The Cessna SkyCourier: Function First, Then Form

The Cessna SkyCourier: Function First, Then Form


August 27, 2021



After forty-seven years of successful short-haul box moving for FedEx, the Cessna Caravan is about to be outdone.

Welcome to the Cessna family Model 408 SkyCourier! Textron Aviation’s new utility turboprop, the Cessna Model 408, is a clear picture of the engineering mantra “form follows function.” While the Cessna Caravan and Grand Caravan have long since outgrown their initial design as carriers for FedEx and have built a multi-mission reputation, that original function was a primary design driver. Now, with shipment of goods at record volumes and continuing to increase, FedEx and other freight carriers are looking for more effective and efficient means of fulfilling our desire for immediate delivery of that oh-so-important gadget we found on Amazon.

LD3 containers, the large below deck pallets that fit on widebody aircraft such as a Boeing 767, are extremely efficient in their ease of handling. With a desire to not only move more volume, but simultaneously eliminate the handling of small packages at the aircraft, the need arose for a short haul aircraft that could accommodate LD3 containers. Technology and equipment that can handle sorting of packages has jumped light years, increasing efficiency; why not maximize this effectiveness and allow packing to be done at a sort facility, rather than the airport ramp?

Textron Aviation engineers have collaborated with FedEx to define the form, very specifically from the function: an aircraft to carry three LD3 pallets, single pilot, unpressurized, using existing proven technology for a quick design and certification process. Enter the Model 408 with it’s massive 87 by 69 inch cargo door and robust flat floor design. Its aluminum construction, high wing design, and twin engine PT6A turboprops have many comparing it to the Viking (historically de Havilland) Twin Otter. Not so, this is a much larger aircraft with a gross weight of 19,000 pounds, and the wing is not a STOL design like the DCH-6. Speeds will be much faster, with an expected cruise of 194 KTAS.

The SkyCourier program is currently in flight test, so performance numbers are preliminary at this time. The maximum payload for the cargo variant will haul 6000 pounds more than 200 nautical miles, with IFR fuel reserves. Impressive projections of 425 NM range with a payload of 5000 pounds sets this aircraft apart from competitors. Add that this is the only newly designed aircraft in this market segment in decades and will provide operators with worldwide product support by Textron Aviation. Avionics by Garmin, the G1000 NXi, and engines by Pratt & Whitney Canada, the PT6A-65SC producing 1100 SHP, ensure a solid support platform and easy access to training, spares, and a promise of another long run of success by this latest utility turboprop. Textron Aviation is targeting late 2021 certification with the goal of beginning deliveries early 2022. The launch order of 50 units with options for an additional 50 by FedEx will begin the production deliveries. However, the factory does have delivery positions sprinkled in the mix for other smaller operators, and several buyers have already come to the table and are looking forward to early deliveries. If you are interested in more information about acquiring a SkyCourier, please contact me at [email protected].