At the Boeing Plaza at the center of the EAA AirVenture showgrounds on Monday, July 26—the first day of the show—Textron Aviation debuted the Cessna 408 SkyCourier, the company’s high-wing, twin turboprop utility airplane. If you want to see the airplane, you need to rush over to Boeing Plaza. The SkyCourier will return to the Textron Aviation headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, on Tuesday after participating in the afternoon flyover events.
FedEx approached Textron Aviation in 2017 to design a purpose-built cargo airplane to serve as a feeder aircraft for smaller airports. “We really appreciate everything that the Textron team has done in working with our design and engineering teams at FedEx to provide exactly what we need—a state of the art feeder aircraft that allows us to serve our customers with more product options,” said Bill West, vice president of supplemental air ops at FedEx. With rugged landing gear, the airplane can utilize unimproved airports with runways as short as 3,300 feet at max takeoff weight, said Textron Aviation flight test pilot Todd Dafforn.
Powered by two PT6A-65SC (SC for SkyCourier) engines, each producing up to 1,100 shp, the SkyCourier is designed to carry as much as 6,000 lbs of cargo or up to 19 passengers depending on the configuration. Customers can choose a full cargo configuration, full passenger configuration, a passenger option with a cargo compartment or a cabin that converts from passenger to cargo. There is also a skydiving option in the works with a special door—possibly a roll up version, said Dafforn. The SkyCourier has a max cruise speed of 200 ktas and can fly up to 900 nm.
One of the most impressive parts of the SkyCourier is the cargo door. The 87-inch by 69-inch gap can easily accommodate large freight items and the compartment can fit up to three LD 3 air cargo containers. “Freight can be palletized or loose-loaded as well, again, providing us the options we need to better serve our customers,” West said.
FedEx is expected to take delivery of the first SkyCourier later this year and has 50 airplanes on order, expanding on a decades-long relationship. FedEx took delivery of its first Caravan around 1985, West said.
The SkyCourier is equipped with the Garmin G1000 NXi, providing the pilots with everything they need for navigation, communication, weather data, traffic information and more. The panel layout also provides a streamlined transition from the Caravan. With the high wing configuration, fluid levels are preflighted on the G1000, and while there are gravity-fed fuel ports on top of the wings, the single-point refueling port is more likely to be used.
Textron Aviation first took the Cessna SkyCourier flying on May 17 of last year. Dafforn said that, while the SkyCourier is a clean sheet design, the flight characteristics are similar to that of the Caravan. FIKI certification was completed already in March, a great achievement considering most companies don’t finish that component of certification until late in the process or even after initial certification. More than 1,200 hours of flight testing has been completed using three SkyCourier platforms.
If you’re looking for a larger SkyCourier to emerge in the future, forget about it. Alex Hunt, technical marketing advisor at Textron Aviation, said the maximum gross takeoff weight for this category is 19,000 lbs, which also happens to be the MTOW for the SkyCourier.
Other airplanes making their first public appearance at the Textron Aviation booth include the Cessna Citation CJ4 Gen2 business jet and Beechcraft King Air 360 twin turboprop.