Cessna's High Performance Turboprop Single Has A Niche

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We in the aviation media went to the National Business Aviation Association convention prepared for a show that reflected the general state of the business but there are surprises at every show. On balance, the biggest news out of the show was the redesign of the PiperJet into the Altaire, something that looks like a pretty cool airplane as opposed to the awkward looking first attempt. Not only will it be easier to sell, it may well be the first single engine light jet to hit the market in the post-VLJ bust that took so much energy out of the low end of the jet market.

However, Piper's genuine step forward in exploring an uncharted market segment paled, in terms of hallway whispers and knowing glances, to the rumor that Cessna is developing a turboprop single. The rumor has been around since Oshkosh with a handful of people claiming to have seen it or talked to people who had seen it. Apparently none of them had cameras on them at the time or we'd know what it looks like. By the way, if you Google the presumed N-number of the prototype, E350CE, you'll get a photo of a Lancair IV taken by a guy in Camarillo, Calif. who misread the registration. It's an L on that photo, not an E. Anyhow, the actual airplane has been commonly referred to as the "turboprop Mustang" which suggests a pretty substantial turboprop.

I've only asked Cessna directly about the project once and I blew the question. I asked their communications department if they were going to introduce it at NBAA and they answered quite truthfully that they weren't. During the Cessna news conference introducing the "new" Citation Ten, a correspondent whose whole job revolves around new aircraft asked CEO Jack Pelton about sightings of the aircraft and whether a purported photo of it circulating on the Internet was Photoshopped. Pelton said only that he hadn't seen the photo. Nudge nudge. Wink wink.

He finally all but spilled the beans to AOPA in what looked like an impromptu interview at the static display at Dekalb Peachtree Airport. Petty journalistic jealousy aside, I found what he had to say to Tom Horne and Warren Morningstar (Warren ran the camera) illuminating in the context of something Piper VP Randy Groom had talked about earlier.

In his presentation on the Altaire, Groom said his company was offering to discount the price of a turboprop Meridian by the $75,000 deposit put on the jet. Groom said the idea was to get owner pilots used to the different world of high altitude, high speed operations incrementally and it makes sense.

Although there have been some who have said it's possible, even preferable, to put piston pilots directly into the left seat of aircraft capable of 350 knots and 41,000 feet, I know it's not something I'd be comfortable doing. I'm guessing a lot of Cessna Mustang pilots felt the same way. I bet that while they were waiting for their Mustangs, they were buying Meridians or maybe used TBMs to ensure they had the skills needed to make the transition to jets. It exposed a gap in the market that Cessna had to fill to ensure its self- imposed mandate to have customers advance through their product line as their skills and wealth permit.

Piper and Daher Socata pretty much own that market now (the Pilatus PC-12 is in a slightly different league) and they're doing well with those aircraft. Cessna's forthcoming announcement further validates what will probably remain a niche market. In that way it's not all bad news for the established planemakers, or, for that matter, Kestrel Aircraft, which is trying to get its own design into production.

While I haven't seen the photos, Photoshopped or otherwise, the economics of this kind of development dictate at least six seats, a range of at least 1,000 miles and a steady supply of Corvalis and, at least for the foreseeable future, Cirrus pilots with jet dreams. Despite the economy, they seem to be out there.

Comments (35)

If the market goes the way Cessna's board of directors are probably predicting, their single engine turboprop aircraft (if its for real) will work out well for them. Here's why:

Cessna has done well with their twin engine jets, but when you get smaller in size than their Mustang, its more economical in terms of fuel consumption and maintenance costs to have one bigger engine instead of two smaller ones. Second: If 100LL is phased out, operators of high performance piston planes are going to have a problem. Either they are going to settle for lesser performance (with 94UL) or pay more (Swift fuel's proposed 100UL).

Aerodynamically sleek single engine retractible gear turboprop planes like the TBM 850, may be somewhat slower than jets like Piper's upcoming Altaire, but will have an advantage regarding fuel burn.

