Cessna 408 SkyCourier
Cessna 408 SkyCourier

Cessna 408 SkyCourier

This twin-turboprop features simple systems and rugged construction.

Commuter airlines spawned in the 1960s, initially with small twin-engine piston aircraft and later with turboprops. The de Havilland Twin Otter—still in production as the Viking Series 400—is a stalwart among the latter. Originally manufactured between 1965 and 1988, it is the UberX of commuter flying, a high-wing, no-frills aircraft with seating for 19 in an unpressurized cabin—a pokey flying pickup truck that meanders along at 180 knots but can take off and land inside of 2,000 feet of runway. Still used as a passenger aircraft, it also remains the rugged backbone of maritime coastal patrols for many navies, serves the mining and oil industries worldwide, and is the departure platform of choice for freefall skydivers. When it’s 60 below in Antarctica and some critically ill scientist needs to be evacuated, this is the airplane they send.

No doubt the Twin Otter was the initial inspiration for Textron’s slightly fatter, faster, and more capable twin-turboprop, the $5.5 million Cessna Model 408 SkyCourier, currently wrapping up flight testing and due to be FAA certified shortly. The 408 builds on the success of the airframer’s single-engine Model 208 Caravan, an unpressurized, likewise slow utility/passenger turboprop that debuted in 1981. Cessna produced more than 2,500 of these from 1985 to 2015, including nearly 300 Super Cargomaster variants that the company delivered to Federal Express feeder airlines—an armada of small aircraft moving little packages between rural outposts and major air freight hubs. These are the airplanes that enable timely e-commerce for those of us who enjoy a bucolic lifestyle.

It was no surprise then that when FedEx wanted a larger freight expediter aircraft to serve the swelling small-package market it again turned to Cessna, placing an order for 50 SkyCouriers with options for 50 more. Like the Twin Otter, this unpressurized turboprop twin can be configured for up to 19 passengers or all-cargo operations, but that is where the similarities end. Textron Aviation unveiled the model in late 2017, and it is significantly larger than the Twin Otter with a wingspan that is nine feet longer and a maximum takeoff weight that is nearly 7,000 pounds heavier, yielding twice the cargo capacity of a Caravan. 

Cessna 408 SkyCourier Interior
Cessna 408 SkyCourier Interior

At its maximum takeoff weight of 19,000 pounds, the SkyCourier can carry 6,000 pounds of freight or 5,000 pounds of passengers and luggage. Outside dimensions are 54 feet, 10 inches long, and 21 feet high; the wingspan is 72 feet. The aircraft has a range of 900 nautical miles, can climb to 25,000 feet with supplemental pilot/passenger oxygen, and has a relatively slow top speed of 200 knots. Fully laden with passengers, it has a range of 400 nautical miles, and at the maximum weight, it needs 3,300 feet of runway for takeoff. 

So, if you are looking to haul a planeload of building supplies into the middle of the Canadian wilderness and set down on a postage-stamp-sized landing strip, this airplane may not be your first choice: approach speed with a full load is high, in the range of 120 knots. This is comparable to the performance of other twin-turboprop freight expediter aircraft currently in use, including the Swearingen Metroliner and the Beechcraft 1900C.

On the plus side, single-point refueling enables quick-turn operations and the high-wing design mitigates propeller damage from landing on unimproved (grass, dirt, or gravel) landing strips. Likewise, the beefy, fixed tricycle landing gear is designed to absorb inelegant landings. 

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A pair of 1,100-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65SC engines power the SkyCourier, which features a large 87-by-69-inch cargo door that can swallow standard LD3 shipping containers. (The aircraft can carry three of them.) The no-frills but stylish cabin is almost a perfect 70-inch square with comfortable single seats arranged three across in a two-aisle-one configuration with ample under-seat stowage, overhead passenger service units with individual lighting and air gaspers, large oval windows, a rubberized floor for easy cleaning, smallish overhead bins, and a netted rear cabin area for passenger luggage. Air conditioning is optional. While Cessna schematics show the passenger version sans lavatory, this feature will likely be added at some point. 

Cessna 408 SkyCourier
Cessna 408 SkyCourier

The aircraft is designed for single-pilot operations. Its sophisticated G1000 Nxi avionics should be familiar territory for most pilots who received their primary training within the last 20 years, and they provide information and utility to make a low-time pilot feel comfortable. Avionics on the base aircraft include Garmin’s GFC autopilot with electronic stability protection. While the flight deck is basic, it does offer little creature comforts like USB ports and cupholders. There’s also a separate cockpit door that leads to the outside world. 

So, why would you want a SkyCourier? For recreational users, the large rear cargo door is ideal for loading adult toys such as snow machines, all-terrain vehicles, jet skis, and motorcycles, and the cavernous cabin could easily lend itself to a variety of customizations to convert your aircraft into a live-in, off-grid RV. Some customers have already made such alterations to single-engine Cessna Caravans. Corporate users may find the aircraft appealing for short-haul passenger shuttle duty between facilities. Undoubtedly, a few rural-service commuter airlines also will find the aircraft attractive. 

Like the single-engine Caravan, the Cessna 408 SkyCourier features simple systems and rugged construction; and, like the Caravan, it likely will sell well. 

2022 Textron Aviation Cessna 408 SkyCourier at a Glance

Base price: $5.5 million 

Crew: 1–2 

Passengers: 19 

Avionics: Garmin G1000 Nxi 

Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65SC, 1,100 shp each 

Range: 900 nm 

Maximum speed: 200 kt