SkyCourier Makes Public Debut at AirVenture

 - July 27, 2021, 8:26 PM

On the opening day of EAA AirVenture on Monday, the Cessna SkyCourier arrived for its first public appearance. The twin-engine turboprop dominated the entrance ramp to Boeing Plaza while curious onlookers gathered around for a gander at the next-generation cargo and passenger hauler.

Powered by two 1,100-shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-65SC turboprop engines, this SkyCourier is serial number one, and it took a brief time off from flight testing to participate in the AirVenture Innovation Showcase before departing on Tuesday. After taking off, flight-test pilot Todd Dafforn flew two passes along Runway 18-36 before departing the area.

A clean-sheet design, the SkyCourier resulted from discussions with FedEx Express. “In 2017 we knew the feeder fleet [of Cessna Caravan single-engine turboprops] needed updating,” said Bill West, FedEx v-p of supplemental air operations. FedEx Express operates nearly 300 aircraft in 250 locations globally, and it has ordered 50 SkyCouriers. Certification and first delivery are expected later this year.

The design’s 87-by 69-inch rear cargo door and fuselage are designed to accommodate three standard LD3-size containers, giving the SkyCourier twice the capacity of a Caravan, West said. This will allow FedEx to deliver oversize cargo to smaller markets. The SkyCourier fleet will also be part of Fedex’s Purple Runway training program, which will recruit new pilots to fly the smaller cargo airplanes and work their way up to larger FedEx aircraft.

With a maximum ramp weight of 19,070 pounds and a maximum takeoff weight of 19,000 pounds, the SkyCourier can carry a 6,000-pound freighter payload or 5,000-pound passenger payload. The FedEx SkyCouriers have no windows and are the pure freight version. The airplane is also available in a passenger configuration with windows, overhead baggage bins, and an airstair door or in a convertible passenger/freighter version.

To reduce turn time on the ground, the SkyCourier has a single-point refueling port on the aft lower rear of the right engine nacelle. Air conditioning is optional as are kevlar ice panels to protect the fuselage from ice slung off the propellers.

Avionics are a Garmin G1000 NXi suite with GFC 700 autopilot. Garmin’s electronic stability and protection limit-cueing system is optional. The flight deck has cupholders and USB ports for pilot convenience. Any fluid levels that need checking can be seen by pilots on the avionics displays, so there is no need to climb up to the engines to look at anything. Although the PT6s are not electronically controlled, the avionics do have a power mode indicator to help pilots set power based on the outside conditions.

The non-pressurized SkyCourier comes with a 50-cu-ft oxygen bottle, with a 77-cu-ft bottle optional. For the 900-nm maximum range, pilots would have to use supplemental oxygen to cruise near the maximum altitude of FL250, according to Dafforn. The maximum speed of 200 knots comes at 10,000 to 11,000 feet, he said. The takeoff field length is 3,300 feet. With a 5,000-pound payload, the range is 400 nm.

Final-approach speed is between “the 90s” at lighter weights, Dafforn said, and under 120 when heavy. “It’s like flying a big twin-engine Caravan.” He added that it’s easy to keep speed high when requested by controllers, then chop the power and slow down quickly, thanks to the large flat-plate area of the McCauley Blackmac aluminum propellers.

All icing tests were completed in March, so icing approval won’t hold up the certification plan, Dafforn said.

In addition to the SkyCourier, Textron Aviation marked the debut of the King Air 260 and CJ4 Gen2 at Oshkosh.