Finally, Cessna probably figures a lot of planes are wearing out and that next year or the year after that, business aviation will grow. So if all these predictions come to pass, they'll do well with a single engine turboprop.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | October 25, 2010 7:52 AM    Report this comment

A SE turboprop is a no-brainer, as it plugs a hole in Cessna's product line and provides a move-up aircraft to the Mustang and Ciation. My question is can the market support another player? I don't assume the new plane would be PT6A-powered, as GE is surely talking to Cessna about its H80 engine.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 25, 2010 8:15 AM    Report this comment

Forgot to add that Beech talked about a new SE turboprop at EBACE in March but made no mention of it at NBAA. I'd read their plane was based on the King Air 200, which suggests it would have competed more with the PC-12 instead of the smaller Meridian.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 25, 2010 8:18 AM    Report this comment

Why not simply install a PT6 in the nose of a Corvalis? Lancair did it, creating the Evolution. This would be a heck of a lot simpler and cheaper than a new airframe. I can not see a turboprop-powered Mustang, nor a resurrection of the canceled (?) composite high wing NGP. Pilatus delivered the 1,000 example of their single-turboprop PC-12 this year, and has done a good job convincing the corporate world that two engines are not necessary for safety reasons. I am sure that Cessna doesn't want current heavy Cessna piston twin owners straying off the farm as these old work horses are put out to pasture. Pilatus is rumored to be working on something new, either a replacement for the Turbo Porter or a single jet. Perhaps this move from Cessna was meant to prevent erosion due to Pilatus' success with the PC-12? It is good to see Cessna continue to work on new aircraft, though. At the other end of the spectrum, a Rotax option for the C162 is long overdue. Go get 'em, Jack Pelton!

Posted by: Kent Misegades | October 25, 2010 8:26 AM    Report this comment

Stan, that's not the new Cessna - it's the Lancair Russ mentioned in the article (N350CL). The dual exhaust under the nose identifies it as a piston, not turboprop.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 25, 2010 10:26 AM    Report this comment

Kent, I think the PT6A is too powerful for that airframe (even derated) and I doubt there's a market for a 4 seat turboprop. It'd have to be six seats to compete with the Meridian and TBM.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 25, 2010 10:29 AM    Report this comment

It's incorrect to call the Evolution a turbine-powered Corvalis. The two aren't even remotely related. The Evo is a clean-sheet design intended to have turbine power from the start. The Lancair IV grew to have pressurization and a turbine, but that was a "growing up" project, not one that started with turbine intent. Plus, the Corvalis and the Lancair ES ended up being quite different airframes.

Posted by: Marc Cook | October 25, 2010 12:31 PM    Report this comment

Textron should just buy Pilatus.

Posted by: Charles Clark | October 25, 2010 3:46 PM    Report this comment

I think that Kent has it right. Essentially it is about making an economical turboprop. Originally the Mustang was fitted with turboprop engines and then later switched to turbojet. Since there were originally plans to expand the Columbia line to include pressurized and turboprop models, it is my hope that they produce a "baby turboprop" in the uncrowded market of $800k - $2M to help provide spacing in the product line and expand off of the Columbia products.

Posted by: Eric Neeb | October 25, 2010 6:29 PM    Report this comment

IMO, a turboprop Corvalis would be too small and wouldn't be a direct competitor to the Meridian or TBM. I also don't think that product would attract a buyer looking to move up from a Corvalis or T206. In order to distinguish themselves in the single turboprop niche (exclusive of the PC-12), Cessna needs to focus on speeds of 300kts, 1000 mile range, and "no-brainer" loading flexibility. The Meridian has very limited loading with full tanks. The Garmin G3000 avionics suite would seem to be an appropriate choice and definitely make the Cessna stand out from its competitors which both use G1000. I would also think that Cessna would position this aircraft as the low end of the Citation fleet, rather then the high end of the Single Engine line. It would make more sense from a marketing perspective for this to be the "baby Citation" rather then the top end of the SE lineup - especially with pricing in the $1-$2M range.

