Cessna’s big utility turboprop single is a capable and all-around solid performer – Climbing Inside.
by Matt Thurber

The Caravan’s cockpit is comfortably spacious, more like a small business aircraft than a light airplane, and it is both utilitarian and well appointed. Climbing into the left seat is easier using the foldout ladder at the pilot’s door, but you can also clamber in through the cabin after entering via the large cargo door.

An integrated glass cockpit is pretty much a standard requirement these days, and the Caravan has long featured Garmin’s G1000 flight deck, now delivered in the NXi version with faster processors and added features such as visual approaches and HSI map overlays. ADS-B out is standard, and ADS-B in optional. VFR and IFR charts can also now be displayed on the moving map. Garmin’s SurfaceWatch alerts pilots if they are about to take off or land on the wrong runway or on a taxiway or too short a runway. I especially like the newest feature that comes with NXi, the com frequency decoding, which spells out the facility for the selected com frequency, right below the numbers. (This Caravan wasn’t equipped with the G1000 NXi.)

Once I was seated in the left seat, it felt like I had climbed up into a seriously big truck; the Grand Caravan EX is a tall airplane, and at 41 feet 7 inches it is long, too, with the cabin able to accommodate a variety of interior configurations from utilitarian but comfortable corporate style to high density commuter seating for the pilot and up to 13 passengers (one of them occupying the right front seat), or variations of seats combined with cargo-hauling capability.

Our load was fairly light, with Allenbaugh, one passenger and me and a bit more than tanks half full of fuel for a takeoff weight about 1,000 pounds less than the 8,807-pound maximum. The PT6 started easily, and I taxied from the Textron Aviation new airplane delivery center to Beech Airport’s Runway 19. The Caravan moves solidly on the ground, tracking the centerline with little extra effort, except for the occasional pull of the power lever into beta range to manage taxi speed. In tight spaces, turning in a small radius with nose wheel steering and brakes feels just like it does in a smaller single-engine Cessna. This was helpful during the taxi back on the active runway at Beech Factory, which has no parallel taxiways, and I would also come to appreciate this during one of our upcoming maneuvers.

Density altitude was about 3,000 feet, and the wind was 20 degrees off the runway heading and gusting to 15 knots. I pushed the condition lever to high idle before lining up on Runway 19, then advanced the power to maximum torque, which is handily indicated on the torque gauge’s dynamic redline on the G1000 multifunction display engine indicating system. The PT6 and Hartzell four-blade prop sped up quickly and accelerated the Caravan, and I needed just a touch of right rudder to keep the nose on the centerline. At about 70 knots, the nose felt light, and the big turboprop climbed off the runway without any need for a big pull on the yoke.

I turned to the east while climbing at the cruise climb speed of 110 knots and getting a feel for the Caravan’s controls. It is a heavy airplane, but by keeping it trimmed I could easily fly with a light touch on the yoke. Like any single-engine Cessna, the Caravan is rock-solid stable, but it is also easy to feel when trim is needed.

After turning south then leveling off at 9,000 feet, I pulled the power back, slowed down and added full flaps for some slow flight. Handling is even better at low speeds, aided by the spoilers and aileron servo tabs that improve lateral control forces.

Slow flight is a comfortable regime for the Caravan, and with takeoff/approach flaps set, it’ll fly for hours and hours at medium altitudes sipping fuel while dutifully following the search-and-rescue patterns built into the G1000 avionics. The patterns are easily customizable to adapt to the particular situation, and the GFC 700 autopilot just follows along. A lone pilot could be freed up to look outside using the autopilot tracking the patterns, but more likely multiple observers would be on board. With the Garmin synthetic vision technology switched on, the animated view of the outside world helps keep the pilot aware of the Caravan’s situation.

Steep turns these days feel almost like cheating; putting the flight path marker on the primary flight display’s horizon line with synthetic vision running makes it almost impossible to mess up. The Caravan tracks true in a 50- to 60-degree bank and enters and exits turns crisply.