MacGyver, you know the guy, wizard of solving every challenge with his wit and a few simple tools – what aircraft would he choose as his Swiss-army knife with wings? Certainly the Cessna Caravan would be on the top of that list. Let’s be clear, while Mac did use his trusty Swiss-army knife in nearly every scenario he encountered, he often relied on supplemental tools. A stick of gum here, a paperclip there, a match stick or a shoestring, all to say there is never one perfect tool for the infinity of possible missions, however, the versatility provided by the Cessna Caravan is nearly unmatched.
Upon first mention, the Grand Caravan may conjure the mental picture of a lumbering box hauler with purple and orange stripes, bearing the impossible to mistake FedEx emblem. For others, visions of turquoise waters and island hopping floatplanes jointly crafted by Cessna and Wipaire fill the imagination. Still other non-Caravan aviators may immediately envision a dirty workhorse returning from an out and back in Alaska, carrying everything from drums of fuel, food and drink, or medical patients from a remote village back to civilization; it’s nothing more than a lifeline for those living off the grid. Perhaps you’re a wildlife lover and fulfilled a lifelong dream of going on safari in Tanzania, and that Cessna 208B took you the last mile to the remote outpost where you met your guide, along with all your cameras and gear and travel companions. Or if you’re one of those adrenaline junkies who like to take off in a plane but would rather not land in them, the Caravan, often upgraded with a super-size engine from either Blackhawk or Texas Turbines, is also a favorite for skydivers.
Cessna, the world’s most prolific producer of single-engine, high-wing aircraft, built the Model 208 aircraft in the tradition of its other high-winged planes. The Cessna Skyhawk, of which more units have been produced than any other aircraft model in history, carries a striking resemblance to it’s much bigger brother, and many “Van” drivers have stated “if you can fly a Cessna 172, you can fly a Caravan,” and that is not far from the truth! Add turbine engine training and some systems familiarization, and the oversized Cessna single is extremely manageable. With more than 2,600 currently in operation, the workhorse is a proven platform with predictable reliability.
Comfortable in nearly any environment, from the concrete jungle of Class Bravo airports, to dirt, gravel and grass in those remote locations, to fresh or saltwater getaways, the Caravan loves to show off it’s many tricks. Can it fly in and out of short unimproved strips? You bet. Is it an extreme STOL (short take off and landing) plane? By no means; that’s your Pilatus PC6 Porter. Can it haul a load? Absolutely. Yet it’s no DC-3. Is it comfortable in the mountains? Most certainly. However, if you’re looking for a cozy ride up and over the weather in the Rockies, better think twice. Perhaps a pressurized aircraft better suits that purpose. Perfect for so many missions, when the Cessna Caravan and the four foot longer Grand Caravan are right, they are so right, and when they aren’t the best fit, there can be a bit of frustration. This is where having an experienced professional to guide you through an acquisition decision can help avoid the costly mistake of choosing the wrong plane for your mission, and instead lead to the ever so satisfying outcome of finding that perfect plane for you.
Much can be said about the common perceptions and assumptions about what the Caravan is, some are true, and some have less validity. Journey along with me in my upcoming articles as I continue to explore some of the finer points of the 208, and expose some of the downfalls. Please send along your comments or questions you would like to see addressed to my email listed below; we can even debate whether MacGyver really should have chosen the Swiss army knife, or would have a Leatherman or a Gerber been a better multi-tool of choice?