Posted by: Bryan Ursic | October 26, 2010 8:44 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Ursic has it right. The PC-12 is the target to beat. If Textron/Cessna is unwilling, or unable to buy Pilatus, the goal should be to improve on the PC-12, not dink around with small cabins with marginal load capabilities.

Posted by: Charles Clark | October 26, 2010 1:48 PM    Report this comment

Charles, I seriously doubt that Cessna would consider "buying" Pilatus for a number of reasons. I believe that we will see a six-place aircraft similar to the Mustang - not a 8+ place aircraft like the PC-12. Basically, I think that Cessna will shoot for a TBM850 rather than a PC-12.

Posted by: Bryan Ursic | October 26, 2010 2:16 PM    Report this comment

I think they should lengthen the Corvalis by 2 feet add 2 feet to the wings and pressurize it with retractable gear. I'm sure that sleek design would break 300kts in cruise

Posted by: THEODORE STORM | October 26, 2010 2:18 PM    Report this comment

Cessna/Textron should have pursued the Extra 400/500 aircraft when Walter Extra got into finacial trouble a few years back. They would now be enjoying sales taken from the Mirage/Meridian market. The EA 500 is the perfect step up for SR22, DA40, Acclaim and 210 pilots looking for speed, range and economy. Cessna needs to compete with the Meridian and TBM guys not the Pilatus guys. They already have aircraft to compete with the PC12. Read up on the EA 500...it was a missed opportunity for Cessna.

Posted by: Joe Intagliata | October 26, 2010 2:20 PM    Report this comment

The EA-500 wasn't even as fast as the Meridian if I remember correctly... about 230kts?? And I believe (don't quote me on this) that they had some structural issues with the wing join to the fuselage and some stress cracks were popping up. Anyway, ~230kts isn't enough of a speed gain from a SR22 or Corvalis to justify the price tag. Cessna has the turboprop "know-how" from the Caravan and they just need to apply that knowledge to a much more aerodynamic / retractable gear airframe.

Posted by: Bryan Ursic | October 26, 2010 2:31 PM    Report this comment

There were no issues ever to appear with the structural integrity of the the EA400/500. I disagree with 220/230 knots not being enough of a gain. When you look at most missions flown, speed is not at the top of the list. The EA500 balances all the factors that SR22 equivalent pilots want, 1)higher altitudes without portable oxigen, 2)more range/payload capability, 3)speed. I would be very happy with the increase in speed from my SR22 up to 220-230kts that the EA500 would provide. Most missions are under 3hrs and reducing them to 2hrs would not matter as much as the ability to get over weather/mountains without using portable O2 or when I have to leave fuel behind due to weight which makes the SR22's range is not very good.

Posted by: Joe Intagliata | October 26, 2010 3:23 PM    Report this comment

AOPA is right around the corner and with all the hype I hope they make the announcement. Jack Pelton officially spilled the beans at NBAA, and he wouldn't have done that if they weren't well along in the program already. Remember the NGP fly-by at Oshkosh several years ago.... deja vu in Long Beach in two weeks??

Posted by: Bryan Ursic | October 26, 2010 4:08 PM    Report this comment

The plane in the picture linked above has a tail number of N350CL, look at the picture more closely. It's a Lancair as found in the FAA registry.

Posted by: Tim Wolf | October 26, 2010 5:12 PM    Report this comment

Joe, I agree and disagree with some of your points. I personally would re-order your list to 1) speed, 2) range/payload, 3) pressurized. I have a T206 and although I'm not setting land speed records with my max cruise of 165kts, I do have a full fuel payload of ~800lbs which gets me 4 adults and some baggage without worries. While the T206 can't be beat in terms of utility and payload capability for single pistons, I'm always wishing for more speed. Speed + full fuel payload + pressurized + takeoff / landing performance + Cessna = a winner.

