Kcompetition stimulates business. That is probably what those responsible at the American aircraft manufacturer Cessna thought when they became aware of the triumphant advance of the Swiss turboprop Pilatus PC-12. The confederates have sold more than 1,800 copies of the machine to date. This success is therefore likely to arouse desires across the Atlantic as well. The Swiss recipe: space for either up to ten passengers, cargo or a combination of both, a pressurized cabin and low operating costs due to just one propeller turbine make the PC-12 attractive for many purposes. In addition, their ability to take off and land on grass, gravel or sand slopes in addition to asphalt. That made them unrivaled in the class of pressure-ventilated turbine singles.
Four years ago, the bosses at Cessna therefore forged ambitious plans. A new single-engine turboprop called Denali should quickly attract new groups of buyers. The 530 km / h low-wing aircraft with a pressurized cabin would be suitable for unpaved runways and the transport of a maximum of ten passengers. And it just so happens that the machine looks almost identical to a PC-12. In the summer of 2021, however, disillusionment is the order of the day: The Denali’s maiden flight still did not take place after several delays, and approval is a long way off. Meanwhile, the Swiss competing product continues to sell like sliced bread.
In mid-July, Denali suddenly got a new manufacturer, surprising for many. Instead of Cessna, Beechcraft will in future act as the builder of the machine. This procedure, known as badge engineering, has long been a common practice in the automotive industry, is otherwise unusual in aviation. Although Airbus turned the Bombardier CS-300 into an Airbus A220 after taking over the Canadian company, or Cessna turned the Columbia 400 into a Cessna Corvalis after buying its former rival, it remains the exception.
The Denali should benefit from the good reputation
Since Cessna and Beechcraft are two traditional companies, and both belong to the Textron Group, the marketing maneuver may make sense. Because Cessna is famous for its piston engine classics of the types 172 and 182, as well as for its twin-engine business jets of the Citation series. Beechcraft, on the other hand, is considered a “Mercedes” among general aviation aircraft. Classic piston engines from the manufacturer such as the Bonanza have been built for more than an unbelievable 73 years without interruption since 1947, a design of the century. Beechcraft is especially famous for its twin-engine models with propeller turbines. The aircraft of the King Air family are legendary and have also been produced continuously in Wichita, Kansas, without a break, since 1963. In the future, Denali should benefit from the good reputation of the twin-engine turboprop aircraft from Beechcraft and thus possibly suggest a higher-quality image to potential buyers.
But how can the challenger even distinguish himself with the new machine? First Cessna and now Beechcraft put their hopes in a brand new propeller turbine of the type Catalyst from the manufacturer General Electric. It is said to swallow less kerosene than the Pratt & Whitney PT-6 turbine in the PC-12. However, it is famous for its reliability. Competitor General Electric wants to score with its new 1200 hp engine with lower maintenance costs compared to the Swiss machine.
The first flight is planned for this year after delays
So far, however, it has not worked at all. The new Catalyst engine caused problems and could not be delivered. So instead of taking off for the first flight by the end of 2018 as planned, those responsible at Beechcraft are now hoping that the machine will take off for the first time this year. In 2023 at the earliest, aviation certification would then be expected first by the American FAA and then by the European EASA. Cessna actually had enough time to study the competition. Because 30 years ago a PC-12 took off for the first time in Switzerland.
It is still unknown whether Beechcraft will also offer the revolutionary “Autoland” security system in Denali. This optional system lands the aircraft fully automatically at the next suitable airfield at the push of a button, for example by a passenger, using a high-tech autopilot, if, for example, the pilot is absent. This would give Denali a unique selling point compared to its Swiss competitor. The two significantly smaller turboprops Piper M600 SLS and Hence TBM 940 have also had this latest safety feature on board since the end of 2020, as has the single-jet Cirrus Vision business jet. However, Autoland only works with aircraft that are equipped with Garmin 3000 cockpit avionics. The Beechcraft Denali also has this on board.
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