When the Pilatus PC-12 arrived on the scene in May 1991, many asked why this had not been done earlier. The Pilatus offered executive seating, and with the large left rear door, you could even load a jet-ski if needed. The twin-engine Beechcraft King Air had already been flying since 1963, and surely a single-engine King Air would make sense?
However, changing a twin into a single is no easy task. Besides, with the King Air vertical tail being too large (to cope with either side engine failure), engineering would also require new wings, new fuel tanks, strengthened nose sections, stronger nose-gear assembly, new hydraulic plumbing, just to mention a few challenges.
Cessna already have the single-engine C208 Caravan, and although this aircraft competes in a completely different market, many are offered in an executive configuration. However customers always want more speed and comfort, and additionally Beech is still losing sales to the PC-12, which offers everything that a King Air can do, albeit with one engine.
Cessna, Beechcraft, and numerous other aviation related companies like Hawker and Lycoming, fall under Textron Aviation. In 2015, Textron took the opportunity to take on Pilatus and launched the Denali programme under the Cessna brand, with first flight expected in 2019. Certification was to follow about 18 months later, but delays to the development of the 1,300shp (970kW) General Electric (GE) Catalyst engine have had a knock-on effect on the aircraft’s timeline.
In June 2021, Textron Aviation made the decision that the new Denali turboprop single will no longer be branded under Cessna, but as the Beechcraft Denali. The aircraft would join the twin-engine Beechcraft King Air 260 and 360/360ER as part of Textron Aviation’s high-performance turboprop product line-up.
“The Beechcraft Denali represents our continued strategy to invest in clean-sheet and current products in both our Beechcraft and Cessna iconic brands. Beechcraft turboprops are renowned for their versatility and reliability, and the single-engine Denali is a perfect complement to this legendary family of products,” said Textron Aviation president and CEO Ron Draper.
Besides the PC-12, customers can chose other single engine turboprop aircraft like the Quest Kodiak, Piper Meridian or the TBM, but none of these latter aircraft offer the flexibility, loading capability, size and speed of the Denali. The TBM and Piper Meridian compete in a more executive role, and are overall much smaller aircraft.
Through the years other manufacturers have tried to take on the PC-12, but without success. Two past competitors, the Czech Ae270 Spirit and the Russian M101T are no longer manufactured. Other single engine turboprop aircraft are also under development, but the PC-12 still dominates this market segment by offering the latest in avionics technology, engine management like FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control), and worldwide market support.
So, now Beechcraft have a single-engine King Air, or do they?
Looking very similar to the King Air, The Beechcraft Denali turboprop is a brand-new, clean sheet design, high-performance, single-engine turboprop. Designed from the outset with more performance, more versatility, smarter cabin space and overall lower operating costs.
The project is moving along with the Beechcraft Denali successfully completing ground engine runs on the August 26th, moving the aircraft closer to a first flight, which is currently planned to take place by the end of this year.
The Wichita, Kansas-based company said it has been able to test the engine and aircraft’s fuel system and the interface with avionics and electrical systems.
In addition to the prototype airframe, two other Denali’s are in development. Three additional ground test airframes will be used for static and fatigue tests, and for cabin interior development and testing.
Excluding the crew, the standard configuration seats six passengers in an executive interior complete with a refreshment centre, or a nine-seat commuter high-density layout.
The GE AVIATION CATALYST powerplant features a dual channel FADEC and propeller control which provides easy jet-like power control in the flight deck as well as unrivalled operating efficiencies and engine protection. To date, the Catalyst engine has completed more than 2,300 hours of ground testing and will soon be flown on a King Air testbed.
The Denali turboprop’s flight deck takes full advantage of today’s technology with Garmin G3000 touchscreen controls, voice command with automatic speech recognition and optional wireless connectivity. Add in the Denali turboprop’s Full Authority Digital Engine and Propeller Control along with the Garmin integrated autothrottle and single-power lever, and pilots will have an easier flying experience unlike anything else.
FAA certification of the Beechcraft Denali is anticipated in 2023.