* In the 1980s, the Cessna Corporation of the USA began work on a single-engine turboprop utility aircraft, which would emerge as the Cessna 208 "Caravan". It proved extremely popular, with Caravans sold to customers all over the globe. It has been followed by roughly comparable aircraft, including the Quest "Kodiak". This document provides a history and description of the Caravan and Kodiak, as well as the smaller GippsAero "GA-8 Airvan".
* In 1981, Cessna began work on a next-generation "bushplane", designed for hauling passengers and cargo under austere conditions. The initial idea was to mate a turboprop engine to the Model 206 Skywagon, but result didn't have adequate range; a new design was required. After hiring on two consultants who had been with de Havilland Canada, maker of popular bushplanes like the Beaver, Otter, and Twin Otter, Cessna came up with the "Model 208 Caravan" -- a single-engine turboprop machine with a high wing, fixed tricycle landing gear, a boxy fuselage that could accommodate three-abreast seating, and a large cargo door.
The first Model 208 prototype performed its initial flight on 9 December 1982. The first production Caravan was rolled out in August 1984. It was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) PT6A-114 turboprop engine providing 448 kW (600 SHP) and driving a McCauley three-bladed reversible propeller.
All flight surfaces were straight, with the tail featuring a large leading-edge fillet. The wings featured twin spars, a single bracing strut on each side of the aircraft, and a dihedral of 3 degrees. Flight controls were conventional and mechanically actuated, except for electrically actuated flaps. All landing gear assemblies had single large wheels, with disk brakes on the main wheels; the nosewheel was steerable. An amphibian version was available, featuring floats with optional retractable landing gear -- additional "finlets" was placed on tailplane of the floatplane to ensure yaw stability. Ski landing gear was another option.
The Model 208 featured a basic avionics suite. An optional Bendix/King RDS-82 weather radar could be fitted in a pod on the leading edge of the right wing. De-icing gear was also optional, tropical operators having little need for it, with the de-icing kit including pneumatic de-icing boots for the flight surfaces and electrical de-icing for the windscreen. Up to ten passengers or 1,360 kilograms (3,000 pounds) of freight could be carried. Heating was standard, air conditioning optional; the cabin was unpressurized, with an oxygen system optional. There were cockpit doors on each side; a horizontally-split (open up / down) cargo door on the left rear fuselage; and a fold-down "airstair" door on the right rear fuselage.
CESSNA MODEL 208 CARAVAN: _____________________ _________________ _______________________ spec metric english _____________________ _________________ _______________________ wingspan 15.88 meters 52 feet 1 inch wing area 25.96 sq_meters 279.4 sq_feet length 11.46 meters 37 feet 7 inches height 4.32 meters 14 feet 2 inches empty weight 1,724 kilograms 3,800 pounds MTO weight 3,310 kilograms 7,300 pounds max speed at altitude 325 KPH 200 MPH / 175 KT service ceiling 8,410 meters 27,600 feet takeoff run 300 meters 1,000 feet range 1,800 kilometers 1,115 MI / 970 NMI _____________________ _________________ _______________________
* Sales of the initial Model 208 were modest at first, until Federal Express entered into discussions with Cessna to build a Caravan variant optimized for the parcel business. The result was the "Model 208A Cargomaster", which was a pure cargolifter, with the passenger windows and left rear door deleted, plus a large cargo pannier fitted to the belly. It also featured an increase in tail height by 15 centimeters (6 inches), longer engine exhausts to keep hot exhaust gases off the pannier, and Bendix-King avionics. FedEx ordered 177 Cargomasters, and the Caravan series took off.BACK_TO_TOP
* The Model 208A proved highly reliable and easy to maintain. FedEx liked the Cargomaster so much that the company then ordered a derivative with higher load capacity, the "Model 208B Super Cargomaster", which featured a 1.22 meter (4 foot) fuselage stretch, obtained by inserting plugs fore and aft of the wing, and a more powerful PT6A-114A turboprop engine with 503 kW (675 SHP). Load was increased to 1,590 kilograms (3,500 pounds). Initial flight of the first Super Cargomaster was on 3 March 1986, with deliveries later in that same year. The Super Cargomaster led in turn to a similarly stretched version of the Caravan, the "Model 208B Grand Caravan", with windows and a quick-change cabin capable of carrying 14 passengers or freight. The pannier was optional.
In 1998, the original Model 208A was relaunched with the PT6A-114A engine as the "Caravan 675", with the "675" of course standing for the engine horsepower. The Garmin G1000 glass cockpit was fitted in production from 2008. The latest version, the "Grand Caravan EX", was introduced in 2012; it features a PT6A-140 engine with 647 kW (867 SHP) that provides excellent "hot and high" performance, the aircraft also featuring updated avionics. Over 1,700 Caravans have been sold to date.