Posted by: Bryan Ursic | October 26, 2010 5:34 PM    Report this comment

“The airplane would ideally have a cruise speed greater than 300 knots … and a price point between $1 and $2.2 million,” Pelton revealed in an interview with AOPA Live. “We want to be south of the Mustang in terms of price.”

It seems they're going after the Meridian not the PC-12 (not at that price point) The PA46-500 is a 260kt airplane, so it makes sense they'd want something faster with six seats to be competitive.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 26, 2010 7:19 PM    Report this comment

I know from an insider that Cessna was in serious discussion with Epic Aircraft about the Epic LT prior to Epic filing bankruptcy. There you have a fast (320 kts) long range (1500 mi) and load carrying aircraft (6 seats and full baggage) that beats the PC-12 in speed, the Meridian in load capability, and the TBM in price. It's too bad that didn't work out. The new owners of Epic have the factory back up and running in Bend, OR and are creating aircraft again, albeit experimental class rather than certified.

Posted by: Chris Toeppen | October 26, 2010 8:14 PM    Report this comment

Fight all you want over the size/speed/payload equation, it still means Cessna needs an aircraft that is fast but not 400knots, 1000+ mile range, seating for 6-8, jet fueled. All those 400 series twins are aging and they don't cover that market segment with the lack of turboprop power/ speed/size in the current product mix. I don't care too much about the mix of desirable traits-but call it.. wait for it...
The CitationProp........and make sure the nose, features, and handling all maintain a family resemblance! Branding, Branding, Branding..........

Posted by: jonathan swingle | October 26, 2010 8:19 PM    Report this comment

I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed to read in AVweb Biz this morning that the new Cessna turboprop has a PT6.
There’s nothing wrong with the PT6, but its old technology. I was hoping that Cessna, with its new airframe, would be the launch customer for a new engine based on P&W’s 600 core.
I have to think that a new turboprop engine based on the 600 core could be manufactured at a much lower cost than the PT6.
But alas, the old chicken and egg. How many could Pratt sell at a cost that would allow them to recover their R&D costs. In light of the fact that they already practically own the market with the PT6.
The innovator’s dilemma. But if Pratt doesn’t do it, eventually someone else will.

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | October 27, 2010 6:49 AM    Report this comment

It's silly that Cessna never used the reliable PT6 in a single. Now it's "news" that Cessna woke up? Gee, whats next, losing wing struts and going cantilever?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 27, 2010 8:06 AM    Report this comment

Good point, John. If the PT6A does end up on the production acft, nobody would be surprised. (I was hoping to see Cessna go with GE's new H80) I'd read a few years back that the PW600 would share its core with a new turboprop but P&WC has a FADEC box coming for the PT6A next year, so I don't think they're about to spend money developing an all-new engine. I doubt the new engine could be built for significantly lower cost, as the PT6A tooling has probably been paid up for a long time now.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 27, 2010 8:07 AM    Report this comment

Mark, did you forget the Caravan? Unless you meant pressurized single..

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 27, 2010 8:08 AM    Report this comment

Will, I did not know that P&WC was doing a FADEC for the PT6. I have to think that there would be a good retro-fit market for that.
And I'm sure you're right, the tooling for the PT6 has been paid for, for long time.
But I have to believe that manufacturability was designed into the 600 series much more so than the PT6. And sooner or later, (hopefully sooner) the R&D costs for a new engine would be amortized and Pratt would be left with a modern, lower cost engine.
I’m not holding my breath, but again, if Pratt doesn’t do it, someone else will.

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | October 27, 2010 8:24 AM    Report this comment

Will, sorry, I meant private aircraft. The 208 is a freight hauler fixed-gear wing-strutted slow utilitarian that is less efficient than about anything else in the air.
I meant a REAL aircraft that actually flies faster than a trainer.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 27, 2010 8:46 AM    Report this comment

The prop on the FAA certificate is listed as a 3GFR34C701. This prop is also used on the Cessna 425 Conquest converting 450HP. Everything points to about 500HP on this aircraft. 500HP won't power TBM weights and speeds. It's looking to me more like a modified Corvalis, especially given the model number on the FAA certificate: 350.

