area is for the turboprop market: downstream. Turboprops historically have been a useful vehicle for introducing new customers into the corporate aircraft market, provided operators can maintain price discipline. If not, bad things can happen. Case in point: after several years of public struggle, Piaggio Avanti fractional provider Avantair ceased operations in June.
Turboprops are not jets, but when operated within their proper parameters–including within customer expectations–they can provide transportation that is every bit as safe and reliable. Witness the performance and steady growth of Pilatus PC-12 operator PlaneSense, which flies 30 of the big turboprop singles, or the thoughtful launch of King Air 350i membership operator Wheels Up, announced in August by Marquis Jet founder Kenny Dichter, which could take as many as 105 new aircraft from Beechcraft between now and 2018. Dichter is chasing customers who will fly as few as 20 to 30 hours per year.
Legacy platforms make sense for these types of operation because maintenance costs are well known and support networks long established. Financing for such turboprop ventures, while not always assured, seems to present a reduced risk.
Likewise, the market seems to be more receptive to legacy utility/combi offerings in this sector provided they are kept up-to-date, such as the TBM 850 Elite, Cessna’s new Grand Caravan EX, Quest Kodiak, reborn Twin Otter (Viking 400), or the new GippsAero GA10 Airvan and the resurrection and remake of the larger Gipps GA18 twin (née Nomad).
Two largely government-funded new twin-engine programs, India’s NAL Saras and the Czech Republic’s Evektor EV-55, appear to be on the track for never and late, respectively. NAL’s failure to finish the Saras presents India’s indigenous aerospace sector with an embarrassment and could be seen as casting doubt on the government’s plan to develop the country’s own 90-seat commuter turboprop. China and Russia are also contemplating new entries in this sector. Late last year China’s government-controlled Caiga unveiled a mockup for its proposed Primus 150 all-composite turboprop single.
Established U.S. OEMs have been relatively quiet about their future plans. Cessna had been flight-testing a PT6 mounted in the nose of a Citation Mustang fuselage, but claimed it was just a test bed. Then, 15 months ago, it revealed a rough interior cabin mockup for a new low-wing single aimed straight at the Piper Meridian and collected marketing and design data with it at EAA AirVenture 2012.
Likewise, Beechcraft, fresh from bankruptcy reorganization and minus its jet line, hinted at plans to develop an entire new line of turboprops last year including a single aimed at the Pilatus PC-12, but has been relatively short on detail about how it plans to finance development of these new aircraft.
Two completely new fast single designs from Kestrel and Epic remain in various stages of development, and two established designs from Dornier and Extra remain in search of manufacturing capital partners.
As aviation continues to grow throughout the BRIC countries and the rest of the developing world with imperfect infrastructure, turboprops will have a growing share of the marketplace. How large that share becomes remains to be seen. One thing is certain: there will be no shortage of product.
Newly emerged from the chains of bankruptcy and its money-losing jet division, Beechcraft announced plans late last year for a new line of turboprops. Work appears to be proceeding on at least one of these designs, code-named PD434. Beechcraft did not return inquiries seeking comment on the new project, but it is believed to be a single-engine design that may incorporate the all-composite, wound fuselage of the discontinued Premier IA twinjet with new wings, empennage and a single turboprop engine mounted in the nose. Target price is reported to be in the $2- to $4 million range. The aircraft is thought to be aimed at buyers of the Pilatus PC-12NG.
The preliminary concept includes seating configurations for 9 to 11 (including the pilot). Cabin dimensions: 5.5 feet wide, 5.4 feet high and 20.4 feet long. The NBAA IFR range with four passengers would be 1,750 nm and high-speed cruise 302 knots at FL250. The airplane would have a max payload of 2,800 pounds and a full-fuel payload of 1,650 pounds.
How exactly this project will be able to proceed when Beechcraft finds a buyer for its former Hawker jet division remains unclear, as the composite winding machines that would be used for the PD434 fuselage are integral to the market value of that property. Beechcraft is currently recruiting engineers for PD434.
Caiga Primus 150
China’s state-run general aviation company made two big moves into GA: buying the design rights to the old Epic Aircraft designs and acquiring composite lightplane maker Cirrus in 2011. It apparently went to school fast, unveiling a mockup for a five-seat fast single late last year. The all-composite Primus 150, with styling more than just a little similar to the old Epic Escape, is aiming for a maximum cruise speed of 352 knots (identical to the Escape), a range of 1,410 nm and a ceiling of 28,000 feet. Power will come from the 850-shp GE H85. Deliveries could begin as early as 2015.