* In 1986, Cessna began to promote a militarized version, the "U-27A", intended primarily for troop and cargo transport, paradropping, and medevac missions. It had an increased electrical power supply to support avionics for other missions such as electronic surveillance and maritime patrol. A "Low Intensity Conflict Aircraft" version was also proposed, featuring one centerline and six underwing pylons to carry offensive stores, and there was consideration of its use for counterinsurgency operations in South America.
Nothing came of the effort early on, but in 2009 the Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) obtained five armed Cessna Grand Caravan 208Bs for the counter-insurgency role. These "AC-208U Combat Caravans" featured an electro-optic / infrared (EO/IR) turret on the belly and a stores pylon on each wing, the usual store being two Hellfire missiles per pylon. Small laser-guided bombs and 70 millimeter rockets are also plausible stores.
The combat systems were leveraged from the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The turret was offset to the left while the engine exhaust was shunted to the right to avoid thermal interference. The Combat Caravans featured armor protection, weather radar, a datalink system, and a defensive countermeasures system. The combat modifications were performed by ATK Integrated Systems in Forth Worth, with Iraqi pilots trained in Texas as well. The IqAF also operates Caravans in the training, transport, and surveillance roles. The AC-208U has also been obtained by Bahrain and Lebanon.
Caravans are also in service with the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) in small numbers; it is unclear if the AFSOC machines are armed. The US Army has experimented with an "optionally piloted" Caravan 208B UAV under the "Caravan Optionally Piloted Aircraft (COPA)" project. COPA Caravans would be used for high-risk missions; however, the effort seems to have gone quiet.BACK_TO_TOP
* In the 1990s a kitplane producer named Tom Hamilton teamed up with David Voetmann, a pilot who had spent his career flying for humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), notably missionary organizations, to develop a modern bushplane with an eye towards NGO use. The two actually got more than a dozen NGOs to back the exercise, promising to hand out one aircraft to the NGOs for every nine sold commercially.
They set up the Quest firm in Seattle in 2002, the CEO being Bruce Kennedy, who had run Alaska Airlines. Quest had a prototype "Kodiak" flying by 2004, with the first production machine flying in 2007 and certification following. The Kodiak is very much along the lines of the Caravan, having a boxy fuselage, a high braced wing, and fixed tricycle landing gear -- floats are available as an option for amphibian operation, the tailplane being fitted with finlets in that case. The Kodiak is powered by a PWC PT6A-34 turboprop engine providing 560 kW (750 SHP) and driving a four-bladed Hartzell reversible propeller.
Its empty weight is close to that of a Caravan. It has a cabin with a volume of 7.1 cubic meters (250 cubic feet, a maximum payload of 1,590 kilograms (3,500 pounds), and can take off in fully loaded condition in 300 meters (1,000 feet), though its only high-lift devices are wide-span single slotted flaps. A cargo pannier is optional. There are doors on either side of the cockpit and a horizontally-split cargo door, the lower half featuring integral steps. An alternative roll-up cargo door, for parachuting and paradropping, is available as an option. Eight easily-removed passenger seats can be installed, and a VIP interior is also available. The Kodiak features a Garmin 1000 glass cockpit; autopilot, deicing, and weather radar are optional.
QUEST KODIAK: _____________________ _________________ _______________________ spec metric english _____________________ _________________ _______________________ wingspan 13.72 meters 45 feet wing area 22.3 sq_meters 240.1 sq_feet length 10.19 meters 33 feet 5 inches height 4.7 meters 15 feet 5 inches empty weight 1,710 kilograms 3,770 pounds MTO weight 3,290 kilograms 7,255 pounds cruise speed 340 KPH 210 MPH / 185 KT service ceiling 7,260 meters 25,000 feet takeoff run 300 meters 1,000 feet range 2,060 kilometers 1,280 MI / 1,115 NMI _____________________ _________________ _______________________
Sadly, Kennedy was killed in an air crash in 2007 and the company then ran into financial difficulties, but a group of NGO-friendly investors came to the rescue. As of 2012, over 80 Kodiaks have been sold, with sales slowly ramping up further.
Although Quest is focused on NGOs, the company is also interested in the military, paramilitary, and law enforcement market. The company has teamed up with Northrop Grumman to turn a Kodiak into the "Air Claw" demonstrator -- featuring a belly tray with an electro-optic / infrared imaging turret and a wide-area imager. The Air Claw system includes software for analysis of sensor imagery. There has been some interest, but no orders as of yet.BACK_TO_TOP
* The GippsAero company Australia offers a tidy utility aircraft designated the "GA-8 Airvan" with a clear resemblance to the Caravan, the GA-8 sometimes being referred to as the "Caravan Lite".