Posted by: Paul Fichter | October 27, 2010 11:28 AM    Report this comment

John, you're right - there's a huge market for a PT6A FADEC retrofit. It's a great addition but the PT6A could benefit from higher compression for lower SFC. I'm guessing a PW600-based turboprop would have better fuel burn specifics than the old engine. I know from experience how much fuel the PT6A burns, even at flight idle. (Caravan, PC-12) I'd like to see P&WC address this, but it probably won't happen until a new engine is built. GE's new 800shp H80 has slightly lower SFC than a comparable PT6A but nobody is using that engine yet.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 27, 2010 11:50 AM    Report this comment

Cessna has always been succesful by building derivative products. The 500 series started with the 1 and grew to the 550 and 560 types. The same is true with the 300 and 400 series twins, the 525 CJ models and so on. I have heard Jack Pelton preach that in inteviews. Every model has to come from or lead to another. I find it hard to believe that they would pass on the Mustang platform to make the 350/400 into a turboprop. The Mustang is already a capable high altitude design with all the systems already designed, a cabin that beats the TBM and Meridian competition, and the fuel capacity to feed a turbine engine. I just don't see them putting out a lesser airplane. Having a -135 Pratt now does not mean it can't have a -60 later. That would make it an easy 300kt airplane on about 260lb/hr at FL350.

Posted by: Barrett Roessler | October 27, 2010 5:02 PM    Report this comment

I just bought a RAM VII Cessna 414A, which is (now) VERY well-equipped as a traveling machine. My first impression (only two trips so far) is that it cruises LOP at around 200 KTAS on 30 GPH. Nice. But max real-world full-fuel range is about 850nm considering the usual light headwinds, with a full-fuel payload of barely 750 pounds though I have seven seats plus a belted potty and more baggage space than I can shake a stick at.

Give me a pressurized 250-knot airplane with 1,000-nm no-wind range after NBAA IFR reserves, a full-fuel payload of 1,100 pounds, and some sort of a potty, for $1.5M or so, and I'll consider selling my 414.

Give me a certified airplane with Epic LT specs (and some sort of potty!), for $2M or less, and I'll be first in line even BEFORE the 414 is sold.

Bottom line: the Meridian has no real payload, the TBM850 is great but not worth $3M, and the PC-12 is well-worth the $4.5M but lots of us don't have that kind of cash. There's a huge opportunity here for Cessna, or someone else, to fill a gap and a market niche.

Posted by: Rodolfo Paiz | October 28, 2010 12:36 AM    Report this comment

Rodolfo, it sounds like you're talking about a Kestrel, unless you build your own LT. (shared DNA) The proof-of-concept airplane should have a 340kt cruise, although the production acft will probably be closer to 300kt (less powerful engine used)

The idea of a stretched 6-pax Corvalis with a PT6A on the nose is interesting, although that airframe was never designed for pressurizaiton (AFAIK). If Cessna was to build a fast TP single without 1,000+ hp, I'd have to assume they'd go the composite route.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 28, 2010 8:43 AM    Report this comment

I own and fly a G1000 2009 Meridian. Bought it new for less than $2MM, 1,000nm range (850 ~900) with a reasonable reserve, 250kts TAS, 250gph, Pressurized, certified to 30k (but not RVSM), and Useful load 1,660 (520 with full fuel). Great package.

Posted by: Neil Rosoff | October 30, 2010 6:27 PM    Report this comment

I know - it's a flight global photoshop job from the 'as the cro(ft) flies' blog.
Would like to see the real thing, looks like a great concept.

Posted by: Peter Sharpe | November 2, 2010 4:02 PM    Report this comment

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