Cessna Concept Single
In July last year Cessna unveiled a research cabin mockup for a design slightly larger than the Piper Meridian, but has said little about it since. As this sector becomes increasingly crowded, and Cessna CEO Scott Ernest continues his campaign for each member of the company product line to defend itself on profitability, Cessna’s entry into this sector seems questionable at best. The aircraft design proposed last year included all-composite construction with retractable landing gear, a wingspan of 42 feet, sidestick controls and seating for seven in a cabin measuring 53 inches tall, 54 inches wide and 17 feet, 8 inches long. Target price is $2.1- to $2.4 million. Baggage compartment space is 26 cu ft. Target maximum cruise speed is 260 knots.
Cessna Grand Caravan EX
Cessna received certification of its souped-up $2.149 million Grand Caravan EX (208B) last December and has posted brisk sales so far this year. The EX replaces the 675-shp PT6-114A with the more powerful 867-shp PT6A-140, a more aerodynamic Hartzell propeller with rounder edges, the Garmin G1000 glass-panel avionics system, plusher interiors, new air induction intakes (nosegear cooling fairing), different flap settings, engine torque limiter and new ease-of-maintenance features, including an easily accessible borescope port. Previously, the nosegear cooling fairing on the 208B was available only with the 300-amp electrical option. It is now standard on the EX.
Pilots used to have the choice of three flap settings on the 208B: 10, 20 and 30 degrees. Now there are only two: takeoff (about 20 degrees) and landing (30 degrees). The torque limiter is a new addition for the EX. It limits torque to 2,500 foot-pounds and varies the level of torque with ambient conditions such as temperature and pressure. It is not a Fadec or an EEC system and the pilot is still responsible for making the proper power settings. The new engine delivers a 40-percent increase in climb rate, about 10 knots more cruise speed and a somewhat better specific fuel consumption from a more efficient compressor. While the new engine has a standard TBO of 3,600 hours, that can be increased to 6,000 hours or 12 years for specific conditions with FAR Part 121/135 operators.
Thanks to the extra engine power, the EX can now be equipped with amphibious floats. Wipaire certified the $430,000 Wipline 8750 for the EX in July. The new float has an improved main gear retraction mechanism, a new oleo design and visible mechanical gear-position indicators. The hull design has been modified to improve handling characteristics in rough water and buoyancy has been added to the aft region of the float for operations at high weights.
Epic’s campaign to certify a $2.75 million production version of its all-composite LT kitplane continues. The company hopes to have a prototype aircraft flying before year-end and to receive certification by 2015. Over the summer Epic unveiled a new automotive-style instrument panel for the E1000 that was designed in-house and features Garmin G1000 glass-panel avionics. Epic CEO Doug King said approximately 75 employees are working on the program and that more than 35 E1000s are already on order. After certification, King expects to build 24 to 30 aircraft annually.
The E1000 is powered by a P&WC PT6-67A and has a maximum speed of 325 knots, a range of 1,625 nm, payload with full fuel of 1,170 pounds and a 28,000-foot ceiling. The cabin seats six and measures 15 feet long, 4.6 feet wide, and 4.9 feet high. Mtow is 7,500 pounds. Takeoff distance is 1,600 feet; landing distance is 1,840 feet.
Certification of this utility single-engine turboprop has been pushed back to next year while the company seeks IFR approval for it. The GA10, a stretched turboprop version of the company’s piston-powered GA8 Airvan, entered flight-test last year. The 10-passenger GA10, powered by a 450-shp Rolls-Royce 250-B17F/2, will have an empty weight of approximately 2,400 pounds and a mtow of 4,750 pounds. With a full 150-gallon fuel load it will be able to carry six 200-pound people (including the pilot), and a seventh person weighing no more than 145 pounds; or up to 10 people with a reduced fuel load for “short tourism flights.” Gipps reports strong market interest in the GA10, especially from skydiving clubs and governments that are interested in the aircraft for tactical applications such as observation, surveillance, re-supply and personnel drops. To accommodate diverse missions, Gipps is developing various interior configurations for skydiving, aerial survey, aerial surveillance, freight and passengers, including an executive option. The aircraft will be built at GippsAero’s Latrobe factory in Victoria, Australia.
While production of a flying prototype of this redesigned all-composite single awaits additional financing, Kestrel continues to make what it calls significant progress on major structures such as the cowling, fuselage loft, cabin interior, wing and empennage. A few proof-of-concept parts have been fabricated and the engine has undergone test-stand runs mated to the redesigned cowl and propeller.