GippsAero -- more formally Gippsland Aeronautics, Gippsland being a rural region of Victoria, Australia -- was founded in the 1970s as an aircraft maintenance and modification operation. One thing led to another, with the firm introducing its own new-design agricultural aircraft, the "GA-200", in 1991. GippsAero then went on promptly to develop a utility machine, the "GA-8 Airvan", which performed its initial flight in 1994. It finally obtained certification in 2000.
The "Caravan Lite" label is accurate to the extent that the Airvan's empty weight is about 55% that of a Caravan. However, the GA-8 is obviously not a copy of the Caravan, merely being the same sort of machine on a smaller scale. Like the Caravan, the GA-8 has a high braced wing, fixed tricycle landing gear, and a boxy fuselage. However, along with the smaller size, the Airvan differs by featuring more angular and rakish lines, as well as a piston engine instead of a turboprop -- a Lycoming IO-540 flat-six aircooled engine providing 225 kW (300 HP), driving a three-bladed Hartzell propeller. A "GA-8 TC-320" variant with a turbocharged TIO-540 engine providing 240 kW (320 HP) is also available.
The Airvan has a front-hinged crew door on each side of the cockpit and a forward-sliding rear door for passenger and cargo loading. The door is about 105 centimeters (42 inches) on each side and can be opened in flight, making the aircraft useful for parachuting. It can be fitted with seven passenger seats, not including the pilot seat; the seats snap in or out with a minimum of effort, leaving a flat cargo floor with tie-down points when removed. It can haul a load of up to 800 kilograms (1,765 pounds).
The Airvan's windows provide a good field of view for both pilot and passengers, and the aircraft is designed to be easily maintained, with plenty of access panels. The standard dashboard layout is mostly traditional analogue, but "glass cockpit" configurations are available on customer request. A belly pannier is available as an option, this addition enhancing the Airvan's resemblance to the Caravan. Floats have also been qualified.
GIPPSAERO GA-8 AIRVAN: _____________________ _________________ _______________________ spec metric english _____________________ _________________ _______________________ wingspan 12.41 meters 40 feet 8 inches wing area 19.32 sq_meters 208 sq_feet length 8.95 meters 29 feet 3 inches height 3.89 meters 12 feet 10 inches empty weight 1,000 kilograms 2,200 pounds MTO weight 1,815 kilograms 4,000 pounds top cruise speed 240 KPH 150 MPH / 130 KT service ceiling 6,100 meters 20,000 feet takeoff run 450 meters 1,500 feet range 1,350 kilometers 840 MI / 730 NMI _____________________ _________________ _______________________
By 2012, total sales of the Airvan were creeping towards the 200 mark, with the type being operated all over the world. In 2010, Mahindra Aerospace of India acquired a controlling interest in Gipps Aero -- one suspects partly with Indian sales in mind, the Airvan being a good fit for communications with rural India.
One of most high-profile sales was of 16 Airvans to the US Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a US Air Force auxiliary that gives young people flight experience and also performs search and rescue (SAR) duties. These Airvans featured a Garmin 1000 glass cockpit and a scanner system named ARCHER for SAR duties. This prestigious sale helped GippsAero in its efforts to promote the GA-8 as the "Airvan Astra" for SAR and surveillance in service to law enforcement and paramilitary security organizations, as well as military forces on a budget. The Airvan Astra features a belly fairing similar to the standard cargo pannier for mounting electro-optical imaging turrets and other gear, with workstations installed in the passenger section of the aircraft.
GippsAero is working on a stretched, turboprop-powered version of the GA8, the "GA-10", with 18 seats, initial flight of the prototype being in 2012. It looks even more like a Caravan, but the GA10 is still not in that league, with an empty weight about 60% that of a Caravan. It is powered by a Rolls-Royce Allison 250 turboprop engine; GippsAero is mum on when customer deliveries will begin.BACK_TO_TOP
* Incidentally, Cessna also produces a "Model 406 Caravan II" in cooperation with Reims of France, but other than the name it has little to do with the Model 208 Caravan, being a twin-turboprop machine derived from earlier Cessna twins. The Caravan name seems to have been carried over strictly for marketing purposes, the two aircraft having nothing substantial in common.
* Sources include:
A number of editions of JANE'S ALL THE WORLD'S AIRCRAFT, plus the Cessna, Pilatus, and GippsAero websites, were also consulted.
* Revision history:
v1.0.0 / 01 may 09 / Originally teamed with Pilatus PC-21. v1.0.1 / 01 mar 11 / Review & polish. v1.0.2 / 01 aug 11 / Review & polish. v2.0.0 / 01 may 12 / Added GippsAero GA-8. v3.0.0 / 01 apr 13 / Split out PC-21, added Quest Kodiak. v3.0.1 / 01 mar 15 / Review & polish.BACK_TO_TOP