Some major suppliers for the aircraft have already been selected. They include Garmin for its G3000 touchscreen avionics system and Honeywell for the TPE331-14GR engine, flat-rated to 1,000 shp and providing a 5,000-hour TBO. The aircraft features a four- to five-seat executive interior on par with those of modern corporate jets, including high-gloss wood veneers, upscale leathers, a wide aisle and oversize oval cabin windows reminiscent of a Gulfstream. It is just one of nine interiors Kestrel is developing, with passenger seating from five to 9 people. The others will accommodate missions as diverse as medevac, cargo and a high-density configuration for eight passengers. The cockpit features sidestick controls, a low, contoured instrument panel with large flat-panel displays and a wraparound windshield allowing views of both wingtips.
Kestrel has not released a price for the aircraft but it is expected to be in the neighborhood of $3 million. Preliminary specifications include a maximum cruise speed of at least 320 ktas; 1,300 nm range (pilot, five passengers, maximum cruise speed at 31,000 feet and NBAA IFR reserves with 100-nm alternate); 1,200 pounds of payload with full fuel (319 U.S. gallons usable) and 8,500 pounds mtow.
Last year the company now known as Beechcraft announced plans for a new single as well as possibly one or two new twins to sit between the Baron G58 piston twin and King Air C90 as well as between the C90 and King Air 250. Just what forms these aircraft take–modifications to existing ones or all-new–remains to be seen.
Dornier Seastar CD-2
Plans to build this $6 million, certified, push-pull, all-composite amphibian in Quebec appear to have sunk, and the lone flying prototype has been returned to the Dornier family in Germany, who underwrote its $150 million design/certification costs in the 1980s and 1990s. A family spokesman said earlier this year that production would not begin without full funding in place and that Dornier continued to seek manufacturing and/or investment partners for the program. The 180-knot, 10,000-pound Seastar is powered by a pair of 650-shp P&WC PT6A-135s. Interiors for the unpressurized cabin range from six-seat executive layout to a 12-seat high-density configuration.
Evektor EV-55 Outback
This $2.1 million light twin from the Czech Republic is closing in on a decade of development and could be certified as early as 2015. However, the order book to date appears anemic and the flight-test program appears to be adhering to a leisurely schedule, perhaps a reflection that it is a largely public-sector project. Evektor claims an international order book for its military/utility/cargo/combi/passenger aircraft, which seats between nine and 14 people.
The project is being underwritten by the Czech ministry of industry and is receiving technical assistance from the Czech army. The aircraft is designed for high-altitude operations at unpaved airstrips. Evektor claims interest from several air forces and is marketing the aircraft to entities currently flying Cessna 402/404 piston twins and Antonov An-2 single-radial biplanes. Earlier this year it announced a deal for the sale of nine aircraft to Siberia with an option for 20 more. The Outback features a quick-change cabin that can be reconfigured in 20 minutes.
Power comes from a pair of P&WC PT6A-21s rated at 536 shp each. Maximum speed at 10,000 feet is 220 knots and maximum payload is 4,021 pounds. Service ceiling is 29,000 feet. The volume of the combined cargo/passenger area is 447 cu ft and the maximum cargo payload is 3,021 pounds. Evektor claims the Outback can take off from, and land on, runways of less than 1,700 feet at 6,500-foot elevation. Evektor has selected Esterline’s CMC SmartDeck integrated digital avionics system as standard equipment.
The schedule for this aircraft remains uncertain as GippsAero has tied it to finishing the GA10 single, itself now behind on its timetable. Gipps is working on an updated version of the classic Government Aircraft Factories N24 Nomad twin and rebadging it the GA18. Gipps’s plan for the aircraft includes an 18-passenger layout with quick-change options among passenger, cargo and combi. Gipps had intended to fly the airplane last year, but it now appears that the first flight is unlikely until next year, with certification in either 2015 or 2016. The aircraft likely will be powered by a pair of upgraded Rolls-Royce C250-series 450-shp engines and receive new propellers and a modern glass cockpit, while retaining its historic Stol capabilities, easily using runways shorter than 2,000 feet. Maximum cruise speed is 170 knots and range is 1,080 nm with 2,190 pounds of payload. Maximum useful load is 4,405 pounds. The GA18 will be manufactured at Gipps’s main complex in Victoria, Australia.
After more than three decades of development, it now appears that India’s indigenous twin pusher turboprop program will not subject itself to the civil certification process and that the airplane’s lone customer, the Indian Air Force (IAF), currently with an order for 15 aircraft, may even opt to reject the final product. Indian officials have stopped commenting on the project altogether and the anticipated time for the first flight of a third prototype has come and gone. The Saras made its first flight in 2004 and a second prototype crashed in 2009, killing the crew. A subsequent investigation revealed flaws in the flight-test program. Since 2009 the aircraft has undergone a significant redesign, but what commercial market there might have been for the aircraft apparently has evaporated.